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437 Digital Marketers Went Head-to-Head with a Conversion-Predicting Machine — Who Reigns Supreme?

Being a digital marketer is an exciting gig. Ad platforms, best practices and tools change at warp speed, meaning you’re always learning and you’re never bored.

But it’s a tough gig, too. As competition stiffens and we spread our time and resources across more and more platforms, it’s harder to get our message seen, and we yearn for the results we once (perhaps) took for granted.

In 2004, the internet became the highest grossing channel in advertising expenditure, and it’s been on the rise ever since.

Image via Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report.

That up-and-to-the-right blue line means that acquisition has become more competitive than ever.

Couple this with a rising average cost per click and cost per conversion, and you’ve got a hefty task at hand: Cut through the search noise, create a compelling digital experience and interpret and apply tens of thousands of data points all while coming in under budget.

President of global digital agency Mirum and 2017 Call to Action Conference speaker Mitch Joel doesn’t see this as a problem though — he sees it as an opportunity:

I’m more of an opportunistic person — I see this and think, ‘Wow, this is going to be a very interesting and dynamic time for people who really want to build better relationships with customers.’

It’s no wonder that marketers are looking at advances in automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence and asking, “How can I capitalize on this opportunity?” 

AI technology is already infiltrating all aspects of society, from the fleet of self-driving cars Google is testing, to the anti-snore wearable Sleep.ai you go to bed with to the Amazon Alexa smart speaker in your living room.

What these machines have in common is that they’re designed to make life better for humans so we can spend less time commuting, tossing and turning or shuffling through our record collections and more time on the things that matter.

To fear or not to fear the machine, that is the question

Pop culture is rife with dystopian visions of a machine-dominated future. But we’re already seeing AI technology being used to complement human ingenuity and serve the greater good.

IBM Watson Health, for example, analyzes vast amounts of data (gathered via peer-reviewed research, doctors, family health history, even your FitBit) and leverages machine learning technology to recommend data-backed patient care plans.

From a marketing perspective, AI technology can be used to help marketers make better decisions about where to focus their efforts, and to create smarter tools that present prospects with the right offer, in the right place, at the right time. To — as Mitch shared with me — “create marketing [using] assumptions and knowledge that I myself may not even be aware of as a customer.”

Mitch says marketing AI goes beyond presenting relevant offers based on past purchases, but rather presenting offers that prospects will definitely act on or — at the very least — that the technology will “leverage and [learn] from to make it better and better each time — that sort of iterative learning that makes it better with each experience.”

Carl Schmidt, Unbounce co-founder and CTO, keeps a close eye on the digital marketing landscape and how AI and machine learning can — and in some cases already is — helping the digital marketer.

Carl says AI is already being used “to automate ad purchasing, create ad copy, score leads, identify customers at risk, select ad creative, run tests and more.”

Tomorrow (or in the near future rather) AI will empower marketers “to offer highly personalized marketing experiences,” says Carl. “Digital touch points (web, mobile, chat, automated voice) will understand the visitor’s context and preferences and construct messaging that is much more relevant; almost like a digital salesperson.”

Beyond that, Carl says AI could be leveraged to “deliver digital personas; online avatars that perfectly exhibit brand values and have a complete understanding of the brand’s products and services.”

Unbounce CTO Carl Schmidt talking about the future of AI and marketing at Unbounce’s Call to Action Conference.

Over the past 12 months, Carl and a team of data scientists and conversion optimization experts at Unbounce have been using machine learning to analyze hundreds of thousands of landing pages built in Unbounce.

The team believed they’d hit a significant milestone when they built a machine learning model that could predict whether landing page conversion rates are above or below industry averages with 80% accuracy.

But Carl and his team were eager to know how impressive that really was. Could human marketing experts do better?

Machine vs. Marketer: The challenge

Ever since chess champion Gary Kasparov’s stunning loss to IBM supercomputer Deep Blue more than 20 years ago, “man vs. machine” matchups have been used to gauge the advancement of AI technology.

In 2011, supercomputer Watson defeated Jeopardy! Champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in an epic two-day match.

And just a few months ago Google’s AlphaGo defeated world champion Ke Jie in the ancient Chinese game Go. The game, which originated some 25 centuries ago, is known as one of the most challenging games ever created — one that you can spend your whole life mastering.

While we believe the future of marketing isn’t a question of “machines vs. marketers”, but, rather, machines helping marketers, let’s face it: everyone loves a good showdown.

