Note: This article has been updated as of 20 February 2018 to include recent policy changes. This includes an update on the fake news backlash and a more in-depth look at restrictions, including subscription models.
If you ask most affiliate marketers, they’ll tell you that Facebook is evil.
Even as they pull 5-figure daily profits from the powerful platform, they’ll rage about the “unfair” practices and lack of communication.
They’ll instantly forget the laser-sharp targeting and access to literally billions of customers… but quickly recall the frustration they feel when that soul-sinking red box comes knocking:
To be fair, they have a point.
Facebook bans accounts like toddlers throw tantrums - frequently, randomly, and usually for a stupid reason (or none whatsoever).
Account suspensions are particularly obnoxious because:
- There’s no number to call or personal contact
- You aren’t always given a clear reason for the ban
- If you don’t have your external tracking set up, you lose a ton of data instantly
- Creating new accounts is difficult and takes time
- It just feels like a digital kick in the nuts (and you can’t kick back)
So, what’s the point of bothering with Facebook ads? How can you prevent bans and keep campaigns running? Why is Facebook doing this to us?!
Relax. Whether or not we like it, Facebook’s policies do make sense. In this post, we’ll cover:
- The risks and benefits to using Facebook Advertising
- A full summary of Facebook’s ad policies
- How to avoid and/or recover from bans if they do happen
- An update on recent cloaking qualms
- What we expect to see in 2018
Understanding the (rented) landscape
If you’re building your business on Facebook ads, this is one of the most important concepts to understand.
Facebook - like every other advertising platform and third-party traffic source - is “rented land”. You can leverage its power, but you can’t control it.
You know how you should never put all your eggs in one basket? Well, you definitely shouldn’t put all your eggs in someone else’s basket.
Why this matters
The best affiliates run a business, not just offers. Diversifying your means to operate (revenue sources, verticals, traffic, offers, etc) is critical to long-term success.
Focusing all your effort on Facebook ads is risky. This is especially true if you run them all through one account.
As long as you understand this, you can accommodate… and if you can adapt well, you’ll stay profitable and remain secure. (We’ll get into your options later.)
Benefits to running FB ads
Why should you play along, if Facebook is so picky? Oh, just the fact that it’s the most powerful advertising platform on the planet. Here are four big reasons you should sell your soul to the FB beast:
1. Endless traffic.
More than 2 billion people use Facebook. That’s nearly double the number of Google users at last count.
It takes up 79% of the US market share, with the closest competitor (Instagram - which it also owns and which can be advertised to through the same platform) far behind at 32%.
2. Powerful, almost creepy targeting.
Not only do you have access to literally almost everyone, you can also speak to your target audience with unparalleled precision.
With multiple ways to segment audiences, the potential to reach a specific audience is limitless.
Our favorite story of Facebook’s eerie targeting capacity? The guy who created ads for an audience of one: his roommate. Add a twist ending and you’ve got a cookie-cutter Black Mirror episode.
The future is now, folks.
3. Relatively low costs.
When compared to the incredible results you can achieve, advertising on Facebook isn’t half bad. If you’re particularly clever, you can accomplish big goals with a small budget. One team spent $500 to start a powerful media landslide by thinking one step outside the box - they targeted journalists instead of aiming directly for buyers.
4. The Facebook Pixel allows for complete integration.
Facebook allows you to integrate your website into your targeting efforts on its platform. The FB Pixel tracks visitors and events across your web properties, including abandoned carts, purchases and website interactions.
It’s recommended that you use the pixel for data insights and remarketing - when used properly, you’ll drop CPM/CPC costs while boosting your conversion rate. However, you should still have your own tracking setup to monitor offer performance.
Note: The FB pixel is powerful, but it can be a double-edged sword. When you install it, the pixel will crawl your site. If there’s anything remotely outside the norm, you’ll get banned instantly. And with recent updates attacking safe pages more than ever (more on this later), it’s extra important to install the pixel with caution.
