Paid social is a powerful way to grow your email list. It helps you reach a cold audience who doesn’t know yet but needs you. It helps you retarget people who have engaged with your content or visited your website. But an often overlooked reason value of paid social is its ability to run controlled experiments quickly.
Paid social gives us the ability to A/B test our content in a way that organic social does not. We can run the same image against different body texts to see which copy performs better. We can test different CTA buttons or headlines. When we set up a proper content experiment with variables and controls (yes, we’re going back to the Scientific Method!), you can then start to really understand what makes your audience tick. This data helps you not only optimize that particular lead generation campaign, it also lets you optimize your lead generation strategy overall.
One mistake a lot of people make is they think a paid social ad is simply an organic social post with money behind it. So not true. A paid social ad is more complex than an organic post for a few reasons, the most important of which is the audience.
An organic post is served to your organic audience. These people already know how you are and they have consciously declared that they want to see more of your content by following you. This audience engages with your content because you created it.
A paid social ad, however, goes to people who don’t know you from Adam. You’re breaking into their world, disrupting their stream of cute baby pix from friends, running videos, and tips from the ER (IYKYK). As soon as they see the word “sponsored” they’re going to scroll even faster, so you have 1 second to catch their eye and maybe 3 seconds to establish enough relevancy that they keep reading what you have to say.
Because of these key differences, you have to be very intentional about how you create social ads. In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 elements of the lead generation funnel that you can test to help you develop a powerful, high-converting lead generation funnel for paid social. These elements are not the only things to test, but they will keep you busy for quite a while giving you meaningful insights about your audience.
Keep in mind the 1 second/3 second rule, the job of the creative is to catch someone’s eye.
If you listen to certain “marketing experts,” you’d believe that video is the best solution for paid social, but the truth is, it depends on your end goal. Your organic social audience probably loves your reels, and they have helped you grow your organic following. However, if your goal is paid lead generation, video can be a poor performer. Why? Because often people will take one action on an ad: they’ll watch, they’ll react, or they’ll click. Video is great to get them to watch, but for a lead gen ad, you need them to click. This is not to say don’t use video. Every audience is different, and the kind of video each company can make is different. The answer is, you need to test different creative formats to understand what makes your audience tick.
Here are a few types of creative you can test:
- 30-60 second video
- 15-30 second video
- Simple video with static background and a touch of movement, e.g. scrolling text
- Single static image with text overlay
- Single static image without text overlay
The leading angle of your ad is the part of the body text that appears above “See More.” If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, you’ve heard your teacher say, “Don’t bury the lead.” The same is true for paid social.
The leading angle is possibly the most important part of the ad. Remember, you have maybe 3 seconds to establish enough relevancy that someone wants to keep engaging with your ad, and for paid social, your audience doesn’t know you. The words you choose for the leading angle can make or break your ad’s performance. Your job is to help the audience self-identify and to create an emotional connection that’s strong enough for them to click See More, read your full text, see your call to action and decide to click through.
So what do you test in the leading angle? All of your ads will be driving towards the same lead magnet, but you want to test different approaches that would make someone see that they want or need your lead magnet. These angles can include:
- Questions your audience asks
- Pain points they have - the negative stuff they want to avoid
- Motivation points - the positive stuff they want to move towards
How do you identify these questions, pain points, and motivation points? Very simple: you have to talk to your audience. Client interviews are extremely helpful here. You want to find out not only what they liked about working with you, but what their experience was like before they found you. What information did they not know? What did they need to learn before they could hire you? What was hard to figure out? What excited them? Where did they struggle?
The beauty of paid social is you don’t need to interview hundreds upon hundreds of people. A sample size of five clients will give you a basket full of leading angles to test. If a client mentions it, test it. Write 5-10 different versions of copy that open with different questions, pain points and motivation points. Run them as ads and you’ll get a good amount of statistically significant data you can use to make informed decisions about future content.
