Facebook has been a crazy powerful advertising platform for nearly 10 years now. It’s part of the duopoly most companies talk about, along with Google Ads, as they are the easiest platforms to get started with in advertising.
Over the years, the targeting options have gotten super granular to help you better reach your potential customers.
But in recent years, privacy laws and other considerations have caused Facebook’s targeting options to undergo quite a number of changes— much to Facebook’s dismay.
Namely, iOS 14’s feature where users can opt out of app tracking, and Google’s decision to eliminate third-party cookies. But there are still ways to effectively advertise on Facebook. So in that light, I’m going to
- Go through the four core Facebook ad targeting options.
- Discuss briefly how they work.
- Explain how they’ll be impacted.
- Give some tips on how to adapt.
But first, let’s take a look at how iOS 14 and the deprecation of third-party cookies will impact Facebook ad targeting in general.
What kind of data does Facebook ad targeting use?
When setting up a Facebook ad campaign, you can create powerful audiences based on a number of targeting options. Data sources for these targeting options include Facebook’s user data, your own data, and third-party data.
This includes demographics, interests, behaviors, locations, and connections.
Targeting with Facebook data is not impacted by the iOS 14 tracking opt-out feature, since this is Facebook’s first-party data that it collects on its own platform.
Your (the advertiser’s) own data
Your own data may include a mix of first-party or third-party data.
This includes targeting people based on their engagement with your business through your website or app, or offline. You can also create custom and lookalike audiences once you have enough pixel data, or upload customer lists based on email addresses.
Website and app audiences are impacted by the iOS 14 app tracking opt-out feature since users can opt out of being tracked across the web by apps. It will also be impacted by the deprecation of cookies if your targeting relies on cookied website visitors.
It’s not clear exactly what third-party data is used for Facebook ad targeting, but Facebook says it uses “Data available from third parties to help advertisers find useful audiences to target.”
This, of course, will be impacted by the deprecation of third-party cookies.
Alright, let’s move on to the four main types of Facebook ad targeting options, what challenges they face due to privacy regulations, and what you can do.
Facebook ad retargeting audiences
Advertising isn’t always about finding new audience members. It’s equally important to reengage those who are already familiar with your brand through Facebook remarketing.
How Facebook retargeting works
There are quite a number of audience options to choose from with a Facebook retargeting campaign. You can retarget users who have shown interest in your business based on:
Your own data: website or app activity, offline activity, and customer lists.
Facebook’s data: users who have interacted with your other Facebook assets, including videos, lead forms, Instant Experiences, Events, business page, and more.
Privacy-first Facebook retargeting challenges
“Your Sources” are the targeting options that are impacted the most (and most directly) by all the tracking changes we’re experiencing now.
In any account I manage, I’m getting warnings like the one below telling me that my audience likely will not include everyone who has been to my website due to tracking data loss.
That’s one issue.
At the same time, I’m also getting this message saying that I also can’t exclude everyone I would like from my campaigns because of…you guessed it…data loss.
So not only am I not able to retarget everyone who has been to my website, but I’m now also not able to exclude everyone who has made a purchase—due to privacy constraints. This is one of many challenges listed out in our post on what iOS 14 means for your Facebook ads.
Privacy-first Facebook retargeting tips
Here are suggestions from Facebook and from myself.
1. Use broad targeting & audience expansion
2. Upload customer lists
Customer lists are one way to try and mitigate some of these losses, but they aren’t and have never been perfect.
Customer lists let you upload a list of user names, emails, phone numbers, etc. into an ad platform for matching to that platform’s database. When a user is matched, they’re added to your list and you’re able to target them.
But the issue here is that not all users are able to be matched. Maybe they gave you a bogus email or simply a different one than what they signed up for Facebook with. Or they have multiple emails and Facebook isn’t aware of that.
No matter the cause, customer uploads can be a great way to backstop the loss of cookied website visitors, but it won’t be a complete solution.
3. Rely on Facebook sources
The easiest way to have full tracking capabilities for your target audience is to stop relying on the cookies and uploads altogether and simply rely on the platform interactions instead.
Anything in the second section is a Facebook-owned data source, meaning that Facebook owns that touchpoint and isn’t subject to privacy issues if they use that interaction to target someone.
Any of the options listed in this second section are going to be a great way to reengage with your target audience on the Facebook platform, even if you’re not able to utilize your website visitors lists as effectively.
Facebook ad targeting with lookalike audiences
Lookalike audiences is one of our ridiculously powerful Facebook ad targeting strategies. This has long been Facebook’s bread and butter targeting option and, in my experience, tends to do pretty well for most accounts.
How Facebook lookalike audiences work
Rather than rely on specific behaviors or demographics, Lookalike Audiences allow you to choose a source audience (a retargeting audience) that Facebook will then analyze, categorize, and use to find users who behave similarly to the users in that list.
While there are some Facebook Lookalke Audience best practices you can employ to ensure you’re making the most of them, there are also some considerations with the latest round of privacy changes.
Privacy-first challenges to Facebook lookalike audiences
Since Lookalikes are based on machine learning from retargeting audiences, those data losses will also impact your Lookalike prospecting. Lookalike effectiveness will really depend on how well you can create source audiences for Facebook to model from.
