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Published March 3rd 2018

How to Create Instagram Ads: The Step-by-Step Guide

It takes more than a fabulous picture to succeed with Instagram advertising. This essential guide describes the 14 steps to creating Instagram ads with impact.

Instagram surpasses one billion users. This means that if you can get your Instagram ad campaign just right, you can easily boost your lead generation and increase your revenue.

Of course, the reason Instagram ad campaigns are so successful isn’t just about pretty pictures (although they help). For your ads to be successful, you need to get a few other things right once you’ve got your image or video sorted.In this article, we’ll go through how to create Instagram ads in 14 simple steps. We’re going to break the guide down into two core parts:

  • Strategy (goals and content)
  • Budget, format, and optimization

Also see: 5 Tips to Run Unstoppable Instagram Ad Campaigns.


1. Start with a goal

Every ad campaign must start with a goal. What’s yours?

Instagram ads give you a few different options for goal setting.

Among these are:

  • Awareness (raising awareness of your brand)
  • Consideration (finding potential customers)
  • Conversion (driving sales)

Let’s take a look at each of these goals a bit more in-depth:


What does your brand do, and why should people care about it?

Take smartphone brand HTC, for example. They use this Instagram carousel ad to answer those two questions.

They make attractive smartphones, and their value is in their products' sleek design, performance, and simplicity.

The ad also uses bright colors and attractive photos to highlight the visual appeal of the phone and stand out in users’ Instagram feeds. All in all, it does a good job of calling attention to their brand and the products HTC makes.

Awareness is a reach-based objective that helps get your brand in front of as many users as possible. 

Be mindful that the Awareness goal is among the most popular ones on Instagram, and thus your competition will be pretty big. This means that it’s your job to make your ad memorable.

Find potential customers

Maybe you want more than mere awareness—perhaps you want actual signups or another specific action. In that case, you can put together a lead ad that encourages people to sign up for, say, a newsletter.

The idea behind this type of ad is that you create Instagram ads that make people want to visit your website. You’ll also want to use the ad to collect more information from people.

Drive more sales

Madewell uses Instagram Stories here to promote sales in an entertaining, eye-catching format.

Let’s say you want prospects to download an app or place an order. You could put together an Instagram ad with a coupon or a special offer for those actions.

Instagram’s ad engine has become powerful enough to track in-store conversions. If you aim to boost sales at your brick-and-mortar shops, you’ll need to choose the “Store Visits” objective.

On the other hand, if there’s a specific action you want people to take on your web page, choose “Conversions” as your objective.

Once you’ve decided what your goal is, you need to…

2. Identify your audience

Creating a buyer persona can help you refine your targeting when making Instagram ads.

If you’re brand new to Instagram advertising, you might not know your target audience just yet. That’s okay—you’ll learn more about your audience over time. However, the last thing you want to do is blow your budget on ads that aren’t relevant to the people seeing them.

It’s smart to plan your Instagram ad campaigns with a clearly-defined audience in mind. Begin with your core marketing persona. There’s no need to add nuance yet—that will come once you begin digging into your Instagram insights and analytics. For now, keep your marketing persona simple.

For example, a male lives in the UK, age 18-30.

Then you can go in a bit deeper by using Instagram’s targeting options and third-party tools.

Instagram’s targeting options have advanced leaps and bounds in recent years, and you can also use a tool like Brandwatch to learn more about who your audience is. 

You can also look at engagement rates on your old posts to you learn more about what content your audience responds well to. This will help you to avoid posting ads that won’t hit the mark with your followers.

If you’ve been on Instagram a while, you can check your analytics to find out who your audience is. You can also create a Custom Audience based on people who have been interacting with your business already. Using Ads Manager features like Custom Audiences will let you retarget customers who have visited your page or clicked a CTA and so on. Uploading lists of your business contacts can also generate Custom Audiences.

Either way, Instagram comes with built-in targeting that offers a variety of options for choosing the audience for your ads. These include location, gender, age, relationship, financial status, education, work, parents, interests, etc.