Relevancy words are the language of self-identification. These might be words related to their job title, i.e. marketers, social media managers, home inspectors, lawyers. These can also be words related to their work. If you put in front of an actor the words audition, agent, or booked (meaning “got a job” in actor speak), their eye will immediately go to these words. These words have high relevance for actors. Your audience has similarly attractive words.
How do you figure out what these words are? Once again: client interviews. When you talk to your audience, you want to pay close attention to the language that they’re using to describe their situation and then use that language in your ad copy. Do they talk about “measuring ROI” or do they talk about “showing our value”? Do they talk about “selling a house” or “selling a home”? Do they talk at length about “improving energy efficiency” or do they never mention it at all?
You can also find ideas for relevancy words by doing search research. Google Search Console and simply typing a keyword into the Google search bar can be great resources.
Remember–this work is merely research. You need to run this language as ads to identify what your audience does and does not respond to.
Where do you test relevancy words? Place these words in the leading angle of your body text, on your graphics, and in your headlines (if the ad placement has it). Be intentional about which words you’re testing in each ad. Maybe one version of the ad talks about “buying a house” and the other version says “buying a home.” A proper experiment only changes one variable at a time, so if you’re setting up a clean experiment, you’d only change that one word in the copy. By doing so, though, you’d be able to say with confidence if your audience responds more to “house” or “home” or if it doesn’t make a difference.
When it comes to paid social, you have a few options for how you get people to opt-in. The most common are an in-app lead form, a landing page with no navigation menu, or the website. Which should you use? Well, that depends on your priorities.
In-app lead forms will likely give you the lowest cost per lead. As soon as someone clicks on your ad, they’re taken to a pre-filled form and in 2 or 3 simple clicks, you have their email address. It’s genius! Except for one small problem–they’re often very low quality leads. The funnel with its pre-filled form is so short that people often submit their data without even realizing it. They’re clicking through trying to learn more about you, and before they know it, they’ve “filled out” your form. It just wasn’t a conscious decision. Leads from an in-app form might yield complaints from the sales team about the quality of the leads. That’s not to say there’s never a place for in-app forms, but that low cost per lead isn’t necessarily going to give you the sales you need long term.
The next option is a traditional landing page. This is a simple page with only one call to action (fill out your form) and no navigation menu. Landing pages are great because they give people a chance to get to know you a touch more than the in-app form and they have to make a conscious decision to opt-in. The lack of a navigation menu means they can’t get distracted. They either consciously decide to opt-in, which they’ll do if they want to know more about you, or they have to decide to leave. These pages are great for easy offers, like a PDF download or a webinar where you’re asking for a first name and email address. They strike a balance between a simple, distraction-free funnel and a conscious choice to opt-in. They’ll give you a fairly low cost per lead and will filter out people who obviously don’t need what you have to offer. The downside is they can be challenging for bottom-of-funnel lead generation, e.g. request a quote, because people need more information about you before they’re ready for that level of commitment.
The third option is the website itself. Your website is the best way for prospects to get to know you. Your blog is there. Your service pages are there. The About Us page is there. It’s like playing in a ball pit for people who might want to hire you. The downside is that your website is full of distractions and they might not end up opting in before a text message text them away from your website. On the flip side, the people who opt-in to your website are the highest quality leads. These people are most likely to convert into clients. They’re in heavy research phase and are actively looking for a solution provider. By the time they opt-in, which may be after several website visits, they are very educated about you, and they’re interested in you!
Setting up a test is fairly simple. You would run the exact same ads to the same audience and simply change the destination. Repeat this test over time, and pay attention to lead behavior once they have entered your CRM (make sure they get tagged appropriately). Pretty quickly you’ll start to understand the quality of these leads as prospective customers.
When it comes to lead generation, a lot of folks believe if you build it, they will come. It’s the biggest mistake we see in lead generation strategies. Just because you created a lead magnet does not mean it’s the lead magnet your people want or need from you. Or it may be a good lead magnet, but it’s not a good lead magnet for paid social.
