3 Ways to Target Facebook Ads

Think about all of the data you give to Facebook on a daily basis: the posts you like, the videos you watch, the comments you make, and the information you share in your profile. All this data is available to advertisers so they can target their marketing campaigns more effectively. There’s no doubt this makes Facebook one of the most powerful marketing databases that’s ever existed — but it also makes it one of the more overwhelming channels.

This post will explain the three main ways you can target on Facebook: demographics, interests and behaviors, and specific audiences.

Demographics

Demographic targeting utilizes all of the rich user opt-in data that Facebook collects when you sign up and as you continue to use the platform. It includes things like, age, gender, life events, education, generation, and relationship status. Unlike most databases, Facebook users are generally better at keeping their demographic information up to date, which makes it more valuable than most channels for this type of targeting.

Let’s say we ran a site for wedding registries and we wanted to target people who were likely to create a wedding registry online. We might choose a demographic profile like:  

  • Age: 25-34
  • Gender: Women
  • Life Event: Engaged within the last 3 months
  • Relationship status: Engaged

Pro Tip: Detailed targeting in each ad set is equivalent to an “or” statement. This means in the above example, we can layer both life event and relationship status on top of age and gender: we’ll reach women ages 25-34 who have either gotten engaged in the last three months, or who have their relationship status as engaged.

Interests and Behaviors

Interest and behavior targeting is powerful because it’s determined by aggregating of all of the actions a user takes on Facebook that fall under a specific category, in addition to the things a user explicitly tells Facebook they’re interested in. For instance, in our previous example we might want to reach people who have said they’re interested in wedding planning or wedding vendors, like florists, hotels, caterers, or venues. We might also want to target people who have liked other wedding registry sites, on the premise that they might be looking around for the best option.

Pro Tip: “Interests” is a searchable field. If there is something you are really looking for and are not sure Facebook has as a category, the best way to find out is to open Power Editor and see what’s available. Just be careful of audience size — it’s easy to get so carried away in specifying interests that you end up with a sample size that’s too small to be effective.

Specific Audiences

Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences are two ways you can specify an audience for your campaign based on data you’ve collected, either through pixel tracking or email address.

Targeting a custom audience means you want to run a campaign for the people who are in that segment. For instance, you might want to run a retargeting campaign to people who landed on your website; or, you might want to upload email addresses for people who entered a contest but never became customers.

Lookalike audiences, on the other hand, are segments of people that have similar attributes to an audience you specify. In our wedding registry example, we might want to take people who have signed up for registries on our site and create a Lookalike audience to try and go after people who are not yet our customers, but who have similar profiles.  

The key difference between custom and lookalike audiences is that you’ll have the contact information for a custom audience (either through web tracking or collecting emails addresses), but a lookalike audience will be made up of entirely new profiles.

Pro Tip: Size matters. You want the list you create a lookalike audience against to be small enough to have a distinct set of attributes; but large enough to get a decent match rate on Facebook. Match rates can vary wildly — anywhere between 40-75% is typical, though there are things you can do to increase your match rate. The “right” audience size is going to vary, so it’s always worth testing — but your goal should be to get as granular as possible. In our wedding registry example, we might have a large enough database that we can create segments based on customers who have created registries of $10,000 or more. That should yield a lookalike audience that’s a closer match to our “high value” customers than we’d get if we matched against our entire database.

Bonus: Targeting by time of day, geography, and device.

Facebook stands out because of the strength of its demographic, behavioral, and match-based targeting options. Still, there are classic targeting options that are always worth considering when you’re trying to optimize your marketing campaigns.

For example, if we’re looking to acquire people who want to build a wedding registry, we should think about when and where they’re doing this. It’s reasonable to assume that most working professionals are doing their wedding planning on nights and weekends, when they’re not at work. So it’s worth testing performance if we limit our ads only to run Friday-Sunday or from 5 pm-Midnight, Monday-Thursday.

Additionally, targeting by geographic location is one way you can increase efficiency. We test targeting our ad sets to the top 10 DMAs (designated market areas) in the country. If we see success but want to gain more efficiency, we can cull zip codes to hone in on pockets of the best performing areas.

Finally, we can target by device. Facebook now recommends using “optimized placements,” which means their system automatically changes the creative to the placement (i.e. Facebook Newsfeed, Instagram, etc.) where your audience is — but you can still experiment with manually specifying where your ad should show up. For instance, you could experiment with different messaging for people who are viewing ads on mobile devices, where you have less room for copy.
Final Tip: Now let’s say you wanted to explore using all these different targeting options. You might be tempted to build them into one single ad set, but you’d be making a mistake. Combining them into one target group means you won’t see which criteria are ultimately most effective. You also run the risk of getting so granular with your target criteria that you unintentionally limit your reach. In order to understand which targeting approach is most effective, you need to set up separate groups for each option. Make sure you’re doing this at the ad set level — that way, you won’t inadvertently compete against yourself.

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that testing granular data segmentation on Facebook can lead to more efficient user acquisition for your brand. The key is to stay organized and take advantage of all that Facebook has to offer!

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