A few weeks ago we welcomed 1200+ digital marketers to the fourth annual Call to Action Conference in Vancouver, Canada, just a couple blocks away from Unbounce headquarters.

As Carl said during his opening remarks, it was a perfect opportunity to test our AI technology against some of the savviest marketers in the world. But it also gave us the opportunity to “gauge customer reaction [and] educate and enlighten” (a.k.a. turn AI skeptics into believers).

“We’ve encountered folks who’ll tell us they’ll ‘never trust a machine,’” Carl says. “Or they ‘will always know better than a machine.’”

Marketers trying their hand at beating “The Machine”.

What they came up with was a mobile web challenge for attendees to test their conversion-predicting abilities against the machine they’ve been working on.

Here’s how it worked:

  • Using their phones, attendees were presented with one of 204 Unbounce-built landing pages.
  • Analyzing only the copy, the AI technology predicted whether the page had an above or below average conversion rate, as benchmarked against thousands of landing pages built in Unbounce.
  • Participants analyzed the pages at the same time and were asked to make their own predictions.

In total 427 digital marketers (including conference speakers and experts like Mari Smith, Joel Klettke and Talia Wolf) attempted to outsmart the machine.

But the human marketers were no match for “The Machine”. Like its predecessors (Deep Blue, Watson, AlphaGo) “The Machine” reigned supreme:

Not even the expert marketers were able to beat “The Machine”.

On paper, 2017 CTAConf speaker Joel Klettke is the perfect opponent. His expertise is conversion copywriting, and he promises his copy will “turn skeptics into advocates and prospects into paying customers.”

Because the algorithm only parses copy, you’d think these two would have a pretty fair fight, but no dice.

Joel, who got 57% correct, explains why he found the challenge so tricky:

“The tough thing is knowing what to look for and getting past your own biases. Some niches, offers and designs just hit me as “yuck.” Even as a copywriter, it takes some serious time to get into the shoes of the people you’re trying to write for; to understand what appeals to them or not.”

Kidding! Please don’t do this.

While we definitely do not (I repeat DO NOT) recommend firing your marketing department and hiring robots, the results provide us with a glimpse into the future of digital marketing, and how AI-powered conversion tools and insights will amplify our marketing efforts to build truly outstanding marketing experiences and better conversion growth.

Despite losing to “The Machine,” Joel seemed genuinely excited about what the challenge might indicate for the future of marketing and AI:

I think it tells me there’s room for some AI help out there. It’s not a wholesale replacement for research, critical thinking, empathy… but it’s a good barometer for how well you’ve put those elements together, at least from an algorithmic standpoint.

I’m excited to see what will happen when the machine gets better at accounting for context, like niches or types of offers. Many of the times that I beat the machine, it was because I understood how heavy a commitment the page was asking for and knew it’d drive conversions way down.

But, ultimately it opened my eyes a bit to how AI is going to gun for all of our jobs. Until then, we stand to gain a lot by playing nice with it.

Looking ahead to AI-powered conversion optimization

Yosem Sweet is Unbounce’s Director of Business Optimization. He’s been working closely with Unbounce’s data scientists to develop applications of AI to conversion rate optimization.

I asked Yosem to explain how this was possible:

AI-powered conversion optimization leverages a computer’s capability to process large amounts of data to find patterns. These patterns are then used to help the conversion optimization process by: reducing the time needed to generate winning hypotheses, reducing the effort needed to make better pages and (hopefully) finding unexpected solutions to conversion problems.

It’s interesting, no doubt, but how it might look is the cool part.

Yosem says there are a lot of different forms AI-powered conversion optimization will take, “everything from copy suggestions and auto-layout of content to strategic recommendations on driving specific traffic sources for a campaign.”

“The sky’s the limit,” says Yosem, “but before we get to the utopian future, we’d like to start by using AI to help marketers understand where they should focus their optimization efforts. Traffic? Copy? Design? Offer? And which pages have a lot of opportunity for improvement?”

Ultimately Yosem wants to “free marketers up to focus on the creative and strategic aspects of their job.”

Again, giving marketers back precious time is the key here — augmenting their toolkit to help them provide over-the-top amazing marketing experiences and, ideally, giving them superpowers.

And if you too think that, as Joel puts it, AI will be gunning for our jobs, Facebook marketing expert, author and CTAConf speaker Mari Smith begs to differ. She insists that there will always be a place for real-life marketers:

Us humans can sometimes be unpredictable and will always crave real, human-to-human connecting. Businesses that go the extra mile, that provide extraordinary customer service and excellent post-sales follow-up and that surprise and delight their best customers…these are the businesses that will stand out and thrive in the long run.

