Instagram Ads best practices: step-by-step guide & how to reach target audience

Instagram Ads best practices: step-by-step guide & how to reach target audience

If you run a business in a competitive environment with a large audience, chances are that you are always looking to up your game when it comes to advertising. Your strategy – regardless of how well-crafted it is – will go a long way in determining how successful your business is on the long term.

Today, a lot of companies spend a fortune on advertising in a bid to reach target consumers, get their message across and increase their brand’s authority. However, advertising has evolved over the years, and while that domain offers a lot of benefits and options for both ad agencies and advertisers themselves, it also presents a lot of risk from whichever way you are looking at it.

A badly planned advertising campaign can cause a lot of damage to a company, especially if a lot of money was invested in buying ad slots. Speaking of advertising slots, one can talk about TV commercials or LPMs, but we find ourselves in an era where digital communication has closed the gap between ATL and BTL advertising, and that is actually where it gets interesting.

In the world we currently live in, the importance of social media advertising is essential. Selling compelling information to large, specific audiences is vital to boosting an online business.

In order not to stray from the main topic of this article, we will not go deep into the comparison of both advertising strategies. What we are looking at here is how digital communication makes it much easier for anyone to reach out to target consumers by employing more of a one-to-one approach, whilst piloting direct promotional campaigns. Of course, the angle we’re exploring is that of Instagram Ads, to be precise, so this is where all our focus is going to be.

The benefits of social media advertisement

Many startups go the route of social media when they first kick-off their advertising campaigns, and there are some good reasons to support that tendency. First off, it can be really cheap. Facebook, for instance, allows advertisers to spend as little as $1.00 a day on the content they are promoting, and that minimal amount applies to both daily and lifetime budgets. Note that Facebook owns Instagram, and it is in Facebook Ads Manager that we’ll create our first Instagram ad later in this article.

Now think about it, that amount is ostensibly much lower than what one would spend with more traditional advertising systems. It is not all sweet though; there is still a lot that has to be done for ads running on low budgets to achieve their targets, especially considering there is heavy competition online and the pool of potential consumers can not only be very dynamic but also very tricky.

Secondly, social media advertisement allows for great control over the distribution of ads. In addition to controlling the placement of ads and balancing impressions on major systems, it is possible to filter your audience by location, age group, gender, interest, device and more.

Facebook Ads Manager screenshot from the iOS app

Audience targeting has been made truly easy with Facebook’s Ads Manager app (iPad screenshot).

A third major benefit is that Facebook Ads Manager, for instance, offers advanced analytics – or extensive data reports – to help advertisers make the most of their campaigns by knowing exactly what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be refined. We’ll find out that with Instagram ads, the benefits are simply fascinating when best practices are applied.

So what are the best practices with Instagram Ads?

Facebook’s robust ad system, which we’ll be using to create the Instagram ad, is one of the easiest and most effective systems you can use to speak to your audience, particularly if you wish to communicate your message in creative ways via images and short videos. In a less precise argument, it can be noted that your voice has the potential to reach 500 million Instagram users, 300 million of whom are reported to use the social network practically every day.

Before getting started with Instagram ads, social media advertising basics need to be revisited and understood. If you are really not sure how to create your Instagram ad to obtain the results you are aiming for, it is likely your message simply is incomplete and it therefore needs to be touched up a bit before it gets delivered with confidence.

Here are some of the best practices that will help you become positive about your next Instagram ad campaign:

Understand why you are advertising

You should certainly not be tempted to spend on ad slots simply because you want to collect tons of Instagram likes and followers overnight. What would be the point in having a brand that looks solid when in fact no one really cares about it? You don’t want to look fake and desperate for exposure.

If you are advertising, it should be because you are certain that whatever you are promoting is of great interest to your target consumers and that you’ll yield gains in the long run.

Know what you need to advertise

You may have big plans for your brand or business, but the foundation of your dreams needs to be properly laid for success to follow. On Instagram, images and videos can go viral, but they can also have a miserable lifespan. Don’t advertise something that has been overly thrown at your target consumers; avoid looking overly promotional or unprofessional; and of course, don’t use media content that poorly reflects your brand.

Ads are shown to real people on Instagram, and if your poster or commercial doesn’t attract them the first second they see it, you’ve failed. Always take unique approaches when advertising and make sure your ad’s content is on point.

Know when to advertise

You can have a great ad and great target consumers, but if your ad’s timing is wrong, the analytics will bluntly let you know. If you sell sports kits, make sure to make some noise before the leagues or tournaments start – not when they’re about to end.

If you own a beach resort, make sure your ad is well displayed shortly before and during summer – that’s when people want to cool off and spend time by the sea with family and friends.

Set your target audience

What’s the point in advertising your expensive women’s fashion store to young boys between the ages of 13 and 18? Remember that when you advertise, it should be to create awareness and/or get positive returns of some sort.

In this example, you would be better off investing in an ad targeted at women seeking glamor and class. Audience targeting is highly essential if you don’t want to waste impressions.

Know how often to advertise

The moment people start seeing your Instagram ad over and over again, they start getting tired of your campaign and stop paying attention to your brand. Don’t let that happen. It is fine to run an ad campaign for weeks or months if you have to, but make sure your ad’s content gets reshuffled every once in a while to avoid excessive repetition.

If some of your ads need to be repeated every few days or weeks, make sure the period of time between them is enough. You’ll become an experienced advertiser once you are able to regulate your level of aggressiveness.

Know what media content to use

Aside decreasing the amount of text on your ad’s image, remember that Instagram is a mobile photo- and video-sharing social network. People there expect to see content that is captivating, lovely, engaging, funny and sometimes also informative.

