Facebook Ads Targeting: An indepth Look

The difference between paid search and paid social can be summed as follows: paid search enables prospective customers to find your product/business, while paid social enables you to find prospective customers. But why Facebook? and how can Facebook Ads targeting help you achieve your marketing goals?

Before we delve into the intricacies of Facebook ads targeting, let’s take a deeper look into the factors that make Facebook the best choice in paid social advertising.

What Makes Facebook’s Ad Platform Effective?

  1. Massive worldwide audience. There are rumors running around for some time that Facebook usage is declining. But according to Facebook’s own data, their daily active user (DAU) increased by 16 percent on web and 21 percent on mobile year over year. As of June 2016, Facebook has 1.13 billion average web DAU and 1.03 billion average mobile DAU. Approximately 84.5 percent of these DAUs are from outside USA and Canada.

Facebook’s engagement is high that the reach for its targeted ad campaigns is 89 percent accurate, compared to online reach which is only 38 percent.

  1. Marketable demographic. According to a Pew Research Center data, 71 percent of adults with access to the internet use Facebook. Of these adults, 77 percent are women and 66 percent are male. The largest demographic is the 18-29 age range, with 87 percent of those in this age range using Facebook. This is followed by 30-49 age range (73%), 50-64 (63%) and 65+ age range rising from 45 percent in 2013 to 56 percent in 2014. The 25-34 age range is also considered the prime ad targeting demographic and overlaps the two largest age demographics. In terms of educational attainment and average yearly income, 74 percent are college graduates and 72 percent have an income of more than $75k.
  2. Extensive user data collection. Facebook has a massive collection of interest-based data, probably the most extensive in the world. Facebook tracks on-site activities like post/page likes, ad clicks, user device and location settings and many more. But probably the best tools Facebook has in its arsenal are Facebook Pixels and Partner Categories.
    Facebook Pixels can aid marketers in three ways: building custom audiences, ad optimization and tracking ad conversions. A Facebook Pixel is a web beacon and once you deploy the Facebook Pixel code on your website, it tracks Facebook user behaviors (based on standard events) on your website. These users are also tagged and their behavior tracked whenever they visit websites with Facebook Pixel.Partner Categories make it possible to target offline behaviors – real life behaviors like buying a new house or trying a new product. This is made possible through Facebook’s marketing partners that are considered as “Audience Data Providers”.These partners include: Acxiom (data from Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the US), Epsilon (data from the US), Experian Marketing Services (data from Australia, Brazil, the UK and the US), Oracle Data Cloud (data from the UK and the US) and Quantium (data from Australia), and many more. Facebook Categories with sections labeled “Partner Categories” include More Demographics, Behaviors and More Categories.Though marketing partners can provide data from several other countries, Partner Categories are only available for now in the US, France, Germany and the UK.

As of this year’s second quarter, Facebook saw a 63 percent increase in ad revenue, making an estimated amount of $6.4 billion. Even advertising execs acknowledge Facebook’s superior targeting capabilities, giving Facebook the highest grades. This is on the basis of ROI with Facebook cited as having a “sophisticated targeted advertising platform”.

Facebook Ads Targeting Tips

Audience Definition

Now that you know Facebook ads’ potential, it is best to make the most out of it. Just like in paid search, you need to take time to do some research about your target audience. Targeting is considered as a vital factor to an ad campaign’s success. Specificity is the foremost concern in ad targeting. The targeted demographic should not be too broad or too specific.

facebook ads audience size

  • Broad. A large audience doesn’t necessarily mean large conversion. The effectiveness of the ad campaign is muted since majority of those reached aren’t even prospective customers. Also, a big budget is necessary in order to reach an audience this size.
  • Defined. This is the sweet spot in audience targeting. It’s somewhere in between the two extremes of broad and too specific, or on the population of the targeted location.
  • Too Specific. Targeting a narrow demographic may cause you to miss reaching other prospective customers. Even if the targeted audience brings in a high conversion rate, you are basically marketing to old customers instead of gaining new ones.

