Advanced Facebook Ads: How to Beat Disapproval

December 31st, 2012 by Search Influence Alumni

facebook ad disapprovalWhile some may view the right-hand side of their Facebook stalking experience as an uninteresting blob of text, Facebook was once the world’s largest display advertising network, pulling in over $2.2 billion in annual revenues. Even now, Facebook ads are an invaluable tool for any social media campaign. Industry standard click-through rates, the percentage of the time an impression leads to a user clicking on an ad, hover around .05%, but we’ve recently seen CTRs as high as 1.5% for well-targeted sponsored stories and over 7% for post like ads!
facebook ad disapproval
But this glowing opportunity can be hard to grasp if you work in less family-friendly fields. The reader can easily imagine business models that may be be considered prima facie inconsistent “with the overall user experience” of Facebook. For those businesses, it’s important to understand the value of “black hat” advanced Facebook PPC: bending editorial guidelines to best advertise your product.

Some folks may cringe at the term “black hat.” While hacking for links is loathsome, most spam is only annoying to the end user: the act of creatively interpreting best practice guidelines is hardly the cold-hearted evil that fits into the wide swath of questionable techniques available to an advanced marketer. In this post, we’re focusing on the last (and probably least applicable) definition of “black hat:” bending poorly-policed rules to make sure we do our best for our clients.

facebook ad disapprovalTo boot, Facebook actively goads advanced advertisers to bend their rules. Regardless of your page’s subject matter, Facebook still beseeches marketers to “See Your Ad Here,” often showing a recent post. For a page that is already posting inappropriate content, this enticement throws down the gauntlet to get the ad to pass content review. Sometimes, it’s easier than you think.

Despite the challenge, all ads are subject to review under the guidelines, even if they’ll show in the preview. The rules themselves are reasonable, protecting users from malicious software and malicious badthink such as hate, prurience, and tobacco. These rules are not dissimilar from other networks like Google’s, but advertisers must more intimately understand the review process to best handle the occasional ad review oddity.

Skirting the Line & Errors of Commission

Facebook prohibits directly asking users about demographic information, preferring to have ads show the value to the demographic. From a marketing perspective, this makes sense: you’re targeting interests already, so why ask if you’re hitting your target? However, it’s clear that this guideline is inconsistently applied.
facebook ad disapproval
The approved ad (right) directly asks “Have you been Fired, Laid Off, or Quit?” There’s no guideline prohibiting asking about employment status, skirting the spirit of the rule while both the message and visuals remain striking. In contrast, the disapproved ad (left) does not “assert or imply… a user’s personal characteristics” and offers a more subtle image. In this case, Facebook’s reviewers didn’t miss a minor error, but seemed to fabricate or transfer an error.

As this is bound to happen with the scores of ads these reviewers must see, this problem is easy to fix: just resubmit the ad. If there isn’t a real underlying problem, it’ll be reviewed and approved. Two different reviewers will be unlikely to make the same mistake, but if you’re hard-pressed to find something wrong with your ad, contact support at your direct email or here — this won’t necessarily get it approved, but will likely give an answer as to what triggered the disapproval.

Errors of Omission & Retroactive Disapproval

Even with safeguards, sometimes ads get through that shouldn’t have. We serve a variety of niches that often trigger violations of image guidelines, yet are always surprised at what is allowed to be approved. Below is a collection of test ads we ran to see what did and didn’t get approved. These ads were intentionally at least borderline, skirting the edges of the ad guidelines.
facebook ad disapproval
Often, it’s not the image or ad copy, but the content of the Facebook page that causes ad approvers to hit the reject button. In these cases, a marketer has two options. The first is to use a white-labeled Facebook page for the landing tab, guiding users to a Like button on the tab that likes the actual page. This introduces blackhat Facebook tactics by offering a possible dark pattern by not telling what the user is actually liking. We didn’t test this to maintain the strength of the brand we advertised, but the temptation was there. Facebook again tempts the darker side of advertisers.

How to Beat the Approval Process: Don’t Connect to Facebook!

facebook ad disapproval
The second trick that we found much more effective is to use the full URL of the landing tab instead of “Advertising a Page” in Facebook’s ad editor. Due to the lack of an API hookup, this does not pull in the content of the Facebook page, thus letting an advertiser send traffic to a page that would otherwise be speedily disapproved. This also works with individual posts, letting an advertiser run ersatz sponsored stories to their post. Using an acceptable image and what could be questionable text, the ad would have landed users on a image post that was undoubtedly obscene. Surprisingly, the ad was approved shortly after creating it.

facebook ad disapproval

This approved ad linked to a pornographic picture hosted on Facebook.

By simply pasting the URL, the advertiser is now heading to a landing page that only just happens to be on Facebook; thus, the content reviewers can only look at what’s on that web page, as opposed to the edges created and shared on the page. Furthermore, the rampant use of iframes and javascript on Facebook may not allow the approval team to see what’s actually on the landing page, as they may be unable to follow the labyrinth of code to the questionable content.

This might mean that much of the approval process is automated, but running at a lower level than Google spiders are. Unlike Googlebot, which is likely running a headless browser, Facebook is running something similar to older versions of Googlebot. This means quite a bit for advertisers who are used to the review process of AdWords, which often looks at landing pages. In all likelihood, medical images that may show nudity and other useful but “not family-safe” imagery will be permitted on Facebook landing tabs. This opens the door for a variety of verticals that otherwise wouldn’t be able to best show their competitive advantage.

You Can… But Should You?

Regardless of what tricks are used and what CTRs are produced, Facebook isn’t lying when it says that users prefer not to have certain subjects in their faces when they check Facebook at work to find out what their daughter is up to. Often, users will hide ads they’d rather not see, prompting a set of reasons for blocking the ad. If enough users hide your ad because of inappropriate content, Facebook will disapprove your ad retroactively.

This causes a familiar sight to seasoned Facebook advertisers: disapproved ads with qualified traffic. There are two options for a marketer, much like with accidentally disapproved ads: resubmit or leave it and create new ads.
facebook ad disapproval
In most cases, a resubmitted ad will have similar performance, but still eventually be disapproved; thus, it’s probably best for even experienced Facebook advertisers to bite the bullet and leave any retroactive disapprovals on the table. While frustrating, these ads are disapproved based on the feelings of your targeted group, who may not like what you’re using as copy. If your target isn’t connecting with your ad content, it might be time to change tactics, lest your brand be damaged by backlash and social media outcry.

A Game Plan for Being (Only a Little) Evil

The lesson in these examples isn’t that Facebook’s unfair and inconsistent: it’s that the rules are fluid and hard to pin down exactly. Similar to regular Facebook content, ad reviewers are only human, and inundated with split-second decisions. For a savvy fedora-sporting Facebook advertiser, there are three steps to solving a disapproval:

  1. Simply resubmit the ad
    • Test different times of day for submitting ads. Some people feel certain hours take advantage of the human element and are therefore best for borderline ads.
  2. Test the landing page
    • Try sending the ad to the URL of the landing tab or to your homepage. This should eliminate ad copy problems.
  3. Make small, incremental changes to the ad content
    • Make sure to keep an eye on what does and doesn’t work to sneak by the reviewers next time without issue.

With these three steps, most advertisers will be able to handle even the most controversial of Facebook clients and successfully get traffic on one of the biggest display ad networks.