Your paid social targeting and messaging can be perfect. You can attract exactly the right people, but some lead magnets perform better at the beginning of the funnel and some perform better later in the funnel. We’ve seen lead magnets perform extremely well with the organic search audience and absolutely tank with the paid social audience. If we had only used the paid social data, we’d have thrown that lead magnet out the window. We would have been wrong to do so.
The reverse is also true. Just because your “request a quote” offer isn’t working on paid social doesn’t mean social doesn’t work for. You may just be asking someone to marry you when you should be asking them on a first date.
A low-cost paid social lead magnet is more of a give than an ask. Yes, you get their email address, but you don’t get their entire personal history before you prove yourself to them. You have to give before you receive. When someone is ready, if you’ve done your job to prove you’re a trusted authority who will solve their problem with ease, then they’ll give you everything you ask for.
When it comes to optimizing your paid social lead generation funnel, test several different lead magnets. 7 Tips, Cheat Sheets, Guides, etc. make great paid social lead magnets that grow your email list cost effectively. They give a lot of value and will have a higher conversion rate because they’re low ask/low commitment. You want to keep an eye, though, on how these leads perform long term. If the lead magnet is too general, for example, it might bring in people who aren’t going to become customers. Another lead magnet with a higher cost per lead might be more effective at generating customers. You want to pay attention to the entirety of your marketing-sales funnel.
Where do you get the ideas for all these lead magnets? You guessed it: client interviews. Obviously lead magnets take a lot of time and effort so you want to base these tests off at least some concrete data. If you need to narrow your choices, you can use the client interviews to develop a list of questions, pain points, and motivation points. Then test this list as leading angles in your ad copy. Use the leading angles that get the highest All Click-Thru Rate and Link Click-Thru rate to inform what content to include in your lead magnets.
When you’re getting started, pace yourself. A new lead magnet per quarter will be a manageable pace and give you extremely valuable information to optimize your lead generation funnel.
We’ve talked a lot about testing in this article, but if it’s been a hot minute since high school science class, let’s take a quick tour of the scientific method. If you want to get really good at paid social and lead generation, you need to employ the scientific method. The steps of the scientific method are:
- Step 1: Ask a question
- Step 2: Do research and make observations
- Step 3: Formulate your hypothesis
- Step 4: Test with an experiment
- Step 5: Analyze your data
- Step 6: Draw your conclusions.
So let’s take a look at how that can apply to marketers:
Step 1: Ask a question
- What language will generate the most leads?
- Which lead magnet will give me the lowest cost per lead?
- What aspects of the work I do motivates my audience the most?
- Do client interviews!
- Analyze the search terms people use to get to your site and what phrases they’re typing into Google about your work.
- Analyze your organic content to see if you can draw any conclusions. Agorapulse’s labels and UTM features will help you do this.
- My audience is more motivated by design than energy efficiency.
- My audience is motivated to prove the ROI of their social media.
Write ad copy with distinct leading angles that test your hypothesis. For example:
- Leading Angle A: New windows give your house a modern elegance that stands out from the rest.
- Leading Angle B: New windows improve the energy efficiency of your house, helping you lower those winter heating bills so you can spend your money on the fun stuff.
It’s important to remember that there are two important factors for a properly set up experiment: variables and controls. Variables are the things you change. Controls are the things you don’t. You want to change only one variable at a time, so you can be sure that that particular change was the cause for the difference in performance.
In the examples above, we opened both versions of copy with “new windows” and we used the word “house” for both of them. These are controls because they don’t change. The rest of the ad copy is the variable.
Now, a diligent scientist might take issue with what I’ve laid out above as the variable. The language is different, the emojis are different, the tone is different. It’s hard to do a perfectly controlled experiment with ad copy. If we were being more precise, we’d keep the language as close as possible in tone and emoji use as well.