Drawbacks to FB ads
Nobody’s perfect. Here are three things to keep in mind while planning your FB ad strategy:
1. Buying intent is often unclear.
Instead of bidding for intent, as you would with Google search queries or a traffic network running display ads on niche websites and apps, Facebook has you bidding for people.
You’re disrupting their day. They weren’t asking for your ads, or looking for related products. They were just checking out cats… and here’s your ad, right in the middle of it all.
2. Greater competition
People tend to have many interests, which results in greater competition:
- When bidding for intent, you’re only competing against other advertisers in your niche.
- When bidding for people, you’re competing against anyone marketing to the collective interests of all those people, which can extend far beyond your niche.
Optimization, private data and remarketing play a huge role in bridging the gap. Improving your Relevance score will also allow you to edge out competition. As always, testing is the key to identifying non-buyers and buyers at scale.
3. You’re at their mercy.
This takes us back to the “rented land” point. You likely won’t get a representative. They can change policies without notifying you. You can get banned instantly, even while running “clean” ads. Your money doesn’t matter as much as you think it should. Let’s get into the reasoning behind that…
Understanding Facebook’s policies - why so picky?
“I spend 6 figures a month, and I can’t even get ahold of a rep… let alone a clear answer!”
These complaints are all too common, and not just in the affiliate world. It seems strange, but once you look at Facebook’s motivations, it makes sense why they don’t give a toot about you and your “measly” $100k/month budget.
Now, you may be wondering…
“If their goal is to sell advertisements, shouldn’t they be focused on making advertisers happy?”
Sure… but it’s not the primary goal. Their power lies in being the largest, best-segmented, most effective advertising channel in the world… and the source of that power is their users.
That’s why they have such strict policies - FB will gladly sacrifice a relatively small amount of income to protect their golden goose.
So, the big lesson? Users come first. This should always be on your mind when launching campaigns. You can usually trace an ad account suspension or a denied campaign to poor user experience.
Facebook’s policies in a nutshell
Facebook’s advertising guidelines are plentiful. Each new ad is checked against them, with both automated and human-powered processes in place.
We highly suggest reading through the entire policy… but if you’re strapped for time, this cheat sheet should help.
Here’s everything prohibited on Facebook - the policies that most affect affiliates are marked with an *asterisk:
1. Community Standards: Be respectful, stay safe, blah blah. Just be a “good community member”. This is a catch-all and doesn’t say much specific.
2. Illegal Products or Services: No drugs, no underage prostitution rings, etc. Don’t forget to check local laws!
3. Discriminatory Practices: This is mostly a legal thing in the US - for example, it blocks employers from using targeting to avoid hiring women. Not a big affiliate concern.
4. Tobacco Products: Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em… but don’t sell them on Facebook.
5. Drugs & Drug-Related Products: Even if it’s legal where you’re advertising, no weed, crack, PCP, bongs or anything else from Walter White’s world.
*6. Unsafe Supplements: We’re talking dangerous stuff here. Facebook lists “anabolic steroids, chitosan, comfrey, dehydroepiandrosterone (??), ephedra, and human growth hormones” as examples. Selling supplements is fine, but it can be tricky to ensure their appearance is not confused with banned substances. One way to prevent unnecessary bans is by ensuring your landers have the requisite disclaimers, especially when running offers in the USA.
7. Weapons, Ammunition, or Explosives: No guns, no bombs, no bullets. Exceptions for virtual versions and events in which guns or ammo are sold.
*8. Adult Products or Services: No sexy stuff. This is one of the top reasons campaigns are banned. You can imply, but anything explicit - even in an artsy context - will get insta-banned.
9. Adult Content: See above. Even if the ad’s clean, when the road ends at adult content, it’s not going to fly.
*10. Third-Party Infringement: No piggybacking off other brands. No stealing music, images or videos. Facebook will auto-ban when they catch stolen content.
*11. Sensational Content: Nothing that might shock or confused users. Imagine an image with a gun pointed at the screen or a grotesque picture of a messed up body part (save the freaky stuff for Native, where everything apparently flies).
*12. Personal Attributes: We’ll cover this in-depth below, but this one’s big. It basically says you can’t let the user know you know who they are. It’s very easy to accidentally screw this one up!
