Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new links and fresh content.
Original Publication Date: September 28, 2016
If I had a dollar every time someone asked me if I go hunting with my dog, then I’d have, like, 73 dollars.
But while I didn’t get a German Shorthaired Pointer to hunt birds, I did get him to help me hunt down conversions on Facebook. Here we are, hunting at the desk:
Cute dogs aside, how do you hunt down the perfect Facebook ad targeting options to turn your PPC ads into a predictable conversion goldmine?
That’s what this post is all about…
Why The Correct Facebook Ad Targeting Is Crucial
ConversionXL’s Shanelle Mullin recently asked me what the main difference is between something like Google Ads Search and Facebook ads. And more importantly, which one is better for your business?
Here was my quick response:
Because of direct Facebook ad targeting (not retargeting), your prospects can be subject to your ads over and over again.
Ad Fatigue: When the same people see the same ad over multiple days, their engagement with that ad is likely to drop, leading to higher costs for the advertiser.
Audience Decay: When your targeting the same people over time, their interest in your message usually decreases.
If this happens to you, it’s important to have multiple campaigns with different types of Facebook ad targeting that you can use. This helps you avoid ad fatigue and audience decay.
Eventually, you’ll want to create Facebook funnels where people enter and leave an audience depending on their actions and what you consider a conversion that gets them closer and closer to your end goal. (More on that in another blog post.)
Before You Pick Your Targets
When it comes to a PPC platform, Facebook has some of the most expansive ways to target your prospects.
Wanna target people who just got engaged? Check.
Targeting people who donate to charities frequently? Check.
Wanna target LA Clippers fans? Can’t do that — too small of an audience. (lol jk)
You can mix and match your targeting approach (like the Google Ads Display Network) or go directly for the jugular and target people by their individual email address.
But that’s just scratching the Facebook ad targeting surface.
Before you start building out your campaigns, it’s important to understand the higher-level difference of the AND/OR targeting abilities.
AND/OR Facebook Ad Targeting
When you add new targeting options under the same category of targeting, your audience will increase in size (this is “OR” targeting).
Or you can do the “AND” targeting, which requires a person in your target audience to fall into multiple categories. Note: this will shrink your audience size.
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 “interests” only are vaguely created by Facebook.
This doesn’t mean that your prospect has to like basketball. It just means that their behavior on Facebook has shown an interest in basketball. (Even if it was just a basketball article they clicked on.)
If you’re curious about how you’re being targeted, then you check your own 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.
[Tweet “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 is that while Facebook is an unreal and amazing PPC platform, it doesn’t have a search engine like Google.
The major advantage that Google has over Facebook is search intent — the ability, as an advertiser, to show ads to people who are looking for what you have to offer.
But the capabilities of Facebook help to make up for that.
Here’s what we’ll be tackling so you can re-create your own audiences within your account:
Now, let’s jump into the ad targeting capabilities (the part you’re excited about):
Demographics is a powerful form of Facebook ad targeting. 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 to your location options, you have quite a few choices:
- DMA (Designated Market Area)
- Postal Code
- Specific Address Radius
And in addition to that, you have another layer of location targeting that includes:
- 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 had this geographic area as a recent location that’s at least 100 miles away from their home location.
While you’re in this space, you can test geographic specific ads to see if they help increase conversion rates.
We’ve seen again and again that geographic specificity in ads and landing pages can lead to better performance.
Do you already know that your desired customer is within a certain age range?
Then you should only target the people who are within that age range.
Ranging from 18 to 65+ years old, you can also use direct Birthday targeting (which falls under Life Event targeting, which we’ll cover later).
Here you have the option to target either All genders, just Men, or just Women.
There are opportunities here even if you have an audience heavily skewed toward one gender. You can, for example, 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 to use: regular language targeting and ethnic affinity.
Languages have their own targeting field, and ethnic affinities are hiding inside the “Detailed Targeting” dropdown.
We’ll go over ethnic affinities in a later section as well.
Facebook users who disclose on their relationship status on their profiles have a few options to choose from:
- Open Relationship
- Civil Union
- Domestic Partnership
Education level Facebook ad targeting goes pretty deep.
Within this category, you can 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 an example of my wanted to target users who are affiliated with the University of Maryland:
When it comes to users work life and history, you’re able to 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)
- Office Type: Home office, Small business, or Small office
Financial (Income & Net Worth [Liquid Assets])
I’ve never seen Facebook ask for this information, so I’m not sure how they get it.
But you can target it, and that’s what matters for this post.
For financial targeting, you have the option to target currency ranges when it comes to income levels.
And the same thing goes for net worth and specific liquid assets.
Facebook ad targeting for the home goes much deeper than you think.
