The Little Graphic that Could: Overcoming Facebook’s 20% Rule

The Little Graphic that Could: Overcoming Facebook’s 20% Rule


A new rule on Facebook is changing the design game for custom images in marketing and advertising. Graphics–particularly custom graphics–account for a significant amount of internet traffic. The design of these graphics is now being governed by the 20% text rule, turning an art into a science and forcing designers to steer dangerously close to stifling their own creativity. The Little Graphic that Could is facing a steep uphill climb.

Custom Images

Just last week, we discussed the importance of custom media in content marketing. In fact, the spending for custom content creation will increase 15.1% this year alone, to the tune of 118.4 billion dollars. Eight out of ten consumers actually prefer to receive a company’s information through custom media. Custom media absolutely includes custom images since they can go places that stock photos simply cannot go, and the response can be tremendous. Ever-changing requirements in the SEO world don’t appear to be stopping the little graphic that could; Google, in fact, is favorable towards the creation of new graphics, seemingly rewarding the images with link juice on the web, upping their search rankings. The demand for talented graphic designers is expected to jump by 13%, Erin Pritchard, one of Vertical Measures’ Graphic Designers, said:

“Custom images can allow you to focus on specific themes covered in the copy and intrigue your audience, engaging them to read on.”

90% of social media experts agree that pictures are the most successful means of gaining attention for your business in the social media realm, and it’s a natural way to build your own brand and display information in a quick and easy-to-share graphic. Up until recently, social image sharing was easier for businesses and promoted the creativity of the designers. Outlets like Pinterest and Instagram have upped the pace of image-sharing as a profitable means of marketing. But now, the giant of social media, Facebook, has suddenly put the kibosh on image-sharing freedom within its platform. The Little Graphic that Could is now finding itself subject to a new regulation, one that threatens to squash the creativity that at one time gave it its internet marketing steam.

The Dreaded 20%

January of this year brought snow and sludge to the country and a new frigidness to custom image creation guidelines for Facebook. The new rule is basically this: images that are used for the purpose of business promotion can contain no more than 20% of text. This includes cover photos and ads, as well as custom images used for promotion in posting. Facebook’s reasoning for such a regulation is certainly tied to the customer experience, and it also stands to reason that the rule is meant to prevent an over-saturation of advertisement, which could push everyday users away. However, the new rule is nothing short of a thorn in the side of marketers and graphic designers as they are left wondering, ‘What now?’

In addition to laying down the new law, Facebook has also failed to accurately explain the rule, and designers are having to use a system of guess and check at times to see what really works with their new images. It was recently announced that a grid system is used in the enforcement of this rule, which is altogether a new source of frustration for the creative minds behind advertisement.

From the Text Policy for Ad Images in News Feed from Facebook: “The tool is a 5×5 grid with a total of 25 boxes…To meet the 20% test, text may appear in a maximum of five boxes (5/25=20%). If the image has text in six or more boxes, it is not eligible for an ad in News Feed.”

And what happens if the image doesn’t meet the new standards? Denied. Rejected. Time and money are being spent trying to adapt to the new guidelines, and a part of every designer’s creative spirit has been crushed. Gone are the days of free form design; now everything must fit accurately into a graph. It’s turning the artist into the architect, and designers everywhere are scrambling for a way to create without completely fitting a mold. As Dan Dannenberg, Graphic Designer at Vertical Measures, said:

“We have to continually make sure we are within these rules by applying a math problem to our design, making sure we design within the 20% text rule or our promotion will be denied days later.”

The new 20% rule is putting a wet blanket over freshly-painted canvases, and Facebook doesn’t provide any feedback when an image is denied. Instead of helping designers with their next design by offering guidance moving forward, designers simply receive a stamp of rejection, leaving them guessing what went wrong.

Making It Work

So now what? We know the rule and we’re trying to learn from our mistakes, but our Little Graphic that Could needs a little help on Facebook these days. Here’s a little steam for your graphic design engine:

  • The 20% rule applies to promoted posts, cover photos, Facebook Offers, ads for Facebook apps, event promotions and any other ad that might pop up on Facebook.
  • Know that logos do not count, as long as they are part of the product. For example, an image of a Pepsi can with the word “Pepsi” marked in its typical fashion on the can is fair game.
  • If a letter or part of a letter lands in a 6th box on the magic grid, it does not count.
  • Images that are edited to contain text (as a means of getting around the rule) are not permitted.
  • Images that are shared in the timeline (non-promoted) and marketplace ads are not subject to the 20% rule.
  • Include photos of real people and real objects. Research has shown that more consumers connect to pictures rather than text, so get back to the basic principle of ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’
  • Design images as though it’s a picture taken for a friend. Would that photo normally contain text? Probably not. It’s more about creating a picture that can clearly tell the story with minimal explanation, or text.
  • Simplicity is key. Busy images without the explanation provided via text can confuse viewers. Tell a quick story with a simple image.
  • Learn from those that have found a way to make it work. Designers are artists, and collaboration is key in learning new methods. Search for images that have made the cut and reach out to the designer for tips.

Custom images are vital to making the connections that businesses need to forge with their consumers, but without the proper guidelines, the images are at risk of never being seen. The Facebook 20% rule could be the beginning of a wave of new regulations of social media marketing, and rolling with the punches is what makes the Little Graphic that Could gain all the attention it can.

Laura Holloway

As an SEO Content Writer, Laura helps to build clients' online presence through engaging content. She is also a published playwright and columnist, as well as Copy Editor for Arizona Sports and Lifestyle Magazine.