If I had a dollar every time someone asked me if I go hunting with my dog, then I’d have, like, 73 dollars.
I didn’t get a German Shorthaired Pointer to hunt birds. I got him to help me hunt down conversions on Facebook. Here we are, hunting at the desk:
You’re here because you have four questions:
- Who do I target? (your best customer)
- How do I make sure those targets see my ads? (customize them)
- How do I know if my strategy works? (you test it)
- How do I make it work better? (with optimization)
That’s what this post covers.
We get grit-level granular here, walking through 34 of the best Facebook ad targeting tips that trim the broad vagueness off your PPC ad and turn it into a tight, streamlined, budget-loving conversion goldmine.
Hoist your pickaxe, Facebook ad miners.
Here we go.
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Why the correct Facebook Ad targeting is crucial
ConversionXL’s Shanelle Mullin asked “What is the main difference between Google Ads Search (formerly Google AdWords) and Facebook ads?”
More importantly, she wanted to know which one is better?
I answered this:
- People search for your Google ads and new people constantly enter and leave that target audience. So there isn’t ad fatigue.
- With Facebook Advertising, you target a static audience and few people enter or leave that audience. That means ad fatigue rates are higher. You don’t want your ads to get stale so you need to change up your ads frequently (focus on ad creative—design and messaging).
But even if you have new ad creative in rotation in your Facebook ad account, you’ll eventually suffer from ad fatigue because repetition lowers ad engagement, and that leads to higher costs for the advertiser. You’ll also suffer audience decay (when interest in your message decreases).
Both Google and Facebook come up with new targeting and campaign types over time because both platforms want us to keep users happy.
Both platforms also want to make it easy for advertisers to adjust ads to get a better response from target prospects.
Here’s the plan, Stanley:
Build multiple Facebook campaigns with different types of Facebook ad targeting to guard against ad fatigue and audience decay.
Eventually, you’ll create Facebook funnels where people enter and leave an audience depending on their actions (what you consider a conversion).
Before you pick your targeted ads
Facebook hands advertisers sharp knives to cut through the chaos and target ideal customers so you can truly show the right ad to the right audience.
Wanna target people who just got engaged? Check.
Targeting people who align with a political party? Check.
Looking for LA Clippers fans? Can’t do that—too small for audience targeting. (lol jk)
You can mix and match your targeting approach (like the Google Ads Display Network) or go for the jugular and target people by their individual email address.
But first, don’t touch anything until you understand AND/OR targeting.
AND/OR Facebook Ad targeting
Detailed Targeting: You can include (OR/AND) and exclude (BUT NOT) people.
When you add new targeting options to a category, your audience gets bigger. You include people who like this OR that.
So there’s more of them.
When you want someone in your target audience to satisfy more than one thing, your audience gets smaller. That target must fit both categories. So there’s less of them.
As you go along and create multiple ad sets with different targeting criteria, keep exclusions in mind as well.
Exclusions help you migrate visitors and prospects from one audience to the next, to make sure that they don’t see an ad for an offer they’ve already converted on.
BUT—and this is important—targeting options like “interest” are only vaguely created by Facebook.
This doesn’t mean that your prospect has to like rugby. It just means that their behavior on Facebook has shown an interest in rugby. (Even if it was only a rugby union vs rugby league article they clicked on.)
If you’re curious about how you’re being targeted, check your ad preferences here to see how they match up to the ads you’re targeted by.
Here’s an interesting collection of my own preferences:
This is why pure interest targeting is usually not the best way to use Facebook ads.
Types of Facebook Ad targeting
One major thing to keep in mind:
Facebook is an amazing PPC platform, but it doesn’t have a search engine like Google.
The major advantage that Google has over Facebook is search intent.
As an advertiser, you want to show ads to people who are looking for what you have to offer.
That’s why you customize your offer.
Otherwise, your audience is so broad you’re throwing money at random passersby (and they don’t want your money).
Doesn’t make sense.
Narrow things down, and only show up for people who need what you have.
Let’s go through each Facebook custom audience option so you can set up (or re-create) your own audiences to produce a more impressive ROI.
Are you ready?
The professional ad targeting begins.
You have three major categories to mine your golden goodies:
Demographics is a powerful Facebook target. So powerful that each major demographics category deserves its own brief discussion, starting with…
Are you geographically targeting your prospects? Location targeting is where you do just that.
When it comes geo locators, you have quite a few choices:
- DMA (Designated Market Area)
- Postal Code
- Specific Audience Address Radius
Adding to that, you have another layer of location targeting:
- Everyone in this location: This is the default targeting option, and the most current location of the actual Facebook user.
- Users who live in this location: Location here is decided by the location on the user’s Facebook profile. Also confirmed by IP address.
- People recently in this location: Tracked by mobile device usage in the geographic area you wish to target.
- People traveling to this location: Users who traveled at least 100 miles away from their home location.
While you’re in this space, test geographic-specific ads. See if that increases conversion rates.
We’ve seen again and again that geographic ad specificity leads to better performance.
Do you already know that your desired customer is within a certain age range?