(Cue collective sigh of relief.)

What this means for digital marketers

Here’s the thing: Most marketers either don’t know what a good conversion rate is or can’t tell if a particular page can achieve its target conversion rate. This data just hasn’t been available, so even the most seasoned marketers rely on anecdotal evidence and gut instinct to determine these benchmarks.

AI technology can help bridge this gap.

I asked a handful of marketers what this type of technology might mean for them, and no matter how tiny (or robust) there team was, the reaction was the same: AI-powered conversion optimization would amplify their results and multiply their time.

Johnathan Dane is founder and CEO of Klientboost, a fast-paced PPC agency based in Irvine, California.

When he’s not speaking at CTAConf (he’s done so the last two years) he works with his clients to get them the best results for their PPC spend.

For Johnathan et al, AI-powered conversion automation would mean zooming out from the nitty gritty details and spending more time doing the things he loves.

We’d be able to strengthen our retention rate even more than it is now (one of our core focuses behind the curtains).

It would allow us to shift our resources towards other things that help grow our business, like using time to build partnerships, launch new marketing campaigns, create more of the content that has gotten us known on other platforms.

CTAConf attendee and marketing specialist Kelsey McFarlane of Orchestra Software shared a similar sentiment. The company she works for builds business software for craft brewers and distilleries.

Competition in her industry is minimal, since many of their competitors are not currently using digital marketing. But her team is small, so anything to amplify their efforts is huge.

We’re a really small marketing team — there are only three of us. So for us to gather the data to create the landing pages and then distribute [resources] to do A/B testing — we would be able to cut down on how much time is spent doing something that computers can already do for us. So it could streamline our team and make them pay attention to the more important aspects of what’s going on.

Joel on the other hand says he would spend more time not doing work.

A part of me wants to say I’d put that time into building out my other business ventures, trying to future-proof myself and make sure I’m constantly offering services that are relevant and robots can’t steal. But, honestly? I’d probably just get my projects done earlier, and then try to get outside. Life’s short, money is fleeting, and fresh air is important.

Start integrating AI insights into your marketing today

No matter how smart, no matter how scrappy your team is, if you don’t start leveraging the power of AI in your marketing efforts, you will be at a competitive disadvantage.

In the near future, AI will amplify your marketing efforts and multiply your conversions, but more importantly, it will free up your time to focus on the most creative and impactful parts of your job. .

Johnathan explains it best: “Too many people think that they need more money to grow their business (which is easy), carving time is the hard part, and that’s what AI would help us with.”

As Unbounce’s AI gets smarter and we learn more about the variables (copy, images, form fields, traffic sources, etc.) that influence conversion, we will be sharing our learnings and insights with our customers and readers.

We recently released the Unbounce Conversion Benchmark Report — an analysis of 74,551,421 visitors to 64,284 lead generation landing pages created in the Unbounce platform this year.

The Unbounce Conversion Benchmark Report is filled with industry-specific data, graphs and actionable takeaways.

The report provides marketers across 10 popular industries — including real estate, higher education, legal and more — with data-backed recommendations around copy length, emotion and reading ease. More importantly, it answers the previously unanswerable question, “What is a good conversion rate for my industry?”

Start working AI technology and insights into your landing page optimization process today — download the Unbounce Conversion Benchmark Report and find out what’s a good conversion rate for your industry.

Start implementing AI insights into your landing pages today

Get the Unbounce Conversion Benchmark Report and learn what copy converts for your industry
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437 Digital Marketers Went Head-to-Head with a Conversion-Predicting Machine — Who Reigns Supreme?

Facebook Ad Expert Mari Smith Reveals Missed Opportunities (And What’s on the Horizon)

Facebook has over 1.28 billion daily active users.

To have more than a billion prospects in one place, literally at your fingertips, is a marketer’s dream (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg!). But turning those prospects into customers… well that’s another story.

As marketers, we know that a stellar Facebook campaign is made up of a lot more than clever copy, snazzy design and a hefty PPC budget. In a constantly changing environment of new features, products and ad units, it can be tricky to stay ahead of the pack — let alone stand out.

Facebook’s granular targeting makes it more possible than ever to reach the right person, in the right place, at the right time. But only marketers who are committed to making connections with real people and then maintaining those relationships will come out on top.

