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How to Advertise on TikTok: Strategies for New Campaigns
To acquire customers with TikTok ads, you need a proven media-buying strategy—one that lets you reach and convert as many of the right people as possible.
This chapter of our TikTok ads guide shows you how it's done.
We’ll teach you how to nail your media-buying strategy right from the start—no guesswork or endless tinkering.
We're talking ad account structure, top bidding and optimization strategies, creative testing methodology, and much more.
Here's what we'll cover.
- How to advertise on TikTok: Start with a simple account structure
- How does TikTok determine who to show your ads to?
- TikTok prospecting strategy: Start with broad targeting
- TikTok retargeting strategies
- Ad performance and optimization
- TikTok ads reporting
- How to scale TikTok ads
Just joining us? Consider starting with chapter 1 of our guide to learn the fundamentals and find out if TikTok is right for your business.
How to advertise on TikTok: Start with a simple account structure
TikTok ad campaigns follow the same standard structure as Facebook and most other advertising platforms.
There are three levels: campaign, ad sets, and ads.
- Ad campaign: This is the topmost level, where you set an advertising campaign objective—your TikTok advertising goal. If your goal is to get purchases, we almost always recommend creating campaigns with a conversion objective (not awareness or consideration)
- Ad set: Ad sets are groups of ads. You set targeting parameters at this level to define the audience you want your ads to reach, plus your budget, and where your ads should appear. Ad sets designed to achieve the same goal (e.g., build brand awareness, generate leads, or sales) should fall under the same campaign.
- Ad: These are your ad creatives—the actual video assets used for your ads. Ads with the same goal should fall under the same ad set.
Recommended TikTok ad account structure
We recommend starting with a simplified or consolidated account structure with three core campaigns:
- Campaign 1: Creative testing. Create a campaign to test your video creatives. You're just testing creatives, not bidding strategies, audiences, or anything else. Having a separate creative testing campaign ensures that live tests won't bring down the overall performance of your core campaigns. It also helps facilitate learnings and ease of reporting by keeping tests organized. Every new ad concept you want to test would go in this campaign.
- Campaign 2: Prospecting. Once you identify the top performers from your initial creative tests in Campaign 1, you'll create a separate campaign for those winners only. That will be your core prospecting campaign—it will include the best ads from your creative testing campaign.
- Campaign 3: Retargeting. Retarget users who have engaged with your prospecting ads or interacted with your website or app.
Include 3-4 ad sets per campaign, with 3-6 live ads in each ad set.
Even if you have the budget to increase the number of ads in your ad sets, we still recommend no more than six live ads at a time.
When starting with a new ad account, you want to give the algorithm plenty of space to serve your ads and learn.
Having fewer ads also means they'll all have a chance to serve. That way, you’ll avoid a common problem we’ve seen: stalling out because TikTok wasn’t able to spend your entire budget.
How does TikTok determine who to show your ads to?
TikTok designed its interface and targeting capabilities to work very similarly to Facebook, but with fewer interest options. If you already know how to run Facebook ads, TikTok won't take long to pick up.
Here are the different ways to target audiences on TikTok:
- Demographics: Target specific age ranges, genders, languages, locations, and devices.
- Interests: Reach users based on the topics they're interested in. Preset interest categories and subtopics are calculated based on long-term user interactions with content.
- Behavior: Behaviors are short-term parameters (the last 7 or 15 days) based on user interactions with video and creator categories.
- Video interaction: Target specific interactions with categories of video content (watched to the end, liked, commented, or shared). For example, if you sell eco-friendly beauty products online, you might target people who commented on or shared a video in the Beauty & Care category in the last 7 or 15 days.
- Creator interaction: This doesn't mean you can target followers of a specific TikTok creator. Instead, you can target people who followed or viewed a creator category (e.g., creators in the Motivation & Advice or DIY & Life Hacks category).
What about lookalikes and custom audiences?
