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Comprehensive Guide to Getting Started with Promoted Pins

Running ads on Pinterest can feel for some like exploring uncharted territory; a seemingly futile quest for the hidden temple. These lost souls are half right!Pinterest is one of the most underused and underappreciated social platforms, particularly when it comes to paid campaigns.But get this, 80% of people go to Pinterest to engage with branded content.

It’s a relatively unknown way to drive traffic and run ads with more inventory and less competition.

The problem is, while it looks similar to Facebook or Twitter, it’s completely different. But don’t let that deter you from this enormous opportunity.

I’m going to take use this post to introduce you to the basics and prepare you to launch your own Pinterest campaign.

Once we’ve covered the simple stuff, I’m confident you’ll be eager to learn more advanced tips and tricks (I’ll give you those too!). :)


Before actually building any campaigns you will need to gain access to either run promoted pins natively through Pinterest.com or through a Pinterest Ads API (Marketing Developer) partner.

To apply native you must:

  1. Declare your Pinterest account as a business page through visiting business.pinterest.com

  2. Apply for access to Pinterest ads

Once approved you are ready to start building!


There are two key components to a Pinterest ads campaign:

  1. The Pin
  2. The Campaign Structure


The Pin is the biggest factor influencing campaign performance and the most critical part of your campaign.

The better your Pin performs organically the better it will do when promoted because ad positioning (how high up in search results the ad is placed) is determined by click-through rate (CTR) and bid amount.

Ad Rank = Click-Through Rate X Bid Amount.

Poor performing Pins require a higher bid to achieve the same placement as better performing content with a lower bid.

You can buy a higher bid, but you can’t buy a high click-through rate – your Pin needs to earn it.

So how do you earn it? In my opinion, the best way to optimize your Pin’s creative is to split test Pins with slight variations to find which one resonates the best. But first you need to lock in your creative.

Rich pins are awesome and do great organically but not all types are eligible for promotion when running ads natively through Pinterest.com.

On most platforms, user generated content does really well. It serves as a testimonial where a user demonstrates how they use your product/service and endorses it. The same should be true for Pinterest, right?


On Pinterest this content does not perform well. Top performing content on Pinterest should take the following to heart:

  • Looks professionally done with high quality, large photos (Note: That doesn’t mean you have to pay a lot for it! These free tools will get you there.)
  • Text overlays are a great way to help highlight the value proposition of the item pinned and grab the user’s attention as they are scrolling through their Pinterest feed.
  • One of my favorite techniques is to use multiple images together in one pin to show different steps in a process or before/after

Please note: If you are running a completely new creative with no established CTR, then Pinterest will actually give that creative a boost so it’s served higher on the page to quickly determine CTR.

After a set number of impressions are reached, that CTR is used for the Ad Rank calculation (CTR x Bid) so introducing new creative can help get that boost more often.



On most platforms shorter copy performs better. Same goes for Pinterest, right?

Wrong again!

Your audience on Pinterest is looking for:

  • The answer to a question
  • Inspiration
  • Help planning their future

Top performing Pins include a description that focuses on the value proposition of whatever the Pin is pointing to. Just this once, do not be afraid to use long copy! :)

If you want to see which pins are doing best on Pinterest check out the ‘Popular’ categories page.

When running ads through Pinterest.com and not through an API partner you can only promote Pins which have already been created and are live on your page.

However, when you run Pinterest Ads with an API Partner you have the option to promote unpublished Pins from a Secret Board or a Protected Board.

This is crucial because it allows you to test different Pin elements without overwhelming your audience with the same ad or creating an unpleasant user experience by exposing one fan to a bunch of marginally different but ultimately similar pins.

Here’s how to make it happen:

Public Board: A public board is one which is listed on your Pinterest profile and available for anyone to see.

Promoting pins from here can help demonstrate greater social prof since all engagements earned from your ads are being applied to live, public pins.

Secret Board: A secret board is one which is not listed publicly on your Pinterest profile, but can be seen by individuals who have been added to the board.

My favorite technique is to promote Pins from a secret Board because when a user views your promoted Pin and tries to click back to your Pin they will be directed to your Pinterest profile.

Protected Board: A protected Board is a Board which is not listed on your profile but can be seen by anyone who the URL is shared with.

When building a Pin through an API Partner who does not have access to organic publishing, this is where you create Pins.

Note: At the time of publish, SocialFlow is the only API Partner who has access to both organic and promotion APIs.

Protected boards are a great option for agencies or anyone who needs to have Pins approved before launch. You can simply send the Board URL to the client for approval.



Once the pin is ready for promotion you can start building the campaign. The following options are the same order as they appear when building a campaign native, through Pinterest.com.


The campaign objective is going to determine which action(s) the campaign is optimized for and which actions you will be billed for.

All actions outside of your objective are essentially free, including actions which occur on a repin of the promotion which are classified as earned actions.

The following are the only objectives available for campaigns built natively through Pinterest.com:

Cost per engagement (CPE) -This is the objective aligned with the ‘Boost engagement with your Pins’ option.  It will optimize the campaign so your pin sees more action, while charging for any closeup, repin, or click on the promoted pin.

After running thousands of campaigns I’ve found that the CPC objective generally results in a better CPE than the CPE objective, but you’ll want to test how your audience responds.