If there’s one person that knows this best, it’s Mari Smith.

Named Forbes’ #4 “Top Social Media Power Influencer,” Mari is one of the world’s leading social media thought leaders and educators in the world of marketing. Her knowledge of Facebook runs so deep that she was personally hired by the folks at Facebook to teach SMBs throughout the US at the Boost Your Business series of events.

Mari’s speaking at our Call to Action Conference this June, and here’s a quick word from the Facebook Queen herself.

PSST: Blog readers get 15% off tickets to Call to Action Conference until May 25th — just use promo code “blogsentme” at checkout

Despite her packed schedule, Mari recently took the time to sit down with Unbounce Marketing Educator Christie Pike to reveal some of her best kept Facebook advertising secrets. In this interview you’ll get Mari’s actionable tips and insights into:

  • Some of the biggest missed opportunities for marketers advertising on Facebook.
  • Companies that are crushing it in the social advertising space and what you can learn from them.
  • The next big thing on the horizon that Facebook marketers should be preparing for and investing in.
Christie Pike: You’ve been active on Facebook long enough to see its evolution from social media network to a performance tool not unlike AdWords. How has this changed the way that marketers run Facebook campaigns?

Mari Smith: The main thing to consider is the enormous amount of data that Facebook gathers, not only on the platform itself but in partnership with data companies. So every time you use your credit card, every time you make a purchase, surveys that you complete, any information that’s out there is moved into a kind of personal dossier that then gets matched with your Facebook ID. Because of all of this, people get scared and freaked out, Big Brother and all that, but it’s all anonymized and encrypted, so from a user standpoint I always say, “caveat emptor”, just recognize that in today’s day and age of privacy, everything is out there.

From a marketer’s or advertiser’s standpoint, it’s an unprecedented time that we’re in.  It’s a paradigm shift in terms of being able to reach the exact person that you want with Facebook’s granular targeting. Down to zip code, down to propensity to possibly make a certain purchase, from going on a cruise in the next six months, buying a BMW in the next three months, income, the number of kids you have, what you do for a career — all of this is just extraordinary.

So, we really do have to think of Facebook as a platform in which to get our message, our products and our services in front of our target market, but done so in a very relationship-oriented way. I think the businesses that are really standing out are the ones that can make us laugh or cry or go “awwww” and tear at the heartstrings — you know, create something that has viral shareability as opposed to how some business send a message that says “Hey, sign up for our stuff,” “Buy our stuff.”  It’s a cold market, you know.

CP: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen on the ad platform itself?

MS: I would say that a big change is in terms of ad units, which initially were just a link and some basic visuals, but over the years they have a much, much, much more visual emphasis. I especially love the carousel ads you can swipe. I think Amazon is one of the best at doing retargeted multi-product ads. I remember seeing one of its ads that had about 32 cards on the carousel that you could swipe and I asked myself, “How did they know I like all this stuff!?”

And then what they call slideshow, which is really just images made into a video, but definitely the prevalence of video is key. One of Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite words is “immersive,” and so the introduction of more immersive type of content like canvas ads has huge importance in the current ad space.

I worked directly with a video creation company, and they shared a great case study from Brussels Airlines that pull up a canvas ad advertising flights to Mumbai in India. They got something like 27 times more time on site after doing this beautiful canvas ad, whereas their previous Facebook campaigns led to an average of three seconds on site. The reason behind this was because back in the day, ads were just a link with a tiny wee thumbnail, and then they got bigger and turned into GIFs, slideshows, animations, interactive content and full-screen content.

So, between (1)  the ad products (2) the placement and (3) the targeting, I would say those are the three key areas where there are the biggest changes. Placement being whether it’s Instagram, mobile news only or if it’s right rail (which still has its place), but users are in mobile more than anything else.

CP: Who is doing Facebook advertising particularly well? What do you like about their ad campaigns? Can you provide some examples?

MS: My favorite video ad that I include in almost every single one of my presentations is by a fun company called Chatbooks. It’s a simple app (a subscription service) that takes your Instagram and Facebook photos and prints them in a book format, it’s really clever.

They worked with a really good PR/creative agency and hired a professional actress/comedian. From there, they created this three minute and forty-second ad. The ad was first put out on their Facebook page, which had just over 100,000 fans (now over 200, 000). And when I last checked, that video ad had 69 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

This is what I love to teach — when you can craft your content to be visually appealing (ideally video). When people are engaged with it they’ll share it with others.