Like most ads platforms, TikTok lets advertisers upload a customer data list—often called a "seed list"—to generate audiences. Two main types:
- Lookalike audience: A targeting option that finds audiences that share commonalities with your existing customers. It helps you find audiences that are interested in your product and expand your reach.
- Custom audience: A targeting option that lets you find people who already know or have engaged with your business.
Lookalike audiences often get you better and high-quality scale on your ideal audience (provided you begin with an adequate seed list) because you're targeting people who are the most similar to your existing customers.
And technically, yes, you can create custom lookalike audiences on TikTok the same way as Facebook, but there's a catch:
You can't upload customer email lists.
Or phone numbers, for that matter. At least not yet…
Unless you have a list of customer device IDs available, you won't be able to create lookalikes from customer data.
Here are your options for custom audiences:
- Customer File: Upload a list of mobile ad tracking IDs (IDFA or GAID). You'll need a minimum list size of 1,000.
- Engagement: Create a list of people who saw, clicked, or engaged with your content.
- App Activity: Create a list of people who downloaded your app or took specific actions, such as making a purchase.
- Website Traffic: Use TikTok Pixel to create a list of people who visited or took specific actions on your website.
- Lead Generation: Create a list of people who viewed or submitted an instant form in a lead generation ad.
It's a disadvantage that you can't upload email CSV lists. However, given how targeting works on TikTok, you'll find this isn't a significant limitation.
TikTok prospecting strategy: Start with broad targeting
Targeting on TikTok is relatively straightforward. Your goal is to serve ads to as many of the right people as possible while maintaining an acceptable cost per acquisition (CPA).
As with other paid social media channels these days, TikTok's auction algorithm performs best with broad or open targeting.
Broad targeting means you'll start targeting all of TikTok, with no interest or behavioral restrictions whatsoever.
Here are a few reasons why it’s best:
- TikTok has access to rich data: TikTok has copious data and advanced machine learning technology at its side to find the audiences who are most likely to buy from you.
- Broad audiences scale: A broad audience is infinitely scalable if you regularly inject it with your best-performing creatives. TikTok will always be able to find more people who look like your buyers in that audience. When you start segmenting by interests and behaviors, you risk handicapping the algorithm by limiting its potential to find new audiences.
- You can set it and forget it: Broad audiences don't take a lot of time or effort to set up. Instead of tinkering with your targeting, you can set it, forget it, and focus on your creative strategy—the most important part of TikTok ads by far.
However, even with broad targeting, you might add a few guardrails on gender, age, or location, depending on your business. For instance, a maternity apparel brand would only target female audiences.
Upload your initial batch of creatives into TikTok Ad Manager, and let your first campaign run for at least three days. Anything less, and you likely won't have statistical significance.
After at least three days, navigate to the ad set level in Ad Manager, hover over the ad set to view data, and drill down into your metrics by targeting. The goal here is to eliminate any groups of demographics, interests, or behaviors that are ineffective.
Here are the main red flags to look for:
- High cost per acquisition (CPA)
- Low clickthrough rate (CTR)
- Low conversion rate (CVR)
For example, if you found that audiences over 40 years old had the highest CPAs, fewer purchases than average, and an unacceptable ROAS, exclude them from your targeting and reevaluate.
Once you find your initial wins at the ad level, you can take those best-performing creatives and start launching audience-testing ad sets in your campaigns.
TikTok retargeting strategies
Retargeting is how you can show ads to people who have already engaged with your brand in some measurable way (e.g., someone clicked an ad or added something to their shopping cart).
As discussed in chapter 1, plan to devote roughly 15% of your TikTok marketing budget to retargeting.
There are a few main ways to retarget on TikTok:
- Ad engagement: Create audiences based on specific actions (clicks, impressions, video views) within a particular date range (7-180 days).
- Lead generation: Target audiences who viewed or submitted a form in a lead gen ad.
- Website traffic: Create custom audiences based on people who have visited or taken specific actions on your website. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a minimum of 1,000 confirmed pixel events.
- App activity: Create a list of people who downloaded your app or took specific actions, like making an in-app purchase or engaging with a particular feature.
