The New Reality of Facebook Ad Targeting





facebook ad targeting archer



Does Facebook Advertising Work? The simple answer to this question is yes it does.


Some statistics –


  • 1,39 billion active Facebook users per month
  • Over 3 million active advertisers
  • 50% growth in number of active advertisers between 2015 and 2016


So yes, Facebook advertising does work. The question’s not whether Facebook advertising works, it’s how to make it work – because it’s not easy.


Think about it. If anyone out there could find some kind of product to promote, invest a few dollars in a Facebook ad campaign, then sit back and watch the money flow in – we would all be rich. It would be like a machine where you could feed a dollar bill into at one end and it would spit out ten dollars at the other end. The truth is there’s a whole lot you have to do between feeding money into the machine and collecting a satisfactory result at the other end.


It’s about analysis, testing, strategy and execution. And this process will cost you, both in money and time.


On the face of it, it looks so simple. Facebook has very kindly collected this enormous database of information about all their users – and they will put your ad in front of a bunch of specific users who will be interested in your offer. So you don’t waste a bunch of money advertising to people who couldn’t care less about you or your product.


And yes, that is sort of how it works. But let’s digress here for a minute and look at a different model to get a better understanding.


facebook ad targeting Targeting differences


Google PPC (Adwords) took 64% of the total online ad revenue of $60 billion last year. Facebook only managed to take 13% of the total. Of course Adwords has been around longer than Facebook ads… but Facebook is catching up.


The Google model is far more direct and the targeting is very focused. Anyone who clicks a Google ad is almost certainly looking for the product being advertised and is generally ready to spend money. Because Google only shows specific ads to people who enter (or have entered in the past) a search query which indicates that they are actively looking for that product.


Adwords are so effectively targeted that Google can charge as much as $50 for a single click. And many advertisers are happy to pay this.


Facebook’s version of this procedure is far less focused. Facebook’s users visit the platform for a multitude of different reasons – and finding something to buy is way back in the queue.


But Facebook needs its users to respond to ads because it needs the revenue advertisers bring. On the other hand, it does not want to annoy its users with irrelevant or spammy ads because it needs to retain its users.


So it tries to tread a fine line between these 2 imperatives, by presenting relevant adverts in a subtle and less intrusive manner.


Advertisers are asked to present their ads to look as though they organically belong in the news feed. Mark Zuckerberg says that the company’s goal is to reach a point where the ads are “as relevant and timely as the content your friends share with you.”


What he really wants is for you to advertise on Facebook with adverts that don’t look like adverts. So not only do you need to create adverts that work… you also need to stay within the somewhat vague confines of what Facebook considers acceptable.


These guidelines from are very vague and this is mirrored to a certain extent in the Facebook ad targeting procedure and by the targeting options they offer.


 facebook ad targeting options


There’s a good reason why Google can charge its advertisers up to 5 times more than Facebook for a click. That’s because their targeting is just about 100% spot on. Google also has a massive advantage over Facebook in that every time a user visits its site, they pass on information about themselves by typing in search queries.


So a click on a Google ad is going to deliver you a customer who is certainly interested in your product and is reasonably likely to buy it.


A click to your Facebook ad is a very different thing. It could well deliver somebody who at some time liked a Facebook page which is somewhat congruent with the interest you are trying to target.


It could also deliver you somebody who has a (self-declared) affinity in their profile to the interest you are trying to target.


It also stands a high chance of delivering somebody who doesn’t have the slightest interest in you or your product.


Here’s a hypothetical example.


Let’s say you want to target a network marketing audience in Facebook. You go into the audience section of the ad editor and type in ‘network marketing’ under ‘Interests’. Facebook will then come up with a list of suggestions from its database of interests for advertisers. You have to select from this list. There are no other options.


Every interest listed has a number beside it giving an approximate idea of its size.


So you choose John Smith because you know he’s a network marketing ‘guru’ and he has a big number of people next to his name. You now assume you have an audience of x hundred thousand people who are interested in network marketing and therefore in your message or product.


Whatever you do have – it certainly isn’t that.


Facebook won’t serve your ad to completely random users – but it may well serve your ad to somebody who once clicked like on a post or page that had something to do with network marketing.


They could well show your ad to somebody who fits a demographic which is typical to that of network marketers. They might even show your ad to somebody who has friends that like network marketing.


