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How to master Facebook ad targeting

How to master Facebook ad targeting

There are two challenges to getting Facebook ad targeting right. One is understanding your unique buyer personas and the other is knowing all the different types of Facebook ad targeting options and how to leverage both of them together.

12 min read
Jul 10, 2020

The endless Facebook ad targeting options are a godsend. And to make Facebook ads even more enticing, the platform also comes with the option to add the Facebook Pixel, a piece of code that, once installed on your website, can be used for retargeting ads to users who interact with your content.

Today, Facebook is the best platform to advertise on. It has 2.6 billion monthly active users, so your customers are definitely there, but do you know how to target them?

Facebook has an extensive advertising platform, and at an average cost of $1.01 per click and $9.57 per 1,000 impressions, it can’t get more budget-friendly than that. The problem isn’t the cost of advertising or the platform itself, but targeting Facebook ads to the right target audience.

There are two challenges to getting Facebook ad targeting right. One is understanding your unique buyer personas and the other is knowing all the different types of Facebook ad targeting options and how to leverage both of them together.

We’re here to share with you the basics of Facebook ad targeting and go through some of the more advanced tactics on how to reduce ad spend while boosting conversions.

Facebook ad targeting tips and takeaways
  1. Good Facebook ad targeting starts with creating buyer personas
  2. Learn how to use the different types of Facebook ad audiences
  3. Start by targeting your most likely-to-buy audiences

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Buyer personas: the foundation of Facebook ad targeting

Building a concrete understanding of your buyer personas is critical to scale Facebook ad campaigns profitably. Without a firm grasp on who your buyers are, you’ll have a much more difficult time making Facebook ads work.

A good buyer persona is a semi-fictional, in-depth representation of your ideal buyer.

For example, I love how Lululemon’s founder describes their two buyer personas in this article from First Round Capital. “Ocean” is a 32-year-old single professional woman and “Duke” is her 35-year-old male counterpart. Their personas are detailed down to their daily routines.

"Ocean" from Lululemon
"Ocean" from Lululemon

“Ocean, for example, owns a condo and likes to travel. She has about an hour and a half to work out each day [...] If you’re 20 years old or you’re graduating from university, you can’t wait to be that woman. If you’re 42 years old with a couple children, you wish you had that time back.”

If you read between the lines here, a good persona is an ideal character your buyers aspire to become. Then you market your product as the way to help your audience become their best self.

You can create buyer personas through a mix of research and surveys. Here are a few practical ways to get more information about your ideal buyers:

  • Interview current customers to uncover their aspirations and challenges to achieving their goals
  • Look for demographic and firmographic trends in your contact database to find what they all have in common
  • Use extra form fields to capture more information about your users when they sign up for your newsletter, for example, favorite hobby, business size, number of employees, etc
  • Find your industry’s influencers and study the type of people who follow and interact with them
  • Use audience insights to uncover common attributes about Facebook users who like your Facebook page and more

The next step is to compile them into an appropriate number of personas that outline their demographics, income, aspirations, pain points, objections to buying, and even real life quotes from your customers and use it as a starting point to identify your Facebook audiences.

You might also be interested in learning Facebook Campaign structure best practices

The audiences available for Facebook ad targeting options

To run Facebook ads, you need to build an “audience,” which is how you will target your Facebook ads to Facebook users.

To create an audience, go to the Ads Manager and click on the top-left shortcut menu to select Audiences. Next, you’ll be asked to choose from three types of audiences as shown below.

Facebook ad targeting - Create audience

There are three main types of Facebook audiences are:

  1. custom audiences
  2. lookalike audiences
  3. saved audiences

Note: Special ad audiences are for political ads and since those aren’t very common, I’ll just focus on the main three in this article.

Custom audiences

Custom audiences are special audiences from an uploaded CSV file of existing or potential customers, people who visited your website, and from people who’ve previously interacted with your Facebook ads or Page.

For example, if you’re selling a subscription box with cosmetics, you can create a custom audience of people who viewed your subscription box product page that didn’t end up subscribing.

When creating a Custom Audience, you’ll be asked to choose a data source for creating the audience. You can choose the data source from the following:

  • website
  • customer list
  • app activity
  • offline activity
  • Instagram business profile
  • Facebook page
  • events
  • videos
  • lead forms

To build a custom audience based on website activity, you’ll need to setup the Facebook Pixel on your website, which makes retargeting possible.

Lookalike audiences

Lookalike audiences are audiences created by Facebook’s algorithm by taking a seed audience you feed it and then it builds an audience of different users it thinks are most similar to (or “looks like”) them.

