Want to know how we brought in a conversion increase of 129.73% and a CPA decrease of 70.62% for one of our clients?
Here’s the recipe:
A teaspoon of really smart decision-making, mixed with just one Facebook interest targeting audience. Give it about two weeks to simmer, and then reap the rewards.
A lot of Facebook (also known as Meta) marketers out there are as skeptical about interest ad targeting as they are about using mace in a recipe. I’m talking about the spice, people, not the kind you spray 🙄.
Some of the worries I’ve heard from my clients before are:
- How do you know how much intent these audiences have?
- How do you know that the people Facebook’s identified as “interested” actually are?
- Why advertise to a virtual mystery when you could just advertise to people your facebook pixel has added to your retargeting list?
To be blunt, 129.73% conversion increase, that’s why.
But to give you the detailed version of the answer, in this article we’ll shed some light on what interest targeting is (and detailed targeting as a whole), how to use it, why you’d use it, and tips for success with Facebook ad targeting that you can’t miss.
Plus, if you hang around till the end, there’s a secret hack waiting for you that not many people know about–and it’ll take your Facebook advertising to the next level. 📈
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What is Facebook interest targeting?
Unlike custom audiences, which build lists based on data your pixel and Facebook have gathered specifically about your visitors and viewers, Facebook interest targeting audiences are built using data on the interests of Facebook users platform-wide.
Think of it like a sorting process.
Facebook collects data like pages people have looked at, events they’ve shown interest in, and even ads they’ve clicked before.
Using this data, Facebook then sorts these people into audiences based on the interest they’ve shown toward certain things. A person whose habits have shown they’re interested in football may be placed in the football interest audience list.
These audience lists can contain millions of people if they’re very broad. More specific audiences may contain hundreds of thousands of people. There are also overly specific audiences, which are targetable but contain a number of people so small it’s hardly worth targeting them. When I say “so small,” think under 10,000 people.
When you target an interest audience, you’re targeting all individuals on that audience who also meet any other audience criteria you’ve set, like:
For example, if you’re targeting the football interest audience, and you’re also targeting the United States, your ads will show only to people on the football interest audience who also live in the United States.
Interest targeting vs. detailed targeting
Just to add a little clarity, you’ll notice that when you’re looking around in Facebook Ads Manager, you won’t see a setting called “interest targeting” right away.
This is because interest targeting is just a subset of a larger feature called detailed targeting.
Detailed targeting encompasses 3 different types of audiences:
- Demographic audiences: People are sorted into these audiences based on details about who they are. For example, their job title, what their education level is, or certain life events.
- Interest audiences” People are sorted into these audiences based on what they like. For example, what genre of games or what type of fitness they’re interested in.
- Behavior audiences: People are sorted into these audiences based on what they do. For example, the types of operating systems or devices they use, or whether they’re frequent travelers.
So, even though we’re talking about interest audiences, which is the largest of the three detailed targeting types, it’s good to keep in mind that there are other detailed targeting options available that you can layer to your strategy.
For example, you can see that we’ve used multiple types of detailed targeting in the screenshot above to hone in our audience better–people who are in college, and whose interest is “medical students.”
By itself, that interest category is pretty broad for our purposes. How do we know that just because they’re in a medical student interest audience that they actually are (or planning to be) medical students? How do we access the right audience?
Being interested in something and being something are two different things. So, we honed it down by combining that audience in an “and” function with a demographic audience–people who are in college, who are more likely to at least be students. And those people are more likely to be, or be interested in becoming, med students.
Using all available detailed targeting types to create a more relevant (and still significantly large) prospecting audience will be your saving grace when building out your campaigns.
Why Facebook interest targeting matters
To many digital marketers, the pièce de résistance of their advertising strategy is bottom of funnel audiences–namely, retargeting.
In my career, I’ve had plenty of clients who didn’t want to advertise to anyone other than the most bottom of funnel audiences possible. I‘ve even received directives from manufacturers who put severe restrictions on how much we were allowed to spend on upper funnel campaigns, and banned audiences that were too top of funnel for their tastes.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasoning. Top of funnel audiences can be broad, and they can dominate costs. They don’t often generate those bottom of funnel conversions that are most valuable to businesses–i.e. they’re not directly responsible for a sale.