Always keep in mind the nature of the network before designing your ad. If you end up with something looking like a boring 30-second video or some artwork looking like a newspaper ad, better not promote anything at all.

Adding human elements is always a good way to boost imagery on any platform. Maximizing your presence on a user’s screen whenever your ad is showing is equally necessary. Explaining how one could minimize the distractions from other content on an Instagram user’s screen, the people at AdParlor once made a great comparison.

Ads taking maximum space on mobile screens tend to perform better than ads allowing for other content that may cause distractions (e.g. other posts or other ads)

Ads consisting of stunning images which take maximum space on mobile screens tend to perform better than ads allowing for other content that may cause distractions (e.g. other posts or other ads)

How to create Instagram Ads

Now that you know the Instagram advertising basics, it’s time to get started. We’ll dive straight into our step-by-step guide to save you the boredom.

Step 1: Enter Facebook Ads Manager and select your account (you need a Facebook account, obviously).

Step 2: Select an objective that supports Instagram ads and click Continue. Here, we’re selecting Send people to your website.

Step 3: Set your audience and budget. Some of the key fields to control are listed in the table below:

LocationsSelect one or more countries, states or cities in which your ad will be displayed. You can target people who live in your set location, people who were recently there or people who are traveling there. It is also possible to exclude a location.
AgeChoose the age group your ad is made for. By default, Facebook’s ad system will propose 18-65+, however it is up to you to optimize the age range for relevancy.
GenderDetermine whether your ad is aimed at men, women or everyone.
LanguageSelect the exact language(s) your ad is in. It is possible to choose more than one variation of a same language; e.g. English (US) and English (UK).
Detailed targetingSpecify with details the type of people who should see your ad by demographics, interests and behavior.
PlacementsSelect “Choose your placements” and then disable Mobile News Feed, Audience Network, Desktop News Feed and Desktop Right Column; but leave Instagram enabled for your ad to show on Instagram only.
Mobile devicesSpecify the platform where your ad is relevant. This is especially useful when you are advertising an app.
BudgetChoose between Daily Budget and Lifetime Budget. The former means your ad’s impressions will be limited daily based on the set budget, whereas the latter means that your ad will run dynamically until the threshold for the set period is reached.
ScheduleDecide whether your ad should run immediately (after approval) or if it should start running and end within a scheduled period. If you choose to schedule your ad, you have the option to select both the start/end dates and times to the nearest minute. Scheduling can only be enabled for lifetime budget ads.

It is safe to leave other options to their default values; however, it is strongly recommended that you keep an eye on the Audience Definition and Estimated Daily Reach sections. The data displayed there should help you refine your budget and other parameters for best results. The more specific your audience is, the higher your chances of reaching the right people are.

The number shown as potential reach serves to give you an idea of the total number of people to whom your ad would be relevant based on your configuration.

Here is how Facebook puts it:

The potential reach is an estimation based on an approximation of the audience eligible to see your ads on Instagram and several other factors.

As far as your estimated daily reach is concerned, ads with very short lifespans tend to generate more impressions than ads running on longer periods with the same budget. For best results, consider running your ads for three days or less.

Next, proceed to create the content for your ad.

Step 4: Select your ad format.

Step 5: Select your media file. Whether you are using an image or a video, make sure your file is of high quality. For images, at least 600 x 600 pixels in size and 1:1 aspect ratio is recommended, although up to 1200 pixels in width is preferred. Little or no overlaid text will also maximize your ad’s delivery.

For video ads, 16:9 or 1:1 are both fine for aspect ratio. H.264 video compression is necessary – there are free encoders available to download for that – and MP4 format, along with stereo AAC audio compression is preferred. You may also use .MOV files; nevertheless, whatever your choice is, resolution must be at least 720p and video length must not exceed 60 seconds and 2.3 GB in file size.

Step 6: Under Page & Links, connect your business’ Facebook page and make sure your Instagram account is selected. If it is not, you can easily add it; you’ll just need your business Instagram account’s username and password. If you are not even signed up on Instagram, you can still run your ad using the Facebook page you connected earlier.

Step 7: Enter your business website.

Step 8: Enter a brief headline explaining where people will visit. Try and keep it short; about 25 characters is enough.

Step 9: Enter your text description to explain what you are promoting. About 90 characters is just fine. This will serve as your Instagram ad’s caption.

Step 10: Set your call to action (this is optional).

All that is left now is check your ad preview to verify that everything looks exactly as you want it. If you’re happy with it, click on “Place Order” to submit your ad. Review usually takes no more than 24 hours, and once approved, your ad will start running on Instagram!

At this point, it will be your responsibility to keep an eye on your reports to determine how successful your ad is, and analyze the areas you can improve on in your next campaign.


We’ve seen how vital it is to understand what needs to be advertised, how to go about it and why audience targeting is at the center of the game. We’ve also looked at why investing on social media is advantageous, and how Instagram is an amazing platform to communicate information about your brand through artworks.

The plus in all of this is the low starting budget that is required to begin making an impact. Especially when you are fully in control of your budget, you can really have a lot of freedom when it comes to the ad creation process. Some businesses have the capacity to reach millions of people at once, but others have to play smart and settle for progressive growth.

The bottom line is that regardless of how huge your brand is and how wealthy you are, advertising is meant to give you benefits in return, and the best way to achieve that is by communicating the right message in a convincing manner to the people who will eventually show interest in whatever it is you are spending to promote.

Instagram is becoming bigger and bigger, and its ad system is always getting enhanced. With an intimidating number of brands all fighting for exposure and attraction, the only way to stand out there is by understanding and applying the best practices.