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When promoting a post on Facebook, you can only have text in 20% of the post's photo.

Lately that seems to have changed. I set out to discover what's going on, and had surprising results.

We live in a world of constraints. You're not allowed to park in certain places, you shouldn't litter in the park, and you can't shout 'fire' in a crowded movie theatre.

And these constraints help us keep the space we share reasonably pleasant.

Digital constraints

Some of these constraints are carried over into the digital realm as well. AdWords rejects certain words, LinkedIn won't approve copy with unusual abbreviations, and Facebook limits how much text you can have in a promoted post photo to 20%.

And we live with all of these restrictions, as they too make our digital common space a more pleasant place to be. 

Lately, however, I've seen a number of clear violations of the last one, the 20% text rule on Facebook, and so I decided to test out the limits.

A bit of background

As anyone who has promoted a post on Facebook knows, there are restrictions about to what you are allowed to promote.  

You can post anything you like (that's not obscene) but when you go to promote you're under much tighter restictions. In the promoted post photos, you can't include product discounts, contact details, or information about products that are disallowed (like guns).

And, you cannot have text in more than 20% of your ad. Yes, even for unpublished posts.

What does that mean?

Well, have a look at my example for a Job Coach radio spot.

I tried to promote this in 2013, but it was rejected. Why?  Well, I was told to check it using the Facebook Grid Tool, a self-service tool which lets you see what percentage of text you have in your photo.

Facebook's Grid Tool

How does it work? You simply upload your photo and the tool puts it in a grid.  

You then you click on boxes which have text and the tool tells you whether or not you should expect it to be approved for an ad.

 When I did so, I could clearly see that I used more than 20%.  And, as expected, it was not approved when I tried to promote it.

So I reformatted my ad, uploaded it again, and ran the test on the new visual.

 And it was approved. I wasn't thrilled about the photo, but at least I knew what the constraints were.

But now...

Now fast-forward to July, 2014 and suddenly I'm seeing all sorts of ads in the News Feed which are loaded with text. Surely a mistake I think.

 

Testing the text percentage boundaries

So I decide to push the boundaries slightly. One of my clients is recruiting IT staff and I wanted the ad to look like one of those inspirational quotes that are so often shared.

I uploaded it and did the 20% test. Uh-oh, it looks like a clear violation.

But then, lo and behold it was approved  and ran for over a week in the News Feed unhindered by its high text percentage content.

Well I presumed I got lucky. I couldn't find any info about Facebook changing the rules and even heard about the 20% restriction once again on the Social Media Examiner podcast this week. So I decided to experiment further.

Testing even more text

The next attempt was an ad for an ambitious salesperson. Again, perfect for one of those inspirational slogans that tend to be shared on Facebook.

I used a photo which had huge text so that it could be read well even on mobile.  I tested in the tool and got almost 50% text coverage.

Then I uploaded it and...

  

Approved! In the News Feed!

Going the whole hog

Well now my adrenaline was flowing and I decided that it was time to see if Facebook was checking the text percentage at all any more.

 I took the original ad that had 36% text, deleted the guy that was in it, and enlarged the text so that it was in 100% of the boxes.

And checked in the text tool.  Yup 100%.

I then uploaded it and waited patiently...

Approved!  We are now at full 100% text on Facebook ads.

So what?

So, now what, ding-dong the 20% text rule is dead? I think so. I've repeated this many times and, to stretch the metaphor, Facebook has not dropped a house on me yet.

But, I'm not sure the 20% rule really meant that much anyway.  I mean it did allow the ads to blend in better with the News Feed, but I don't think people care about that any more. Both consumers and brands now know that Facebook is a platform which integrates ads with your personal content.  And it seems to be OK with everyone.

But in another way, it is worrying that Facebook is now so concerned about revenue that it us letting standards drop, even if just by a little. And one wonders what is next?

But for now I encourage all of those who were tied to the 20% text tool to now try your luck with more text, and let us know the results!

Jeff Rajeck

Published 22 July, 2014 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

107 more posts from this author

Comments (20)

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Annie

We're actually having the exact opposite problem. The agency I'm with has submitted multiple photos recently (one just yesterday) that fit into only 20% of Facebook's grid uploader, and it's still getting denied. The inconsistency on Facebook's end is starting to get extremely frustrating since we still can never accurately anticipate whether or not a promoted post will get approved.

about 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

That is very frustrating!

Perhaps this is a regional thing as I am in Singapore - who can tell?

The real question I have, though, is why bother. I can see having these guidelines for Instagram, but it's hardly like my Facebook News Feed is free from text-heavy photos otherwise.

about 2 years ago

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James

Unfortunately this may be a test on Facebook's side as in the UK we had a post declined due to infringing this rule.

about 2 years ago

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Lucy

I don't think it is very responsible to advise them to "try their luck" given that advertisers spend a lot of money on multiple creative variations wether that be in house or through their creative agency.

about 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

I've now launched the 100% text ad in the UK and in New York City. Still approved.

So, although I agree with Lucy that you shouldn't spend a lot, I think that you absolutely must experiment with digital advertising.

And, this blog is the right place to encourage such testing and report on the results

So, do try it out for yourself. Spend $1 and see what happens. Please let me know!

Oh - and spread the word ;-)

about 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CTO at Fresh Relevance

Very interesting article. I thought maybe Facebook relaxed the rule, or there was a loophole, but it seems very clear...

"Ads and sponsored stories in News Feed may not include images comprised of more than 20% text."
https://www.facebook.com/ad_guidelines.php

So it seems possible that Facebook is doing a local trial in your area, as James said.

about 2 years ago

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Katie

I think something is up. I noticed an advert for something in Macau, (we are in Hong Kong) and it was pure 100% text coverage. I posted it to Mari Smith with a question... what's this about? Her reply was that humans did the vetting so perhaps it was a mistake, so I thought hmmm. ok.