So, for a prudent businessperson, it’s easy to say that top of funnel audiences are a waste of money and should be cut from the program.
This is a mistake, and I’m going to give you a few reasons why.
You have to prospect in order to retarget
Prospecting, by definition, is the act of targeting top of funnel audiences whose intent isn’t very hot, meaning they might not be very close to a conversion.
Interest targeting audiences fall in the prospecting category. These are people who are interested in something, but not necessarily your product (yet).
If you play your cards right and pick smart audiences, they’ll be potential customers whose interests align nicely with your product’s appeal.
So, although these people don’t have a lot of intent right now, they might become your ideal customers very soon.
In essence, prospecting is the act of feeding your bottom funnel.
The more people across various interest audiences who see your ads and visit your site, the bigger your retargeting audience will become, and the more prospects you’ll have with high intent.
If you target only your bottom of funnel prospects with your advertising and expect the trickling of organic traffic to keep feeding your retargeting list, you’ll eventually wear out your welcome with your retargeting audience members.
This is because the rate at which you show ads to people who have visited your site will overpower the rate at which new site visitors are added to your retargeting audience. You’ll get the conversions you can out of your retargeting audience, and then you’ll run the intent in that list as dry as a bone.
If you’re in that place right now, wondering where all those retargeting conversions went that you were getting not that long ago…well, now you know.
Your retargeting list is much smaller than your interest targeting audiences will be. To avoid retargeting fatigue, you should ideally be spending about 70% of your budget on prospecting.
You’re finding new customers who like what you sell
Replenishing your customer base with new customers is vital for any business.
Of course, in eCommerce, we love existing customers who make repeat purchases. But if we rarely add new customers to our loyal fan base, we’re relying on those repeats to build our business up, and that’s a mission doomed to fail.
Opening your audiences up to interest targeting expands your opportunities to be seen by those who don’t know your brand or your product yet, but are interested in something that makes your product appealing to them.
Such is true of any broad prospecting targeting, but at least with interest audiences you know what this audience likes, which can be a more relevant audience to target than, say, a demographic alone.
Granted, Facebook’s signals that allow it to bucket people into certain audiences aren’t perfect. Some people may be bucketed into interest audiences because of something they’ve accidentally shown interest in.
Plus, with increasing restrictions on tracking from iOS14, Facebook now has to make inferences about people who have opted out of tracking on that iOS, which can lead to a margin of error.
But based on the success we’ve seen with interest targeting, we’d say that at least right now, the margin of error is acceptable.
Everything you need to know about Facebook interest targeting
You’re now familiar with the what and the why, so now it’s time to get into the juicy details of interest targeting (and detailed targeting) that will help you get started.
Using Facebook interest targeting is fairly straightforward–so we’ll keep this a brief overview of the essentials.
Where to find Facebook interest targeting
All audience targeting happens within the ad set. If you’ve already created a campaign, and an ad set within that campaign, then finding your interest targeting to make a new audience is as easy as going into the ad set and scrolling down. You’re looking for the “Audience” section.
Like we mentioned before, interest targeting is a subset of detailed targeting. Find detailed targeting under “Audience,” and click “Browse” in the search bar.
Once you’ve clicked “Browse,” you’ll see the three types of detailed targeting categories, one being interest targeting. Click on it to expand the interest targeting categories available.
A word of caution: At this point, you’ll see all the broadest levels of interest categories. To see more granular audiences within those categories, you’ll need to click the category to expand it–but be careful not to select the checkbox next to the broad category, which will select ALL subcategories within that category.
You probably don’t want to be targeting everyone interested in anything business and industry. We like bigger audiences, but there is such a thing as too broad.
How to search for interests to target in Ads Manager
For the sake of the example above, we’ve already shown you one way to search for interest targeting audiences (and other detailed targeting audiences). But to sum everything, up we’ll go through all your options here.
- Click “Browse” in detailed targeting and go through the categories (as above).
- Click into the detailed targeting search bar and search for an interest relevant to your product. (Note that searching will pull up other relevant detailed targeting audiences as well, so make sure you look at the right corner of each audience to see what kind of audience it is.)
