We Spent $1.5 Million Optimizing Our Facebook Ads — Here’s What We Learned!

What would inspire you to click on a Facebook ad?  

Is there something compelling about the attention-grabbing headline or the caption that accompanies it? 

Is it the adorable image of a puppy or the vibrant color scheme that draws you in? 

Regardless of what it is that causes you to stop, stare (and click), most of us would be lying if we said we’d never been lured in by a well-crafted social post. There’s something magnetic about a headline that feels as if it was written specifically for you.  

Seeing as how we’ve spent over $1.5 million on Facebook ads over the last three years and are a team of content experts and data scientists, we figured we were in the best position to find out.

To better understand what’s behind this magnetism, we analysed the text and images of 11,709 sponsored Facebook ads. We focused on Facebook because we’ve found that of all the social platforms, it’s the best driver of quality traffic 

After sifting through thousands of these posts, from all different types of brands, we’ve come to one key conclusion: everything about a social ad, from the punctuation marks to the images used, influences how the reader interacts with it. 

Here’s what every media buyer needs to know: 

  • Excitement is addictive! Facebook ad copy that ends in an exclamation point is less expensive to promote than ad copy that ends in a period or question mark. 
  • Positivity is paramount. Ads that included short, snappy trigger words like “easy” were cheaper to promote than those that contained negative words like “cost.” 
  • Person, place or thing? On average, images of people will cost you the most to promote, whereas images of objects that we connect with emotions or sensory experiences (like food or home décor) are the cheapest. 
  • As it turns out, it ain’t easy being blue. Ads containing blue images (a ‘cool’ color often associated with emotions like sadness) were the most expensive to promote. 

The trends that we saw in our dataset indicate that by being conscious of the tone and appearance of your ads, you can capture the attention of more readers on social media. Keep reading to find out how these little details can impact the cost of promotion for your content.  

Get Excited About Your Content (And Scrollers Will Too!) 


Exclamation marks are a contentious piece of punctuation these days. You’ve probably seen them creeping into your colleagues’ emails, your social posts and content with more frequency in recent years. One reason could be that that in a world flooded with emojis, we’ve become accustomed to reading emotion in text and want to be able to convey those sentiments in all communications we create. Another, probably better, reason is that the exclamation mark is a powerful tool to get eyes on your content. 

Our analysis found that ad copy that ends in an exclamation point is the least expensive to promote, at a cost per unique click (CPUC) of $0.69. Compare this to ad copy that ends in a question mark ($0.75) and copy that ends in a period ($0.84).

It appears that supporting copy that feels exciting is able to grab scrollers’ attention more often than declarative statements. Alternatively, posing a question that readers want to know the answer to may encourage them to click in the hopes of learning more. 

While it may not make sense from a brand voice perspective to litter your feed with exclamation points, using them selectively could help you deliver better results. Try using exclamation marks in the copy for your next ad sets, then compare their performance to ads that use statements or questions in the copy. Depending on your brand, using emojis could be an interesting experiment, considering they convey sentiment in a similar way that exclamation points do. A/B testing will help you determine which strategy resonates with your target audience. 

It Pays to Be Positive  

It seems natural that readers would prefer positive over negative or neutral headlines; however, this may be unique to sponsored content. Our data shows that sponsored content ads perform better when they use positive headlines, whereas studies on regular content ads show that they often earn more clicks from using negative language. 

Hootsuite found in their analysis that negative sentiments were more likely to stand out from the crowd, and therefore get more reactions. Pressboard’s data, on the other hand, shows that positive sponsored headlines are less expensive to promote, with a CPUC of $0.69. Negative headlines sit at $0.85.  

A closer look at the actual language used in the headlines surveyed in this study showed that those using positive words, such as “easy” and “healthy”, performed better than those using negative words like “cost” and “damage.” Readers scrolling through their social media feeds are looking for quick advice that’s easy to implement into their daily lives, or a little jolt of positive energy. For this reason, ‘trigger words’ that indicate value or simplicity are highly appealing.

This includes words like:  

  • Everyone 
  • Favorite 
  • Great 
  • More 
  • New 
  • This 

When writing headlines, consider using words that reward the reader for interacting with your brand. Ads that use fear or insecurity as their primary motivational tool will still get clicks (if you pay enough), but they won’t give readers that sense of immediate gratification that they crave on social media.

Does a Person, Place or Thing Drive the Most Clicks? 