But perhaps we are being trialled out here? I really don't think Facebook would suddenly go from being totally pedantic to blind as bats.

about 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Thanks Katie. I was starting to think I was seeing things ;-)

And I agree. This isn't human error. You can see the ads I put up - who could miss the text in those?

No, I reckon that Facebook are finally realizing that they are not really benefiting anyone with the 20% text rule.. Personal posts have photos full of text all the time.

Also, they need the revenue. And confusing and changing rules is making it difficult for small businesses to advertise on the platform.

Good riddance, I say.

about 2 years ago

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matus

Doesnt work to me

about 2 years ago

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Sarah

We talked to Facebook. This isn't true. It is still in place.

about 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Thanks for the update Sarah.

After trying many, many times - including running the campaign in USA and UK - I finally had the 100% text ad stopped. I'm not sure what ticked off the algo, but it finally came alive and killed the ad.

I still, however, have other >20% running - and see it violated all the time in my own NewsFeed.

But, as I say, I'm not sure what standards they are trying to preserve as my Facebook friends post full text photos all the time.

almost 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

I came across this work of art today on my mobile NewsFeed. Nuff said ;-)

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/0005/1123/fb_golf.png

almost 2 years ago

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russ

You can still post a promoted post with over 20% text. You just can't "promote" it. What happens when we've exceeded the limit is that the post is boosted for a short time, but then gets cut off quickly, way before it hits the budget.

almost 2 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

I did experience what you describe with the 100% text post. It ran for awhile (2 days) and then was stopped by Facebook.

But other >20% ads have run continuously without a problem. And I'm seeing more violations all the time.

So, I still doubt that Facebook will stick by some arbitrary rule to keep their News Feed 'beautiful' when they are under heavy pressure to hit revenue figures by investors.

See this Wired article for more evidence of this:

http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me

almost 2 years ago

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Kellie Boehm, Project Manager at iDesign

Yeah we have had several ads rejected for the 20% rule and work with contractors who are having long running campaigns now being dropped for violation of the rule. There were a few times an ad in violation (barely in violation) ran a short while and then rejected, it was a painful start and stop in a time sensitive campaign. Testing the waters should only be done in circumstances that timing is not an issue. We are based in Maryland - perhaps we are high on a target list - but we are not getting past that rule.

over 1 year ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Great feedback - thanks Kellie.

What I have found out since running this post is that though the approval process is automatic at first, all ads are likely to be reviewed manually. This fits in with what you've seen as well.

I see violations of the 20% text rule all the time still, though. Perhaps it's just small advertisers who run short campaigns - but it does seem a bit unfair that those spending just a few bucks get to run spammy ads whereas those who are committed to the platform have to be whiter than white!

over 1 year ago

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Chris Turner, Director at Oomph Agency

Hi, this rule is definitely still in place in the UK, as of Jan 9th 2015. However, it is worth experimenting as the tool is crude and simply moving text around a layout can help.

over 1 year ago

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Daniel Kelly, Marketing and Digital Coordinator at Black Magic Tackle

I believe that the 20% text rule also effects organic posts....PLEASE read my experiment and explain what you think...

I found that an organic post with more than 20% text received much more engagement but less reach than a post with 0% text which had less engagement but received much MORE reach...??

Post 1) had about 70%text....it was a FREE giveaway from our company which you can almost guarantee a lot of engagement with...The post included our company logo and a product shot and the words "FREE Weekly Giveaway"... The post had after 48 hours: 18 likes, 36 comments and 8 shares. BUT only a reach of 526!!! This seemed way to low for the amount of engagement received.

Post 2) So I compared it to a post with 0% text: This post was a photo of a customer using our product. It received 17 likes and 3 comments and had a reach of 1,848!!!

So the post with more engagement had less reach???

WHAT DOES FACEBOOK MEASURE!???

Worth noting:
Post 1: the comments did not come from 36 different people...some people commented multiple times. The 36 comments came from 9 different people.

Post 1 received it's higher level of engagement and low reach over 48 hours. Whereas Post 2 received it's engagement and high reach over 2 hours.

AGAIN.... WHAT DOES FACEBOOK MEASURE????

6 months ago

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mary owens, owner/peon at mary owens design studio

I noticed that your ad had a graphic of an office in gray and the text on top of it was a similar color ... If the 20% law "scanner" passed over it it's probalby becuase the ''mechaicnal eye'' couldn't distinguish between the text and the office graphics ? it got confused......until an employee finally realized the glitch... just wondering..maybe certain images with text similare in color pass becuase it confuses the scanner. you should try various colors of text on similar background colors and see what happens...follow me?

6 months ago

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Trista Robinson-Ashley, Partner at Jarmon & Ashley Group

The rules have not changed. I run ads on three different Facebook pages each with different budgets. On the pages that have small budgets (under $20 - $25 a post) the ads that have over 20% text are always denied. However, on pages with larger budgets (over $25) the ads are ALWAYS APPROVED. It seems Facebook only limits those who have limited budgets. It's all about the dollar now. I have contacted Facebook about this and they keep ignoring me. I think if enough people made enough noise about it we could get Facebook to create a FAIR policy that works with small business owners of all budgets or at best tell the truth about how they approve/deny ads. If you can have more text by spending more money - say so! Facebook already limits whether or not our posts show up in people's pages - even those who like our page - which forces us to advertise to get the posts. Then they make it so that those with more money get their ads out while those who don't have the cash are subjected to limiting their text to 20% and this can really affect an ad. My logo alone uses up two boxes of texts and the whole point of my advertising is to get people to look at the image to read the important stuff (which compels them to read more. It's unfair and Facebook knows it.

5 months ago

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