Instagram is the hottest social media platform right now…

…and that’s why 99% of marketers, entrepreneurs, and brands are doing everything to up their Insta-game (and the reason we’re all here).

Instagram is now home to 25+ million business profiles, but only 2+ million of those are advertising on the platform… 

…to put that into perspective, that’s just 8% (approx.)!

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This huge gap in the Instagram advertising space (left open by 92% of business profiles) presents a massive opportunity for anybody willing to back themselves with their hard-earned cash.

In this article I’m going to show you how to optimize your Instagram ads, with our social media marketing agency’s tried and tested methods, so you can leave the 92% and join the small percentage of businesses who are already taking advantage of this lucrative space.

Hold onto your selfie-sticks. This is going to be one hell of a ride…

How To Optimise Instagram Ads 

Before we get to the optimization tactics, I need to quickly run over how you can get started with Insta ads (so that we’re all on the same page).

Before you can get going, there are a few essential elements that you’ll need to know (and have set-up).

The first of those is actually to have an Instagram business profile. You can learn how to do that in Instagram’s official Help guide

BTW: If you already have a regular Instagram profile, don’t worry, it can be switched seamlessly to a Business account without you losing anything!

When you’re set-up with a Business account, you’re able to run Instagram ads from two different starting points (but one is significantly better than the other):

  1. Within the Instagram App: As a business account, you can boost a post simply by clicking on the ‘Promote’ button beneath a post that has already been published.
  2. Facebook Business Manager: Instagram is owned by Facebook, and this allows advertisers access to their incredibly powerful ‘Ads Manager’ platform.

If you really want to create Insta ads that drive serious results, I strongly recommend that you get to grips with Facebook’s Business Manager platform.

Choosing this option will give you many more customizable options, including creating and targeting better audiences (which is the best way to reduce wasted ad spend)!

Ad Tip: To run ads purely on Instagram (and not Facebook) simply edit ‘Placements’ at ‘Ad Set’ level. You can also decide their placement within Instagram (stories or newsfeed).

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Instagram Ad Optimisation Tips

As a marketing agency who spend 6 figures every month on social media ads (for our clients), these are the tactics that we have found most successful for optimizing Instagram ads:

Test and Be Reactive

The success of your Insta ads is subjective, depending on your audience and advertising objective…

…and it’s ONLY for that reason that I can’t be more specific with the exact ad strategies that will perform best for you.

But one thing that I can do is encourage you to test and be reactive.

A typical Instagram ad beginner’s mistake is to decide that you only have £20 per day available in your marketing budget, so you put the entire sum behind 1 ad.

It’s true that you won’t know what works best until you run ads, but you’ll have a much better idea if you split your budget over at least 2 ads. In this case, it might mean running two ads on £10 per day.

Even on a tiny budget like this, after a few days, you’ll be able to see what ad is providing you with the best results (in Facebook Business Manager and Instagram Insights).

By testing and analyzing your ad performance, you’re able to react with knowledge and data, optimize your ad spend and find real winners.

If there is a clear winner after a few days, you could increase your spend on it and use your results to create another ad to test against it. 

Instantly Attention-Grabbing

The best way to look at Instagram ads is from the perspective of an Instagram user.

Think about how you scroll through your Instagram feed and tap through stories…

…what type of post makes you stop in your tracks? What grabs your attention? What elements capture you?

The majority of us (me included) go on Instagram to view posts from people we know and care about -think friends, family, celebrities- so when it comes to running an Instagram ad and appearing on a feed as an unknown (unless you’re retargeting) you need to work 10x harder to get a user to stop…

…and this is why your ad must instantly grab attention.

The first 1-3 seconds are absolutely crucial. In fact, a slow or unrelatable opening can completely tank the success of a brilliantly thought-out ad. Likewise, an image that is skimmable, boring or features little color simply won’t work.

If you run an Instagram ad that’s targeting me, you’re competing with my friends, mum, brother, sister, girlfriend and baby nephew for my attention. And the same goes for every person you aim to reach on Insta!

Try to use a combination of these attention-grabbing ideas:

  • Bright colors
  • Emotive language
  • Numbers
  • Faces
  • Music
  • Text (in images and videos)

Before you run an Instagram ad, go to your feed and scroll through posts, analyze what makes you stop, what drives you to engage and what you scroll over. Even if it is a friend’s post, why did that one make you stop over all the others?

When you start to understand how users scroll through Instagram, you can truly begin to optimize your ads to grab attention.

Use a Hook (Just One)

Consider the previous Instagram ad optimizing tip (about being attention-grabbing) and then think about what will work better:

  1. Trying to share 5 messages in one ad
  2. Hammering one strategic hook to capture attention

Given how difficult it is to grab attention on Instagram, it’s crucial that you don’t try to include multiple messages in your ad.

Think about your most powerful hook and use ONLY this in your ad creative (your image or video) and copy. By focussing on this, you give yourself a much better chance of hitting a pain point and capturing attention.

If you don’t know what your most powerful hook is, use these tactics to give yourself the best chance of discovering it:

  1. Split-testing ads with different hooks
  2. Ask customers, followers, and prospects for feedback about why they purchase, follow or engage with your posts.
  3. Create a customer avatar and deep dive into your ideal customer’s biggest pain points
  4. Think about the emotional gap between a person who doesn’t use your product or follow your Insta profile and those that do…what does the difference look like?

When you’ve found a few, test and optimize. Remember, the hook is only as powerful as your ad is at demonstrating it!

Suitable Ad Types

A successful ad is presented in the most suitable format, and fortunately for advertisers, Instagram offers 5 different ad types.

If you’re going into Insta advertising blind, this will again require testing, but if you’ve got some knowledge or a particular strength in one of the formats, optimize your ad content for this format.