When you craft your content to be visually appealing, people are engaged + will share with others.
Click To Tweet


I’ve never found a better example than Chatbooks. In fact, I originally saw it in my News Feed as a shared organic post by a friend of mine, and after I watched the full three minutes and forty seconds, I was ready to sign up and buy the subscription!

Another great example is from our friend Rand Fishkin from Moz,  who I know is speaking at CTA Conference this year.

Rand is doing these really great video ads called Whiteboard Fridays. I see the most recent one from April has over 4,600 views and 15 shares.

Whiteboard Fridays. Image source: Moz.

It’s so good because it’s educational and it’s the kind of video ad that you can stop and watch or at least save and watch later. It’s really cool what he’s doing because he’s not saying, “Hey everybody, sign up for Moz, see what we can do for you!” Instead, he’s like, “Hey here’s some education on SEO,” and it’s the kind of stuff that people will stop and save and consume.

One last shout out to my good friend Ezra Firestone and his company called Smart Marketer. He does really amazing stuff with video ads and lead gen.

CP: Unbounce cofounder Oli Gardner estimates that 98% of AdWords campaign traffic is not being sent to a dedicated landing page. If you had to guess, what percentage of Facebook marketers do you think are sending their traffic to mobile optimized landing pages? Do you see this as a missed opportunity?

MS: I would have said it’s probably a lot lower. My guess is that 65% is going to a dedicated landing page on Facebook — I get the sense that Facebook advertisers, for the most part, are a little more savvy. They realize you can’t spend all this money and have a captive audience and then just send them away to figure it out for themselves.

But to Oli’s point, I do see a missed an opportunity — especially when marketers are not really thoroughly checking and having a small test group. It’s important to invest a small amount — about $60 – $100 dollars — towards some A/B testing to see which ad gets better conversions. Doing the pixel and tracking the standard events, all of these components are key.

The second part is mobile optimized websites/landing pages. If someone’s clicking through and it’s too wide for the phone,  or the pop-up appears and you can’t find the ‘X’ on it it takes less than a second and they’re outta there.

CP: Are you seeing good examples of Facebook campaign landing pages? 

MS: I think my good friends over at AdEspresso – they were recently acquired by Hootsuite, a fellow Vancouver company —  they’re doing some really good stuff. I love their blog. In fact, they quote you there.

I’d have to think really hard to narrow down a specific landing page example, but in terms of components, or landing page elements, less is always more, something simple that’s really congruent with the ad itself.


Drive FB ad traffic to a landing page that’s simple & consistent with your ad. Less = more.
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The job of an ad and the job of an email is to get people to a landing page, and the job of a landing page is to convert, whether I’m asking for your email or I’m asking for you to make a purchase. And the beautiful thing about Facebook pixels is if someone doesn’t decide right then and there, you’re able to do some retargeting campaigns to refine further.

CP: Are there certain verticals that are more successful with Facebook advertising than others?

MS: I was just speaking at Marketo’s conference last week and they are, as you know, almost exclusively B2B, and so my talk was very geared towards the B2B audience.

I think Facebook has a reputation for being known to perform better for B2C, but I always like to say that businesses are running as “people to people.”

In terms of verticals, it’s probably easier to say what verticals are more difficult to reach, which are the highly regulated ones like insurance or finance —  but otherwise with every conceivable small business and niche or industry there’s a market that can can take advantage of generating leads on Facebook.

CP: When we talk Facebook ads, what are some missed opportunities?

MS: This comes back to the subject that’s close to my heart, which is really that relationship component: customer care, really engaging well when people are actually commenting and engaging on your ad.

I think what happens — especially with marketers that do the dark ads — is these ads can be very effective and you can be really selective in who you’re reaching without populating your wall, but then what often happens is out of sight, out of mind.  I’ve seen many major household brands where people are posting negative comments on the ad. There’s spam, people are asking questions about their products, and nobody is responding or acknowledging. I see that as a massive missed opportunity.

I think that’s one of the best investments that companies can make is having trained, qualified, passionate social customer care moderators. I always like to say that technology is moving at warp speed and it’s hard to keep up — but human beings, we’re not changing that much, and we want to know that we’re important, that we matter.

CP: What’s on the horizon?

MS: Right around the corner is Facebook television and that’s launching next month. Mark Zuckerberg is absolutely adamant that they’re not a media company, but just watch — just watch that space, they’re absolutely moving into that.