Cost per Click (CPC) –  This is the objective aligned with the ‘Get traffic to your website’ option. Pinterest defines a click as a click-through to a website, so this action optimizes the campaign to drive traffic off Pinterest to your website.

With CPC you are only billed for clicks on the main promoted pin. Any click-throughs occurring on a repin of the promoted pin are considered earned traffic and not billed against.

Pinterest will automatically append PP=0 to all direct clicks and PP=1 to all earned clicks so you can differentiate between the two in your analytics platform.

When leveraging an API partner, you can run against the objectives above (CPE or CPC) or any of the following:

Cost per Action (CPA) (API Only) – Cost per Action is the preferred objective for any direct sales or conversion campaigns. This is the objective which must be used with buyable pins.

Cost per Install (CPI) (API Only) –  Cost per App Install is the most frictionless option for promoting an app on Pinterest.

Cost per Mille (CPM) (Pinterest only) – Cost per Mille was the first objective introduced by Pinterest when ads were in private beta. This objective can only be ran when working directly with Pinterest for campaigns.


Another way Pinterest separates itself from the pack is in campaign start time and how the daily budget is paced.

Campaign start time: If you’re building a campaign through Pinterest.com you can define which day the campaign should start, but not the start time because Pinterest launches all campaigns at midnight UTC.

If you are running ads through an API partner this limitation is lifted and you can start a campaign at anytime.

Running ads through an API partner creates a crucial competitive advantage here because campaigns can be started later on in the day when there are fewer campaigns running and less competition for the same inventory.

Campaign Pacing: Unlike all other ad platforms, Pinterest does not evenly pace spend over the course of a day which means that when your campaign’s daily budget is reset at midnight UTC.

When the budget is reset the campaign will begin running anew and shut off as soon as the daily budget is exhausted – which may be 20 minutes or 20 hours.

This means that for many advertisers their ads only run in the morning. There are three options to reach an audience later in the day:

  1. Increase daily budget so the campaign runs for a longer period of time
  2. Decrease bid amount so fewer auctions are won and budget lasts longer
  3. Work with an API Partner which allows you to launch campaigns at any time


Pinterest provides the option to easily customize the destination URL for a promoted pin that is different than the URL used for the organic pin.

I highly recommend using specific Google Analytics UTM tags to differentiate between paid and organic traffic.

For Google Analytics use the following keys and values:

  • utm_source=pinterest.com
  • utm_medium=social (or sm)
  • utm_campaign=<<YOUR CHOICE>>

The end string should look like:


Pinterest will automatically append the following to the destination URL to help distinguish between where clicks on promoted pins were generated:

  • pp=o for clicks on the promoted pin
  • pp=1 for clicks on a repin (or any subsequent repins) of the promoted pin

The shared URL will look like:

http:// www.sample.com?pp=o

If split testing different Pin creatives for the same URL leverage the utm_content key to get more granular user data.

The keystone of Pinterest advertising is in keyword targeting. There are are two types of terms: exact match and broad match.

The term choice is important because it will determine where your Pin is displayed.

Exact Match: These are the specific terms or string of terms that match exactly what a user is searching for. For example, “best vacation destinations” will display the ad when someone searches for that term.

The inventory for these terms may be smaller because the pins will most likely only be served on the search results page.

The intent of a user to engage with these pins is often high though, since the user is specifically searching for the content, and there will likely be less competition for the terms.

If your pin is related to a very specific, niche industry or product you may find more success using exact match terms.

Broad Match: These are keywords that Pinterest’s algorithm will expand out to include other related terms not just to those searching for the term or related terms, but also display the Pin in category feeds and the home feed to people who engage with content related to that term.

For example, “vacations” will expand out to include other variants of vacation and also include “swimwear” and other related terms, and will be displayed in the home feed of people engaging with pins about vacations and the category feeds related to vacations.

Because of this behavior, broad match terms reach the largest potential audience..

When I first started running campaigns on Pinterest most impressions earned in campaigns were on more close math, long tail terms such as “best vacation destinations” or “top mobile apps for iPhone” but recently broader terms such as “vacation” have been more successful.

Pinterest’s ad platform is continuing to evolve, so this indicates to me that they are improving the broad match terms.

 Aim for 20 – 25 broad match terms and 5 – 10 exact match terms.

My recommendation is to leave the following targeting options as broad as possible, and then exclude as needed based on performance.

After a campaign has started running you will be able to see how it has performed broken out by each of the above targeting options – see below for example.


The bid amount is half of the equation in determining how far up on the page an ad will display. (Remember, the other half is bid x CTR = ad rank.)

Based on the keywords, Pin, and daily budget Pinterest will recommend a bid range.


Pinterest has not yet disclosed if there is a specific floor to their auction that you must bid above in order for your ad to serve.

In my experience, when bidding at or below the lower recommended amount I’ve struggled to spend through an entire daily budget.


And there you have it! Feeling overwhelmed? Stop and take a deep breath. Better?

Listen, Pinterest may have its idiosyncrasies when it comes to paid ads, but if you know social media, you know Pinterest.

Where it sets itself apart in strategy, it more than compensates in opportunity.

If you’re running paid on Facebook or Twitter, take an afternoon to experiment with launching a campaign on Pinterest. I’ll be here to help and provide more in-depth articles as you discover the power of Pinterest and seek out new ways to exploit it. See you soon!


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