Facebook ads give you paid access to an audience of billions. Obviously, this is a great audience to want to reach. Somewhere in it is a subset made up of people who are exactly like the people you want as customers. All you need to do is reach them.
The question is, can you just dive straight into running these ads, or do you need a Facebook page first?
About Facebook Pages
Facebook Pages are a specific kind of Facebook account. They’re designed to represent businesses, locations, famous people, and other entities that aren’t normal regular users. They’re given access to a wide array of different features than normal people using their profiles. They can, for example, target posts, use tab apps, and access analytics about their content.
In order to make a Facebook page, you must have a Facebook Profile. In the past, this wasn’t always the case. You used to be able to make as many different accounts as you needed to, all tied together but separate as entities. You could have a profile and several different pages all at the same time.
Facebook decided this meant they had a harder time with accountability in the cases of people who are abusing the Pages system, and they’ve required that you have a Facebook profile in order to make a Facebook Page for the last year or so. You can still have as many Pages as you want, but you have to have a Profile attached to them. This way Facebook has some accountability and they can identify who controls a given page at any given time.
Facebook offers a specialized tool/platform called the Business Manager. This is a platform typically used by agencies and franchise businesses, as well as by entrepreneurs who have multiple businesses they want to manage individually. It’s essentially an agency platform, giving you bulk access to various tools and additional options to add, link, and remove pages.
At first glance, it might look like you can create a business manager account and run Facebook ads and other Facebook features without a page. Unfortunately, while this used to be the case, it’s no longer true. In order to do anything with business manager, you need to either link a page or create a new business page within the system. Without a Page, you don’t have access to ads.
Using business manager is the only way to create a brand page without having a personal profile tied to it, and that’s because it has a business manager profile tied to it instead. Once a personal profile becomes attached to that business manager, it also becomes attached to pages that the business manager created as well.
If you go to the Facebook ads page, the primary call to action is “Create an ad.” This makes it sound like you can just jump in and start creating Facebook ads, but that’s not the case. You can create an ads account, but before you get started creating ads, you need to link up a Facebook page.
Years ago, Facebook had made an exception for the ads system. You could make a Facebook ads account and run ads without needing a Facebook page. The limitation was on where those ads could be placed. Ad placement is a big deal with Facebook ads, and the only option available to you without a page was the worst placement of all; the sidebar ad.
Sidebar ads are notoriously bad for pretty much everything. They don’t get much attention, and they get very few clicks. They’re very cheap, but they’re also not good for much more than building some basic brand awareness through having a brand logo in the corner of the screen all the time.
Facebook evidently decided this was a bad idea. Since the sidebar ad position was low performing, not bringing in much money, and was constantly diluted by people registering new accounts after their low quality ads got banned, it makes sense. They removed the ability to run Facebook ads without having a page tied to the ads account creating those ads.
Now, there may be loopholes in any system as large and as sprawling as Facebook’s ad system. Let’s think about a few of them that might pop up.
Can you have ads run to your website through an agency, even though your business does not have a Facebook page?
The answer to this one is yes, though it doesn’t remove the need for a Facebook page to exist in there somewhere. The agency has their own Facebook page linked to their business manager, which is how they can add and remove their client pages without needing to access them directly or be added as admins on the side.
Contracting an agency will allow you to set up whatever relationship you need to set up to have ads run pointing at your business. There’s no reason not to do this is you want hands-off Facebook ads and don’t want to put in even the minimum effort.
Can you create a Facebook page but leave it unpublished, and run ads anyway?
The answer to this one seems to be yes. You can create a Facebook page linked to your Facebook profile, and that page will default to unpublished. You can post on it to establish a post history before it becomes public if you like, but no posts will receive engagement before you publish your page as a whole. This is useful to set up a complete page before you publish it, but not much else.