It’s probably also true to say that your ad will be served to people who don’t have much information on their Facebook profile. In the absence of detailed profile information Facebook could well serve your ad to anyone who has any kind of network marketing connection there, no matter how remote.


Conversely, the more Facebook knows about any specific user – the more accurately they are targeted with ads. But you can’t target by amount of profile detail of users – you can’t single these users out in your targeting.


Facebook tracks their users daily lives and without doubt has a vast amount of knowledge about many of them. But ultimately it’s using an algorithm to build that information into something useful for an advertiser trying to target interests. And pretty often it gets it wrong.


facebook ad targeting AudienceInsights


You can, of course, use Audience Insights to find a lot of demographic and other information about your target interest group. Age, sex, location, income, marital status, device usage, education, page likes… the list is impressive. You can learn a lot from this and refine your targeting accordingly.


But don’t forget – this information is also drawn from users in the ‘Interests’ database. So the inherent flaws are still there. Facebook probably recognizes this issue. The fact that they try to optimize your ad exposure while it runs reflects this.


Optimizing does help, but it costs money – because you keep on paying while the ad is up and running (and hopefully being optimized effectively).


Facebook ad targeting TestAudiences


For all these reasons it’s very important that you test your audiences extensively. You cannot simply assume that because you have selected relevant interests from Facebook’s interest database – that the audience will be relevant and work for you.


Testing different audiences can get expensive. Nonetheless you should run tests on as many different audiences as you can with the objective of finding a few viable ones.


Run the same advert to all your different candidate audiences at the same time – so the data you pull out is based on a ‘level playing field’. Your results should be based on ads running at the same time and day of the week with the same budget and optimization criteria.


Don’t share interests between your candidates. If you are targeting Amy Porterfield, Kim Garst and Mari Smith for example – that’s 3 different ads you need to run concurrently. The image and text must be the same on each ad. Allow at least 500 impressions per ad before starting to eliminate candidates.


Turn off the ones that are not performing and when you are left with the best candidate, give it some more budget and continue to run it to see how it holds up.


I frequently run another ad alongside the first 3. Using the same 3 interests in Power Editor, I use the ‘and’ and ‘or’ operators to configure the 4th interest to be people who like all 3 of the interests (Amy, Kim and Mari). This reduces the size of the audience significantly – but sometimes produces great results. The logic here is that if somebody has liked all 3 interests, they are far more likely to be relevant.


Of course, running ads to really small audiences can also get very expensive. So you can’t go too small.


Sooner or later you will find one or more audiences that work for you and respond to your core message. Be very careful to name your successful audiences appropriately and save them. Save them in the ad builder itself and set up a spreadsheet on your PC with this information. Keep very accurate records of each audience and how it performed with records of the ads themselves too. Use your best audiences with care. Don’t flood them with your ads. Rest them frequently. Keep records of this information too.


Build your own data. It will become your biggest asset.




This is where it starts getting interesting.


There are other targeting options – but they involve looking at your whole advertising and marketing program in a different light. I’m going to describe a procedure which requires a longer term view on how you on how you perceive your online business – and what your ultimate objectives are.


Depending on exactly where your business is right now, you could expect to start seeing results within a few weeks at best and within 6 months if you are just starting out. Either way you will be building a foundation for online success.


If long term sustainability and success is your objective – you need to consider this model or something similar to it. There are a few things you need to have in place before you start.


  • a website, preferably a blog or a website with a blog.
  • at least 3 blog posts already published.
  • a Facebook pixel in the header of your site.


If you don’t have all this in place – you need to get it done before you try this method. It’s not as difficult as you imagine. If you really can’t do it, get somebody at Fiverr or Elance to put together a basic site for you. It shouldn’t cost much. The website and blog posts must be congruent with the products you are trying to sell and your niche.


If you don’t know what a Facebook pixel is… it’s a snippet of code you get from Facebook and place in the header of your site. This enables Facebook to record details of every Facebook user who visits your site or different parts of it.


Facebook won’t tell you who these visitors are, but they will put them all together into a ‘Custom Audience’ for you – which becomes available to you as an audience to target. This is a really powerful targeting tool.