In the United States, the TV advertising industry is worth about $70 billion — it’s over $200 billion globally. And so Facebook now has licensed/paid for original content to be aired on video. And remember, they also have that app that they brought out not long ago that you can stream through your Apple TV or Amazon Fire.

So what’s coming next month are full one-hour shows that are highly professionally produced and then also small episodes — three to 30 minutes that will refresh every 24 hours, from what I’ve read.

For advertisers and marketers, we have to be thinking about quality video ads because that’s where Facebook’s next monetization horizon is (monetizing this digital streaming video with mid-roll ads). They swear they’re not going to do pre-roll, so let’s hope they stick to that.


Think quality Facebook video ads — for @MariSmith, that’s next on FB’s monetization horizon.
Click To Tweet


It’s all about being in that frame of mind — somebody’s watching a show they’re really engaged in and all of a sudden, just like television, it interrupts and your ad comes in.  So when it comes to video, it’s about how can you make it quirky, or fun, or entertaining, or emotional — I don’t think those things will ever go away as long as we’re human.

At the F8 conference, within the first 30 seconds Zuckerberg was talking about camera, and camera platform and developing for the camera. I saw some really cool augmented ads by Nike, and they were incredible.

Facebook is also really pushing live and they’re also deploying a lot of resources to combat fake news. They also announced two weeks ago that they’re they’re going to hire 3,000 more employees to make a team of 7,500 employees dedicated to watching for fake news plus anything untoward happening on Facebook live.

Really the key is for businesses and marketers is really education. I can’t stress that strongly enough. That’s why I just I love that you guys are doing this conference — you can’t get enough quality education.

PSST: Catch more from Facebook Queen Mari Smith at the Call to Action Conference this June. Blog readers get 15% off tickets until May 25th — just use promo code “blogsentme” at checkout.

Originally posted here – 

Facebook Ad Expert Mari Smith Reveals Missed Opportunities (And What’s on the Horizon)

What Facebook Advertisers Are Doing Wrong: Q&A with Mari Smith

Facebook has over 1.28 billion daily active users.

To have more than a billion prospects in one place, literally at your fingertips, is a marketer’s dream (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg!). But turning those prospects into customers… well that’s another story.

As marketers, we know that a stellar Facebook campaign is made up of a lot more than clever copy, snazzy design and a hefty PPC budget. In a constantly changing environment of new features, products and ad units, it can be tricky to stay ahead of the pack — let alone stand out.

Facebook’s granular targeting makes it more possible than ever to reach the right person, in the right place, at the right time. But only marketers who are committed to making connections with real people and then maintaining those relationships will come out on top.

If there’s one person that knows this best, it’s Mari Smith.

Named Forbes’ #4 “Top Social Media Power Influencer,” Mari is one of the world’s leading social media thought leaders and educators in the world of marketing. Her knowledge of Facebook runs so deep that she was personally hired by the folks at Facebook to teach SMBs throughout the US at the Boost Your Business series of events.

Mari’s speaking at our Call to Action Conference this June, and here’s a quick word from the Facebook Queen herself.

PSST: Blog readers get 15% off tickets to Call to Action Conference until May 25th — just use promo code “blogsentme” at checkout

Despite her packed schedule, Mari recently took the time to sit down with Unbounce Marketing Educator Christie Pike to reveal some of her best kept Facebook advertising secrets. In this interview you’ll get Mari’s actionable tips and insights into:

  • Some of the biggest missed opportunities for marketers advertising on Facebook.
  • Companies that are crushing it in the social advertising space and what you can learn from them.
  • The next big thing on the horizon that Facebook marketers should be preparing for and investing in.
Christie Pike: You’ve been active on Facebook long enough to see its evolution from social media network to a performance tool not unlike AdWords. How has this changed the way that marketers run Facebook campaigns?

Mari Smith: The main thing to consider is the enormous amount of data that Facebook gathers, not only on the platform itself but in partnership with data companies. So every time you use your credit card, every time you make a purchase, surveys that you complete, any information that’s out there is moved into a kind of personal dossier that then gets matched with your Facebook ID. Because of all of this, people get scared and freaked out, Big Brother and all that, but it’s all anonymized and encrypted, so from a user standpoint I always say, “caveat emptor”, just recognize that in today’s day and age of privacy, everything is out there.