Depending on how wide and accurate you want your lookalike audience to be, you can choose anywhere between a similarity of 1-10% when building a lookalike audience, where 1% is what the algorithm thinks matches most closely with your seed audience and 10% is less of a match but will have a bigger audience size.

Facebook ad targeting - Create Lookalike audience

The algorithm builds lookalike audiences based on over 200 different criteria, such as interests, demographics, and a whole host of micro attributes. Facebook collects so much data about its users that its algorithm can create surprisingly good lookalike audiences for most advertisers.

You can use the following types of data/audiences as a seed audience to create a lookalike audience:

  • website engagement from pixel data
  • CSV file of existing or potential customers
  • Facebook page engagement
  • Facebook videos engagement
  • Facebook ad engagement
  • app activity

Back to our example of our cosmetic subscription box company, you might want to create a lookalike audience of existing subscribers, people who have viewed your subscription box product page, or even of people who viewed your most popular makeup tutorial video ad. Lookalike audiences are one of the easiest ways to start scaling your Facebook ad campaigns.

Saved audiences

Finally, saved audiences are the audiences you can create by choosing a set of demographics and interests and saving these settings for future use as an audience.

You can use any combination of the targeting options below to build a saved audience:

  • Location: You can target users by country, county, city, zip code, and even street name. Facebook can also distinguish between work address, home address, and changes of location when traveling, so hotels, coffee shops, and other players in the tourism industry can target travelers.
  • Demographics: This includes age, gender, income based on zip code, marital status, job title, and industry.
  • Interests: Advertisers can now target users based on their likes. For example, if you’re selling a dieting book, you may benefit from targeting users who like pages that pertain to nutrition and fitness.
  • Life events: Did someone just announce an anniversary? A company who sells cakes or party decorations may benefit from this option.
  • Engagement: This pertains to users who’ve interacted with your content on Facebook.
  • Budget and spending habits: Consumers are segmented by whether they’re more likely to buy mid-value goods or high-value goods.
  • Digital activities: You can identify users who are small business owners, technology early adopters, and Facebook group admins.

For our cosmetic subscription box company, you may want to go to Audience Insights and begin adding interests to see what your ideal audience may look like.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice a trend. Most of the Facebook users interested in “beauty makeup” are married with single being not too far behind. This could lead us to creating two different targeting segments for our ads, married and single.

As you add more interests, such as page likes, location, and gender, you’ll get even more information about your potential customers that could also shape the way you word your copy and angle your ad visuals.

How do I target the right audience on Facebook for me?

Bottom-of-funnel audiences have the highest ROAS because the users already have strong interest in your products or services. Examples of bottom-of-funnel audiences include the following:

  • Users who added products to cart but didn’t purchase
  • Users who viewed product pages but didn’t purchase
  • Users who viewed your demo or contact page but didn’t send the request
  • Existing customers or previous purchasers (if people can repurchase)
  • 1% lookalike audience of existing customers or previous purchasers

To target users who interacted with your website, you’ll need to install the Facebook Pixel and create an event attached to your target website page.

Note: If your ecommerce platform has an integration with Facebook ads, like Shopify, Pixel events are automatically created for you.

To set up retargeting for bottom-of-funnel audiences, go to your Ad Manager, head to Audiences, click Custom Audiences, and pick your website as the source of raw data. Once you’ve created the events, you will see your list of events such as people who’ve added-to-cart, purchased, viewed product pages, etc.

Facebook ad targeting - Create custom audience

To create a lookalike audience using a seed audience of previous purchasers, export a list of your customers including their first name, last name, email address, and phone number (if available) and Facebook will first match your data to Facebook user accounts and then build an audience of brand new people who most closely match users like your customers.

Bottom-of-funnel audiences are one of the best places to start with Facebook ad targeting.

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Common Facebook ad targeting scenarios

Typically, the more targeted you go with your audiences, you’ll see higher conversion rates and thus lower ad spend. Here are a few ideas on how to do laser-focused Facebook ad targeting.

How to target business owners on Facebook

LinkedIn isn’t your only option for targeting users based on their job description. There are several ways you can go about this.

One tactic is to look for Facebook page owners in the industry you’re targeting.

For example, let’s assume you have an ecommerce store that sells cheesemaking supplies. You can target cheesemakers on Facebook by choosing your ad campaign objective, and then head to Detailed Targeting.

Facebook ad targeting - Detailed targeting

But you don’t want to target just any Facebook page administrator. Instead, you want to target someone in your industry.

Therefore, you’ll have to refine your targeting even further by going to Interests and Additional Interests, and type in your keyword. In this case, the keyword ‘’cheesemaking’’ would probably find the cheesemakers who promote their products online.

