Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Dead or alive - Facebook 20% rule

Paul Button
12th April 2016

The much-hated Facebook rule has been the subject of much speculation of late.

The much-hated Facebook 20% rule for text on imagery has been the subject of much speculation of late. Over the past few days, many people have hailed its demise. Sadly, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase (and misquote) Mark Twain.

What is the Facebook 20% rule?

For the uninitiated, the Facebook 20% rule allows you to promote any image on Facebook, provided that no more than 20% of the image is covered by text. Images that exceed the 20% rule are rejected. Images that are within the 20% are approved and can be promoted to your target audience.

It’s important to note that this rule ONLY applies to images that you intend to promote using Facebook’s Boost button or Ad Manager. Unprompted feed images can use as much or as little text as you see fit.

The Grid Tool

At the heart of all this 20% ill-feeling is Facebook’s crude Grid Tool. The Grid Tool is (or rather was) part of the issue. It divides an image into 25 equal squares and then asks the user to click any square that had text within it. That means that if you had five square’s worth of text, you are good to go. Creep into an extra box – even with half a letter – and risk the wrath of Facebook.

Crude is the word here because the Grid Tool doesn't measure exactly how much of the image is taken up with text, it just works out how many squares the text flows across. A crucial difference. On occasion, images with relatively small amounts of text fell foul of the tool purely because of the text placement.


So what’s changed?

Well, Facebook appears to have relaxed the rule somewhat. Here’s the statement in full:

“To help advertisers achieve their business goals while providing people with an enjoyable experience on Facebook, we’ve had a policy limiting excessive text (more than 20%) on images in ads.

"We’re always looking for ways to improve the experience fveror people and advertisers, which is why we’re testing a new solution that will allow ads with text to run, but based on the amount of text in an ad’s image, the ad won’t reach as many people.

We will continue to monitor how this test impacts advertisers as well as people and will iterate to ensure we are creating the best possible experience.”

But the key word here is ‘testing’. This isn’t a wholesale policy change: ladies and gentlemen, this is a test.

The image below shows how Facebook will apply its new ‘rule’ to text within images. It ranks the amount of text on an image from OK to High.


It’s clear that using an image that falls into the High category is a no-no. Unless you have VERY deep pockets, we’d suggest avoiding that altogether. Equally Medium and Low usage represent images that will be charged at a premium over images that use little to no text.

What does it all mean?

Our in-house Performance and Insight guru Nick gave us a few gems of insight (for free we might add):

“When you take the granular targeting capacities and sheer scale of reach that Facebook offers advertisers, and combine this with the dwindling organic reach on publisher and brand timelines, it actually makes the text policy for Facebook ads quite important.

"From one perspective, it looks like an improvement on the rigid 20% rule, as it at least gives publishers and brands the possibility of promoting text-heavy content.

Having to pay higher CPM rates for using any text under the guise of improving user experience seems a bit off-the-mark

“It’s far from perfect. Memes with well over 20% text can be some of the most engaging content across other networks such as Twitter. So having to pay higher CPM rates for using any text under the guise of improving user experience seems a bit off-the-mark.

In terms of implications, I’m assuming Facebook will just apply higher CPM rates correlating with the amount of text used. I’d say brands either need to change their social strategies to account for text-free imagery, or they need to put their hands in their pockets and increase ad budgets to compensate for higher CPM rates."

Basically, you should try to relay as much information as possible within the post text. If you do need to use text within an image, keep it to a minimum.

And we'll leave you with this nugget: infographics aren’t governed by this rule, although given our experience of the 20% rule, how that's policed could well be a minefield. In essence it's good news for many of us, though.

So there you have it. Facebook’s 20% rule is not dead. It’s just had a bit of a makeover…

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