*13. Misleading or False Content: No fake promises, no clickbait, no “Earn 50k profit every month in your sleep” or “1 weird trick to lose weight!” (these promise, or heavily imply, a specific outcome). To get around this, focus more on the value of the product itself rather than the specific results it might achieve.
14. Controversial Content: No Trump stuff, no “End of America” hype, no heavily religious or political themes. This is a newer policy, likely updated in response to campaigns during the 2016 election.
*15. Non-Functional Landing Page: As affiliates, you should be on top of this already - and if anything, FB blocking a campaign without a lander might help you avoid a loss. But note that even functional landers with low Web of Trust ratings can also cause your campaign to be suspended due to this rule.
16. Surveillance Equipment: No selling spy cams, creepy trackers or other weird Spy Kids stuff.
17. Grammar & Profanity: No %$&*ing swearing. No ♧ ♥ ♢ ± Cool Symbols ± ♔ ♕ ⚜ or images with lewd gestures.
18. Nonexistent Functionality: No fake play buttons, “Call Now” buttons that don’t work, etc. Anything that might make someone think “hmm, it’s broken” is out.
*19. Personal Health: This one is important, and doesn’t focus as much on personal health as it does on body image. No before/after sequences. No images that might make someone feel bad about their body - including zoomed-in abs or images implying that weight loss is on offer (because that’s an implied promise - see item #13).
20. Payday or Cash Advance Loans: Don’t run ‘em on FB.
21. Multilevel Marketing: No MLM, including BizOps. As we’re all in the industry, we’ve likely seen a few ads for what seem like “get rich quick” schemes from fellow folks in the scene. Check those ads again - they’re really careful to avoid making promises, and not just with a disclaimer in the fine print. They usually sell training, and give their own results, but never imply that you can achieve the same results - they’ll flip focus before it goes that far.
22. Penny Auctions: This means no forex or binary as well.
23. Counterfeit Documents: If there’s an official document displayed anywhere (FB ad, prelander, or lander), it should be legitimate and you should have the right to use it in your ads.
*24. Low Quality or Disruptive Content: No clickbait. No landers with popunders or redirects. No flashy, disruptive pop-ups or ads that cover the page (FB doesn’t like ads leading to ads anyway). Nothing unexpected and unoriginal, everything unique and applicable to the ad campaign being run. Avoiding this violation won’t just keep you in good standing, it will also improve your Relevancy score.
25. Spyware or Malware: Uh… don’t hack your users.
26. Automatic Animation: Nothing with autoplay on your lander, and controls should be visible - many VSLs break this rule because they don’t let you pause/skip at will.
27. Unauthorized Streaming Devices: No ads to illegal streaming or torrent sites.
28. Circumventing Systems: No cloaking. More on that in a minute.
The policy infractions we see most often in our industry are:
- Poor phrasing and non-compliant wording
- Non-compliant images
- Implying/promising specific results
- The use of before/after images
Restrictions, leads, videos and other special rules
In addition to the policies listed above, there are some special rules for various aspects of the ad platform, including targeting, the use of video ads and image placement, product restrictions and more.
The following product categories are restricted. (This means they are either outright banned, or they are only available in certain countries or under specific conditions.)
- Alcohol: All local laws must be followed, including age verification. Outright banned in countries including Egypt, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
- Dating: Contrary to popular opinion, they are allowed… but only with written permission. (You ain’t gettin’ it, so consider this one as an outright ban.)
- Gambling: Also requires written permission - unlikely but not impossible. You must be compliant all across the board.
- State Lotteries: Requires special targeting to conform to local laws.
- Pharmacies: Only with written permission. Better chance for “click and mortar” than a purely online biz.
- Supplements: Must target users 18 and older. Unsafe supplements are banned (gives an example list, but it’s not exhaustive).
- Subscription Services: This one is a bit more complex. See below for more.
- Financial Services: Anything related to credit cards or other financial offers must clearly state all associated fees and interest rates. You may not request financial information, including credit card details.
- Branded Content: This mostly refers to influencer marketing. Branded content must be tagged appropriately with the Branded Content Tool.
