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There’s a big change on the horizon when it comes to ad marketing on Facebook. The much-reviled “20 percent rule” for the social media giant is gone. The rule limited an advertiser’s text to a maximum of 20 percent of an ad’s size – as calculated by a Facebook online tool that it forced advertisers to use – was never popular. Most industry insiders found the tool unproductive (not to mention frustrating), and the consensus was that nobody really liked it.

This is what it used to look like when the text in your ad covered more than 20% of your ad’s surface area:

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So now that the rule has officially gone away, Facebook STILL discourages you from too much text but won’t outright stop you from uploading them, preferring to give you more cautionary warnings like this:

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Facebook ads no longer forces you to adhere to the 20% text rule. But you may still want to: Click To Tweet

But in Facebook’s defense (I can’t believe I’m saying that) it’s kind of for your own good.  Here’s why:

The Role of Text in Facebook Ads

Showing bright, flashy images catches users’ attention as they flip through a magazine, surf TV channels, or – in the 21st century – scroll through social media feeds. Many advertisers have believed that using text overlay on ad images (prominently featuring phrases such as “free trial” and “special offer”) will lead to greater returns on advertisements, which is why so many marketers found Facebook’s 20 percent rule for text overlay so frustrating.

The Myth of Text and Ad Performance

However, a research team from SketchDeck conducted a study of 48 Facebook ads and found that, in terms of cost per click (CPC), ads without any text outperformed those that featured text overlay. This goes against everything most experienced marketers believe. The SketchDeck team’s theory about the cause of findings is that Facebook users are more likely to click on ads that don’t, well, look like ads – and a quick scan of most Facebook feeds will show that the typical Facebook user doesn’t include text overlay in his or her posts.

How the Facebook 20% Rule Has Changed

The 20 percent rule may officially be gone, but in reality, it hasn’t changed much. One significant adjustment, however, is that Facebook added a number of exceptions, listing items that no longer count as text on your ad. These include:

  • Infographics
  • Covers of books or albums
  • Product images – ones that show the whole product
  • Posters, including those for films, festivals, performances, and sporting events
  • Legal text
  • Screenshots from mobile apps
  • Comic strips
  • Text-based business inscriptions

Numbers, text-based business logos, watermarks – whether their usage is mandatory or not – still count as image text.

What This Means for Your Facebook Marketing Strategy

Perhaps it’s best for marketers to take Facebook at its word when it says that most of its users would rather see ads that don’t include much text. After all, they make their money from advertisers. So why would they provide unhelpful guidelines? The research from the SketchDeck team would seem to agree with Facebook’s assessment. A simple approach is to focus on creating catchy images for ads that will attract clicks and include more of the important text in the actual post that accompanies an image. If you’re smart about your text overlay strategy, you’ll likely see the payoff in your ad’s CPC.

Additional resources:

https://sketchdeck.com/blog/we-tested-48-facebook-ads-to-bust-6-marketing-myths