These are the different types of Instagram ads (alongside a few tips, tricks, and tactics):

Instagram Story Ads

An Instagram Story ad appears between the stories of a user’s followed accounts.

When it comes to being instantly attention-grabbing and clear with your message (AKA ‘the hook’) there is no placement that requires more focus on these crucial elements.

Instagram story ads can quickly be ‘tapped’ through by users, which makes the ad’s opening paramount to its success, which is why more companies are using Instagram Stories.

However, with this placement, you have something on your side that no other mobile ad placement offers, the FULL mobile screen.

If you’re going to run an Insta ad within Stories, make sure you utilize the entire space. I regularly see ads that only use the central third of the screen. This wastes 2/3rds of an advertiser’s potential to grab attention.

You should also try to incorporate sound in your story (because many users already have the volume on from previous story posts) and be as fast-moving as possible.

And always make sure you check your ad on Facebook Business Manager before running it on Instagram stories.

Photo Ads

Instagram photo ads are by far the safest option for beginner advertisers and whilst this might sound appealing to many of you, safe doesn’t mean best.

A photo ad is a SINGLE image that is placed in the Instagram news-feed to capture attention and drive action from a user.

If you have an amazing or captivating image, this might be the ad format for you but be warned that a photo ad gives you the smallest opportunity to get results.

A single image is the minimum ‘creative’ requirement from a brand or marketer, and minimum effort usually drives minimal results.

To truly win at Instagram ads, don’t look at them as a chore, they’re an amazing opportunity for you to back yourself.

As advertisers, we are always incredibly excited by campaigns that are just about to go live. Going out onto social with ads that reach new people gives you a feeling that’s hard to replicate (any marketer or brand will understand)…

…so make sure you give yourself the best chance of success by putting in the work!

A photo ad might work for you (particularly if you have a great image) but in most cases, there’s an ad format that will have more impact. Put in the extra %’s and you’ll reap greater rewards (and enjoy the process!).

Video Ads

The reason that I’ve been so hard on those of you who decide to run photo ads, is because there are two easy ad formats that give you a bigger opportunity to capture attention, and video ads are one of them.

These ads appear in the Insta newsfeed and as you’d expect they include videos.

A video offers the same opportunity to capture attention as an image, but they also move, have sound and include far more content than a static photo.

Insta ads can run for up to 60 seconds on the newsfeed, giving advertisers more than enough time to hammer home their USP or hook…

…but remember, nobody will watch the last 57 seconds of your video if the first 3 don’t capture attention. And for many, most users won’t even make it to the 2nd second if your opening isn’t powerful.

Really think about how you’re going to open your video ad because it is by far the most important part of it.

Many users won’t have their sound on as they scroll through the newsfeed, I’d suggest using subtitles if you’re using voice and focussing heavily on the visual appearance of your opening. You must do everything to convince to hit the volume button!

If you’re able to grab attention and convince a user to watch your entire ad, you’ve already won half the battle.

Carousel Ads

Carousel ads allow users to swipe through a series of videos and/or images.

This type of ad provides more depth and layers for your advertising campaign. You’re able to use a collection of images and videos…

…and this offers marketers the opportunity to get more creative with their ad type.

For example, you could use the featured carousel video to encourage viewers to swipe left to discover more, or see what you’ve been posting on your profile.

Another high converting idea for this type of ad is to use UGC (User Generated Content) in some of the carousel images. This could come in the form of a testimonial, review or a photo/video of them using the product.

UGC creates social proof and can be encouraged by running contests or competitions on Instagram with branded hashtags.

However, as amazing as Carousel ads sound, if you’re planning to use a longer video type, you might want to avoid them. This is because users can swipe very quickly through the carousel posts and miss out on your core video content.

Collection Ads

If you’re new to Instagram ads, the other formats will have probably been self-explanatory, but collection ads are something completely different.

A collection ad features one large image or video (known as the hero) at the top of the ad, with 3 clickable or swipe-able product images supporting it at the bottom.

When the products are clicked it opens a product grid, where users can look at featured products more closely and if clicked again, they will be taken to the product buying page on your website.

These ads are particularly useful at the bottom-of-funnel when targeting users who have already interacted with your business or shown some intent or interest in buying from your product.

BTW: You should use Custom Audiences in FB Business Manager to build retargeting audiences.

The key to a successful Collection Ad is the hero image or video. As with the other ad formats, you’re likely to have much more success with a video demonstrating your product in use, than a simple image.

Increase Your Reach

In addition to priming your ad for maximum paid performance, you should also try to increase your post reach on Instagram.

The most obvious way to do this to understand how to use Instagram Hashtags to your performance.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post (or ad) and these are best served by sprinkling them through your ad copy or listing them in the ad comments.

Hashtags can be followed on Instagram, so if you find a decent tag you stand a good chance of appearing organically in the feeds of new audiences. I’d suggest using a hashtag generator like to find the top, trending or random hashtags in your space.

It’s also massively important that you understand how the Instagram algorithm works. When you know what type of posts it prioritizes, you stand a much better chance of appearing higher on the feed (where users are more engaged and attentive to posts).


When you start out, Instagram advertising will feel a bit like a guessing game.

The best way for you to learn and discover the most effective tactics is to get started (don’t procrastinate for too long), test and analyze.

Make sure you’re regularly checking FB Business Manager and Instagram Insights and don’t stop optimizing.

Are you currently using Instagram Ads? Is it working for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Good luck!

Jack Paxton
Jack Paxton

Jack Paxton is the co-founder of VYPER, a marketing tool that helps brands build email lists, social followings, and revenue using viral giveaways, referral, and reward programs. After millions of dollars spent testing different marketing strategies at his marketing agency. He then also co-founded Hyax a fast, conversion & design-focused course and funnel builder for creators.

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