Then target only them (narrow down the range). The starting range is everyone between the ages of 18 and 65+. If you are selling skateboards, you’re not likely targeting 65+.
Here you have the option to target All genders, just Men, or just Women.
There are opportunities here even if you have an audience heavily skewed toward one gender. Create tailored ads for the opposite gender to “gift” your products for people who are in long-distance relationships.
Even if your offerings cater to both genders, you can create gender-specific ads to see if women and men respond differently to ad creative that matches their own gender.
For languages, you have two options: regular language targeting and ethnic affinity.
Languages have their own targeting field, and ethnic affinities are hiding inside the “Detailed Targeting” dropdown.
Education level Facebook ad targeting goes pretty deep.
Target the type of degree, the field of study, the actual school, and the year graduated.
Here’s a look at some of the different options:
- Grad school
- High school
- College (incomplete)
- Grad school (incomplete)
- High school (incomplete)
- Associate degree
- College grad
- Doctorate degree
- High school grad
- Master’s degree
- Professional degree
“Fields of Study” is the next level of education targeting you can use.
Here, Facebook won’t give you a list to choose from, but you can start searching and see the breakdowns of different fields:
“Type of School” and “Actual School” and helps you target people who are going to the school, both students and employees.
Types of School range from Primary school all the way to Graduate school. (This is an interest targeting option.)
“Actual School” is the name of the school you want to target.
Here’s how you would target users affiliated with the University of Maryland:
Financial (income based on zip code)
For financial targeting, target income levels as a bracketed range for all US Zip codes.
And the same thing goes for net worth and specific liquid assets.
Facebook life events revolve around anniversaries, new relationships, new jobs, and important dates.
You can also target the friends of newly engaged, newlyweds, recently moved, or upcoming birthdays.
Here’s an example from Huffington Post on how crazy it can get when you tell Facebook about getting engaged:
Here are some other options you have under the Life Events category:
On a side note, all these Facebook ad targeting options have me thinking of different businesses I can start…
Do you want to target parents with kids who are in a certain age range?
Or even just parents who are expecting?
You’ve just unlocked Pandora’s box, peeps:
Facebook users who disclose their relationship status (on their profiles) have a few options to choose from:
- Open Relationship
- Civil Union
- Domestic Partnership
When it comes to work life and history, use these criteria to target them:
- Employers: The actual name of the company (Searchable)
- Industries: A longer list to choose from (Not Searchable)
- Job Titles: Different job titles (Searchable)
When it comes to interest targeting, you can select from the categories already available, or you can start searching for yourself via the Browse option. You can also ask Facebook for Suggestions.
Once you start using predetermined categories, you’ll see subcategories pop up underneath those.
Here are the subcategories under “Hobbies and activities” as an example:
I could list out all the different types of interest targeting here, but it would just be a rehash of what you already see inside the Facebook Ads Manager.
The point is, you have tons of options to mix and match different interests to see how they perform.
But keep in mind what I said at the beginning of this post: interest targeting alone might not be as accurate or well-performing as you hope it to be.
That also depends if what you’re asking the users to do is a low ask.
Okay, so you know that there’s a crap load of different interests to target.
The only problem is: you don’t know how or why people are part of that audience.
Did they share an article about the Rugby World Cup, suggesting that they are international rugby enthusiasts?
Or was some New Zealand All Black flanker a Mr. McDreamy with his Maori tatts and his bulging muscles and his little white shorts?—so that picture was shared on Facebook with friends who know nothing at all about rugby.
The point is, generic interest targeting isn’t all that accurate.
We don’t know how many individual data points need to be established before a user is labeled a “rugby” lover.
Precise interest targeting narrows your audience even further than regular interest targeting.
Target fans of an entity that align with the interest targeting you’re looking for.
In this case, that could be All Blacks, Springboks, Eagles, and Canucks.
Because ask yourself this: What’s more of an indicator of true interest?
- Liking or reading a random piece of eye candy content about a rugby player, or
- Liking and following The Eagles (USA national rugby team)?
But don’t stop there.
In my opinion, precise interest targeting more closely aligns with overlapping interests and exclusions.
Piggyback off of other people’s audiences to minimize your audience size, but improve the quality of it at the same time.
Similar to the Google Ads Display Network, behaviors are closely related to interests.
On Google Ads, behaviors cover browsing behavior and general data points collected over time. You can identify someone who’s comparison shopping and ready to buy, or as someone who is generally interested in a topic over a longer period of time.
But on Facebook, behavior targeting is based around 3rd party data from partners like Epsilon, Acxiom, and Datalogix.
This is where Facebook tracks what you do outside of Facebook.
Here are the breakdowns of each type of Behavior:
Target people who have an anniversary in 61-90 days
Targets people who Facebook sees as preferring higher-value goods in two categories
- mid and high-value goods
- high-value goods
in these countries:
- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
Target people who are gamers and use different consoles or operating systems. You can also decide to target Facebook page admins, types of email domains, internet browser usage, etc.