To get more conversions with retargeting ads, try these five tactics:
- Optimize for lower-funnel goals, and offer an attractive incentive: Discounts and special offers tend to work well in prospecting campaigns. So it stands to reason that they’ll work even better in retargeting ads. Why? If someone has already shown interest by visiting a product page, adding something to the cart, or abandoning their checkout, a special offer may be enough of a nudge to get the conversion.
- Repurpose a decent-performing ad with a new offer and headline: Consider repurposing an existing ad creative with updated copy and a new offer for retargeting audiences. This tactic doesn’t require new ad creative because you're starting with a template. It’s fast to set up, and it works.
- Rake in cheap top of funnel (TOFU) traffic on TikTok, then retarget on other channels. TikTok's retargeting potential is a work in progress, so make sure to retarget all that cheap traffic with any other channels you’re currently using, like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat ads, to capture more leads and conversions.
- Optimize your ad-to-website experience: The transition from ad to landing page or ad to the app store is critical. Ideally, you'll do everything possible to make this transition seamless. Keep all variables consistent: your messaging, offer, and even UX and design elements like color schemes and imagery. Cohesion reduces friction. If a TikTok user is intrigued by something in your ad, you'll do well to mirror those same elements on your landing page or homepage.
- Retarget in-app events: Targeting in-app events—like launching an app, logging in, or spending credits—lets you isolate your most engaged audiences. After running your prospecting campaign for a few weeks, create an audience for users who watched anywhere from 25-100% of one of your ads. (It may take some time to launch these audiences, since you need to develop large-enough audience sizes to avoid driving up CPMs.)
What about collection ads and DPAs?
Unfortunately, TikTok doesn't allow self-serve ads manager accounts to use collection ads or dynamic product ads (DPAs) in their advertising mix. For now, only TikTok agency partners have access to these types of product ads.
However, TikTok is testing all kinds of features across markets, so it's likely that these ads will be made available to all ad accounts in the future.
When that time comes, we'll update this chapter accordingly.
Ad performance and optimization
This section has two parts:
- Part 1: How to test TikTok ad creatives
- Part 2: Bidding and optimization strategies
By the end, you'll have an organized framework to test a high volume of ad creatives. And you'll know the best optimization strategies to use in your campaigns.
Part 1: How to test TikTok ad creatives
Everything rides on the quality of your ad creative. Unless you make something that resonates, no amount of optimization will save your campaigns. That's why creative testing is so crucial on TikTok.
This section will show you a straightforward creative testing methodology. It’ll help you learn more quickly and protect your core campaigns from creative flops (which will happen).
Step 1: Cast a wide net
First, create a separate ad set for each concept, and test 3-6 creatives per ad set.
Each of the creatives in your ad sets should be wildly different. You want to take big swings to find out what resonates.
After about three full days of spending, you'll have enough data to understand what's going on and start iterating.
Step 2: Double down on the concepts that are working
Once you have at least one clear winner, iterate on those ad concepts.
Since the first two-to-three seconds of video are the most important for captivating people, we suggest testing your hook first. If the overall concept shows promise, hook testing can help you realize its full potential.
With this approach, you'll test six different hook variants for one video asset in a new ad set. Here's a sample formula:
- Variant 1: Opening visual a + headline a
- Variant 2: Opening visual b + headline a
- Variant 3: Opening visual c + headline a
- Variant 4: Opening visual a + headline b
- Variant 5: Opening visual b + headline b
- Variant 6: Opening visual c + headline b
Let's look at an example of a simple hook test you can recreate in your ads.
Example: True Classic
Notice how the ads have the same profile image, display name, and creative. The only difference between these two In-Feed ad placements is the "3 reasons why…" ad text.
Here's an example of a big-swing creative test using wildly different video openers.
Vacation is an ecommerce sunscreen brand that supposedly sells "the world's best-smelling sunscreen." Look at these two ad variants they ran for a single video. The first three seconds are entirely different.