This is how you build your Core Audience, but you can also go deeper and experiment with Behavioral Targeting. For example, do you want to target people who just got married? There’s an option for that.

Instagram’s targeting options are so advanced that as long as you have identified the right marketing persona, it shouldn’t take you too long to refine your audience until your ads target people interested in what you’re offering.

When you’re creating your audience, check the Audience Size gauge chart. It tells you how narrow or broad your audience is. You don’t want an audience that’s too wide or not specific enough, but you also don’t want to limit the potential viewers of your ad too much. It’s all about finding the right balance depending on your goals.

Once you’ve created a target audience for your Instagram ad, make sure to save it so that you can use it again in the future. Don’t shy away from testing different audiences to see what works best. Creating multiple ad sets allows you to do this.

3. Refine your content and message

Airbnb uses sharp, visually focused content on Instagram to portray the app as a way of seeking adventure.

A key aspect of your ad content is the message it communicates. If your message is on point, it will resonate with your audience better.

Consider your tone of voice: should it be casual or formal? Are you going to be warm and friendly or provocative and in-your-face?

A consistent message helps to reinforce your brand in people’s minds while resonating with their core values.

A key part of your message is the angle you decide to go with. Understanding your audience can help you to pick a strong angle. What do your customers want?

Once you know the answer to this question, you can hit them with an angle. For example, your ad could inspire them, or you could focus on your products.

Or maybe you could use your ads to promote a cause you support. By partnering up with a charity, you expose yourself to a new audience and show your values reflect those of your customers.

Good content is all about making connections with people. Use your analytics to learn what content your audience reacts to and apply it to your advertising strategy.

WeWork focuses on community and togetherness in its content.

For example, WeWork understands that their audience loves content centered around community.

4. Develop a hashtag

You could develop your very own hashtag for your next Instagram ad campaign.

The purpose of a hashtag is to improve content discovery. By developing your hashtag, you build a community and a trend around your campaign that generates extra buzz.

It’s simple to make your hashtag. But it’s a lot harder to make a hashtag that customers use and engage with.

Keep it simple and keep it short—maybe three words max. The last thing you want is a hashtag that’s already been used elsewhere.

It’s related to the brand, too, just like Coca-Cola’s iconic #ShareACoke campaign.

Your hashtag needs to be branded, short but sweet, memorable, and included in your Instagram ads. Once people start interacting with your hashtag, be sure to interact with them back. This helps to create awareness and excitement.

Budget, format, and optimization

5. Select a placement

Once you’ve got your image/video sorted and defined your audience and message, it’s time to fine-tune the details.

You can select many different ad placement options on Instagram - from Feed to Stories, Reels, etc. Test and adjust your strategy accordingly.

6. Decide on a budget

There are two budget options:

  • Daily
  • Lifetime

If you set a daily budget that caps how much you’ll spend on your Instagram ads per day. Meanwhile, a lifetime budget specifies the maximum amount you want to spend on your ad campaign throughout its run.

When deciding your budget, you also need to choose your schedule. What time and date do you want your ad to launch, and when do you want it to finish?

To determine your budget, you need to optimize your ad delivery. You can go for link clicks, which means Instagram will use its algorithm to get you the most clicks to your web page for as low a price as possible. Alternatively, you can go for impressions, which means your ad will be shown as many times as possible within budget. Or you can go for daily unique reach, which aims to display your ad to as many unique users as possible for your money.

Then, you need to decide whether to manually or automatically set your bid amount. If you go for manual, you can decide on a maximum price you’re willing to pay for link clicks.

Go for automatic, and the algorithm decides for you. If you set your bid manually, you can try to outdo a competitor by going for a higher than suggested bid.

When should you use automatic bidding? It’s appropriate to use it when your audience is rather big, and you don’t have a lot of competition.

On the other hand, if your audience is small and the competition is fierce, you might want to use manual bidding instead. This prevents any risk of you bidding too high as well.

Whatever your bid is, it needs to be based on the value of a conversion for your business. Remember that Instagram doesn’t know what this is—only you do. That said, it’s also important to note that not all audiences will offer the same value. You’ll want to adjust your bids depending on the audience you’re targeting.