From a marketer’s or advertiser’s standpoint, it’s an unprecedented time that we’re in.  It’s a paradigm shift in terms of being able to reach the exact person that you want with Facebook’s granular targeting. Down to zip code, down to propensity to possibly make a certain purchase, from going on a cruise in the next six months, buying a BMW in the next three months, income, the number of kids you have, what you do for a career — all of this is just extraordinary.

So, we really do have to think of Facebook as a platform in which to get our message, our products and our services in front of our target market, but done so in a very relationship-oriented way. I think the businesses that are really standing out are the ones that can make us laugh or cry or go “awwww” and tear at the heartstrings — you know, create something that has viral shareability as opposed to how some business send a message that says “Hey, sign up for our stuff,” “Buy our stuff.”  It’s a cold market, you know.

CP: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen on the ad platform itself?

MS: I would say that a big change is in terms of ad units, which initially were just a link and some basic visuals, but over the years they have a much, much, much more visual emphasis. I especially love the carousel ads you can swipe. I think Amazon is one of the best at doing retargeted multi-product ads. I remember seeing one of its ads that had about 32 cards on the carousel that you could swipe and I asked myself, “How did they know I like all this stuff!?”

And then what they call slideshow, which is really just images made into a video, but definitely the prevalence of video is key. One of Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite words is “immersive,” and so the introduction of more immersive type of content like canvas ads has huge importance in the current ad space.

I worked directly with a video creation company, and they shared a great case study from Brussels Airlines that pull up a canvas ad advertising flights to Mumbai in India. They got something like 27 times more time on site after doing this beautiful canvas ad, whereas their previous Facebook campaigns led to an average of three seconds on site. The reason behind this was because back in the day, ads were just a link with a tiny wee thumbnail, and then they got bigger and turned into GIFs, slideshows, animations, interactive content and full-screen content.

So, between (1)  the ad products (2) the placement and (3) the targeting, I would say those are the three key areas where there are the biggest changes. Placement being whether it’s Instagram, mobile news only or if it’s right rail (which still has its place), but users are in mobile more than anything else.

CP: Who is doing Facebook advertising particularly well? What do you like about their ad campaigns? Can you provide some examples?

MS: My favorite video ad that I include in almost every single one of my presentations is by a fun company called Chatbooks. It’s a simple app (a subscription service) that takes your Instagram and Facebook photos and prints them in a book format, it’s really clever.

They worked with a really good PR/creative agency and hired a professional actress/comedian. From there, they created this three minute and forty-second ad. The ad was first put out on their Facebook page, which had just over 100,000 fans (now over 200, 000). And when I last checked, that video ad had 69 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

This is what I love to teach — when you can craft your content to be visually appealing (ideally video). When people are engaged with it they’ll share it with others.


When you craft your content to be visually appealing, people are engaged + will share with others.
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I’ve never found a better example than Chatbooks. In fact, I originally saw it in my News Feed as a shared organic post by a friend of mine, and after I watched the full three minutes and forty seconds, I was ready to sign up and buy the subscription!

Another great example is from our friend Rand Fishkin from Moz,  who I know is speaking at CTA Conference this year.

Rand is doing these really great video ads called Whiteboard Fridays. I see the most recent one from April has over 4,600 views and 15 shares.

Whiteboard Fridays. Image source: Moz.

It’s so good because it’s educational and it’s the kind of video ad that you can stop and watch or at least save and watch later. It’s really cool what he’s doing because he’s not saying, “Hey everybody, sign up for Moz, see what we can do for you!” Instead, he’s like, “Hey here’s some education on SEO,” and it’s the kind of stuff that people will stop and save and consume.

One last shout out to my good friend Ezra Firestone and his company called Smart Marketer. He does really amazing stuff with video ads and lead gen.

CP: Unbounce cofounder Oli Gardner estimates that 98% of AdWords campaign traffic is not being sent to a dedicated landing page. If you had to guess, what percentage of Facebook marketers do you think are sending their traffic to mobile optimized landing pages? Do you see this as a missed opportunity?

MS: I would have said it’s probably a lot lower. My guess is that 65% is going to a dedicated landing page on Facebook — I get the sense that Facebook advertisers, for the most part, are a little more savvy. They realize you can’t spend all this money and have a captive audience and then just send them away to figure it out for themselves.

But to Oli’s point, I do see a missed an opportunity — especially when marketers are not really thoroughly checking and having a small test group. It’s important to invest a small amount — about $60 – $100 dollars — towards some A/B testing to see which ad gets better conversions. Doing the pixel and tracking the standard events, all of these components are key.

