One billion people reportedly use Instagram every month. There’s a good chance that includes your target audience.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of Instagram ad types
  • Best Instagram ad practices to follow
  • Mistakes to avoid making in these paid social ads
  • Instagram ad guidelines to know

There are plenty of reasons to dip your toe into paid social ads, if you haven’t already. Not only are they one of the more affordable digital ad types out there, but they’re a great way to meet your audience where they often already are: staring into their phones, of course.

The success of your paid social media marketing (SMM) campaign depends on factors like your ads themselves, your target audience, and how much you can invest in the process. 

Pro tip: Before diving into these #Insta marketing tips, make sure your company’s profile is an Instagram Business Account, not a personal page. A business profile offers insights into your audience, posts, and ads that help set your Instagram marketing efforts up for success. 

hawksem: instagram ads

These days, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.7 and $1. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Know the key Instagram ad types

Paid Instagram advertising goes well beyond static ads that appear in the user’s feed. To take full advantage of the opportunities, you need to know what’s available.

  • Story ads: Ads appearing organically in between a user’s Instagram Story posts
  • Photo ads: The standard ads appearing in the viewer’s feed
  • Video ads: Videos that start playing automatically in the user’s feed
  • Carousel ads: Ads consisting of several photos or videos for users to swipe through
  • Collection ads: Ads allowing the user to buy the product directly from the platform instead of being led to an external website
  • Shopping ads: Ads that take users to product description pages within the app
  • Paid partnerships: Appear as “paid partnership with (brand name and tag)” in an influencer’s post
  • Explore ads: Ads that appear when users click on a photo or video in the “Explore” section
  • IGTV ads: Appear inside IGTV videos

2. Set the right budget

These days, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.70 and $1, according to HubSpot. The cost, however, depends on several factors and may go up to several dollars per click. An auction bidding system determines when your ads are posted in the place you want them most. 

Similar to other ad platforms, you need to set the budget and submit a bid. During the auction, the app determines which ads are the most valuable and relevant for the users and selects a winning bid. It’s guided by factors such as:

  • The bid size
  • How likely the viewer is to take actions your bid is optimized for
  • The perceived quality and relevance of the ad

The cost of your bid can also depend on:

  • Demographics of your target audience — Especially if you’re targeting multiple demographics, it’s important to understand how each group is likely to engage with your ads, as it will vary. 
  • Timeframe of ad posting — When more users are on the social media platform, it will result in more competition (and higher bids) for ads to be shown to prospective customers. The CPC for ads can also fluctuate at different times of the year as brands readjust advertising strategies or with changing seasons. 
  • Type of ad and ad placements — With the varying types of Instagram ad types, it’s not surprising that your CPC is impacted by the type of placements you choose. 

According to a CMO survey, most companies spend about 13% of their marketing budget on SMM. And it’s expected to reach more than 21% in the next five years. Depending on how many social media channels you’re leveraging, you can determine how much you want to spend on Instagram ads.

3. Watch IGTV ads closely

IGTV is a standalone video platform within the Instagram app meant for posting longer videos. (Videos on the main feed are limited to two minutes, and those on Stories are limited to 15 seconds per card.)

While the monetization program for IGTV was released to a select number of video creators in June 2020, it’s expected to be a widely available option in the coming months. 

IGTV ads allow you to place your ad in the middle of an IGTV stream. Similar to Facebook Watch, the video needs to be longer than three minutes to feature an ad.

4. Always split-test your ads

It’s hard to pinpoint the perfect Instagram ad design from scratch. What may have worked for other SMM channels could fail on this particular platform. That’s why it’s best to test several ad designs simultaneously to see which one gets the most clicks.

You could test and adjust elements like:

  • CTA wording
  • Image placement
  • Video length
  • Colors
  • Text and element positioning

Just remember: Visuals on Instagram are everything. If you fail to create an appealing image, your ad could stay in the dark.

hawksem: instagram advertising

To make sure your ads look appealing, you need to learn the parameters. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Cater your ads to the platform

Most Instagram viewers aren’t looking for highly polished, professional-looking ads. When you “stick” the ad into a user’s feed, you want it to look as organic as possible while they’re scrolling. That’s why it’s a good idea to use real-life situations and backgrounds to promote your products.

The “hero” (buyer persona) in your ad should appear in a situation your target audience can relate to. Don’t worry about going out of your way to shoot an impeccable video if you don’t have the budget or bandwidth.

Rather, focus on making your ad look as close to what your buyers see in their daily feed as possible. Just make sure to keep the overall quality high (no pixelated or blurry imagery). 

