How to Test Social Media Ads Without Spending a Dime

Written by Laura Roeder

On July 15, 2020
Is there anything more frustrating than investing in social media ads and seeing zero results? You go into something thinking it’s going to bring you followers, subscribers, or sales and you wind up just wasting money, time, and effort.


While I’d love to sit here and tell you I have the secret formula for the perfect social media ad —I don’t.

And no one does.

The success of your ads is based on your audience. So while you can follow all the tricks and trips that experts share, the success is going to come down to how well you know your audience and how well you can communicate with them.

Luckily, effectively communicating the value of your message to your audience is something you can test without ever plugging in your credit card number.

Using your organic social media posts to test your ads is going to save you money in the long run. Now you might be thinking, “Ads help me reach a bigger audience so is testing with a smaller audience really going to be a good test?”

It’s a fair point to wonder if maybe your reach just isn’t big enough for a good test but if you can’t get an audience that already knows, likes and trusts you to click on your content — can you really get strangers to click?


The best targeting in the world isn’t going to work if the ad creative (which are all the parts that make up the actual ad itself) falls flat. This is why companies pay advertising agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with ad campaigns!

Luckily, you don’t have to invest in an ad agency and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on ads to test the creative

Testing the creative, which is composed of the copy, imagery, and CTAs, is something you can do completely for free. And before you start asking, we’ll tell ya: it’s not foolproof. But — and we hate to break this to you — nothing in marketing is foolproof. Instead of looking for a foolproof solution, look for opportunities to learn something about your audience. And testing content will definitely teach you something about your audience!

So how do you do it? Here’s how to test your social media ads without spending a dime:

1. Get clear on your goals

The “objective” of an ad campaign is the first choice you have to make when creating a campaign so you should get clear on what you want your ads to do for you before you start testing anything.

Testing organically doesn’t work with every ad objective. (It’s hard to get a good test of new followers with your organic posts.) But you can test a few ad objectives really well:

  • Engagement (this can also include video views)
  • Website clicks
  • Conversions (sales, email sign-ups, downloads)

Before you run any ads or start testing any copy, ask yourself what results (and what budget) would it take for you to determine something is successful.

For example, maybe you want to spend $200 for one month and get 100 conversions from your ads. If you run your organic tests for one month and you see 50 conversions, you’ll know that with your $200 budget, you should be able to hit that 100 conversions goal.

But if you run your organic tests for a month and you only see 20 conversions, then you might need to rework your ad creative completely.

You need to have a baseline idea of what success is to you so you can gauge that you are on the right track.

2. Structure Your Tests

The big problem people make when testing is that they try to test too many variables at once and everything gets confusing. You need to be really clear when structuring your tests.

We recommend making it really easy and testing one thing at a time. Here’s an easy way to do it. As we said before, you’ve got 3 parts of the ad you can really test:

  • The copy or the text of the ad
  • The imagery
  • The call to action or CTA

For each variable, come up with three different variations. So you’ll have:

  • 3 different pieces of copy
  • 3 images or videos (or a combination of the two)
  • 3 different calls to action

You’ll wind up with 9 different variations, 3 for each variable. Once you have that, you’ll need to test just one variable at a time. So if you’re testing copy, use the same imagery and calls to action in each of your variations, like in the example below:

social brilliant social media ad test example

The goal of this test is just to know which copy performs best, we’re not going to worry about any other part of the ad.

To actually run the test, you can do a few different things:

  • Schedule your posts for different times during your testing process
  • Manually post your posts at various times
  • Use a category-based scheduler like MeetEdgar

Whether you schedule them for specific times, manually post or use a category-based scheduler, you want to make sure that each post is posted the same number of times and YES, it’s ok to repeat your posts (on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, that is). Just make sure you’re not posting them back-to-back so you don’t bore your followers and ruin your test results! In fact, your test will be even stronger if you do share your posts a few times. You’ll have more data to make a better decision.

You want to measure your tests based on the goal you set in step 1. For example, if your goal is engagement, then the winner will be the post with the highest total of likes, comments and shares.

Once you have a winner for your copy, you can then continue testing each of your variables. Just use the “winner” of the previous test for its variable. By the end, you’ll have 3 winners that create an ad that will catch the eye and attention of your audience.

3. Repeat the process as needed

Here’s the thing: you don’t need to do this process only when you want to run social media ads. You should always be testing your social content. Your audience gives you feedback every single day but so many entrepreneurs just ignore it. When a post doesn’t get engagement or a lead magnet doesn’t get subscribers, it doesn’t mean you’re back at square one and you have to guess your way to success. You now have more data so you can identify what did work and then start testing and experimenting with it.

We recommend creating different variations for all of your social media content! Mix and match how you get your message across. Pay attention to any trends you see. Here are some things we have asked ourselves and proven by testing social media ads:

  • Do posts with videos get more engagement than tweets with images?
  • Are there specific calls to actions that work better than others? Does, “Download Now” get more clicks than “Click here”
  • Does copy with emojis get more engagement than copy without emojis?
  • Does asking a question to start off your post increase comments?

With every question we answer, we get better at communicating with our audience and persuading them to act.

4. Automating the process

Since we’re obsessed with testing here at MeetEdgar, we make it really easy to test your social media posts inside of Edgar with our variations tool. Edgar allows you to create variations of every single social post with just a click of a button.

Animation showing how variations are added

Edgar will then bundle all those variations together like a stack of cards and go from stack to stack when he’s choosing what to share next. Because he automatically alternates between stacks, you don’t have to worry about your variations getting posted back to back – you’ll still have the perfect spread to keep things fresh and to test different variations of your messages!

Best of all, Edgar keeps all your variations together in your history tab so you can quickly see which variation was successful and which one didn’t do as well so you can make edits or add more variations or use the winner for ads.

twitter followers edgar history tab

If you do this on a regular basis, you can improve your copywriting and make your social media posts more efficient.


5. Make Testing a Part of Social Media Strategy

The TL;DR is you should always test your social media ads, before you launch them and when you’re running them and you should test all of your organic posts too. The best way to go into testing is to be curious about everything. Don’t see an inconclusive test as a “failure.” Every test and every post is an opportunity to learn what your audience and what it doesn’t. Your goal is always to get to know your audience better and if you go in with that mindset, you’re going to see success.

Need more ideas? Download our Social Selling Swipe File for 9 social sales posts you can test!


You May Also Like…

How to Start a Mastermind Group: Top Tips From the Pros

How to Start a Mastermind Group: Top Tips From the Pros

Building a business as a solo entrepreneur - or even a small business owner - can feel pretty lonely at times. Sure, you get to be your own boss, and don’t have to wear pants to work if you don’t want to. But you also might struggle with the big picture, have...

7 Self-Employed Tips for Successfully Being Your Own Boss

7 Self-Employed Tips for Successfully Being Your Own Boss

You’ve read the 4 Hour Workweek. You’ve been watching Gary Vee’s Instastories every day for the past year. You’ve downloaded approximately 73 different worksheets, ebooks, guides, and free trainings full of self-employed tips. You’re ready to be self-employed and step...

How to Write an About Page That People Will Actually Read

How to Write an About Page That People Will Actually Read

The about page is an essential part of every small business and personal brand - after all, your clients want to know who you are before they do business with you! Simple, right? Well, maybe. But it doesn’t always feel that way. Somehow when we switch between just...