But sometimes that level of precision isn’t practical in an ad campaign (audience exhaustion is real). That’s why we test more than once and in different ways. If we see that Leading Angle A performs significantly better than B, the question then becomes why: Was it the tone? Was it the emoji choice? Was the focus on design? These questions would help me set up my next experiment. I would create new copy that speaks to the aesthetic angle (this becomes a control) but test the playful tone against the more lyrical tone.
Leading Angle A: New windows give your house a modern elegance that stands out from the rest.
New Leading Angle B (testing aesthetic + playful): New windows that are so pretty they’ll make the neighbors jealous.
Each test is going to yield more questions. That’s okay. You’re looking for trends over time. You want to test and refine. As you repeat these content tests with intentionality, you’ll gain substantial insights into your audience that will help you maximize your lead generation funnel’s performance.
Step 5: Analyze your data
There are a few metrics that will give you the most meaningful insight into your paid social lead gen funnel performance:
- Ad All Click-Thru Rate
- Ad Link Click-Thru Rate
- Lead Magnet Conversion Rate
At the ad level, the All Click-Thru Rate tells you if your relevancy words and leading angle are resonating with the audience.
Your Link Click-Thru Rate tells you if your offer and call to action are resonating with people.
Your lead magnet conversion rate (total leads/landing page views) tells you if your offer resonates with your people.
These three metrics will influence your cost per impression and give your cost per lead. If you’re trying to troubleshoot why your cost per lead is too high, it’s likely because one of these metrics is off and/or you’re being charged a high cost per impression. If your click-thru rates and conversion rate are high, but you’re still getting a high cost per impression, then you know it’s a competitive week or you’re targeting a competitive audience.
You also want to pay attention to what happens to your leads after they go to the sales department. A good marketing director is keeping a close eye on followup rates by the sales team, the final close rate for different lead magnets, and how many engagements (from website visits to lead magnet opt-ins to quote requests) does it take for someone to become a client.
Step 6: Draw your conclusions
As you analyze your data, certain trends are going to start to pop out at you. Some leading angles will consistently perform better than others. One lead magnet may have a higher cost per lead but yield a higher close rate from sales. This is the information you need to optimize your lead generation funnel overall. A high final close rate tells you that that lead magnet is doing some important filtering and resonating well with future customers.
A lot of marketers confuse research and observations with drawing conclusions. Market research is step 2 of this process. To draw conclusions, you need data. To collect the data, you need a properly set up experiment. The more experiments with clear controls and variables you can run, the stronger the conclusion you can draw. Sometimes you run a test and you end up with more questions than answers. That’s fine. It tells you what to test next.
It’s also important to note that a single experiment does not give you definitive data. When it comes to drawing conclusions about content and what motivates your audience, you want to test things several times over a period of time. Try a leading angle at least 3-5 times before you say it definitively doesn’t work. You may also find that some leading angles do better with you retargeting and some do better with cold audiences. And you may find that your audience’s motivations change over time. Two years ago carousels often didn’t convert well for paid social lead generation. Today, they’re rocking it. If we had written off carousels because they didn’t work once, we’d be missing out on one of the best-performing lead generation tools today. Likewise, what works for one company may not work for another. And be careful listening to the “experts.” If we only ran video ads because someone told us they do the best, we’d really be leaving a lot of leads on the table.
So what’s the moral of the story? Always be testing, and always be intentional about what you’re testing. It will take time, but if you use the scientific method in your content and funnel testing, eventually you will build for yourself a very powerful lead generation system that makes your sales team, bosses or clients happy.
Anne Popolizio @anne2
Anne Popolizio is the owner of the digital marketing agency Social Squib.
In school, Anne was the nerdiest of creatives and the most creative of the nerds. This balance serves her well in social media.
She focuses on specific storytelling to your ideal client through the written word, video, and sound, but she’s obsessed with analytics so you can measure the results of your efforts.
She has been doing social media for businesses since 2010 and knows how to leverage your social media following into clients.
Download Anne’s free resource How to Use Lead Magnets to Get Clients