6. Learn the proper Instagram ad specs

Each Instagram ad type comes with certain size requirements. To make sure your ads look as appealing as possible, you’ve got to learn the parameters.

Technical requirements for Instagram Feed ads

For images: 

  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Minimum aspect ratio: 400 x 500
  • Maximum aspect ratio: 191 x 100
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1%

For videos: 

  • Video length:  1 second to 2 minutes
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended resolution: 1,080 x 1,080 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% with a recommended ratio of 4:5

For Carousel:

  • Number of Carousel Cards: Minimum of 2 and maximum of 10
  • Maximum file size: video – 4GB, image – 30MB
  • Video length: 1 second to 60 minutes 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1%

For collection: 

  • Instant experience is required 
  • Maximum file size: image – 30MB, video – 4GB
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Minimum height: 500 pixels
  • Recommended ratios: 1.91:1 to 1:1

Technical requirements for Instagram Stories ads

For images: 

  • Maximum file size: 30MB
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 9:16)

For videos:

  • Length of video: 1 second to 2 minutes
  • Minimum width: 500 pixels
  • Recommended resolution: 1,080 x 1,080 
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 9:16)

For Carousel:

  • Number of Carousel Cards: 2 to 10
  • Maximum file size: video – 4GB, image – 30MB
  • Default video length: 1 second to 2 minutes 
  • Video length for a fixed number of cards: 1 to 15 seconds
  • Aspect ratio tolerance: 1% (with a recommended ratio of 1:1)

Technical requirements for Instagram Explore ads

When advertising in Instagram Explore, both your image and video ads will follow the same format as the Instagram Feed ads listed above. Instagram Explore ads are an excellent way to introduce your brand, products, or services to new users. 

Explore is a section that shows content across the social media platform related to a person’s interest. Therefore, having your ads show between the organic content in a person’s Explore section gives you the opportunity to connect with your target audience. 

If your image or video specs are wrong, the app will crop them according to its needs. This could inadvertently turn your perfectly-designed ad into something confusing, sloppy, and ineffective. Instead, try to maximize the usage of the available space as much as you can and make use of every pixel allowed by the app.

Pro tip: Instagram’s design recommendations include using a .jpg or .png file, uploading the highest resolution image available, and keeping in mind that only two rows of text will automatically display.

7. Take full advantage of user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) has been shown to be a highly efficient Instagram marketing tool. In fact, about 90% of consumers say they trust UGC more than traditional advertising.

When your customers take photos and videos of themselves using or recommending your product, this piece of content can turn into a priceless ad with word-of-the-mouth benefits.

You can leverage this content by following your clients on Instagram closely to find these pieces of content. When you see a post that could become good UGC for your brand, ask them for permission to repost this content on your page. 

This also makes your ad more authentic, since it’s a client testimonial vs. claims being made by your brand.

8. Keep your Instagram ads fresh

Instagram is a dynamic environment. People are often turning to the app to see diverse content. To continue grabbing their attention, it’s key to create new ads as often as possible.

Your target Instagram audience may get bored with your content faster than it would on other marketing channels. Plus, regularly switching up your ads gives you an excellent split-testing opportunity.

Pro tip: You don’t have to make new ads every day. Rather, you can create a few and regularly switch between them.

9. Take notice of Instagram Reels

Short-form videos have become a popular way users consume content. Instagram introduced Reels to take advantage of this shift, and many people see a clear comparison to the fast-growing video platform TikTok. Whether it’s because of shorter attention spans or making sharing easier, Reels is expected to grow in 2021

Instagram Reels allows the creation of 15- to 30-second multi-clip videos set to music or other audio. It lets brands showcase their personality and products creatively, in a way that’s a happy medium between professional and informal. 

While advertising on Reels is not yet an option, we expect to see it in the future. According to Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, they’re working on the new feature to ensure it’s engaging for consumers and creators before building an ad business into Reels. 

10. Analyze, analyze, analyze

A regular analysis is the pillar of your Instagram Ad campaign. Luckily, Facebook (which owns Instagram) has a number of useful tools to help track your ad performance.

As a reminder, the increase or decrease in conversions isn’t always an indication of your campaign’s quality. By keeping track of a variety of metrics, you’ll know which ads deserve an extra budget and which tactics need to be dropped.

The takeaway

To build a successful Instagram Ad campaign, you need to learn all the little nuances and take advantage of the majority of available options. 

As a social media channel, Instagram offers tremendous conversion opportunities. Take advantage of these practices and you could turn a scroll into a sale.

Looking for more social media marketing advice? You’ve come to the right place.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

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