Your Eyes Don’t Lie – 3 Tips to Create Engaging Facebook Ads Based on Eye-Tracking Data

By Jason Tabeling, Rachel Thayer, and the Rosetta User Research Team


The average user will say they don’t pay attention to paid branded content on social media platforms – but are they being truthful?

While this may be what the brain remembers, it isn’t necessarily what’s actually going on. As Facebook continues to drive down organic reach to increase bottom-line results, paid content (or ads) becomes more important, and necessarily more creative, every day. Native ad space is very different from a traditional billboard or even digital banner ad, and brands need to be even more conscious about how they navigate their communication options.

Using Rosetta’s in-house state-of-the-art usability lab, we tested a group of consumers to find out what their eyes identified as the best content from brands. The results were:

  • Short, simple copy
  • Strong calls to action
  • A seamless experience

Here are three tips that consumers’ eyes told us were the keys to making great ad content.

One Bite At a Time

It’s a content snack world; and we’re marketing in it. Twitter and texting have shifted consumers’ attention span requiring brands to tell a story in easily consumed, bite-sized pieces. To prove this point, there are now two (yes two) Emoji-only social networks. While this finding might be obvious, it isn’t easy to implement. Our study showed us that simplicity is key to grabbing a user’s attention. Our research found participants’ eyes bouncing around between bits of content, never staying in one place for very long, and often avoiding lengthy copy. The screenshots below show how test users’ eyes moved across the page.


Size Matters: and Bigger Is Better

According to Facebook, about 1,500 possible stories get filtered through a user’s newsfeed each day, but, thanks to Facebook’s algorithm, only 20% of those (300) actually make the feed. The platform selects content based on a variety of predictive engagement factors that include other users’ engagement rate (comments, likes, shares) and the relationship to the user who posted it. Using images is a great way to break through the clutter and drive the type of engagement that will keep your messages visible. Our user research found that consumers’ eyes were drawn by large calls to action. These large images and bold copy captured consumers’ attention while they were surveying their feed.


Keep the User in the Experience

Not only are standard Marketplace ads (right rail ads) limited to desktop sites (this is the age of mobile!), but they are also located in an area that the eye has been trained to ignore. This is not to say that proper relevance can’t overcome this barrier and make Marketplace ads effective, but our research demonstrates that content in the native space within the users’ newsfeed makes it much more likely to grab their attention. This makes the targeting criteria that much more critical. The importance of relevance, as you enter a user’s personal space, cannot be overstated. This is a party among friends and if a brand wants to crash, it needs to add value to the party and not distract. Ask yourself, are you using all the targeting data available to find the right audience for your message at the right time?


So, what does this mean for brands?

It shows us that consumers’ eyes are naturally drawn to specific elements of an ad that will increase engagement. The struggle that we, as marketers, face is striking the balance of being a brand in a personal space. As a brand, you want to be invited in, but your message will need to respect the hallowed ground that is a user’s newsfeed and create value for the user. Following these three tips will help you drive an engaging relationship between consumer and brand that will result in long term business impact.

If these findings don’t apply to your brand, that’s ok—they demonstrate a trend, not the rule. Doing your own research is a great way to identify what consumers are relating to in your branded content. Rosetta does a ton of usability studies to validate our clients’ findings. We suggest you do the same for your brand and we would, of course, be happy to help.

View the Rosetta Consulting white papers “Customer Engagement from the Marketer’s Perspective” and “Customer Engagement from the Consumer’s Perspective.”


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