- Click on “Suggestions ” in the search bar. (Facebook will recommend audiences similar to any you’re already targeting, which means you need to be targeting an audience for this to work. Facebook will suggest more than just interest audiences, so again, watch out for what kind of audiences it’s suggesting.)
How to exclude interest targeting (and other detailed targeting)
Any well-developed targeting plan usually either comes across or already knows people it doesn’t want to show ads to.
While it might be rare that you exclude interest targeting audiences, it’ll probably be common that you exclude certain demographics or even behaviors. For any of these, the exclusion process is the same.
Let’s stay with our yoga pants example (I guess I’m in the mood for comfort). Let’s say I want to target the yoga pants interest audience, but I don’t want to show ads to people who recently moved.
Click the “Exclude” button under detailed targeting.
Then, search or browse for the audience you don’t want to show ads to, and select it.
That’s all there is to it–now, add as many exclusions as you want (as long as your audience still stays a good size).
How to narrow your interest targeting (and other detailed targeting)
As great as these Facebook interest audiences are, there will always be times when we want an audience that’s just a little more specific.
Earlier, I mentioned “and” functions within audiences–this means that when you’re narrowing your audiences down, you’re telling Facebook that people you’re targeting should be in both audience A and audience B (and so on).
You can get some really interestingly tailored audiences this way, that have the exact interest nuances of your typical customer.
To narrow your audience (after you’ve already selected an audience to target), under detailed targeting, click “Define Further.”
Then, select another audience from the list to narrow down by. For instance, say I want to advertise to people interested in yoga pants, who are also parents.
Easy, right? You can define your audiences as much as you want, but just make sure you keep an eye on your audience size. You don’t want to be whittling it away into an audience that’s too small.
How to save your interest targeting (and other detailed targeting)
Once you have the perfect interest targeting audience defined, especially if it’s a complex audience, you probably don’t want to waste time building it again if you need to use it in another campaign.
When you have your complete audience, scroll to the bottom of the “Audience” section and click “Save This Audience.”
Then, enter a name for your saved audience and click “Save.”
Note: Saving will save all aspects of your audience, including location, age, gender, as well as your interest targeting, any other detailed targeting, and any custom audiences you’ve added.
You can then view any audiences you’ve saved in “Audiences,” under “All Tools.”
Or, when you’re building an ad set, you can pull your previously saved audiences in by going to the “Use Saved Audience” tab at the top of the “Audience” section.
Now, if you ever need to use an audience again, it’ll take you two seconds, not ten minutes.
Special ad categories and limited interest targeting
When you’re starting campaigns on Facebook for the first time, it’s important to know if your business falls under a special ad category vertical such as social issues, elections, or politics. You can find the special ad category section in your campaign, just under the campaign name.
If your business does fall under a special ad category, you’re required to declare it and select which category. If you don’t, and you advertise anyway, your ads will be rejected.
The downside of advertising in a special ad category is that your targeting options are much fewer and much less specific.
You can no longer advertise to specific age ranges or specific genders. On top of that, the only type of detailed targeting you can do is interest targeting.
Finally, the cherry on top: The interest targeting categories are much less specific, broader audiences. None of them have drop-down arrows for more granular subcategories.
Special ad categories can’t be ignored, but they do restrict us quite a bit. However, I’ve found that there were still audiences in here that were just specific enough to work for my special ad category campaigns. It may just take a little looking and testing to figure them out.
Interest targeting tips for success you can’t ignore
Our Facebook Ads experts here are no strangers to making the most out of interest targeting. Often, interest targeting is one of our only options to start with when accounts are brand new. Our pixels haven’t had time to build our retargeting audiences yet, and we don’t have any other data to make Lookalikes from.
This is where prudent decisions with interest targeting come in. We know that interest targeting will likely always be a part of our strategy, but when it’s all we’ve got, it’s especially important to choose our audiences wisely and make it work in our client’s favor.
Then, when the account has been started and interest targeting is one of many parts of our funnel, working it in a way that benefits other stages of the funnel as much as it can is equally important.
That being said, we’ve collected some tricks in our travels with interest targeting to share that will help you make the most of it in your strategy, too. Got your notepad handy?