Finally, you need to decide whether to show your ads throughout the day (standard) or whether to quicken the pace of delivery (accelerated).

Also see: How Much Do Ads Cost on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn?

7. Pick a format

What do you want your Instagram ad to look like? There are many options, among which:

Image adsVideo adsStories adsCarousel adsReels adsCollection adsExplore adsIGTV adsShopping adsThe format you go with will be dictated by your available assets and your marketing goals. Here are some examples of the ad formats and why to choose those:

Single Image

Super popular and easy to implement. They’re a winner, provided you choose the right image, copy, and CTA option.


A carousel ad is a scrollable ad that lets you upload 2-10 images or videos that users can swipe through. They work especially well when you’re advertising a new product. Alternatively, you can use them to tell a story and boost clicks and conversions.


Videos give you the chance to immerse your audience in a story. It’s a good idea to keep your videos under 60 seconds in length to hold attention, and adding an interactive element can help with conversions.

Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are compilations of images and videos that disappear after 24 hours. This unique format helps create a sense of urgency, and it can be an excellent way of boosting engagement while raising brand awareness.

8. Add your website URL

Especially if your end goal is to drive more traffic to your website, you need to add your website URL to your ad. It’s essential.

For those using marketing automation software, you’ll need to put together a unique tracking URL with UTM parameters. Otherwise, you won’t be able to track the conversions and traffic you’re generating from your ad.

9. Create a headline

This won’t be something you need to add each time because viewers can’t always see your ad’s headline. However, it’s well worth creating a short headline just in case.

It needs to be brief and describe where your prospects will be visiting.

10. Pick a call to action

When first launched, Instagram ads weren’t performing as well as expected. So the social media giant had an idea: make the CTA buttons better.

The great thing about creating Instagram ads is that Instagram takes care of so much of the hard work for you. For example, instead of you having to create a call-to-action entirely from scratch, you can choose from many options.

A few of these options include Watch More, Sign Up, Download, Contact Us, Apply Now, and Learn More.

The exact call-to-action button you go for will depend on your objective. If you want to direct people to your website, “Learn More” will work well.

To boost sales directly, “Shop Now” is a good option.

The CTA is a super important part of making Instagram ads, so be sure not to overlook it. 

11. Oh—and don’t forget to link to your website

Remember that Instagram only lets you add one link at a time to your profile.

If you’re using your ad—and thus your link—to drive traffic to your website, don’t forget to tell people where they can find your link.

This is how Gary Vee does it:

12. Have a final check and then place your order

If you’re the only person who has reviewed your ad so far, it’s good to have someone else from your team take a look at it before it goes live.

However, if you do place your order before consulting with someone else, you can also schedule your Instagram ad for a later date.

Once you’re all set, just hit the button and place your order.

13. Track your performance

Once your ad is live, you’ll need to keep checking in on its performance. If it’s not performing as well as you’d hoped, you can make tweaks as you go along.

The Ads Manager gives you a detailed overview of your Instagram ad campaign. There’s data on total ad spend, cost per result, post shares, video views, app installs, social clicks, reach, etc. If you’re an e-commerce store, there’s even data for “Adds to Cart”.

Also see: Instagram Analytics Explained: 5 Metrics You Need to Understand.

14. Do it at scale with a social media suite

While Instagram and Facebook offer a broad spectrum of native advertising features, running advertising campaigns at scale requires a social media management suite. These enable companies to manage all their organic and paid efforts in one place.

For example, Advertise gives global marketing departments the ability to run their entire ad strategy from it. Every post or campaign can be scheduled in advance and adjusted for maximum effect using real-time analytics.

As well as saving time and money, using a platform enables larger companies to maintain that crucial brand and messaging consistency that can be so easily lost between channels and markets.

Happy Instagramming

This step-by-step guide should come in handy for any marketers who want to learn how to create Instagram ads that get results. Refer back to it each time you launch a new campaign, and tick each task off as you go along.

As long as you keep each step in mind, there’s no reason why your ad won’t hit the spot with the right people. Then you need to rinse and repeat!

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