Another way to target business owners is to run traffic ads on LinkedIn to a blog post hosted on your website with a Facebook pixel, then retarget traffic to that page with Facebook ads.

How to target Facebook users based on websites they have visited

The only way you can reliably target users based on what websites they’ve visited is by typing the website or publication name into the Interests and Additional Interests field when building a saved audience.

The only caveat of this targeting option is that only big publications with wide readerships (Think and Entrepreneur magazine) can be found in the interests list.

Other than that, due to privacy reasons, it’s not possible to retarget visitors of websites you don’t own.

How to target income on Facebook ads

In 2019, Facebook introduced the option to target ads based on the average income in the zip code users live in. This was a big leap forward for ecommerce stores who sell products to price-sensitive customers and for online stores who are active in the luxury market.

You can find the income targeting options in the Detailed Targeting field under Demographics when building a saved audience.

Facebook ad targeting - Targeting income

For now, you can’t get more specific than that in terms of income.

How to target Facebook ads to specific users

While you can’t target one specific user with a unique Facebook ad just for them, you can upload a list of users in segments of at least 1,000 people.

You can export a list of your customers and larger contact database to create your list of users and segments. Here’s some examples:

  • existing customers
  • previous customers/purchasers
  • newsletter subscribers
  • contacts by geographical location
  • contacts by custom attribute (hobby, interest, age, etc)
  • contacts by industry, business size, job role

You can now use this information to create a customer list in your Custom Audience targeting option and show ads to only these users. Upload your lists by going to Audiences, clicking on Create Audience, picking the Custom Audience option, selecting Customer List, then complete the process in the prompts.

How to target a niche audience on Facebook

If you have a very niche product or service, you may want to see how you can build niche audiences to target ads to. However, targeting niche audiences on Facebook can be very difficult if you aren’t the source of the data - customer lists, website visitors, etc.

Despite these challenges, there’s a few ways you can do it:

  1. You can buy email lists from bloggers or communities in your space and upload those emails as custom audiences
  2. Instead, you can buy ad space on their websites, promote content in these ads, then retarget people who’ve viewed those pages with Facebook ads
  3. You can try and persuade these websites to “rent” you their Facebook pixel directly

However, targeting a niche on Facebook might not be the best strategy anyway. Sometimes targeting a larger audience and letting Facebook’s algorithm work its magic might find your niche for you and end up giving you the best ROAS.

There’s no silver bullet to scaling your Facebook ad campaigns profitably, but there are tactics and best practices that can significantly increase your chances of being successful on Facebook.

Successful Facebook ad targeting could be the tipping point to make your campaigns fly.

By understanding and applying these Facebook ad targeting techniques, you can reduce ad spend and boost your conversion rates while connecting with your ideal audience.

Key Insights

  • Understanding your buyer personas is essential for creating ads that resonate with your audience.
  • Custom audiences, lookalike audiences, and saved audiences are the primary tools for targeting on Facebook, each serving unique purposes.
  • Targeting specifics, such as business owners or income, can dramatically boost the relevance of your ads.
  • Utilizing the Facebook Pixel and retargeting are crucial for optimizing your ad campaigns.
  • Niche targeting can be challenging, but experimenting with different strategies can yield positive results.


What is the Facebook Pixel, and why is it essential for ad targeting?

The Facebook Pixel is a piece of code that, when installed on your website, allows you to track user interactions.
It's essential for ad targeting as it enables you to retarget users who have engaged with your content, making your advertising more effective.

What are the three types of audiences you can create on Facebook?

There are three main types of Facebook audiences are:

  1. custom audiences
  2. lookalike audiences
  3. saved audiences

What is Facebook ad targeting?

Facebook ad targeting is the process of selecting the specific people you want to see your ads. You can target your ads based on a variety of factors, including demographics, interests, behaviors, and even connections.

Why is Facebook ad targeting important?

Facebook ad targeting is important because it allows you to reach the people who are most likely to be interested in your product or service. By targeting your ads carefully, you can improve your click-through rate, conversion rate, and ROI.

What are some tips for effective Facebook ad targeting?

Here are some tips for effective Facebook ad targeting:

  • Start broad: When you're first starting out, it's a good idea to start with a broad audience. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about your target audience and what works best.
  • Use detailed targeting options: Once you have a better understanding of your target audience, you can start using detailed targeting options to narrow down your reach.
  • Experiment: Don't be afraid to experiment with different targeting options. The more you experiment, the better you'll understand what works best for your business.

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About the author
Reggie Paquette
Reggie Paquette
Marketing Manager, Revealbot
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