How to sell guns on Facebook

How to sell guns on Facebook

Written by Dallas McLaughlin

Published: May 23, 2014

Yesterday I talked about how I was using Facebook to set up a lead generation sales funnel to sell real estate. I’ve talked before about using Facebook to sell affiliate products. I don’t think I’ve officially blogged about, but I know a thing or two about selling t-shirts directly through Facebook as well. Today I want to talk about how to sell guns on Facebook.
Let me qualify that a little bit. In this instance, I was not directly selling guns. I was asked to leverage Facebook to drive people to an auction site which was featuring a gun auction. In other words, they wanted more (new) bidders on their site. Specifically gun enthusiasts.

ctwSetting the goal

The first step is always to determine your goal. I almost always use the Power Editor for creating my ads, but for whatever reason I made this one directly in Facebook’s Ad’s Manager. You’ll see a lot of goal options, which at the end of the day help Facebook further hone in on the correct audience to serve your ad to.
You have to imagine Facebook has a lot more data than they reveal to us. They know which users click website links in their news feeds (Clicks to Website), which ones are more dedicated and actually convert on websites (Website Conversions), who’s most apt to engage on posts (Page Post Engagement), who actually “likes” pages (Page Likes), and so on. For example, I very rarely “like” pages themselves and in return I very rarely see ads in my news feed which have the goal of “Page Likes”. You want to obviously choose the goal that most accurately meets your needs.
However, “Clicks to Website” and “Website Conversions” are very similar. I’ve split tested them many times. Even though the goal is technically different, I seem to get much better results when I’m looking for the volume of “Clicks to Website”. Which is why in this case where I want the “Conversion”, I’m actually opting for the “Clicks” angle on Facebook.

URL Redirection

The next biggest hurdle is the fact that selling weapons on Facebook is against the Terms of Service. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Facebook for the most part uses “machine learning” and artificial intelligence to determine what ads get approved. So what I did to beat the machines is cloak my URL using a 302 redirect off a separate domain I own. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but apparently it scrambled the machines enough because my link got approved without an issues.

adCreating the ad

Next we get into the actual meat of the ad. Like I said yesterday, there’s 5 opportunities for a call-to-action within the ad, and 6 if you’re creative. I won’t dig in too deep here though.
Right away in my copy I open with scarcity (“Act fast”), a call-to-action (place your bids), and a qualifier (“Gun & Taxidermy Auction”).
The image is simple and anyone interested in guns is going to immediately stop and think, “Oh man, is that the 1947, blah blah blah…?” Simply put, they’ll give you atleast 2 seconds of attention while scrolling down the news feed at 110 mph.
Now here is where I screwed up and some how didn’t even notice… That little blurry block directly below the gun image? Yeah, that’s supposed to be a super awesome call-to-action. Somehow, I managed to forget to edit it to include anything important and instead it just stayed with the default text which is the name of the page it is being shared from. That’s a major missed opportunity to drive clicks through impulse.
Below that however, I did remember to change the description text and immediately included a “Click to bid now” call-to-action. As well as a little more detail in the description (Note: almost all, if not all of the description is hidden on mobile)
ctaOf course I have the included call-to-action button which is now available to everyone directly in the default Ad’s Manager. For a few months it was only available in the more robust Power Editor. There are five options, so be sure to choose the button that most accurately informs the user what is going to happen on the other side of the link. But always choose a button… I’ve seen a lot of ad’s showing up with the “No Button” option selected. That’s a major miss.
Below the description and to the left of the call-to-action button is another opportunity that I missed. I seriously didn’t notice these two mistakes until I went to put this case study together. Almost always I will change this text (which by default is the top level domain of where you’re going if you click it) to another call-to-action, or an opportunity to play on scarcity (“only 12 hours left!”). 
I must have been sleeping when I put this ad up because one mistake is rare, let alone two on the same ad. We’ll see how it works out in the results. 😉

