Facebook has been a crazy powerful advertising platform for nearly 10 years now. Over the years, the targeting options have gotten super granular to help you better reach your potential customers.
But with new privacy measures—namely, the deprecation of third-party cookies and Apple’s iOS 14 (and higher) privacy features—this is all changing.
But there are still ways to effectively advertise on Facebook. So in that light, we’re going to go through each of the Facebook ad targeting options, and for each one, share:
But first, let’s get some foundational knowledge established.
Here are a few definitions to help you track along (no pun intended) in this guide.
When setting up a Facebook ad campaign, you can create powerful audiences based on a number of targeting options. Data sources for these targeting options include Facebook’s user data, your own data, and third-party data.
This includes demographics, interests, behaviors, locations, and connections.
Targeting with Facebook data is not impacted by the iOS 14 tracking opt-out feature, since this is Facebook’s first-party data that it collects on its own platform.
Your own data may include a mix of first-party or third-party data.
This includes targeting people based on their engagement with your business through your website or app, or offline. You can also create custom and lookalike audiences once you have enough pixel data, or upload customer lists based on email addresses.
Website and app audiences are impacted by the iOS 14 app tracking opt-out feature since users can opt out of being tracked across the web by apps. It will also be impacted by the deprecation of cookies if your targeting relies on cookied website visitors (this is why it’s important to implement the Facebook Conversions API).
It’s not clear exactly what third-party data is used for Facebook ad targeting, but Facebook says it uses “Data available from third parties to help advertisers find useful audiences to target.”
This, of course, will be impacted by the deprecation of third-party cookies.
Alright, let’s move on to the four main types of Facebook ad targeting options, what challenges they face due to privacy regulations, and what you can do.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s do a quick overview of the three types of Facebook targeting audiences.
Facebook demographic targeting is a Core audience type, based on any of the information users supply to Facebook about themselves in their profiles.
The most basic demographic targeting option is by age, location, and gender.
Then there is Detailed Targeting, which includes education level, financial or relationship status, whether they’re parents or not, and more.
Overall, these will stick around fairly well given the self-reported nature of the information and likely won’t be impacted unless some new take on the privacy laws is started.
1. Target lifestyle demographics
Although these may feel like very powerful options—and they can be—in our experience, they are better focused and applied to those types of options most explored on Facebook.
For example, when on Facebook, people are more likely to update their profile and talk about getting engaged, how their kids are doing, or whether they bought a new home. Their education level and job experience is less likely to be up to date or accurate (that’s what LinkedIn’s for!).
For that reason, the targeting options in this section that more closely tie to someone’s personal life are usually a better bet than something outside of it.
From our epic Facebook ad targeting infographic.
This is another Core audience type. You can target behaviors and interests concurrently with demographics, but we just separated them out because they are more impacted by privacy.
Facebook can infer information about users based on the information they provide in their Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger profiles as well as their engagement with sites in the Facebook audience Network.
From our epic Facebook ad targeting infographic.
You can find behavior and interest targeting options by browsing Facebook’s predefined lists or just start typing into the Detailed Targeting search box and locate individual targeting options.
These options are very powerful. For example, you can target users who are interested in finance, but not just finance in general. You can segment by users who are looking at topics related to credit cards vs insurance vs mortgages:
In the future, with signal loss from third-party tracking pixels around the Facebook network, it’ll be harder for Facebook to create these segments with the same level of specificity.
For example, when you search for Olympics, you are presented with lots of different interest targeting options for different years, summer vs winter, NBC, etc.
Just like with any other list segmentation process, it’s easier to come up with lots of nuanced groups within a list if it’s a big list to begin with. But the crackdown on third-party pixels essentially means Facebook will have a smaller list of signals to create new target groups from.
So Olympics targeting will still be around, but rather than a list of years and TV network names, we may only see “Summer Olympics” and “Winter Olympics,” or maybe even just “Olympics.”
From a campaign strategy perspective, it’s likely in your best interest to take advantage of these specific targeting options now while they’re still around but prepare yourself and your clients for targeting loss in the future and start to look at other targeting strategies to help fill the void.
3. Try interest stacking
With audiences getting less specific, it might make more sense to target multiple interests in one ad set.
For example if you’re looking to target marketers, instead of creating an ad set to target users interested in Buffer, you might add Hootsuite + Sprout Social + StreamYard, etc. all into the same audience.
Advertising isn’t always about finding new audience members. It’s equally important to reengage those who are already familiar with your brand.
Custom audiences allow you to retarget users who have engaged with your brand in two ways:
“Your Sources” are the targeting options that are impacted the most (and most directly) by all the tracking changes we’re experiencing now.
