Facebook Ads Targeting Guide for Beginners


For anyone diving into advertising, Facebook Ads sound like a good first step (although we don’t recommend it until you’ve reached product-marketing fit).

Especially now, if you’re running an ecommerce business in times of COVID and looking to reach a client sitting at home, it’s the perfect opportunity:

The targeting available through Facebook ads is possibly the thing that holds it above any other advertising channel as the most effective place to put an ad out these days (for now).

How do you get started with Facebook Ads targeting?

Facebook’s dashboard has seemingly thousands of targeting options available, but at a birds-eye view, here’s what they are:

1) Custom audiences

These are audiences built from user behaviour. 

  • Your email list
  • People who visited your website, or a specific page on it, or took a specific action (i.e. filled in the contact form)
  • People who have interacted with your app.
  • People who have interacted with something on your FB page (a video, a post, a lead form, an event) or your Instagram page.

The pixel that you have associated with your Ads account tracks this information, and you can tell Facebook that you want to create any audience listed above. If it’s something like ‘people who engaged with this video in the last 7 days’ then that will be a constantly updating group of people over time.

2) Lookalike audiences

This is where you take any of those custom audiences you created, and tell Facebook “find me more people like this”. You choose a country to base your lookalike audiences in, and a percentage of the population – so if you choose 5% and Belgium, then Facebook will make a big list of the 5% of Belgian people it thinks are most like the people who watched that video in the last 7 days.

3) Location

List as many locations as you like to make up your audience. Also add areas to exclude if you know those people aren’t who you want to see your ad, and you can specify people who are:

  • currently in a location,
  • who have recently been there,
  • who live there,
  • who are travelling there,
  • or all of the above.

You can also drop a pin and choose a radius around that point it you want.

4) Age & Gender 

Fairly self-explanatory, although there will always be people in your results who haven’t told FB that they are one gender or the other.

5) Interest targeting 

The area that people get most wrong, most often – and the subject of a lot of controversy. You can choose characteristics to target people with, based on:

  • Demographics – such as ‘newlyweds’ or ‘college educated’
  • Interests – such as ‘swimming’ or ‘fireworks’
  • Behaviours – such as ‘owns amazon Alexa’ or ‘listed themselves as small business owner’

You can narrow your audience by choosing people who are in both interest A and interest B, or by excluding a group – so people who like A but NOT B.

6) Connection

Choose to target or exclude people who already like your page/event/app, and/or their FB friends.

With so many options, where do you start?

Facebook is a very powerful platform, and you always want to be setting things up in such a way that it lets the algorithm do the heavy lifting.

For that reason, you’ll find that 9 times out of 10, lookalike audiences work the best.

So, work backwards from there. The first question you want to answer is: do you have a good enough custom audience to build a Lookalike?

You can’t create a lookalike audience from a custom audience of less than 100 people, and it’s not a good idea to. You need a sizeable list ready for Facebook to notice a pattern among members. In many cases, that audience can be too small and can pigeonhole your results to limited options.

How many is the optimal amount? This is always a judgment call – it makes sense that 500 current clients is better than 1000 people who just watched a video on your page – but where exactly those cut-off points are, we don’t know. Facebook doesn’t have any data to help either.

If you don’t have a big enough custom audience, then you’re likely going to look to the interests and age/gender/location to get you there.

Tips for non-lookalike-based targeting:

  1. Don’t go too broad — if you run a yoga shop, then adding ‘health’ and ‘hobbies’ and ‘sport’ is going to include literally millions of people who aren’t a good fit for you.
  2. But don’t go too small — unless your budget is tiny, targeting business owners who have expressed an interest in Polynesian Cricket, yoga & meditation, is not going to leave you enough people. (Facebook
  3. Make use of the ‘exclude’ option — so if you wrote a book called “How to Sell Gently”. You can target people who like “Entrepreneurship” then adding in something like ‘entrepreneurship’ and EXCLUDING people who like Grant Cardone could be worth trying (you wouldn’t want them anyway).
  4. Don’t lump together a bunch of interests in one ad set, because you can’t then tell which one worked and which didn’t – split them into different ad sets
  5. A/B testing is key — you might find that targeting people who like Tony Robbins works great for your online sales training, but there is probably a cheaper option to target out there.
  6. If you are a local business, then forget all about interests, and just stick a radius around your business location that you know people already travel to get to you, and add in the correct age-range and gender.
  7. Get very clear on your customer — the better you can describe them, the easier it’s going to be finding appropriate interests to test.
  8. Make use of the ‘friends of people who like your page’ option – social proof is a massive deal when it comes to persuasiveness, and Facebook tells you that “Bob like this page” when they show you the ad, so use that.

And keep testing.

  • Launching an ad for a week with $10/day won’t work. You need to run ads for a longer time, 3-4 weeks, with higher budgets, to see relevant results.
  • Facebook ads are an auction, and the amount of people who want to target the same user is one of the things that determines the cost of your ads, that’s why going for ‘people who like football’ is expensive.
  • Use the ‘breakdown’ column in Ads manager to look at the different delivery categories and try to find groups of people you can try excluding.
    • The easiest thing to look at is the CTR (clickthrough rate). 
    • If you’re testing two audiences against each other, use an identical ad – then the amount of people who click on that ad is a safe metric to use to know which is a better fit. But don’t focus on that at the expense of conversions. If you’re trying to get signups for your ebook, then look at the cost per signup alongside the click-through-rate. 

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