Advertisers have long touted the importance of images in engaging your audience. They’re what causes a reader to stop, engage and read more. In fact, people form a first impression in a mere 50 milliseconds, which means your image (not your copy) is what’s most likely to get them to stop scrolling. But what image will encourage them to click?  

In our analysis, we compared images that contained people, places and things to determine what subjects resonated most with scrollers. On average, the lowest CPUC went to images of things ($0.66), followed by images of places ($0.69), and lastly, images of people ($0.79). 

It surprised us that images of people were the most expensive to promote; anecdotal evidence supports the idea that pictures of people perform better than stock imagery. Digging further into the data, we noticed that images of singular people (a man or a woman) were less expensive to promote than images of crowds. It could be that while images of individuals resonate with readers, who may feel a connection with the person pictured, images of large crowds are not personal or unique enough to draw scrollers’ attention. 

Photos of cold places (slopes, mountains, snowy locations) were more expensive to promote than warm landscapes (trees, hillsides, grass). Most of our data came from readers in North America, who may be interested in visiting hot weather destinations rather than cold ones. 

Finally, images of things that felt “homey” (plants, flooring) or were related to food (dishes, meals) were the least expensive to promote, compared to work-related objects (computers, laptops). One explanation is that these first two categories of objects are tied to an emotion or physical reaction. Home-related things convey a feeling of warmth and welcoming; they suggest to the scroller that the article will provide them with advice to achieve the same sense of comfort in their homes. Similarly, photos of food are very sensory, causing us to imagine what the food might taste like. On the other hand, we’re not usually sentimental about a laptop. 

Across all categories — people, places and things — images that felt more personal and drove an emotional response were the least expensive to promote. Regardless of whether you’re selling cars or cruises, keep these principles in mind when choosing the subject for your social ad. 

Feeling Blue? It’ll Cost You  

Color can produce profound emotional responses in the brain — in fact, there’s an entire branch of psychology dedicated to it. Red, a favorite of casino decorators, is usually associated with passion and power; black is often synonymous with sophistication (think ‘little black dress’); and green with health and prosperity (which explains why it’s used in the logos of brands like Whole Foods and Starbucks).

It seems our reactions to sponsored content stay true to this color responsiveness as well. Pressboard’s data shows that ads using blue and teal images were most expensive to promote and had a CPUC of $0.88 and $0.87, respectively; purple imagery was the least expensive, and had a CPUC of $0.63. One reason for this could be that blue is a ‘cool’ color and can therefore be equated with negative things like sadness and coldness, whereas purple is a ‘warmer’ color often associated with things like royalty and wisdom. Another possible explanation could be that visual media is saturated with shades of blue, making it less unique — and therefore less compelling — than a more uncommon color like orange, green or purple.  

Across the board, it seems that playing it cool will cost you more in the long run. To help your sponsored ads stand out amidst a sea of blues, teals and turquoises, opt for less common colors that the reader isn’t as used to seeing online.

Main Takeaways 

With six million companies actively advertising on Facebook, the ability to get scrollers to stop, stare and click on your content is imperative. Thankfully, there are some science-backed tips and tricks to help you stand out amongst a sea of other content. 

Our data shows that when promoting your sponsored content on Facebook, you need three key elements to be successful:  

  1. First, powerful ad copy that is both exciting and positive. Use phrases that suggest the article will offer quick advice that’s easy to implement, and try to use trigger words like “easy” and “healthy” in the copy. 
  2. Second, imagery that uses warm, less common colors and features subjects that create a personal connection. Think of objects that have a sensory association (food, a cozy bed, well-loved plants) or that stir up emotions (individuals). 
  3. And of course, a compelling story that your audience will want to read. No matter how you try to tweak your ads, if you don’t have great content to work with, you’ll run out of options quickly. 

Don’t waste your money promoting ineffective Facebook ads. Instead, put your dollars behind posts that capitalize on the insights in this report to better connect with your audience.

The Data 

The data used in this study were gathered from Facebook ad manager. Ad details (i.e. Headline, body text and image URL) as well as insights data (i.e. Impressions, clicks, spend and cost per unique click) were gathered from a set of 11,709 ads created by Pressboard to promote a variety of sponsored content stories. 


To turn the raw text into usable features, we applied natural language processing methods. Using a combination of Spacy, an open source Python package, and Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services Text Analytics API, headlines and body text were analysed for sentiment, sentence structure and word choice. Image features were gathered using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services Computer Vision API to tag images based on their content, color and category. These pretrained machine learning models can be found at this link.

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