The second part is mobile optimized websites/landing pages. If someone’s clicking through and it’s too wide for the phone,  or the pop-up appears and you can’t find the ‘X’ on it it takes less than a second and they’re outta there.

CP: Are you seeing good examples of Facebook campaign landing pages? 

MS: I think my good friends over at AdEspresso – they were recently acquired by Hootsuite, a fellow Vancouver company —  they’re doing some really good stuff. I love their blog. In fact, they quote you there.

I’d have to think really hard to narrow down a specific landing page example, but in terms of components, or landing page elements, less is always more, something simple that’s really congruent with the ad itself.


Drive FB ad traffic to a landing page that’s simple & consistent with your ad. Less = more.
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The job of an ad and the job of an email is to get people to a landing page, and the job of a landing page is to convert, whether I’m asking for your email or I’m asking for you to make a purchase. And the beautiful thing about Facebook pixels is if someone doesn’t decide right then and there, you’re able to do some retargeting campaigns to refine further.

CP: Are there certain verticals that are more successful with Facebook advertising than others?

MS: I was just speaking at Marketo’s conference last week and they are, as you know, almost exclusively B2B, and so my talk was very geared towards the B2B audience.

I think Facebook has a reputation for being known to perform better for B2C, but I always like to say that businesses are running as “people to people.”

In terms of verticals, it’s probably easier to say what verticals are more difficult to reach, which are the highly regulated ones like insurance or finance —  but otherwise with every conceivable small business and niche or industry there’s a market that can can take advantage of generating leads on Facebook.

CP: When we talk Facebook ads, what are some missed opportunities?

MS: This comes back to the subject that’s close to my heart, which is really that relationship component: customer care, really engaging well when people are actually commenting and engaging on your ad.

I think what happens — especially with marketers that do the dark ads — is these ads can be very effective and you can be really selective in who you’re reaching without populating your wall, but then what often happens is out of sight, out of mind.  I’ve seen many major household brands where people are posting negative comments on the ad. There’s spam, people are asking questions about their products, and nobody is responding or acknowledging. I see that as a massive missed opportunity.

I think that’s one of the best investments that companies can make is having trained, qualified, passionate social customer care moderators. I always like to say that technology is moving at warp speed and it’s hard to keep up — but human beings, we’re not changing that much, and we want to know that we’re important, that we matter.

CP: What’s on the horizon?

MS: Right around the corner is Facebook television and that’s launching next month. Mark Zuckerberg is absolutely adamant that they’re not a media company, but just watch — just watch that space, they’re absolutely moving into that.

In the United States, the TV advertising industry is worth about $70 billion — it’s over $200 billion globally. And so Facebook now has licensed/paid for original content to be aired on video. And remember, they also have that app that they brought out not long ago that you can stream through your Apple TV or Amazon Fire.

So what’s coming next month are full one-hour shows that are highly professionally produced and then also small episodes — three to 30 minutes that will refresh every 24 hours, from what I’ve read.

For advertisers and marketers, we have to be thinking about quality video ads because that’s where Facebook’s next monetization horizon is (monetizing this digital streaming video with mid-roll ads). They swear they’re not going to do pre-roll, so let’s hope they stick to that.


Think quality Facebook video ads — for @MariSmith, that’s next on FB’s monetization horizon.
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It’s all about being in that frame of mind — somebody’s watching a show they’re really engaged in and all of a sudden, just like television, it interrupts and your ad comes in.  So when it comes to video, it’s about how can you make it quirky, or fun, or entertaining, or emotional — I don’t think those things will ever go away as long as we’re human.

At the F8 conference, within the first 30 seconds Zuckerberg was talking about camera, and camera platform and developing for the camera. I saw some really cool augmented ads by Nike, and they were incredible.

Facebook is also really pushing live and they’re also deploying a lot of resources to combat fake news. They also announced two weeks ago that they’re they’re going to hire 3,000 more employees to make a team of 7,500 employees dedicated to watching for fake news plus anything untoward happening on Facebook live.

Really the key is for businesses and marketers is really education. I can’t stress that strongly enough. That’s why I just I love that you guys are doing this conference — you can’t get enough quality education.

PSST: Catch more from Facebook Queen Mari Smith at the Call to Action Conference this June. Blog readers get 15% off tickets until May 25th — just use promo code “blogsentme” at checkout.

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What Facebook Advertisers Are Doing Wrong: Q&A with Mari Smith