Facebook Ads Targeting Options

To create and fine tune your ad’s audience, tweak ad options according to your needs. It is not necessary to use all these targeting options but it is important in defining a relevant audience for your ad campaign. (Note: Some targeting options may not be available in several regions)

Custom Audience

A new custom audience can be created using email address, phone numbers, Facebook user IDs and user app IDs. These custom audiences are existing customers or fans that either:

  • Visited your website
  • Downloaded your app
  • In your customer list

facebook ads custom-audiences-options

Within this Custom Audience is another option, Lookalike Audience. With Lookalike Audience, you can create a new audience that is similar profile to your existing customers or have exhibited similar behaviors like visiting your website and hitting its conversion pixel.

facebok ads lookalike audience


You can target audiences in specific locations, from country, state/province, city, zip codes, and even a specified mile radius from a city. You have an option to either target: Everyone in this location, people recently in this location and people traveling in this location. You can also exclude specific locations and other demographic options, especially those that overlap with your other ad sets. This targeting option is not available in some countries.

Age, Gender & Languages

The default age range is set to 18-65+. Adjust this range according to your desired age range. Take note though that the minimum targetable age is 13. Ads targeting younger demographics may not be delivered on locations with age restrictions so the targeted age ranges should be adjusted accordingly. If you are not targeting a specific gender, just select All or if you also want to reach people who did not specify their gender in their Facebook profile.

It is also a good practice to leave these options open and adjust it later on depending on the performance of the app within specific age ranges and genders especially if you are trying to sell a general-use product.

Detailed Targeting


Several ad targeting options are now combined in Detailed Targeting. These options include:

  • More Demographics – This targeting options include these categories and their subcategories:
    • Work (Employers, Job titles, Industries, etc.)
    • Financial (Income, Net worth, Home composition, etc.)
    • Family & Relationships (Dating, Family, Parenting, Weddings, etc.)
    • Parents (Parents (All), New parents, Parents with toddlers, Parents with preschoolers, so on…)
    • Generation (Baby boomers (US), Generation X, Millennial, etc.)
    • Ethnic Affinity (Mostly US ethnicity options)
    • Life Events (Anniversary within 30 days, Away from family, Away from home town, Long distance relationship, New job, New relationship, etc.)
    • Education (Education level, Fields of Study, Schools, Undergrad Years, etc.)
    • Politics (Mostly US political alignment options)


  • Interests – These interests are determined by what posts, pages, apps, and ads your audience engage and connect to on Facebook. You can also use keywords from these pages and apps to see the most popular keywords in interest categories and subcategories. Main interests categories include:
    • Business & Industry (Banking, Business, Health care, Personal finance, Retail, Science, Small business, etc.)
    • Entertainment (Games, Live events, Movies, Music, Reading, TV, etc.)
    • Fitness & Wellness (Bodybuilding, Gyms, Meditation, Nutrition, Physical Fitness, etc.)
    • Family & Relationships (Dating, Family, Parenting, Weddings, etc.)
    • Food & Drink (Beverages, Cooking, Cuisine, Food, Restaurants, etc.)
    • Hobbies & Activities (Arts & music, Current events, Home & garden, Pets, etc.)
    • Sports & Outdoors (Outdoor recreation, etc.)
    • Shopping & Fashion (Beauty, Clothing, Fashion accessories, Shopping & fashion, Toys, etc.)
    • Technology (Computers, Consumer electronics, etc.)
  • Behaviors – These are on and off-site purchase-intent behaviors. A lot of these behaviors are from Partner Categories and include the following:
    • Digital activities (Canvas gaming, internet browser, operating system, primary email domain, etc.)
    • Expats (China, India, Indonesia, US, etc.)
    • Mobile Device User (All Mobile Devices by Brand, All Mobile Devices by Operating System, Network Connection, etc.)
    • Seasons & Events
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Many of other behaviors are on the Partner Categories and are only available for US targeting. Marketing partners that specialize in Ad Technology and Media Buying aggregate the following data from industry categories:

  • Automotive (type & brand of vehicle, new or used, etc.)
  • Consumer Packaged Goods
  • eCommerce
  • Education
  • Energy & Utilities
  • Entertainment
  • Financial Services
  • Gaming
  • Government & Politics
  • Healthcare
  • Organizations & Associations
  • Professional Services
  • Retail
  • Technology
  • Telecommunications
  • Travel
  • More Categories – Here, you can select to target people based on Facebook Categories and Partner Categories you requested to access.


 facebook ads connection targeting

In Connections, you can target audience that are connected on any of your active events, pages or apps. You also have the option to make your ad visible to anyone, people that aren’t connected to you, both those connected and not connected to you, or friends of people that are connected to you. Note that you should be the admin of any of these pages, events or apps in order to use connections targeting.