The trick is that both the ads account and the Facebook page are tied to your personal account. From what I can tell, if your page is not published, Facebook will run the ads from your personal account. This does restrict you from using ads that have “page likes” and other page-related objectives as you won’t have a page to direct the ad to. It’s worth noting that you can’t just advertise any old page, you need to have some kind of control over that page – even as an agency – to be able to run ads pointing to it.
Can you create a Facebook page, publish it, and just ignore it while you run ads to your website?
This one is definitely a yes, and in fact is a very common trend in some sectors of Facebook. There’s nothing that says you have to keep your Facebook page active to run ads. You can post once a month or once every six months and it will work the same. Of course, any ads pointing at the Facebook page are going to have a harder time enticing users to like and subscribe, given that there’s no content for them to care about.
There are some hints that a page left dormant long enough will be returned to an unpublished state automatically. I’ve seen a few mentions of this on sites like BlackHatWorld, albeit years old at this point, so it may not still be true. It’s hard to verify, as an account that doesn’t post content may still be active with ads and other systems the public can’t see.
What about Instagram? How does it play into the ads system?
For those of you who aren’t already aware, Instagram is part of the greater Facebook ecosystem. Instagram does not have its own ads system; rather, “Instagram” is one placement option for Facebook ads.
You need a Facebook account to run ads on Instagram. If you want to run ads with the Instagram placement, you still need to use the Facebook ads system. There are two ways to do this.
The first option is to create a new Facebook profile, create a Facebook page linked to that profile, and link your Instagram account to the Facebook account. This gives you full access to the Facebook ads system with the Instagram placement as one of the possible options. As far as I’m aware, you can’t run ads on Instagram without having an Instagram account linked to the ads manager.
The second option is to use the Facebook business manager. You can link an Instagram account to business manager the same way you can link a Facebook account. From there you can simply use the business manager to manage your advertising.
I do not know offhand whether or not you are restricted from running ads with Facebook placements when you’re running Instagram-based ads or not. I suspect you’ll be able to access the full platform, except ads that target the pages you don’t have.
You Should Have a Facebook Page Anyway
At the end of the day, while there are ways around the links in the system, why bother messing with loopholes? Maybe they’ll work for now, maybe they’ll work forever, maybe Facebook will close them in a year. You never know.
Why not just make a Facebook page? Facebook is about to experience a pretty big paradigm shift in the coming year, as they gear up for their major redesign. The new layout is going to put a lot more emphasis on friends and family, and a lot more emphasis on groups, while demoting the visibility of pages even more. Yes, you will still be able to pay for ads, and ads will still be effective, but it pays a lot more to build a community.
My recommendation is to start as soon as possible. Create a Facebook page and try to post once a day on weekdays. You don’t have to go all-in with organic post targeting. You don’t have to worry about peak hours. Just populate your account with content that your audience is likely to enjoy. Share links to your blog posts or your Instagram posts. Just keep the page basically active.
It’s pretty easy to set up a basic Facebook page. Just write an About section, fill out the other informational blocks, and upload a couple if images to be your profile photo and your cover image. I wouldn’t even invest heavily in those images yet, as the redesign is likely to change dimensions enough you’ll want to adjust it.
With a page in play, you can run ads that point to your website, and other ads that point to your page, which itself directs people to your website. This can increase the number of people willing to end up on your site, since many people don’t want to click ads that take them off-site but will check out a profile instead.
Facebook is such a large audience that you lose out by not having an active page. Your fans are likely to be searching for you and, when they don’t find you, will look elsewhere. Unless you’re targeting an audience that is explicitly not on Facebook – like the very youngest people who have largely moved on to Instagram and Snapchat – Facebook is still going to have plenty of viable customers to attract. Heck, even if you are targeting one of those demographics, there are still users on Facebook who fit that category.
It’s just so easy to set up a page and so much effort to worry about loopholes that I don’t know why you would want to bother. I guess maybe if you were previously banned from Facebook, but in that case, Facebook might just ban your ads account as well, so that’s kind of a moot point.