How We Achieved a 12x ROAS on TikTok

phone using tiktok

Author’s Note: This post was updated on March 13, 2023 with new links, data, TikTok best practices, insights, and resources. 

Diversifying your paid media channels is the name of the game when it comes to social advertising in 2023, especially as targeting options and campaign objectives expand across platforms. As the number of daily active users continues to increase with each passing day across platforms like TikTok, we are uncovering more and more opportunities for businesses in any industry to show up natively in-platform and find pockets of profitability. 

Translation: If your growth marketing agency is not testing TikTok, you are (probably) missing out.

TikTok is a platform where you can be successful with budgets as small as the minimum daily spends ($20-$50/day). If you want to spend more, the sky’s the limit for how much you can scale – 30.25% of the world’s total internet users are on TikTok, and there are a reported 1.53 billion active users

We have managed hundreds of thousands of dollars in TikTok spend for our clients across industries from eCommerce to higher education to B2B brands. We have seen a ton of success and growth opportunities on the channel, particularly for a partner that we have worked with since 2021, Sabio, an online coding bootcamp based in Los Angeles.

tiktok ad example

We have seen success on TikTok since day one when we launched – When we first kicked off and started gaining traction from an application perspective, we actually had to pause our campaigns on this platform because there were too many leads for their sales team to work. You love to see it 🤓

Since this was a new platform for us to test in 2021, we started with a small budget to ensure TikTok was going to be effective, and we gradually ramped up spend over a three month period (and it continued all the way to 2023 from then). Numbers speak louder than words in most growth marketing conversations so this blog post aims to tell the story and evolution of Sabio’s campaigns on TikTok [with data!]. 

A little bit of background so these numbers have context: 

  • With Sabio being an online coding bootcamp, our primary goal is to grow the number of qualified applications submitted on their site. 
  • Our primary KPI is Cost Per Application (CPA). 
  • We’ve run ads on 8 different paid media channels for Sabio – Reddit, Google, Bing, Quora, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok! Having access to this much data across channels has been really helpful when comparing channel performance and understanding the level of impact each platform has.

The CPA on TikTok was 66% lower than the CPA on other paid acquisition channels.

When we first launched TikTok, we saw immediate success, with CPAs consistently in the $11-$16 range over the first few months. With the level of volume and affordability of these leads, we were all slightly skeptical over the quality of applicants.

To help keep a pulse on lead quality, we worked closely with the Sabio sales team to validate how many TikTok applications were actually attending info sessions and enrolling in bootcamp programs. By doing this, we were able to identify that TikTok’s applications were slightly less qualified compared to Facebook and Instagram, but the CPA was still averaging 66% lower than the blended CPA across paid media so it still made sense to include TikTok in the media mix.

Zooming out to understand the impact from a strictly-social perspective, moving from 2021 → 2022:

  • TikTok: We scaled our spend by 180% and saw applications increase by 204%. Our cost per application only increased by $2.
  • Facebook and Instagram: We increased our spend by 2% and saw applications increase respectively by 2%. Our cost per application remained the same.

By testing TikTok, validating the lead quality and staying close to the funnel flow with the Sabio sales team, we were able to significantly scale spend, but more importantly, applications increased more than our spend with the CPA remaining steady.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways so far from TikTok:

High-Impact Creative is Necessary

If you want to see success on TikTok, you have to make sure you are using creative assets that mimic the TikTok style that users expect to see when they doom scroll their For You Page.

For Sabio specifically, they have just south of 12,000 organic followers and almost 160k likes on their videos. They get anywhere from 200 to 5,000 views per video so we opted for Spark ads when they became available in July 2021. This ad format allows you to elevate your organic content in paid campaigns.

Not only were we able to utilize existing content but also we were able to leverage this content to increase our last-click applications and organic engagement. Take a look at two videos we used in paid campaigns vs. two we did not (you’ll see the difference in views in the left hand corner):

tiktok ad creative

Our top-performing ads played off of some of TikTok’s most viral video and sound trends, with text overlays that speak to Sabio’s value props. Blending the brand’s identity across organic and paid social helped us establish credibility and ultimately increase applications. 

BUT if posting to TikTok everyday isn’t right for you, do not let it deter you! TikTok ads can still work for you if your audience is on the channel. You can still create strong video ads without necessarily repurposing organic posts. Check out this article where we talk about some of our best creative tips for TikTok!

But is your audience on TikTok?

TikTok’s usage has grown significantly since its initial launch in 2016 – It is now the sixth most popular social media platform in the world.

tiktok audience segments


Before you add TikTok to your mix of social advertising channels, take a beat and ask yourself if your audience is ACTUALLY an active TikTok user, or if this is a shiny new(er) toy and you’re jumping in without a real strategy. 

Sabio’s target audience is perfect for TikTok: 18-30 year olds who tend to be early adopters of tech and are looking for change in their lives. Specifically, we targeted:

  • Users interested in Gaming (top performer!)
  • Users interested in Tech (top performer!)
  • Users interested in Music
  • Users interested in Culture/Education

Campaign Setup

Whenever we test new social channels, one of the first things we test is campaign optimizations. For Sabio’s TikTok campaigns, we tested conversion vs. traffic. 

While our traffic campaigns had insanely low CPCs (like $0.08 vs. $1.84 with conversion campaigns), the quality was not there. The conversion rates were abysmal, and we quickly decided that conversion campaigns were the clear winner. 

Note: That seems super intuitive, but you’d be surprised how many times we see traffic campaigns crush it on some of these secondary social channels like TikTok, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. Sometimes it is as simple as driving more (qualified) traffic to the site = more conversion. But not always. Testing is necessary!

Craving some high level tips and considerations for a successful TIkTok campaign no matter the industry? Keep reading!

  • Ensure you have a clear goal to track performance towards and tag your website accordingly
  • Explore the interests, behaviors and demographics available for targeting your ideal customer and build broad but highly qualified audiences from this research
  • Design creative for TikTok in-mind – Here are some more specific best practices written by our Creative Team Lead, Elle
  • Consider using ad formats native to the platform, like Spark ads to elevate pre-existing organic content

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for spending a few minutes reading through our TikTok endeavors with Sabio. We hope you picked up a thing or two to test.