- Student Loan Services: Must target users 18 and older. Cannot mislead users regarding consolidation, refinancing or forgiveness.
Among the restricted categories, subscription services may have the most associated requirements.
The policy states: “Ads for subscription services, or that promote products or services that include negative options, automatic renewal, free-to-pay conversion billing products, or mobile marketing are subject to our subscription services requirements.”
Those requirements are:
- A box that isn’t pre-checked which users must check to accept the terms and conditions on the landing page.
- Clear statement of all prices and costs, including recurring payments. Prices must appear completely on the landing page, not just in the terms and conditions.
- Important details of the terms and conditions must also be provided on the landing page, including how to cancel.
- The targeting must be aimed at users aged 18 and over.
- The copy must make it clear that the product is sold on a subscription model (e.g. “Subscription required”).
- All product claims must be accurate and complete.
- Free trial offers must clearly state additional fees and/or the full payment model on the landing page.
We suggest reading the full policy if you run offers involving negative option billing.
The elephant in the room: Cloaking
Important note: We do not condone cloaking and do not advocate breaking any policies about anything from any company ever.
It’s not necessary. But, if you don’t like all these rules… you can go around them by cloaking.
Cloaking is the act of subverting Facebook’s review process. This can be done in a number of ways, with the most popular being the dynamic display of alternate (approved) advertisements based on geographical location.
There are a lot of risks to doing this. You will get banned.
Here’s how cloaking works:
At FB HQ, the reviewer (or bot) sees a nice, clean ad that leads to a well-maintained “safe page” - a page that checks every box in Facebook’s ad review book.
But everywhere else, users see a different ad… one that might not have passed FB’s guidelines.
This is accomplished in a variety of means, but the end result is the same: FB approves the ad thinking it’s different from what it actually is.
Should you cloak?
We won’t advocate for it here.
Facebook battles cloaking in a number of ways. This includes “fingerprinting” users and their accounts, looking for telltale similarities; updating technology to automatically detect cloaking and redirects; and other methods we’re not privy to.
Even something so small as copying and pasting a credit card instead of typing in the number can be tracked.
The industry was recently abuzz due to updates from Facebook that suggest “cloaking is dead” - this is more of a public relations move than a serious crackdown, but it’s a sign that cloaking has become a very open secret.
For their part, Google has had significant success in their own anti-cloaking efforts. It won’t be long before the major search and social networks find better ways to fingerprint users and cross data from aggregated sources to identify cloakers almost instantly. (Think of a digital Five Eyes focused on scammers).
This all suggests that relying on cloaking is not a long-term strategy - though many will argue the lucrative benefits. Our suggestion is to master Facebook’s policies and use creative tactics to navigate them. If you have questions, ask your AM - they can give specific advice.
Dealing with the inevitable: Facebook bans
First, recognize that it’s not usually a question of “if” but “when” - it’s going to happen, and it’s not the end of the world. Many squeaky-clean campaigns get shot down due to one tiny misstep, and FB’s policy of “screw you, we own the world” doesn’t help them recover quickly.
Bans are usually the result of multiple triggers. Experts can see why an account was banned in a moment, but as a newcomer, you might not understand.
Thankfully, you have a few options.
1. Avoid bans in the first place
This is clearly the best option, but it’s not always the most lucrative - cutting out valuable angles or skipping hot offers isn’t how affiliates become super affiliates.
The strongest affiliates are those who are clever enough to adapt. They follow FB’s guidelines as far as possible, then take a few risks on the outer edges. They prepare for bans, but do their best to avoid them.
In 2018, we expect safe pages (the page to which your ad leads) to be more important than ever. Your safe page should:
- Be indexed by major search engines
- Be at least 1 month old
- Have a variety of registration dates via different providers (when using multiple pages)
- Feature plenty of quality, original content (like… stuff you’d actually want to read)
In short, everything needs to look legit. If you can tell it’s fake, FB definitely can.
2. Recover your account
Alright, so it did happen. First, if you’re 100% sure you’ve done nothing wrong, it might be worth your time to debate the ban.