You may have noticed you’re getting warnings like the one below, telling you that your audience may not include everyone who has been to your website due to tracking data loss.
That’s one issue. And smaller audiences mean increased CPMs.
At the same time, you’re probably also getting this message saying that you also can’t exclude everyone you’d like from your campaigns because of…you guessed it…data loss.
So not only can’t you retarget everyone who has been to your website, but you also can’t exclude everyone who has made a purchase—due to privacy constraints.
4. Use broad targeting & audience expansion
For Website and App activity targeting, Facebook recommends using broad targeting and targeting expansion and we’re on board with that.
Going broader with your audience’s interests gives Facebook’s algorithm more to work with.
5. Upload customer lists
Customer lists are one way to try and mitigate some of these losses, but they aren’t and have never been perfect.
Customer lists let you upload a list of user names, emails, phone numbers, etc. into an ad platform for matching to users in that platform’s database. When a user is matched, they’re added to your list and you’re able to target them.
But the issue here is that not all users are able to be matched. Maybe they gave you a bogus email or simply a different one than what they signed up for Facebook with. Or they have multiple emails and Facebook isn’t aware of that.
No matter the cause, customer uploads can be a great way to backstop the loss of cookied website visitors, but it won’t be a complete solution.
Related: 6 Facebook Ad Strategies to Try if You’re Hurting After the iOS14 Update
6. Rely on Facebook sources
The easiest way to have full tracking capabilities for your target audience is to stop relying on the cookies and uploads altogether and simply rely on the platform interactions instead.
Anything in the second section is a Facebook-owned data source, meaning that Facebook owns that touchpoint and isn’t subject to privacy issues if they use that interaction to target someone.
With these privacy challenges, an optimized account is more important than ever before. Use our Free Facebook Ads Performance Grader to make sure you’re making every dollar count.
7. Retarget Facebook Page visitors
“Facebook Page” in that list of Facebook sources is a great option. With it, you can create audiences of users who:
And then target them just as you would your website visitors. If they came to your page but didn’t purchase, target them with a Catalog campaign. If they’ve liked a lot of your content, send them a lead gen form to download a guide. Just because it happens on Facebook and not your website, doesn’t mean it’s not user behavior that should be taken advantage of.
8. Retarget video views
Another on-platform targeting strategy is Video View campaigns. With these, you can optimize for either ThruPlay or 2-second continuous views of your Facebook video ads. Facebook recommends ThruPlay (as do we) as it will optimize to get the most completed video views if the video is 15 seconds or shorter. If it’s longer than 15 seconds, it will optimize for people most likely to watch 15 seconds.
Lookalike audiences is one of our ridiculously powerful Facebook ad targeting strategies.
Rather than rely on specific behaviors or demographics, lookalike audiences allow you to choose a source audience (from one of your existing audiences or data sources) that Facebook will then analyze, categorize, and use to find users who behave similarly to the users in that list.
While there are some Facebook Lookalke Audience best practices you can employ to ensure you’re making the most of them, there are also some considerations with the latest round of privacy changes.
Since Lookalikes are based on machine learning from retargeting audiences, those data losses will also impact your Lookalike prospecting. Lookalike effectiveness will really depend on how well you can create source audiences for Facebook to model from.
My tips here are the same as for retargeting audiences.
9. Stay away from website audiences
Lookalike effectiveness will really depend on how well you can create source audiences for Facebook to model from, so our tips here are the same as for custom audiences. It may be worth taking a step away from the “all purchasers” or “website visitors” audiences to find a new source, as those website-based audiences are likely going to be less effective than they used to be.
10. Create a Page like lookalike audience
If you see good results with people who engage with your page, create a lookalike of Page likers and target them in a new ad set or campaign. This way you can differentiate them from your actual Page likers.
Let’s quickly recap:
Behavior & interests
Depending on how you’re trying to reach users on the Facebook Ads platform, you are likely going to need to be flexible in the coming months and years to the ever-changing landscape of online user privacy.
Some of our existing options are going to be weakened or removed completely, but there will be options to help you backstop those losses and potentially test entirely new options in their place.
Be sure you’re monitoring your targeting’s effectiveness and be ready to be flexible and adapt to what you’re seeing. The marketers who react and adapt the best during these times will invariably be the ones who come out on top.
Michelle is the Director of Client Services at Clix Marketing. She has eight years of experience in all aspects of PPC and brings a wealth of experience developing and executing campaigns across search, social, and display platforms in both agency and in-house settings. Her experience working with integrated, third-party SEM tools gives her an especially well-rounded and holistic view of the paid search landscape—one she shares regularly as an influencer, author, and industry speaker at events like SMX, HeroConf, and Pubcon.
See other posts by Michelle Morgan
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