As of today, your three home targeting categories are as follows:
- Home Ownership
- Home Type
- Household Composition
Ownership: This includes the ability to target first-time homebuyers, homeowners, and/or renters.
Home Type: This type of targeting allows you to distinguish between apartments, condos, home value, multi-family homes, property size, single-family homes, square footage, and year built.
Household Composition: This household composition looks to identify the dynamics within the home.
Is your targeted audience part of a certain ethnic group?
The ethnic affinity could help you target the right Facebook users.
Is your target audience as wide as a generation?
I doubt it. Because that would be a humongous audience.
But if it is, by all means, go ahead and target Baby Boomers, Generation X, or Millennials here.
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 a Pandora’s box:
In addition to targeting parents by child year ranges, you can also target just moms with a variety of interesting categories:
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…
The last demographic targeting option you have for now is politics.
Within this targeting category, you have some other sub-categories like:
- Likelihood to engage in politics (conservative & liberal)
- Self reported affiliation
- Type of lean (conservative, liberal, moderate, and varying degrees of that)
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.
Once you start using the predetermined categories, you then have further subcategories underneath those.
And 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 your 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 a crazy pizza recipe and are therefore pepperoni pizza enthusiasts?
Or was the sensationalism of the article enough to get that vegan friend to share it on Facebook?
The point is, generic interest targeting isn’t all that accurate.
We don’t know how many individual data points that need to be established before a user is labeled a “pepperoni pizza” lover.
We don’t want to target this type of user with our pizza ads:
Instead, we want to target the pizza lovers who look like this:
Okay, you see where I’m going with this.
Precise interest targeting helps you narrow your audience even further than regular interest targeting.
Instead, start targeting fans of an entity that align with the interest targeting you’re looking for.
In this case, that could be Pizza Hut, Dominos, or Papa John’s.
Because ask yourself this: What’s more of an indicator of true interest?
Liking or reading a random piece of content about pizza, or actually liking and following Pizza Hut?
But don’t stop there.
In my opinion, precise interest targeting more closely aligns with this style Venn diagram:
Piggy back 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 to identify the user as a person who’s comparison shopping and ready to buy, or someone who generally interested in a topic over a longer period of time (like pizza making).
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 targeting you can take advantage of:
This is to target new vehicle owners or people who are searching to buy a vehicle. Also around the type of “newness” of the vehicle.
Here you’re able to target users based on company size, their industry, and their seniority at their job.
The options for this type of targeting change quite often. As of today, for example, you can target the specific brands of mobile devices, but that may be different six months from now.
This type of behavior targeting lets you target different types of users who are affiliated with charitable donations towards animal welfare, cancer causes, religious, veterans, etc.
Targets people who Facebook sees as preferring higher-value goods.
This helps you 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.
Targets people who have left their home country to go live somewhere else.
For targeting credit union or national/regional bank members, what type of investors they are, and how many lines of credit they have.
Are you looking to target corporate executives, farmers, or financial professionals? This will be your jam.
Do they listen to internet/satellite radio and/or do they watch a certain genre of TV shows more frequently than others (like action or biographies)?
Mobile Device User
This is where you can target mobile device brands, operating systems, network connections at a much more granular scale.
This subcategory almost needs another category all on its own.
If your target audience is coupon users and DIYers, of if they spend a lot of money pet products, then this is your place.
You can also target above-average spenders and if they mostly buy online or offline.
Seasonal and Events
Are there certain religious holidays or sporting events that are seasonal and are of interest to your target audience? This is where you can target them.
This is where you can target business travelers, casino vacationers, cruise lovers, etc.
These types of targeting criteria take a look at offline data and can update at a frequent rate.
Why I only have these three options right now is beyond me, but look for this to change and be custom in your account.
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 also 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.
Custom Audiences is one of the most power 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.
This means that your email list can be used to match people 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.
You can also 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 their 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.
This type of targeting is relatively new. It helps you target different types of content ads that you’ve already published and 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:
Lookalike audiences are a way for you 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).
App activity targeting allows you to 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.
This could be helpful if you find that many of your app users have not purchased something in-app.
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 can use to gleam into potential audiences before targeting them?
That’s what Audience Insights can help you with.
This is where you also see how your custom audiences are made up, or even just the regular retargeting audience.
The Audience Insights tool also helps you learn the makeup of certain interest and behavior categories that Facebook has available from their 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.
And you can also see the Job Title makeup graph beneath that.
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 just for Facebook ad targeting.
The next time you plan your ad campaigns, I hope you now have more targeting ammunition than ever before so you can hunt your conversions. And your occasional starfish:
Which types of Facebook ad targeting options have you found that work best for you?