That’s a nice Facebook ad account you have there. It would be a shame if it was shut down. Irreversibly. Without warning, explanation, or a chance to appeal.
Believe it or not, this is exactly what can happen. Facebook’s banhammer is strong and merciless to those who don’t respect its Ad Policy guidelines – be it the shady marketer or, as it’s too often the case, the well-intentioned business owner who made an honest mistake or two.
Facebook’s guidelines govern the type of content you’re allowed to post, the language and visuals you use, the nature of your offer, your targeting and positioning and – as many forget – the quality of the page the ad links to. Some ads get disapproved, and you get a chance to delete them or fix them. But in other cases, Facebook will disable your account, acting as your jury, judge and executioner.
“Please consider this decision final”
Which brings us to today’s hack: studying the rules and playing by them. By “rules,” we mean Facebook’s official Ad Policy – a relatively short and, believe it or not, quite entertaining read, with abundant examples and scant legalese. By “studying,” we mean giving it a good read and keeping it handy whenever designing your ads. Ok might take a bit longer than 2 minutes, but we really, really encourage you to do this if you are advertising on Facebook or Instagram or intend to. Take it from us, if your account gets hit with the banhammer, it gets stressful, really stressful.
Having said that, Facebook’s ad policies, like any business, change regularly, but what stays the same are the overarching principles and goals behind them. So, before we get to dissecting the Book of Law, let’s take a look at how Facebook thinks and makes decisions.
The Prime Directive: make thy user happy
There’s a saying that when you use something for free on the Web, you’re not the customer – you’re the product. That couldn’t be truer in Facebook’s case. Facebook makes money by keeping their users engaged and happy, so they spend more (quality?) time on the platform, revealing their preferences and clicking on ads. Therefore, Facebook’s primary goal is to provide the best user experience they possibly can.
Ads are an important part of that experience. When you read Facebook’s policy, with this in mind, you’ll find there’s a strong user experience rationale behind every rule:
- Aggressive marketing and clickbait are plain annoying
- Violence, hatred, gratuitous sexuality and the like are disturbing
- Misleading and false advertising wastes your time and puts you in a bad mood
- Ugly images and ad copy are, well, ugly
You get the idea. Now, in this light, disabling accounts without appeal also kind of makes sense. In 2017, Facebook reaped over US$ 40 million in revenue. Multi-billion dollar brands advertise on the platform, and countless “small fish.” Facebook doesn’t need you or your ad money: they care about the long game, and that game is making users happy.
The takeaway here is this: when in doubt, think of the user. Think of how your ad will make your audience feel, and if you don’t like the conclusion, change it. That’s good for business, anyway.
Ad content: restricted sectors
Ok, on to it. What type of content is allowed? Facebook flag and punishes aggressive, scammy or misleading advertising, bans certain industries outright, and imposes regulatory or personal restrictions on others.
You can easily check if your industry is allowed to advertise on Facebook by reviewing the content restrictions in the ad policy:
- Prohibited content, which includes verticals such as illegal products, discriminatory ads, tobacco, weapons, adult content, multi-level marketing, make-money-online schemes etc.
- Restricted content, i.e. verticals that require special legal permits and/or Facebook’s explicit permission. These include alcohol, gambling, dating, online pharmacies, financial services or cryptocurrencies (the last one made headlines: in January 2018, out of the blue, Facebook banned all crypto-related advertising, to then reverse the ban in June, but with a strict approval process)
Content guidelines: just don’t push it!
The two sections above (4 and 5, respectively) also treat, in great detail, the type of content and presentation you can use in your ads and images. These guidelines are extensive and clear, with examples included, so be sure to check them out in detail.
Now, the general rule of thumb is: don’t push it! Don’t try to deceive, mislead or discriminate against your audience to get more clicks. Even if your ads are in line with the guidelines, when Facebook’s algorithms suspect aggressive and pushy advertising you’ll be flagged for closer scrutiny – for instance, if you deploy very expensive campaigns before “seasoning” your account or create huge spikes in ad spending ($100 today, $700 tomorrow).
