Targeting is one of the most significant aspects of Meta/Facebook advertising. It’s wonderful if you have an effective ad creative that garners attention and promotes your business, but it can’t be expected to perform well if the wrong people are seeing it. Through Meta Ads Manager, advertisers have a variety of targeting methods available to help reach the right audience.

Meta describes their ad targeting options with the following three categories:

  • Core audiences
  • Lookalike audiences
  • Custom audiences

Core Audiences

Core audience targeting is the targeting that most people are familiar with if they have used Meta advertising in the past. It allows advertisers to choose who will see their ads based on location, demographics, interests, and behaviors. Since Meta is one of the biggest data collectors in the world, they have troves of it that relates to people’s interests, behaviors, careers, and characteristics. In addition to holding all that data, they implement machine learning technology to find patterns and opportunities. Of course, it’s not perfect; and it tends to be biased for Meta’s own interest, which is to sell as many ad impressions as possible. Here’s an example of that: Suppose you have a friend who plays volleyball. One day they make a post about a volleyball tournament, and you click Like on that post. Meta might record that you have an interest in volleyball when in fact, you don’t. It’s good for Meta, though, because it enlarges their audience of people who (supposedly) are interested in volleyball.

Here are more detailed descriptions of the four major categories of core audience targeting:

Location – Advertise in countries, states, or cities where you want to get exposure.

Demographics – Choose age brackets, job titles, gender, or education level.

Interests – Choose to show your ad to people who have specific interests.

Behavior – Choose things like device usage, prior purchasing behavior, and consumer behavior for targeting.

When it comes to demographics, interests, and behaviors, you can choose to narrow the audience by overlapping selections. For example, you can select people interested in both volleyball and motorcycles or people who like cruises and have recently made an online purchase.

As you build your core audience in Ads Manager, Facebook shows data about the potential reach of your ads based on your targeting selections.

Once you have made all the selections in building your core audience, you can choose to save the audience. This allows you to use the same selections in the future without going through the process of building it again.

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Lookalike Audiences

A Lookalike Audience is an audience that can be created based on the qualities of other audiences you use for ad targeting. When you start the creation process of a Lookalike Audience, you choose a source audience (a custom audience) for Facebook to model. To get a good sample of who to target, Facebook recommends choosing a source audience with between 1,000 and 50,000 people. You can select the size of the Lookalike Audience during the creation process. For example, do you want the audience to include 2,000 people or 20,000? In some cases, a bigger audience will necessitate broadening the modeling criteria.

Whether or not using Lookalike Audiences will be effective for your business can depend on many factors. For example, how good is the source audience? Are there evident common qualities that Facebook can find from the people in the source audience? Also, what common qualities are necessary for focusing your ad targeting? For example, If you want to target moms of toddlers interested in Gucci handbags, how confident can you be that Facebook will be that specific? Perhaps the Lookalike Audience will be built from all moms of toddlers, regardless of their affinity for Gucci handbags.

Use Lookalike Audiences with caution, and remember that Facebook’s way of modeling could be very different than what you are expecting.

Custom Audiences

Without any question, the most significant power of Meta/Facebook ads comes from the ability to use custom audiences. Custom audiences are audiences that have had an engagement with your business in the past, so there’s a much higher chance of familiarity. Staying familiar and top of mind with people who’ve interacted with your business in the past can be tremendously important. They are the ones who are most likely to do business with you again and refer their friends. The difference between targeting custom audiences and the other types of audiences is the difference between advertising to a “warm” audience vs. a “cold” audience.

How to create a custom audience

To begin creating a custom audience, you’ll need to navigate to the Audiences panel associated with your Ads Manager. There you’ll see a list of any audiences that have already been created. If a lot of audiences have been created already, you can use search and filter options to help find the ones you are looking for. To create a new custom audience, click the blue “Create Audience” button and then choose “Custom Audience” from the dropdown list of options. You’ll then see various options for selecting the source of your custom audience. All options are displayed under the categories of Your Sources and Meta Sources.

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Your Sources – These are sources that you might have available for matching up with real people, such as a list of customer email addresses or phone numbers.

Meta Sources – These are sources related to how people might have interacted with your business in the past on Meta platforms, such as by viewing your Instagram videos or following your Facebook Page.

Thirteen Sources Available

At the time of this writing, thirteen source options are available for creating custom audiences. Five are under the category of “Your Sources,” and eight are under the category of “Meta Sources.” Here’s a list of the thirteen sources:

Website – Audiences built from traffic to your website

App Activity – Audiences built from interaction with your app

Catalog – Audiences built from interaction with your product catalog

Customer List – Lists of email addresses or phone numbers of your customers can be uploaded and used as a custom audience.

Offline Activity – Information can be uploaded about offline interactions with your business.

Video – Audiences built from viewers of videos

Lead Form – Audiences built from interactions with your lead forms on Meta/Facebook

Instant Experience – Audiences built from interactions with your Instant Experience/Full-screen canvas in Meta Ads

Shopping – Audiences built from interactions with your products in a shopping experience on Facebook or Instagram

Instagram Account – Audiences built from interactions with your Instagram account

Events – Audiences built from interactions with a Facebook Page event

Facebook Page – Audiences built from interactions with your Facebook Page

On-Facebook Listings – Audiences built from engagement with a catalog of products on Facebook (with different options than the Catalog type)

Keep in mind that there’s a set window of time for most types of custom audiences. For example, your website visitor audience can include a maximum of 180 previous days. If a shorter window of time is desired, a custom audience can be created for that. For example, you might want to display an ad offering a discount to anyone who has visited your website in the last four days.

New limitations due to Apple’s IOS operating system

I should note that things have changed in the last year related to Meta/Facebook ad targeting due to privacy enhancements on IOS devices, which include iPhones and iPads. Understanding exactly how this has changed the game is a complicated subject, but the net effect is that advertisers don’t get all the information they used to about “who” is engaging or converting from their ad. App Tracking Transparency is the new IOS standard that requires user consent for traditional attribution/tracking of its users. As you might guess, most app users (including Facebook and Instagram app users) are opting for more privacy over giving more tracking ability to advertisers. This affects your ability to create custom audiences based on engagements that take place outside the Facebook or Instagram apps, such as on websites or other apps.

To summarize the effects of IOS App Tracking Transparency for custom audiences: You will not be able to build your audiences from interactions on websites or other mobile apps on opted-out IOS devices. However, you can still build your custom audiences for engagements directly in the Facebook or Instagram apps, such as video views, lead form views or submissions, and others.

In closing

Ad targeting is an important and complicated topic when it comes to Meta/Facebook advertising. I hope this overview was helpful for you to gain more understanding about it.