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6 Design Principles of Effective Facebook Ads

The modern consumer doesn’t need to channel surf for hours just to settle for Sharknado or the Anatomy of a Grizzly Attack. The consumer of today is given exactly what they want to see whenever they feel like seeing it. Literally. Facebook is worth half a billion dollars because its algorithm feeds them content that keeps them coming back everyday, multiple times per day, for 20 minutes per session.

Consumer of yesterday:

Consumer of today:

This might seem like a nightmare scenario for marketers, BUT don’t give up just yet. We’re going to cover six foundational design principles that will make your Facebook Ads stand out from today’s carefully curated feed and give consumers of today exactly what they want to see.

Let’s get designin’!

Principle 1: Proportions, proportions, proportions

You might have a great product, but if your ad stinks, you’re not going to get the conversions you deserve. Here are a few ways you can avoid silly mistakes like this one:

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a principle of design that helps designers and photographers create a sense of balance in their work. This is done by dividing your artboard into 9 equally sized boxes by drawing two lines horizontally and two vertically like a tic-tac-toe box.
Placing the main subject of your ad in the cross-sections of the drawn lines gives it more breathing space and a naturally balanced feeling. Here’s an ad that implemented this rule:


These guys get it absolutely right here. The bright colors pop out, while there’s a sense of uniformity and balance – all thanks to the handy dandy “rule of thirds.”
Here, we’ve drawn the lines to show you how well they’ve implemented the rule. They’ve decided what they want the customer to focus on: ⅔ of the ad will be the shoes (primary object) while the final ⅓ will be the brand (secondary object).


This provides a visual hierarchy, where you’re first drawn to their beautiful mocs, then you’re introduced to the brand.
They also give the product and the logo a ton of breathing space, giving it a sleek and well-balanced touch.

Optimized Facebook dimensions

Facebook’s recommended image size for photo ads is 1,200 x 628 pixels with an image ratio of 1.9:1 for the highest quality ad. They also suggest using 90 characters in the text, 25 characters in the headline, and 30 characters in the newsfeed description.

However, we recommend keeping it as short as possible. Here are AdEspresso’s recommendations after analyzing over 37,000 Facebook ads:

  • Headline text: 5 words
  • Post text: 15 words
  • Most popular words: you, free, because, instantly, new

New Call-to-action

Principle 2: To Add Text to Your Ads or Not?

Until this year, Facebook’s 20% Rule stated that your ad would be straight up denied if 20% of its area contained text. More specifically, if you broke the ad into a 5×5 grid, text could not touch more than 5 of the 25 rectangles. Instead of a clear line drawn at 20%, Facebook now uses the following scale to categorize how much text you use and thus how much more to throttle your distribution and increase your cost:

  • OK
  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

At first, we were pretty upset by this change, thinking Facebook packaged a YES or NO, 20% or NOT 20% decision into a little black box for us to figure out. That was until they updated their Text Overlay Tool for marketers to test their ad creative for a text rating before they launch.

For example, we tested two variations of our case study images:

Version 1:

approved facebook ad text amount

Version 2:

low facebook ad text amount

The results:

facebook ad text rules

Here are Facebook’s official statements on some frequently asked questions surrounding text in Facebook Ads:

What does it mean that I have too much image text?

Text in your ad image includes text laid over a photo or illustration, text-based logos, or watermarks used in an ad’s image. It also includes text in thumbnail images used for videos as well as images used as cover photos or profile photos of promoted Pages.

How much text should my ad image have?

Facebook prefers ad images with little or no text, because images with a lot of text may create a lower-quality experience for people on Facebook.

What should I do to reduce the amount of text?

Consider putting most of your text in the text area of your ad instead of on the ad image. If you must use text, use a smaller font size and fewer words to lower the proportion of text to image. Try reducing image text and checking it with this tool again.

The real lesson? Text should be used to help tell a story that your ad copy can’t. If you want to use text in your images, test it first.

