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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 29 , 2020

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

Here, you’ll find:

  • The different types of Instagram ads
  • Best practices to follow
  • Mistakes to avoid
  • Guidelines to follow when creating your ads

There are plenty of reasons to dip your toe into paid social ads. 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 already are.

Instagram ads can unleash a waterfall of marketing opportunities. But the success of your paid social media marketing (SMM) campaign depends on how much time you can invest in the process.

You may be surprised at how diverse Instagram ads are. Learning how to make them work for you can power up your marketing campaign within days.

hawksem: instagram ads

In 2020, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.70 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

In 2020, the average cost per click (CPC) on Instagram is between $0.70 and $1. 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 figures out 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 quality and relevance of the ad

The cost of your bid can also depend on:

  • Target audience demographics
  • The time you want the ad posted
  • The type of ad

According to a CMO survey, most companies spend 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. It’s meant for posting longer videos (videos on the main feed are limited to one minute). 

IGTV ads are a fairly new addition to Instagram’s paid marketing options. They allow you to place an 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.

Even though IGTV isn’t as popular as creators expected it to be (so far, at least), the feature is gaining momentum. For example, many influencers are taking advantage of it to create longer videos that would otherwise be cut off or segmented into multiple Instagram Story posts.

This ad type is in the testing phase right now but could launch at any moment, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. 

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. Make them realistic

Most Instagram viewers aren’t looking for highly polished and spotless ads. When you “stick” the ad into a user’s feed, you want it to look as organic as possible while they’re scrolling. Consider using 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. Rather, make your ad look as close to what your buyers see in their daily feed as possible while keeping the overall quality high.

6. Learn the specs

Each Instagram ad type comes with certain size requirements. To make sure your ads look appealing, you need to learn the parameters.

The technical requirements for Instagram ads are:

  • Minimum width – 500 pixels
  • Minimum aspect ratio – 400×500
  • Maximum aspect ratio – 191×100
  • Aspect ratio tolerance – 0.01

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 display.

7. Take full advantage of UGC

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. You can even inspire consumers to create UGC. This also makes your ad more authentic, since it’s a client testimonial vs. claims being made by your brand.

8. Keep them coming

Instagram is a dynamic environment. People are often turning to the app to see diverse content. If you want to continue grabbing their attention, you need to create new ads as often as possible.

Your target audience on Instagram 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. 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.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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