Bigger audiences = lower CPM
Now, we’re not saying that you should target a broad interest category with hundreds of billions of people in it–again, there is such a thing as too big.
But we are saying that if you want cheaper CPMs (which helps your budget stretch further, gets you in front of more eyes, and gives you a higher chance for conversions) then you need to build bigger target audiences.
How big you’ll go with your target audience depends on your budget. Typically, an ideal audience size is between 1-4 million. If you’re a small business and your budget is on the lower end, aim for the lower end of that range. If you’re planning to spend a high amount each month (something like over $200,000), you may even want to stretch your size beyond 4 million.
You can get an idea for how big (or small) your audience is by looking at Facebook’s audience definition panel on the right side of your ad set. However, couple that knowledge with your own best judgment based on your budget, because to Facebook, an audience size of even 1 billion sometimes isn’t considered “too broad” (but that’s definitely too broad for most budgets).
A lot of people think that costs will be cheaper targeting audiences that are smaller and more specific, because they’re more relevant to your product. Actually, your CPMs will typically be higher.
This is because of the competition you face, usually. If you and 10 other competitors are bidding on an audience with just 2,000 members in it, you’re all going to be paying more to fight each other for so few available impressions.
If you and 10 other competitors are targeting an audience with 1.2 million members, well…that’s a lot of impressions, and a lot of potential for ad space. I like to say “there’s enough to go around,” so your CPMs tend to be lower.
Now, while we typically call CPM a vanity metric, and recommend focusing on your conversions instead, we tend to choose to be charged for every thousand impressions. So if your CPMs are way too high, and your budget isn’t going very far, that can hurt your conversions. That’s a problem worth your attention.
Keep a condensed audience structure
If you’re typically an organized person, it can be tempting to isolate one audience per ad set.
If this has a specific purpose (like testing, etc.) then you’re welcome to do that, but generally, we recommend against it.
Basically, you want your ad sets to exit the learning phase, so that Facebook’s algorithm can do its best work getting you more conversions at a lower CPA. This is easier to do when your ad set has multiple related audiences in it trying to drive conversion traffic.
Generally, Facebook needs to see 50 conversions to an ad set in 7 days for your ad set to leave the learning phase and start seeing better optimization.
This is particularly difficult to achieve when you have a ton of ad sets running at one audience apiece, and if your ad sets are never able to leave the learning phase, your performance will suffer for it.
Organize your audiences in a way that makes sense for reporting or testing, but not in a way that’s a detriment to you.
For example, if I were a bakery, I might create an ad set for all interest audiences related to cookies, and another for all interest audiences related to cakes. On a reporting level, I can then see how differently cookie and cake audiences perform–but the difference internally between how a chocolate cookie and a sugar cookie perform is likely negligible.
Look at the big picture. Say cakes are doing better than cookies, and with cookies the conversions just trickle in. Are you more likely to spark a significant conversion bump by splitting out the cakes group of audiences into a new campaign and increasing budget there, or by granulating out types of cookies even though the conversion data doesn’t support that?
Facebook’s algorithm is smart, and it likely already knows where it’s best to spend your budget between all your cookie audiences. So let it do its job.
Tailor your ads to your different audience themes
Let’s stick with the cakes and cookies example above. If you were interested in buying a cake, and you saw a bakery ad on your Instagram feed, do you think you’d be more likely to click if the ad had a cake in it, or if the ad featured a generic assortment of baked goods?
Most of us probably acknowledge that not all cookie shops bake cakes. So you could cause some confusion and chase away potential sales by having ad creative that doesn’t feature what this audience is interested in.
Plain and simple, even though it’s more work, it really benefits your relevance to tailor your ads to the subject of your audience sets. If your audience is interested in cakes, use an image with a cake in it. (Don’t rely only on the messaging in your copy to specify that you carry cakes while using a generic image).
Better relevance means better ad positions, better quality ranking, more clicks, and cheaper CPMs.
Use a non-threatening offer
Remember how we talked about the general resistance many businesses have toward advertising to colder audiences?