Privacy-first tips for Facebook lookalike audiences
My tips here are the same as for retargeting audiences.
4. Stay away from website audiences
It may be worth taking a step away from the “all purchasers” or “website visitors” audiences to find a new source, as those website-based audiences are likely going to be less effective than they used to be.
5. Stick with Facebook data sources
As I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be in your best interest to maybe shift into the Facebook data source lists as those will continue to populate and maintain their data integrity.
Facebook ad targeting with prospecting audiences (behavior & interest)
One of the greatest benefits of Facebook is the ability to find net-new users to engage with your brand. Facebook’s prospecting capabilities have been lightyears ahead of other platforms for quite a while now, but many of the ways they gain their insights and audience segments are changing.
How Facebook behavior & interest audiences work
These are generated by both on-Facebook/on-Instagram engagement as well as third-party sites around the Facebook Audience Network. These additional sites are categorized in such a way as to allow Facebook to infer your interests and behaviors based on what sites/pages you visit (which is also how you create custom audiences in Google Ads).
These targeting options can be very powerful. For example, you can target users who are interested in finance, but not just finance in general. You can segment by users who are looking at topics related to credit cards vs insurance vs mortgages:
You can find behavior and interest targeting options by browsing their predefined lists or you can start typing into the detailed targeting search box and locate individual targeting options.
Privacy-first challenges to Facebook behavior & interest audiences
Considering the new privacy laws and other changes like the iOS 14.5 privacy changes, some of these targeting options are in jeopardy of changing.
An example I used recently was relevant to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
As you can see above, when you search for Olympics, you are presented with lots of different interest targeting options for different years, summer vs winter, NBC, etc.
In the future, with signal loss from third-party tracking pixels around the Facebook network, it’ll be harder for Facebook to create these segments with the same level of specificity.
So I believe Olympics targeting will still be around, but rather than a list of years and TV network names, we may only see “Summer Olympics” and “Winter Olympics,” or maybe even just “Olympics.”
Just like with any other list segmentation process, it’s easier to come up with lots of nuanced groups within a list if it’s a big list to begin with. The crackdown on third-party pixels essentially means Facebook will have a smaller list of signals to create new target groups from.
Privacy-first tips for Facebook behavior & interest audiences
There’s not a whole lot you can do for this challenge to Facebook ad targeting.
6. Opt into tracking yourself (if you’re okay with it)
Unfortunately, the only real action we advertisers can take to help guard against this data loss is from a consumer perspective, and that’s to opt into third-party tracking for yourself individually. This is a very small change and likely won’t make a huge impact, but that’s really our only tool.
7. Use it while you can
From a campaign strategy perspective, it’s likely in your best interest to take advantage of these specific targeting options now while they’re still around but prepare yourself and your clients for targeting loss in the future and start to look at other targeting options to help fill the void.
Facebook ad targeting with prospecting audiences (demographics)
Facebook demographic targeting is based on the information users supply to Facebook about themselves.
How Facebook demographic targeting works
There are two main types of demographic targeting on Facebook. The most basic option is by age and gender:
The second demographic targeting option is found in the same Detailed Targeting box I showed from the interest and behavior targeting above. As you can see, these are much more advanced demographics:
Here we can target individuals based on their education level, financial or relationship status, whether their parents or not, and more.
Privacy-first challenges to Facebook demographic targeting
Overall, I believe these will stick around fairly well given the self-reported nature of their targeting and likely won’t be impacted unless some new take on the privacy laws are started.
Privacy-first tips for Facebook demographic targeting
Although these may feel like very powerful options, and they can be—in my experience, they are better focused and applied to those types of options most explored on Facebook.
8. Target personal demographics
What I mean by that is people are more likely to talk about getting engaged, how their kids are doing, or whether they bought a new home. You’re less likely to see something about their education level or job experience.
For that reason, the targeting options in this section that more closely tie to someone’s personal life are usually a better bet than something outside of it.
Privacy-first Facebook ad targeting recap
Let’s quickly recap:
Retargeting & lookalikes
- Challenge: App tracking opt-out and loss of cookies will limit accuracy of app/website traffic-based audiences.
- Tips: Try customer lists, or avoid website-traffic-based audiences and lean on Facebook sources.
Behavior & interests
- Challenge: Loss of third-party cookies will make detailed interest/behavior targeting less granular,
- Tips: Take advantage of them now, opt into tracking yourself, get familiar with other targeting options.
- Challenge: Not likely to be impacted due to the self-reported nature of this data.
- Tips: Stick with the more popular demographic information people share on Facebook.
Final notes on Facebook ad targeting with iOS and without third-party cookies
Depending on how you’re trying to reach users on the Facebook Ads platform, you are likely going to need to be flexible in the coming months and years to the ever-changing landscape of online user privacy.
Some of our existing options are going to be weakened or removed completely, but there will be options to help you backstop those losses and potentially test entirely new options in their place.
Be sure you’re monitoring your targeting’s effectiveness and be ready to be flexible and adapt to what you’re seeing. The marketers who react and adapt the best during these times will invariably be the ones who come out on top.