targetingTargeting the ad

So this step is where you can either have a lot of success and get dirt cheap (yet targeted) clicks, or you can spend a whole bunch of money for very few clicks.
You always start with geography. Since this is an online auction, literally anyone in the United States can bid. Nothing was done there.
As far as age when it comes to online shopping sales, I typically start at 25+. I don’t have any data to support that, and of course it depends on your industry or niche, but thinking logically anyone below the age of 18 isn’t likely to have the money to do a lot of shopping, let alone have a debit or credit card. The 18-24 range is college aged kids who also don’t necessarily have their finances under control for recreational spending. By 25, the average adult is finished with college, the college loans are semi-under control, and they have a job an earn a respectable income.
I opted to target only men because traditionally that is what the market for gun sales is. It’s really more about targeting as narrowly as possible, and using up budget to hit outlying women probably wouldn’t prove fruitful.
Interests is where this ad really took off. Typically, you’d expect your competitors to use high volume keywords like “Guns”, “Shotguns”, “Assault Rifles”, etc. But, if you think of how Facebook’s algorithm works, we don’t want our ad to show up to someone because they may have used a word as generic as “gun” in a status update, comment, Google search, or any number of other ways.
We want to directly target the most passionate and enthusiastic group of gun lovers, and to do that I targeted very specific gun brands. No one is going to be Googling or casually discussing a “Sig Sauer” unless they have a deep understanding and passion for that specific brand.

biddingPlace your bids…

Finally, we come to another pitfall for a lot of marketers and casual users trying to sell something through Facebook’s Ad platform. How do you bid? There are a handful of options, but without going too deeply I’ll discuss just two of them here.
oCPMOptimized Cost Per Thousand impressions. Basically, this one is saying “I don’t know. Facebook do me a solid and place my bids for me.” Don’t get me wrong, oCPM can be very effective for a lot of things, but it can also be really effective at blowing through your budget by placing a bunch of extremely high bids on your behalf.
Maximum CPCMaximum Cost Per Click. This one is saying, “I’m willing to spend $x.xx per click on my ad.” Then Facebook will give you a suggested bid range. Again, it’s really hard to explain the reasoning unless you’ve done it a thousand times like I have, but I almost 100% of the time bid waaaaay higher than the suggested bid.
My reasoning is this, if your targeting is spot on and you’re selling a physical product (which means you’re bringing in revenue), I’ll gladly spend more than any of my competitors for that opportunity.
But, if you didn’t research your niche and your targeting is off, you’re going to be maxing that bid out every time to hit a marginally, maybe interested shopper.
It’s a gamble, but I always bet on myself.

Results for the 7 day campaign

So how did I do? Up about 2 inches on your screen I was explaining that you can place your maximum cost per click absurdly high, but in actuality if your targeting is spot on you won’t pay that much money, you’ll simply outbid your competitor because you’re willing to spend that if necessary. It’s almost never necessary if your targeting is on. You’ll see that I bid $0.80 CPC, but on average only paid $0.17. More amazingly, the cost per Website click is only $0.12. The discrepancy is because the $0.17 takes into account page likes, comments, shares, etc. I only cared about Website clicks which is why it’s all that I’ve reported here.
Conversions? Sadly, the auction platform this company is using has no conversion tracking on the backend so there is no way for me to track who truly converted and how much they spent. It’s sad really that companies don’t have this stuff in place… but regardless, I was able to show an extremely effective campaign through the data I was able to collect.
Again, as we saw in yesterdays case study, Mobile outperformed Desktop by a huge margin. They were both targeted equally for the full duration of the campaign, yet the CTR was way down, Reach was way down, and cost per website click was over 5 times what it was on mobile. Like yesterday, I don’t have the answer. I can speculate that the desktop ad spaces are diluted to the point that there are so many ads that only a handful will ever get displayed. We know that mobile traffic has surpassed Desktop, but not by that much… definitely a trend to watch.
ageUnlike yesterdays study, these age groups are fully represented for the full duration of the campaign. I think you can see what I originally hypothesized way up at the top of this article. The younger age segments don’t seem to have the income to support this type of impulse recreational spending.
If you look at 25-34, it was extremely difficult to reach them at all which tells me a lot of people are advertising a lot of things to that group. When they did get served the ad, it was largely ignored, which is represented by the 1.09% CTR.
I was able to reach a lot of 35-44 year olds, but like the 25-34 age group, they weren’t interested in clicking over to the site and had a CTR of only 1.557%.
Once we get above 45 we start seeing some action. The CTR goes way up which is a signal of interest, and reach is up which means the ad space opens up a bit, and the cost per click stays low which means not a lot of serious advertisers are congesting that space.


So, there you have it. We spent $71.67 to send 596 people directly to a “buy now” page in 7-days.  Again, an industry that has largely been resistant to selling on social platforms is ripe for the picking. Technically it is against the Facebook ToS, but you can always ask for forgiveness later.
If you’re in an industry that you think “doesn’t make sense” in a social media driven world, you’re wrong. I can’t stress the importance of looking at what you sell, how you sell it, and think creatively to figure out how you can tap into the 1.23 billion monthly Facebook users who have their cellphone and Facebook app within arms reach 24 hours a day.
Can you afford not to?

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- Dallas McLaughlin