(Examples via @social_savannah)
The first scene of an ad is the most important. Focusing on the lowest common denominator of video watchers (people who watch the first 5 seconds) will provide actionable information that you can use moving forward to optimize creative performance further.
Step 3: Evaluate test results
After about three days of running a creative test, you'll typically run into one of the following scenarios:
- Results are excellent: CPA is lower than average, and there are at least one or two potential winners in the ad set. In this scenario, start scaling spend by about 20% every three days directly in the creative testing campaign. You want to make sure the ad can withstand an increased budget before adding it to your core prospecting campaign.
- Results are average: Campaign only generated a few purchases falling within 10-20% of your usual CPA targets in the account. Turn off ads with unacceptable CPAs to give other ads more more spend. Let these average ads run another few days, then repeat the process until you can identify CPAs for each ad. Turn off ads that reach 2x your average CPA.
- Results are bad: CPAs are high (2x normal or greater) across the board, engagement rate is poor, and there are little to no purchases. Turn those ads off.
Note: If an ad performs well, let it continue running. Don't risk stable performance by shutting it off and moving it over into your always-on prospecting campaign. Wait until performance dips, then move it to prospecting and optimize.
Part 2: Bidding and optimization strategies
According to TikTok's best practices, you'll need to sustain at least 50 conversion events per week to exit the learning phase. You can expect higher ad costs and poorer results until you exit the learning phase.
Once you're out of the learning phase and can begin to optimize for purchases your CPA and ROAS should improve. Here are the optimization strategies we recommend.
- Choose Lowest-Cost Optimization Goal: Same thing as lowest-cost bidding on Facebook. You're not giving TikTok any specific bid for an event. You just want it to find the lowest-cost conversions while spending through your total daily budget, if possible.
- Bid for the goal you want: There's no trick here. Select the CPA goal you're trying to optimize for, and let TikTok do its work.
- Optimize budget at the ad set level: We recommend choosing Ad Group Budget Optimization (ABO) rather than Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO). The former means setting budgets at the ad set level (ABO) rather than the campaign level (CBO). This will allow you to control spending and delivery.
- Optimize for clicks and views to start: For the optimization process, you’ll need to begin with CPC or CPM to determine which users are most likely to click your ad. After you’ve generated 50 events in seven days in any given ad set, you’ll be able to access:
- Optimized cost per mille (oCPM): Set the amount you want to pay per one thousand impressions that lead to conversions.
- Optimized cost per click (oCPC): Set the amount you want to pay per action taken by a user.
When testing different bid options, you should let ads run for 3-7 days before making any changes. That's the amount of time it takes for TikTok to accumulate data during the initial learning phase. Additionally, you'll want to avoid making bid changes greater than 20%, as this will reset ad set learnings.
Tip: If you find that your ad sets aren’t receiving impressions after a while, it might be helpful to duplicate existing campaigns every few weeks to kickstart impressions.
TikTok ads reporting
We’re going to keep this section brief. TikTok's ads manager offers custom reporting features, just like Facebook’s. Ultimately, the metrics you focus on will be specific to your business.
Clicks and conversions are always valuable KPIs to watch when reviewing your TikTok Ads Manager data. These allow you to see how many people were compelled to click through and complete the action you wanted them to.
TikTok's analytics make it easy to report on all your primary metrics, albeit within a strict single-session attribution window. ampaigns, conversion campaigns, and app installs:
Note: There's one metric that TikTok doesn't track—the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC). It's the most important metric that tells you if a channel is profitable for you. The average CAC on TikTok is $35. Use that number as a benchmark as you begin running ads and getting back data.
Here are some key sales and performance metrics to track in TikTok's reporting dashboard.
- Impressions, eCPM & eCPV: The number of times your ad was seen, the cost per 1,000 views, and the average cost per video view (of two seconds or more)
- Average watch time: The average length of time people spend watching your ads
- Completions: The number of times your video ad was played at 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% of its length
- Cost per action (CPA): The average amount of money you've spent on a conversion. E.g., If you're optimizing for email signups, a CPA of 3 tells you that each signup costs $3.