It’s powerful because these people have by definition shown some degree of interest in your topic or niche. They have shown enough interest to actually go to your site. They are already much more relevant than most of the people you will find in any Facebook ‘Interest’.


Some of them will recognize and remember you when you target them using your new custom audience. If they had a good experience the first time they visited your site – they will probably click your ad.


And that’s where the difference lies. They clicked your ad – because it’s you.


You and they have just taken the first step in building a relationship.


Facebook ad targeting Relationships


Building relationships is the first step in building a successful online business. People like to buy from people they know and trust. This is indisputable.


So the first step you need to take is to start building relationships with your potential customers. You are going to move away from looking for opportunistic, one off sales – and move towards building a community that know and trust you – and will buy from you.


And this is very symmetrical with how Facebook wants you to advertise.


Facebook users expect to be informed, interested, educated and even amused by what they find on the platform. They also want to catch up with friends, get news and pass on things from their own lives. And if you can provide an experience that includes some of these things when they click on your ad you will be able to turn a lot of them into customers.


So we want their experience to be rich, friction free and as agreeable as possible when they click our ad – and that means providing good content and making no demands on them at all. If we provide useful, informative and enlightening content to them without asking for anything in return our job is done.


You have to remember Facebook users are not in a ‘buying’ frame of mind when they visit the platform. So if they click our ad, find good useful information – and we don’t ask them to buy or opt in to anything, the whole process becomes friction free.


And when they leave, they’re well satisfied. Facebook’s pixel has collected their id. and fed it into your custom audience. Everyone’s happy.


You have started the process of building a targeted audience that you know has interest in the niche you are targeting and is getting to know you.


Just be sure your content is useful and interesting. If what you have to show them doesn’t grab their interest – if it’s low value content, you’re going nowhere. You can get some great tips on creating relevant and engaging content from this post.


There’s also a host of great blogging and content articles here.


Now I expect you’re wondering how you get them to visit your site so you can pixel them. Obviously if you have reasonable SEO and traffic that’s not a problem. But if you’re new and have no organic traffic you can still get the ball rolling with Facebook ads.


Facebook ad targeting Basicprinciples


Attract their attention with your ad image – then retain their attention with a headline that promises to solve a problem for them. You will have to target using the Facebook ad targeting methods that are available and the audiences you have tested.


If you get those 2 things right and you have selected a reasonably relevant interest to target – you will get some clicks to your ad. If they find something on your site that interests them and could help solve their problem, they will read your content. At this stage that’s all you want. It’s an introduction – an opening.


And they won’t feel threatened because you haven’t asked them for anything. In fact, most of them will be a little surprised because you haven’t asked for anything.


You could even go a step further and offer them a downloadable freebie with no opt in – direct from your site. It does not have to be anything special. You could spend an hour or 2 finding free image sites and give them a list of these. You could trawl through Facebook ad blogs and collect a bunch of stats. You know the kind of thing – “ads with images of smiling faces proved to have an x percentage higher CTR than any other kind of image”. Collect 10 of those and hand them out as a freebie.


Just don’t try and sell anything or ask for an opt in at this point. All you want to do is become known to those who click your ad and to start building a relationship with them.


Use this point in your progress to concentrate on getting as many clicks as you can from your Facebook ads. You have to advertise to get clicks to your site – so use the experience to learn and improve. Experiment with interests, images and ad texts. You’re not selling anything or looking for opt ins – just concentrate on getting as many clicks as you can.


Design and run the most alluring ads you can dream up to chase these clicks. Don’t resent the money you’re spending either. This is a great learning opportunity… just keep that pixel firing.


Remember you are building a highly relevant custom audience with this process – so the money and time you put in will come back to you if you persevere.


Document everything in Excel and use the tools there to grade your results by different criteria. This is one of your most important tasks and will prove to be your most valuable asset in the future. Remember, these results cost you money. You need to get a return on that investment.


The next stage is targeting your custom audience. This won’t happen for a while and I would not consider targeting that audience until I have at least 200 people in it. The default window for collecting Custom Audiences is 30 days, but you can increase this up to 180 days to include more people in your audience.


I’m breaking my own rules here because I don’t know you yet, but if you would like notifications on when new posts are published – please subscribe to this site.


Oh… and by the way, you are now in my custom audience so look out for my ads and click on them 🙂


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