A Mountain Biker's Path to Social Advertising Success

Conversion Rate Optimization

Everyone here at eBoost Consulting knows this, but I'm guessing most others don't; I'm an avid mountain biker and recently started racing competitively around southern California. As the Area of Practice Manager for SOAD (Social Advertising) at eBoost, these two worlds are frequently on my mind and while mountain biking and Facebook Ads may not seem similar, you'd be surprised. I'm going to take you through my mountain biking journey as it relates to SOAD best practices. So jump on your bike, grab your gear and get ready to ride toward SOAD success.

I've been mountain biking for as long as I can remember. Some of my fondest memories of growing up are mountain biking with my dad at Green Mountain near our home in Washington State. It wasn't until this last fall that I decided to take it to the next level and try my hand at racing. It was going to take a lot of time, money, and effort, but I needed to test myself and see what I could do to maximize my potential.

The first thing I did was pick a series to race in. I decided on the US Cup West series, the premier amateur/professional race series in Southern California with the best level of competition.

SOAD Equivalent: When you decide to start running social advertising, one of the first things to do is decide which network is best for you. LinkedIn Ads, StumbleUpon Paid Discovery, or Facebook Ads are all viable options. For this example, let's go with Facebook Ads as our channel because it's the most widely-applicable social advertising channel.

After deciding on the US Cup race series I had to decide whether to race with a team or individually. The upsides of racing with a team were that I would have people to train with, amenities at the races, some coaching, and a few other benefits. Essentially, teams facilitate your racing season and help you reach your goals. The main downside to racing with a team is the cost; it's expensive to join, purchase the jerseys, and you have to commit to racing at least 80% of the races. Each race also includes entry fees and requires hours of driving to get to and from the venue.

SOAD Equivalent: When you run Facebook Ads you have a choice between using Facebook Ads management software and using Facebook's free ad manager they provide on the site. It's more expensive to use the software, but if you're serious about Facebook Ads, and you're looking to do it on a large scale, the tools will be invaluable to your success. However, if you simply want to test the waters and get your feet wet with Facebook Ads, I recommend using Facebook's free ad manager tool.

After much deliberation, I joined a team - SDBC - and one of the first questions when submitting my team application was in what category I was planning to race. The races are divided into classes by age, gender, and racing category of Pro, Cat 1, Cat 2, or Cat 3 (in descending order of ability). I started in Cat 3 but advanced to Cat 2 after the first race where I stayed for the remainder of the season.

SOAD Equivalent: You need to decide who to target of the 900+ million users on Facebook who would benefit from your product or service. Who is your match? Remember that the users you decide to target also determine which other advertisers you're competing against. Just as I could have started out in Cat 1 and found the competition too high, you could start out targeting one audience and have to pivot to make SOAD work for you at a lower spend.

Next, I needed a race bike! It had to be very specialized and specific for the races I would be doing and was unlike any bike I had before. It needed to be ultra-lightweight, efficient, and reliable. It would be the vehicle for my races and I needed to get it set up perfectly to give me the best chance at success. It took a while to build it, but in the end it was a great setup.

SOAD Equivalent: From building a bike to building your account structure with campaigns and ads, this is a necessary but very time consuming step along your journey. While it may seem tedious and not fun, it lays the foundation for your account's performance. Taking time on the account setup will give your ads the best possible chance at success once they start running.

While I was building my bike, it was time to get serious about training. A light bike is great, but if you don't have the legs to make that light bike go fast, it will be a big waste of money. Pre-season training starts with a lot of what people call "base miles." Long rides build endurance in your legs and create the base of fitness that will empower you throughout the racing season.

SOAD Equivalent: Begin by creating a spreadsheet and outlining your initial set of ads. You have to start somewhere and when we setup Facebook Ads campaigns we build out a set of ads for each campaign based on best practices with some variation in ad copy and images. This way when we launch we're giving ourselves the best possible chance at success.

Finally, the day came. March 3rd, 2012 was my first officially-sanctioned mountain bike race. At 10:30 a.m. we lined up at the start line ready to go. Before we had time to be nervous, the gun went off and we were racing. We all took off faster than we knew we could ride for the whole race. We were testing each other out - who was "all show and no-go" and who had the legs to last at this pace? It only took about 10 minutes to see who was going to be strong and who had already fallen off the pace.

SOAD Equivalent: When you launch a Facebook Ads campaign, Facebook tests all of your ads against each other to see which will perform the best. They show each ad evenly at the start, allowing ads to accumulate impressions as they collect data. Before long, only the ads with the highest click-through-rates (CTR) remain running while the rest fall quietly to the wayside. Generally, only 10% of the ads you launch will continue to be shown after the initial couple days of Facebook's testing.

After a grueling hour and a half of racing in the heat, my first race was over and I ended up in 3rd place! I was happy with the finish, but I knew that I could do better. I had started in the lowest category (Cat 3) and I wanted to test myself in Cat 2 at the next race. In order do this, I had to step up my game and that involved lots of early morning training rides and long hours on the bike during the weekends. I tested many different types of training workouts:

  • "Spin-ups" - high intensity, high RPM training to build fast twitch muscles for sprinting
  • "Intervals" - high intensity, repeat training to build cardiovascular strength
  • "Low RPM" - high intensity, low RPM training to build leg strength

As the season progressed, I got stronger and learned where my weaknesses were so I could focus on improving them. I learned that I was strong on the hills, but had a hard time staying with others on flat sections of the race. In order to get better in this area, I focused on building leg strength with low RPM training.

SOAD Equivalent: Mid-season training is just like ongoing Facebook Ad optimization. You have to keep up with optimization to maintain a high CTR. Determine what's working and what's not working in your ads and then make the appropriate adjustments. If you have headlines that are working great, but images that are underperforming, then your CTR is going to be low and you'll pay too much for each click. Focus on testing different images until you find a theme that works. It's the repetitive and ongoing optimization that keeps campaigns performing well for long periods of time.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of racing: the awards ceremonies. Not only do you get to relax after torturing yourself during the race, but it's a great time to share stories, cheer on your teammates, and work up some motivation to do better next time if you didn't get on the podium.

SOAD Equivalent: Either weekly or daily we report on all of our Facebook Ads and analyze the results to see what worked and what didn’t. We optimize accordingly and focus on testing new advertising strategies and tactics. You may not get the gold every week, but by analyzing the data you collect, you’ll increase your odds the following week.

The journey is now complete. Wipe off the sweat from your brow and get ready for your next SOAD adventure. If you need a riding partner along the way, eBoost is here to help you win each and every online race you embark on.

Chris Root, Consultant, eBoost Consulting

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