To get you started, here’s a quick checklist of no-no content. Note that these apply to both ad copy and images:
– Personal attributes, e.g. “Tyler, meet other Hispanic Christians in your area” (this is important, do learn more);
– Provocative content, including partial nudity and sex used to sell;
– Clickbait and sensational/controversial content– a big no-no for many years now. See Facebook’s full guideline on clickbait;
– Misleading content and links: don’t make false claims in your ad AND the landing page it links to.
As you can see, a couple of legal caveats aside, it’s not that hard to stay in line with the rules. As long as you give the policy a good read, and check your ads for good measure, you should be ready to go.
Clean up your ads…
Every ad goes through an approval process that usually lasts 24 hours or less. If it’s approved, your campaign is on. Otherwise, you can edit it and re-submit for review, unless the violation was strong enough to warrant an account ban. The general rule seems to be that you can fix content quality, but blatant violations (e.g. posting a nude picture) will ban you for good.
So far, so good. But the plot thickens. The problem is, sometimes a restriction could be placed after your campaign’s been up and running, usually when policies change (and they do quite often). Remember that ignorance of law excuses no one: it’s your responsibility to make sure your ads are compliant at all times.
Even old ones. For this reason, make sure you delete old and disapproved ads. Approved ads on pause could violate future policy changes, so why risk keeping them there? And we strongly recommend deleting disapproved ads and starting again, to make sure you don’t run into trouble later or have your account shut down out of the blue.
The same goes for images, which are the lifeblood of a Facebook ad. Make sure your content is in line with the standards and heed the somewhat weird 20% text rule. Facebook requires that text within images doesn’t fill over 20% of the real estate. You can use the text overlay tool to check yours.
… AND your landing page
Also, please make your landing page A-ok. Many marketers fix their ads but neglect the pages they link to. Big mistake. Facebook checks your landing page almost as much as it checks ads. Here’s some practical advice on how to do that:
- Sell the same product or service the ad advertises (believe me, it’s not so obvious – see 8. Positioning in the policy doc)
- State your intentions clearly: don’t FB-advertise a “completely free” eBook if they need to sign-up before they can download it
- Show you’re a reputable business, possibly with your logo, business name and address displayed prominently
- Don’t auto-play video, auto-download files, or prevent users from leaving your landing page
- Keep your page’s Web of Trust rating high
- Pro tip: show you’re not affiliated with Facebook in any way, usually in the footer. They appreciate that.
Finally, remember that users also have a say! In early 2018, Facebook introduced the Relevance Score to its ads, a 1-10 score boosted by the ad’s performance (conversions, views etc.), and cut-down by users hiding or reporting your ads.
While the overall score impacts your impressions, a high negative feedback score may result in an account shutdown, so be careful! A good idea would be to limit your ad frequency until you’re sure your ad won’t make too many users unhappy and report-trigger-happy.
Plead for mercy
If you are one of the unlucky ones who is hit by the banhammer and your account is shut down with a “decision is final” note in your letterbox, first up throw all your pride out the window, get down on your knees and start begging for forgiveness…yep you heard right. Even if you are sure as the stars shine that you didn’t do anything wrong, you need to ask for forgiveness. And likely not just once or twice, probably many times. We encourage you to try these three steps:
1. Appeal via chat is the best option, along with responses to the emails
2. Never ever argue with Facebook and admit fault, lesson learnt
3. Repeat step 1 for as long as you have to…
Ready to hack and roll?
And there you have it: Do your homework, don’t push it, and strive for a quality user experience. Your Facebook ad account should be safe. Of course, when in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact Facebook advertiser support before you run your ad.
Or, dunno, hire an agency? That way, you have someone to blame when the Big F doesn’t like your ads (just kidding). In here, we love to brand-architect social campaigns, and we’re well acquainted with Facebook’s Book of Law. And more importantly we know the key steps to getting an account reactivated if you un-intentionally upset Facebook in the process of advertising your product. Drop us a line right away and let’s see how we can get you Facebook-cool in no time firstname.lastname@example.org.