You can argue your case via this form. They'll ask for a government-issued ID. Don’t expect results.
3. Move on to a new account
The most popular choice. You can always move on to a different account.
FB puts more trust in older (“warm”) accounts, so you won’t be able to plug in a new account and pick up where you left off. You need an account that has a proven history before you can put serious cash into campaigns.
Of course, creating endless new accounts and running safe campaigns is disruptive and costly, especially if you’ve just hit a hot offer.
It’s such a problem that there’s an entire industry devoted to selling and/or renting “warm” accounts for running FB ads. Finding these folks (known as “farmers”) can be difficult, but they are a goldmine for high-volume FB ad spenders.
Did you just lose your FB account? Talk to your AM about your situation. They’ve seen it all before, and they can help you choose the best course of action to get back to where you were.
- The best education you can get comes from the source. When we see someone banned, we can usually trace it to a policy that’s clearly laid out. Read up on the advertising guidelines: https://www.facebook.com/policies/ads/
- It’s really important to prevent ads being disabled. When your ads are disabled, your whole account gets flagged. You should be proactive in making sure that any ads which get flagged are addressed properly and taken down proactively. This includes monitoring ads for negative feedback - take those down.
- Scale slowly unless you have a “warm” account - which can be bought from “farmers”. Going from $0 to $500/day (which isn’t even a lot) will get you flagged.
- Avoid what FB calls clickbait and fake news, aggressive copy, and “trigger words”
- If you’re traveling, avoid logging in from too many locations - these are also flags that FB monitors.
- Your payment method is monitored closely. Bank-issued cards are king. You can also use PayPal, hit a few billing cycles and move on to an alternative payment method.
Looking forward to 2018
It’s clear that FB’s dominance in the market is not going away soon. It remains the most accessible, affordable tool to reach large, targeted audiences. If you take the time to master the platform, you can expect major returns on your investment.
We’re not getting into campaign optimization this time, but that’s the logical next step. Compared to keeping accounts alive and healthy, it’s actually the easy part… and where the magic happens.
The biggest things to look out for in 2018 include:
- Changes to FB’s policies, especially as they regard affiliate offers and clickbait, fake news or anything else that might be considered low quality.
- The rise of new safe page formats, providing greater protection against bans.
- New methods to sell products that are traditionally attacked by FB, such as supplements. This includes new angles along with new techniques. Ask your AM for details on this.
- Unification of major networks to end cloaking and other deceptive practices.
- Increased automation in the review process.
- Changes to ad formats - we recently saw the transition away from sidebar ads to more native-like News Feed ads. Expect this to continue, with Messenger becoming a bigger player.
In the end, one thing is certain: FB is worth your time. Even with its setbacks… its influence will only grow in 2018.
Update February 2018: Fake news backlash
The far-reaching effects of the recent US presidential election, fears surrounding “fake news” and the crypto boom continue to affect the way Facebook operates. Here are some of the important changes to follow as they roll out:
- Those buying political ads will see huge changes. This ranges from being required to receive a physical postcard to being forced to show all political ads on a dedicated “transparency” page.
- Publishers will steadily lose control over how much they can customize their ads. This begins with restrictions on editing headlines, suggesting a move toward less flexibility in ad copy. This will restrict the resources and angles publishers can use.
- Facebook has launched monetization standards which clearly outline who is allowed to make money from Facebook advertising and how. If you are keen on staying compliant, this is a must-read.
- Crypto ads are completely banned. The policy is “intentionally broad” which really just means they’re going to ban you and make up a reason afterward. It’s going to be frustrating for crypto and binary folks.
It should continue to be an exciting year, folks. If you can read between the lines, then you see a lot of opportunity where others see setbacks.
Each of the below resources features further information on remaining compliant, optimizing campaigns, preventing bans and recovering when they do happen:
Facing troubles keeping FB accounts active? Already killing it and need new opportunities to crush? Get in touch with your Advidi AM and let them know! They can help you navigate the "Facebook beast" and find perfect offers for FB traffic to keep your profits steady and sky-high!