- Digital activities
- Operating System Used
- Canvas Gaming (4 options)
- Console gamers
- Facebook Payments users (30 days)
- Facebook Payments users (90 days)
- Facebook access: older devices and OS
- Facebook page admins (8 options)
- Internet Browser Used (6 options)
- Operating System Used (6 options)
- People who have visited Facebook Gaming
- People who have watched a Rewarded Video in the last 30 days
- Small business owners
- Technology early adopters
Targets people who have left their home country to go live somewhere else.
Mobile Device User
This is where you can target mobile device brands, operating systems, network connections (2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi) at a much more granular scale.
Mobile Device User/Device use time
People who are likely to have used a mobile device. 8 categories ranging from less than one month to 25+ months.
People in the USA who are likely to engage with certain political content.
Purchase Behavior (engaged shoppers)
This subcategory shows people who have clicked on the Call-to-Action button Shop Now. It almost needs another category all on its own.
If your target audience is the DIYers and coupon users, or if they spend a lot of money on pet products, then this is your place.
You can also target above-average spenders and if they mostly buy online or offline.
It’s interesting that a few years ago under Behavior there were categories like automotive, B2B, job roles, and media. Those categories are now gone.
Facebook removes categories from targeting if they are deemed potentially sensitive attributes (such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion—long gone). Facebook also changes targeting options based on what categories are actually used by advertisers.
So where advertisers didn’t care so much about Charitable Donations as a category (so it is now gone), advertisers must care about soccer a lot:
This is where you can target business travelers, casino vacationers, cruise lovers, etc.
This is where requested categories show up. Some data is available for US audiences only. These types of targeting criteria take a look at offline data and can update at a frequent rate.
Currently there are only two options:
Want to target people who are your fans, use your app, or have shown interest in your event?
Then connection targeting can help you out.
This is where you can target friends of people who are connected to your page, or friends of people who have shown interest in your event.
You can also exclude people who show these behaviors.
Connections is evolving. It’s converting into Custom Audiences and lookalike audiences. When you select a connection, Facebook will automatically convert that connection and add it to an audience.
Custom Audiences is one of the most powerful Facebook ad targeting options you have.
With it, you’re able to upload and/or connect your own data to identify your prospects on Facebook and Facebook’s Audience Network. You can reach people who've already interacted with your business.
This means that your email list can be used to match people to Facebook users.
You can also use their phone numbers to target them on Facebook.
The best thing about Custom Audiences and the bottom-line reason we see them continually outperform regular Facebook ad targeting is because the people you’re targeting have already shown an interest in what you have to offer.
They’ve either been on your site or landing page, or they’ve already opted in for something from you.
Here are the ways you can create Custom Audiences today:
Upload a list of email addresses and Facebook will try to match your email address with the email address a user uses to sign into Facebook.
Upload a list of phone numbers from all the people who have called you in the past 30 days, and via your CRM, exclude the people who have already converted.
App User IDs
If you have an app that’s used via Facebook, then you can upload user IDs to target or exclude them.
Specific web pages
Are certain visitors hanging out around on pages that you want to retarget on Facebook? This can help you with that.
Are you using Facebook as your marketing funnel to move people from one audience to the next? Then you can include and exclude them depending on the actions they take.
Target different types of content ads that you’ve already published. You decide on the date range.
From here, you can choose to target the level of engagement with your specific ad type.
Here’s a look at how deep the video ad engagement looks like:
Reach new people on Facebook who are similar to your most valuable audiences.
Create a Lookalike audience to target a much broader Facebook user base than your current Custom Audience size. Facebook will match your list to other users demographics such as age, gender, and/or interests.
From there, you have the option of targeting from 1% to 10% of the match rate of your current list (1% being the smallest and most accurate Lookalike Audience you can create).
Select from a list of your Facebook apps and then decide to target people based on the list of actions you’ve set up prior.
If you find that many of your app users have not purchased something in-app, this is a useful targeting option.
Then your ads could revolve around the upside of purchasing something to help them increase the speed of their gameplay (as an example).
Ever wondered if there was a portal you could use to peek at potential customers before targeting them?
That’s what Audience Insights can help you with.
This is where you see what your custom audiences and retargeting audience looks like.
The Audience Insights tool gives you the makeup of certain interest and behavior categories that Facebook has available from its drop down lists.
For example, with the audience that you start building, Facebook will eventually start to categorize the users via Lifestyles below the Age and Gender graph.
Facebook Graph Search helps by giving you more ideas to create new audiences a la the precise interest targeting we spoke about earlier.
If you’re trying to find targeting combinations around pepperoni pizza, then using Graph Search, you’re able to find these entities that are related to what you want:
Closing thoughts on Facebook Ad targeting
I know that was a ton of info flung at you around Facebook ad targeting.
Is this your first time creating a Facebook ad? Or have you worked that algorithm like a pro marketer—but didn’t dig down deep in some of these categories?
Either way, the next time you plan your ad campaigns, you’ll have more targeting ammunition than ever before so you can mill your metrics and hunt down your conversions. And the occasional starfish:
Which Facebook ad targeting options work best for you?
We always want to hear from people about what’s working and what could be working even better.
You’ve got targeting down, but what about Facebook Ad Strategy?
Got you covered: 21 Facebook Ad Strategies that Boost your Campaign Results in 2021.