Living with the 20% text rule and what you can do about it

We are all quite familiar with the 20% text rule at this point. It isn’t perfect, it’s sometimes inconsistent and it isn’t going away. So how do we live with it? What is and isn’t allowed? How do we use it to make our ad images more impactful?

We will touch on design theory a little bit here, but not too much to weigh you down. You do not need a dedicated design team or Photoshop. As we will see, the 20% text rule is a good thing. Constraints, oddly enough, will make your ad more powerful because you are forced to get to the most refined version of your ideas.

Why is it Inconsistent?

Facebook assesses images using a combination of algorithm and manpower. The algorithm assesses the image using a grid system, and a few images that confuse the system for one reason or another get assessed by an actual person. Thus the inconsistency.

The Rules

  1. The 20% text rule applies to everything that is included in the ad. It applies regardless of whether it’s a plain ad, boosted post or cover image.

  2. Your text will be assessed to ensure that there is no offensive or debasing language. Keep it honest and respectful, and you’ll do just fine.

  3. If the actual product in a photograph has text on it, then that text is allowed because it is not a part of the ad but rather a part of the image. However, the system sometimes doesn’t recognize it as separate from other text.

  4. Text in logos counts as text. For nonprofits, including a logo sometimes reduces the engagement with the ad because it feels “produced” or “commercial.”

  5. Keep your text simple and short… very short. Or, even better, just don’t use text at all. Your image is probably going to be seen on a small device by someone who doesn’t have all the time in the world. So if your text is small and/or long, it will get scrolled over as if it never existed.

Text vs. Image

The image is by far the most important part of the ad itself. It is the hook and it needs to be sharp. The text just reinforces the message conveyed by the image. This implies three things:

  1. The image needs to be of high quality, relevant and impactful.
  2. The text must bolster the image.
  3. You need to have your message worked out ahead of time. Your message defines the copy and the image.

This means that the image must convey your message, so you need to have that worked out first. Because of the way that the News Feed is designed, the image is much bigger and more prominent than the text. The fact that more than 90% of content is viewed on mobile devices further bolsters the prominence of images.

The 20% text rule emphasizes the importance of imagery and forces nonprofits to be better storytellers, which is a good thing—and the subject of a future post.

What is this Grid Thing?

The grid is the easiest way for a computer/human team to review the thousands upon thousands of ad images submitted on a daily basis. It is actually quite simple: if your text or part of your text falls into a box of the grid, then that box counts toward that 20% limit. (5 boxes containing text = 20% text.)

Let’s illustrate this with an ad for a fictional nonprofit: Zer0-G. We encourage inner city youth to explore space and astro science. For this example, I will use Photoshop (but, again, you do not have to use Photoshop). Facebook offers a great grid tool that anyone can use here.

Message: You can achieve amazing things with hard work and wise decision-making. Even if you come from an impoverished neighborhood.

Copy: YES YOU CAN (Note that the copy is very short, embodies the idea of our message and mission, and has no punctuation because no punctuation feels more sincere.)


Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 9.42.35 AM

Put the grid on it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 9.42.43 AM

Remember: only five boxes or less (in any direction or combination) may contain text. We also don’t want to obscure our spaceman (or woman).

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 9.44.00 AM

Let’s lay out our text in a clear and impactful format.


  1. The word “YOU” is in color to make it stand out among all the others.
  2. All the text is in uppercase so that it is easier to line up in blocks and so that the lower part of a lowercase “y” will not hang below a line (which would count as another box).
  3. There’s a stark contrast in color.
  4. The text looks “left-heavy.” Having a balanced image would be great, but in this case it is deliberately jarring.


Final image sans the grid:


Also note that I have not discussed the ad copy itself. The character constraints in the ad also force the same refinement of ideas and force you, the creator of the ad, to get to the point and make your point sharp. This makes your ad stronger, hooks more users, and the user has a better experience.

Constraints can be good!

To get you started here are some helpful tutorial videos on using Canva and photoshop. These are both powerful image tools that can make a big difference in your content.



Key takeaways:

  1. The Facebook 20% text rule is here to stay because it makes the user experience better.
  2. Too much text is hard to read and distracting from your awesome image, especially on mobile—where it is most likely to be seen anyway.
  3. Not every image needs text.
  4. If you do decide to include text, keep it short, keep it simple and make it pair well with the message and image.
  5. All your images must conform to the rule.
  6. Use the Facebook grid tool to verify that your image makes the cut.
  7. And, once again, remember that constraints can be good.