Let’s play it back. A lot of people don’t want to advertise on audiences with less intent because these audiences don’t tend to complete their biggest goal conversions. So, essentially, they feel like they’re spending money to have people look, but not touch–and that’s a hard investment to swallow.
But you still can target people in colder prospecting audiences and get them to engage with your business in ways that are useful to you by showing them a different offer.
If your bottom of funnel offer is to schedule a demo of your product, showing that to someone who doesn’t know your brand or product will be like asking someone who’s never had ice cream to buy an ice cream franchise.
Instead, offer them a free e-book or whitepaper with valuable information about your product, your industry, why they need what you sell, etc. If you’re featured in a Gartner report, offer a free download of it. You get the picture.
Now, you might be thinking–isn’t that the same thing? Now I’m just giving away free stuff on goodwill alone, hoping they come back later.
I said that your offer should be free, but I didn’t say you can’t ask for anything in return.
Typically when we use whitepaper offers or similar, they’re gated. We ask for very basic, non-threatening info, like a name and an email address in order to get the download.
Most people are more willing to hand their email address out than their phone number, remember that. Asking for their email is a non-threatening way to keep in touch with them after they’ve downloaded your free offer.
That’s where your email marketing strategy comes into play, because they’re now on your email list.
This way, you’re using a colder offer on an equally cold audience, but people in this audience are still turning into leads. You can keep a hold of them and nurture them via email, working them into the bottom of the funnel.
Even better–when enough people download your free asset, you can then put those people in a custom audience, and retarget ads to them with warmer offers.
You may not be getting the conversion event that you wanted upfront, but you’re now nurturing a ton of leads at the top of your funnel and feeding those into your bottom funnel. Win, win, and winning.
Our secret hack: Facebook hidden interests
Did you know that there’s such a thing as “hidden interests?” If I had to guess, probably not.
There’s a reason Facebook Ads hidden interests are called “hidden.” Facebook is no longer the advertising gold mine we once knew. The days of cheap CPMs, no competition, and an untapped market are gone. Today, if you’re not advertising on Facebook, you’re missing out on some low-hanging fruit.
If you’re prospecting, you may need to update your approach. Assuming you’re in a very competitive market, it all starts with targeting.
Now, the Facebook interface limits the number of suggested interests available for certain keywords in order to make their platform more user-friendly.
In other words, Facebook’s been holding out on us by showing us less interest targeting suggestions than are actually available. So, how do we access these Facebook "hidden interests" and start targeting them to maximize our social advertising performance? That’s what we’re about to show you.
In-platform, this is what you find when you type in the term “yoga” in detailed targeting:
I know what you might be thinking:
“I’m pretty sure you could just keep searching related interests yourself and get even more interests to target.”
Yes, you could. But how much time would that take?
You could probably access an additional 20 related interests in a matter of minutes. And that’s assuming each is large enough and available within the interface.
Below you’ll find a screenshot of the suggestions for “yoga poses” (a related interest to “yoga”). However, just because a suggestion is related to a keyword doesn’t mean it’ll have the audience size you need, or even be available for targeting.
Frustrating, isn’t it? Even if you think of highly relevant interests, there’s a good chance they won’t be available as a target interest.
The interests that tend to show up often have very large audiences. They're the first interests you see, and probably the first interests you’ll pick since they’re so relevant.
But doesn’t that mean those are probably the first interest suggestions your competitors pick as well?
This means more competition, driving CPM prices up.
But don’t worry. There’s another way.
Setting up Facebook’s Marketing API to unlock hidden interests
Let your competition fight over those ‘public interests.’ You don’t need to directly compete with them at all.
But how do we do that? My first reaction as a marketer is to look for a market that is highly relevant but that only a few know about.
To find these ‘hidden interests’ manually, you’d have to do a lot of research. And once again, you’ll probably experience the same frustration we did earlier when our research led to interests that simply don’t exist on Facebook’s targeting interface.
I’ll show you exactly how to find AND take advantage of Facebook’s ‘hidden interests’ by using Facebook’s Marketing API.
The best part is, you don’t need to be a software developer to mine thousands of Facebook interests from the Facebook Marketing API. Even better, since we’re pulling straight from the API, these ‘hidden interests’ are guaranteed to be available in Facebook’s targeting interface.
