Facebook’s 20% Rule Revisited

Facebook’s 20% Rule Revisited

By Friday October 21st, 2016

This article is a quick update to an article I wrote two years ago when Facebook initially rolled out the 20% rule on their advertising platform. A lot has changed since then, so it seems like a good time to take another look.

When I first wrote about Facebook’s 20% rule in August of 2014, the rule regulating text overlays on ads & promoted posts had just been rolled out, and I hated it. I was getting great engagement rates for many of our clients by using big, bold text overlays, and I did not appreciate the added constraint of fitting the text within Facebook’s grid pattern.

With its detection system still very young, I was able to dodge the limitation, which led to my article containing 3 tips for beating the 20% rule. Unfortunately, those workarounds have been squashed for quite some time now. I’ve updated the article since then, but it’s just an empty shell now, with no real value. A shame.

The article still gets a surprising amount of traffic from organic search, though, which means that many people are still struggling with and wondering about this topic. So, it seems like a good time to take another look at things, study the issue in hindsight and talk about where we are now.

20/20 Hindsight on the 20% rule

In retrospect, this wasn’t as painful of a transition as it seemed at the time. Did we have to rework our process for designing social imagery? Yep. Did I lose the great engagement from big, bold text in post designs? Maybe some. Are we still able to get great engagement with our Facebook posts? Of course. Do I still harbor a deep hatred for the 20% rule? Nah, not really.

Generic Facebook Ad

The fact is that images with huge text were being overused in Facebook advertising, and it made a worse experience for users. I have no doubt that the constant noise introduced by these blaring signals would have eventually blurred into white-noise, losing users’ attention and my great engagement rates. Facebook has a delicate contract between the users and advertisers that must be preserved if anybody is to thrive on the platform.

Facebook has a delicate contract between the users and advertisers that must be protected.

It also helped to remind us that social experiences are about the content itself. These news feed banners are not meant to be billboards, but a peek into the experience that can be had by clicking. I think many of us (myself included) forgot that while we were busy yelling into our megaphones.

What did we learn?

We now peacefully abide by the 20% rule here at Brolik. It seems only natural. Text on the images is kept to a minimum, and until recently, we used a template in photoshop to make it easy to design within the boundaries of the grid system.

We also focus our Facebook strategies a lot more on the content and relationship building than we used to. We no longer treat it as a direct lead/business generation tool. It was never really great for that anyway.

Think about Facebook more in terms of the top of the funnel, building awareness, clarity and relationships with the audience. Use it to pull them deeper into your brand. Once they’ve read a few articles on your blog, or browsed your store for a few minutes they’ll be much closer to you and more motivated to spend money.

Social Media Sales Funnel

In short, Facebook provides a perfect platform for finding the right people and bringing them closer to your brand. Use engagements and time on site as your KPIs, not direct sales conversions.

No More 20% Rule!?

Jon Loomer spotted a limited test removing the rule back in April, which was confirmed by the company. Then a few months later in June, he received official confirmation that the rule had been sacked. Hallelujah! Right?

Well, it’s not that easy. While the rule in its original format is no longer, there is still a mechanism to cull the number of text heavy posts in the news feed. First, instead of the dreaded 5 x 5 grid, there are now 4 levels of “text density” (OK, Low, Medium and High).

The OK rating is approximately the same as the “passing” grade before, meaning that the ad will experience full reach and standard costs. For each level above “OK,” the reach of that post will be diminished slightly. Conclusion: it’s probably best to stay within the same-ish guidelines as before.

One really great thing is the end of the 5 x 5 grid. Facebook no longer looks to this coarse, unspecific way of filtering text heavy imagery. The change means that we can stop using grid templates and fiddling with the placement of the text, but it also means that the guidelines aren’t exactly cut and dry.

They have developed a new version of the image text checker tool for the post grid world, but it will mean that you need to export the image from your image editing software to check, which is bound to get annoying.

Final Thoughts

As much as I hated the 20% rule, I have to admit it taught us something. It reminded brands and advertisers to focus more on our relationship with the user. It forced us, kicking and screaming, to give our audience what they want, instead of what elicited the most reaction out of them. It may have caused a short term speed bump in our process and ad success, but I have no doubt that it was the right move for the long run.

As much as I hated the 20% rule, I have to admit it taught us something.

So, the 20% rule is still in full force, but perhaps with a different name, and with a much different approach. I think the recent changes to the system are much needed, and will be very welcomed by marketers. I have reached my peace with the format, and applaud Facebook for sticking to their guns on what they knew were the right decisions, despite the mountains of angry feedback I’m sure they received.

This is far from the first or last change we will see to how we approach marketing on these maturing digital platforms. We need something to keep us on our toes after all.

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About the Author

Matthew is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik. As CSO, he manages the digital marketing team, helping Brolik’s roster of clients achieve their online marketing goals. When he’s not coming up with his next big campaign idea, you might find him in the recording studio or enjoying an IPA with a funny name. Check him out on Twitter.