Facebook Ads Targeting in Action

Learning of the ad targeting options and how they work in conjunction with each other is just the tip of the iceberg. Creating the first ad seems to be the most daunting part, especially the task of targeting the right audience. Is it really that simple as choosing the right categories and subcategories? Let’s take a look on some of the more advanced Facebook ads targeting strategies.

Interest Targeting

We mentioned earlier that Facebook probably has the most extensive collection of interest-based data. The Interest option’s categories branches off to more subcategories than one can imagine. And as interest evolved to include companies, brands, websites and even industry influencers as interests, targeting became a whole lot fun.

Specific interest keywords tend to perform much better than broad keywords. And using brands and influencers as interests can also weed out people with casual interest on the brand/influencer from people who aren’t only interested, but having purchasing intents. How’s that possible? This: The “But No One Else Would” Trick.


 But no one else would – unless they’re also in the “inner circle”. People interested with Tiger Woods aren’t necessarily interested with golf since Tiger Woods is a celebrity. He’s not just an influencer in the industry of golf and his name had been used for many product endorsements that aren’t related to the sport. Interest in Phil Mickelson also means an interest in golf but does this interest translate to this person being an insider of the industry? Does this type of interest translate to purchasing intent of golf equipment or club membership? Those interested with Bubba Watson aren’t just people who just heard about the guy from somewhere especially during the days when Bubba Watson was just a mid-level golfer with a few victories to his name. This interest may translate to inclusion in a circle of golf enthusiasts that actually play the game either for leisure or competition. This is someone who is not just into golf, but is involved in golf.

This trick requires a close examination into the who’s who in the industry and what enthusiasts really talk about in social media. Either work your way down to niche interests or do the opposite and work from the bottom up. The goal is to search for interests that are relevant to your market. But in order to sort the most relevant audience with these interests, you just need to combine other targeting options to filter those with purchasing intents.

But there are also industries where the “But No One Else Would” Trick works differently. Let’s have an example:

Travel Agency Vertical Targeting Research

This vertical is greatly influenced by influencers in social media and it has a lot of potential when it comes to ad targeting. First, you need to search for the influencers in this industry. This will be somewhat a “Reverse Tiger Woods”. Instead of selecting an influencer that only industry insiders have keen interest about, we are going to research for an influencer that is on Tiger Woods’ level from the example above.

First, search for the best holiday destinations frequented by celebrities.


Select a specific travel destination that celebrities seem to flock to for a specific reason.


Note how the gallery snippet mentions that Seychelles is a popular destination for celebrity honeymooners. Also note the keywords: islands, natural reserves, wildlife, beaches. Of the celebrities mentioned, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stands out. The point of selecting a world famous celebrity here is to use them as “endorsers” of the product. Die-hard fans are known to try their best to emulate their idols and trust these celebrities’ stamp of approval on products. But no one else would be interested on honeymooning to Seychelles like the Duke and Duchess except for their die-hard fans that are engaged, planning for a honeymoon, reads lifestyle magazines, are frequent international travelers, loves outdoor recreation, the beach, and used a travel app.

We will then start to define the audience.

facebook ads audience definition

Next will be the demographics. Engaged Millennials who frequently travel internationally are the target demographics of this this campaign.

facebook ads demographics

Part of the targeting process is the assumption of correlation. Hello Magazine covers royals and celebrities alike, so a reader may have read about the details of Kate Middleton and Prince William’s royal wedding from there (and was reminded of it by an article about their fifth wedding anniversary). It may be there that they learned that the royal couple spent their honeymoon on Seychelles’ North Island. And as they are also interested in beaches, outdoor recreation and travelling to a romantic honeymoon island, showing them an ad about the Seychelles may rekindle the interest.

facebook ads interests

Back to “But No One Else Would” Trick, how can these targeted interests filter down to a segment of the audience that is at the right stage of the buying cycle?

facebook ads targeted audienceBut no one else would be interested on honeymooning to Seychelles like the Duke and Duchess except for die-hard fans who already travel international frequently and are celebrating the right life event targeted.

You are not just targeting them to market your product or service, you are also influencing their choices. Your ad campaign can come to them as a subtle reminder, ‘Kate and William honeymooned there!’ or a direct call for action, ‘Experience a romantic island honeymoon like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’. The bottom line is still who receives your message and if they have a use for it or not.

Facebook Ads retargeting

Mustapha Ajermou
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