- Add to cart & initiate checkout: The number of times someone added an item to their cart or started a checkout
- ROAS (return on ad spend): The total dollars spent in your app or website from your campaigns relative to your media spend
- Amount spent: Total amount spent on the campaign to date
- Installs, install rate, and eCPI: The number of app installs, the percentage of clicks that drove installs, and the effective cost per app install
Attribution and iOS 14+
iOS 14 has made attribution reporting a significant challenge for all advertisers.
So that’s the broader issue. Here’s our read on it: If you’re advertising on the TikTok app, you’re generally limited to a single-session attribution window by default, which minimizes the risk of iOS 14–induced data loss. For more details on the impact of iOS 14 on TikTok ads, here is the official TikTok documentation.
And for those concerned, here are a few workarounds to help hedge against potential ATT data loss and gain more clarity into the effectiveness of your marketing strategy:
- Use post-purchase surveys to gut-check models with multiple touchpoints, as delayed clicks and view-based conversions are less likely to be credited with the attribution.
- Use dedicated TikTok coupon codes (e.g., TIKTOK15) to track TikTok customer acquisition.
- Use UTM parameters in your links, and track data across platforms (we’ll show you how to do this in the next chapter).
- Sign up for third-party analytics tools like Supermetrics or Rockerbox and aggregate the data there.
- Build a blended ROAS dashboard:
- Many advertisers now use blended ROAS as their north star metric.
- Blended ROAS = total daily revenue divided by total ad spend on all channels.
- Instead of relying on in-app ROAS (which can be inaccurate or delayed), a blended metric gives you a holistic view of ROI. It tells you how much you're spending on marketing, how much revenue is coming in, and whether the ratio is profitable. Depending on your average order value (AOV), 2-4x is a good blended ROAS target to aim for.
Here's our advice on software options for tracking blended ROAS:
- For simple setups (~1-3 channels): Small businesses with simple setups can use Two-Minute Reports to build a simple, automated spreadsheet that pipes in your data from multiple channels to keep track of daily blended ROAS.
- For more complicated setups (3+ channels, offline tracking needs): Sign up for a service like Northbeam or Triple Whale. These two options are more expensive than Two Minute Reports, but it's a small investment for clean and reliable data analysis if your business is complicated.
How to scale TikTok ads
On some level, scaling on TikTok is a straightforward process of expanding your audiences, testing winning creatives, and increasing spend on your winning campaigns.
We recommend scaling in increments to see where the performance curve tapers off and identify inflection points where you might be overspending.
A few recommendations on scaling:
- Scale ad spend no more than 25% per week: When scaling, allocate the majority of your budget to prospecting to continue to grow your funnel without exhausting your remarketing pool.
- Measure watch time, CTR, and ROAS week over week: If you see these metrics decreasing, it often means that audiences are being depleted or your ads are fatiguing. That means it’s time to refresh your creative.
- Diversify creator talent: Take advantage of TikTok's broad targeting to test multiple personas in your ad creatives to reach potential secondary audiences. For example, the cosmetics brand Glossier tested working with creators of different skin tones and ages to help attract customers in new demographics.
The product, targeting, landing page, ad copy, and video structure in the example above were all the same. The only difference was the creator.
Double down on what's working: Once you've identified top-performing ads and have a roster of content creators you like, hire more creators who look like your best performers. Recreate those winning ads. Wring out as much longevity from every ad concept as you can, then have your best-performing creators make new content for your brand. Repeat the process.
What’s next: A step-by-step guide to setting up a TikTok ads campaign
Congrats—you're officially a TikTok ads expert. Let that sink in for a minute.
- You know what it takes to produce high-quality, high-converting ads.
- You have a system for finding and training creators to make ads for you.
- And you have a proven media-buying playbook to run ads profitably.
Now it's time to put everything you've learned into practice.
In the next chapter, we’ll guide you through the entire process, of setting up a TikTok Ads Manager account, building ad sets, and launching a campaign.
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