What is Facebook’s Marketing API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface.
In simpler terms, the Facebook Marketing API is the data you see on the Facebook ad’s interface, but raw and without restrictions. This is why we can access interests that won’t always appear in the interface—because the interface restricts that data to make it more user-friendly.
The trade-off with the API is that the response you get won’t look as pretty as on Facebook Ads manager, but it’s still fairly simple to interpret.
Getting started with the Facebook Marketing API
The first thing we need is an access token. To do that, we need to hop over to Facebook for Developers. Once you’re there, follow the steps below:
1. Create a Facebook for Developers account, if you don’t have one already.
2. Once your account’s been made, create a new app by clicking the “Create App” button.
3. Select your app type–for this example, we chose “Business.”
4. Add your app details and link it to your Business Manager account. The display name doesn’t matter much–just give it a name that works for you. Enter your contact email.
5. Where it says “Add products to your app,” scroll down that list until you see Facebook Marketing API, and select it to add it to your app.
6. At this point, you’ll need to go here to get your user access token. You don’t need any special permissions to access what I’m about to show you, so just click Generate Access Token for the app you just made.
The “access token” field you see will have an assortment of numbers and letters after you’ve generated your token. Copy that and save it somewhere. Once you have it, you can start using the method I’ll show you next.
Retrieving hidden interests from Facebook’s Marketing API
Now that you have your access token, let’s start unlocking those hidden interests.
I’m going to present you with a URL, which, when entered into a browser coupled with your access token, will return hidden interests to you for your subject of choice. Check it out below.
This method connects to the Marketing API with a keyword as an input and returns related interests. Here’s how to work it:
1. Replace the ‘your-access-token’ part with the access token you copied earlier.
2. Then replace the keyword in brackets above, “Golf,” with any keyword you want to see related results for, much like the interface you’re already familiar with.
3. Put the finished URL into your browser and hit enter. You’ll see a page filled with interests along with other valuable targeting data. It should look something like this once you’ve plugged in your keyword and access token:
You should get all available related interests as a response, just like the Facebook ads manager interface. The screenshot above is a shortened version of what you’ll see–you should have many more audiences at your fingertips.
Like I said, it’s not the prettiest data presentation from the Facebook Marketing API. However, there are 100+ interests to pick from, from just one keyword. And more importantly, they’re all related to your search and available for targeting.
Case study: Using Facebook hidden interests on an actual client
Were you looking for proof of the Facebook Marketing API's power for social media marketing? It just so happens that we applied this concept for a client of ours that never had success on Facebook, aside from retargeting campaigns.
Their typical CPA for retargeting campaigns on Facebook was under $50. Leads were only counted after a customer put in all their credit card information, completing their “booking” so to speak.
Since Facebook prospecting never worked for this client, we had to use Google Ads as our baseline CPA goal to shoot for, with an average CPA of $150. Remember, these were bookings where users had to put in their credit card information at the very end of the conversion process (which is very threatening, and something that’s tough to get people to do).
The CPA below was for a prospecting campaign we launched. After the first few days of implementation, we pulled targeting interests using the Facebook Marketing API.
The result? It performed far better than we had anticipated, simply targeting interests that we found deep within the results of the Marketing API script we walked through together.
Since then, we scaled the prospecting campaigns for this client and we still see cheaper CPAs than on Google Ads, the only other platform they’ve ever known.
Start exploring your interest targeting options
If you were skeptical about the usefulness of interest audiences at first, you shouldn’t be now. You’ve taken a deep dive into all things interest audience related, and now you know not only how to use them, but also why you should use them, and how to make them work famously for you. All the most valuable targeting tools are in your hands.
And how about that secret hack? Bet you weren’t expecting to take a trip through Facebook for Developers today–but I also bet you’re glad you did.
Throughout this journey, we also briefly mentioned some bottom funnel types of Facebook audiences like retargeting, which is a custom audience. So if you’re still not sure how to set those up, take a look at our article on custom audiences.
Or, if prospecting is now (or will be) your new best friend, beef up your prospecting chops by learning all you need to know about the next type of prospecting: Lookalike Audiences.