Principle 3: People are attracted to people

Featuring people’s faces in your ads is an effective strategy that marketers have been using for decades. A beaming smile really goes a long way and so does a devastating, heart-wrenching frown.
Rather than telling someone what to feel, faces implicitly communicate powerful emotions, which makes an ad more personal and relatable, especially if the subject is recognizable or look like your target market. Hooray for relevant and targeted advertising!



Oh man, this ad made me feel all tingly and mushy inside. The lighthearted and ironic copy coupled with the subtle smiley icons sets up an uplifting tone of the ad, but the mood is ultimately set by the caretaker and the sweet old lady’s genuine smile. For someone who might not have considered about taking up a career in the caretaker industry, this ad could effectively sway them the other way.

Also, major props to Anchor Jobs for this epic cover photo:

Insta-gran-Facebook-campaignDon’t worry – we tested it:
instagran ad text approval

Principle 4: Explore your colors

Planning out your colors is one surefire way to draw up some stunning ads. Now, the first step is choosing a color scheme, preferably staying on-brand here. If you’re having trouble choosing, you can easily make one using Adobe’s color tool.

Context is important too. Remember, everything on Facebook is blue and white, so try to go for a color that’ll stand out more. Orange and green are a pretty solid start.



AdHawk Protip: Create a call-to-action button with bright and contrasting colors to give your potential customer a single, focused course of action

The usage of contrasting colors and patterns here is particularly effective, giving off a chaotic feeling – drawing all the attention to the right side first. The deep blue tone to the left provides a contrasting sense of calmness and security, which is exactly what their message is all about: making SEO easy.

Oh, and bonus points for that contrasting CTA button.

Principle 5: Be Remarkable

As Seth Godin puts it, the goal of the game is to make an ad “remark-able,” or worthy of attention. One way to make your ad stand out is creating high-quality imagery that pays close attention to detail.

Custom graphics and original photographs are a huge competitive advantage, because it’s relevant to your brand, builds credibility, and stands out compared to an obviously stock image ad. But if you’re on a lean budget and can’t afford custom images, you can check out our blog post locating the best free stock images on the web.

phlearn_facebook_ad_example The best way for a photoshop design class to tout their credibility is by designing a pretty killer ad. The contrasting colors and the 3D rendering here is pretty darn fascinating and makes me pretty disappointed in how long it took me to draw the ‘rule of thirds’ lines on the mocassin ad above.

AdHawk Protip: Try to create a juicy offer with little to no risk, because it’ll be a no-investment decision that’ll convert any curious soul.

Principle 6: Simplicity is key

A laser-focused message and a clearly defined goal will guide your copy, create an actionable CTA, and present the value proposition in a simple manner. You only have a matter of seconds to get your message across, so keep it lean. The last thing you want is a jumbled mess!

Choosing typefaces

Sticking with one or two typefaces is a great place to start. Canva has a tool that can help you pick and choose which typefaces complement each other. Also, try to have one focused image, where having too many things on a page will be too distracting to even bother looking at.

Simple copy

As mentioned previously, we suggest keeping the headline as lean as possible with about 5 words. The post text should be around 15 words. Just keep it simple like GoPro:


This ad by GoPro does a good job at implementing everything we just mentioned. Their ad copy is direct and provides a curiously enticing offer that most people looking for a new camera would be interested in. Oh and not to mention the adorable puppy that also markets the creative use of their product.

Don’t forget to test!

Now that you’ve got these six principles written down somewhere, you’re just about ready to draw up some amazing Facebook ads. However, it’s just as important to do some A/B testing to see which images and copy work the best.

Oh and before you go, we’ve put together 15+ Facebook Ad Template Designs that follow all these rules to help you out.

New Call-to-action

That’s it from me. Let us know which one was your favorite. Don’t forget to drop us a comment or tweet us at @AdHawk. We’d love to hear from you!

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About the Author

Journeyman of the wild wild west of Digital Advertising. Also doubling as an unofficial Taco Bell ambassador. Tweet at me @JonJmPark