4 Advanced Targeting Techniques Every Facebook Advertiser Should Master

Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker



Not everyone “Likes” the Facebook ads platform (pun intended). Its CTRs are lower than Google, it doesn’t convert as well, and it’s just, well ... different. And if you’re not already using Facebook Ads (or you’ve tried in the past and failed), you may have noticed there’s not a whole ton of advice out there that helps to explain why Facebook ad campaigns flatline.

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Sure, there's plenty of advice out there about well-designed ads with compelling images and finely crafted, well-written copy. But what if your campaign had all those things ... and still tanked? What could've gone wrong?

Most likely, it was your targeting.

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How the Facebook Ad Platform Differs

Most PPC advertisers come from a Google AdWords background, which is very rooted in “intent based” keyword searches. If a person searches for “running shoes,” and I have the snappiest copy and the highest bid on “running shoes,” I win the click, and we go from there.

But as a PPC ad platform, Facebook is fundamentally different.

When we’re on Facebook, we’re not usually searching for anything specific, are we? Instead, we leave funny comments, tag photos of our friends, and share photos of cats and babies.

But more importantly (at least for marketers), we’re Liking pages that reflect our personal interest in sports, music, movies, and celebrities. We’re also entering our zip codes, tagging people as family members, entering our workplaces, sharing our relationship statuses, and all sorts of other stuff that speaks to who we are as individuals.

And on Facebook, the effectiveness of an ad isn’t determined by how well you target a one-off search, but rather how well you understand real human interests and how they relate to each other. Of course, images and copy still matter. But without proper targeting, even the best designed ad is doomed.

In this article, we'll explore four different advanced Facebook ad targeting techniques. This will focus solely on the targeting aspect of Facebook Ads and assumes that you already understand the basics of creating a Facebook ad campaign and can create compelling images at 100x72 pixels. With any luck, this article will help you wrap your mind around Facebook Ads in a whole new way, enabling you to send even more qualified prospects through your marketing funnel.

A Few Quick Notes About Your Ad’s Landing Page

When clicking through some of the ads on my Adboard while researching this article, I was surprised to see that companies like Universal Studios would run a well-designed ad like this:

universal ad

Only to send me straight to the Universal Studios Facebook Page:

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This is a huge missed opportunity, because I was psyched (pun intended here, too) about getting the DVD, but there was nowhere for me to convert.

Lesson Number 1: If you’re going to run a Facebook ad campaign, you should at least set up and drive that traffic to a dedicated landing page where your visitors can convert. Check out this free introduction to landing pages ebook if you’re just getting started.

Lesson Number 2: It’s also a wise move to use the same, or similar imagery when guiding clickers through the path to conversion. In other words, if you use one image in your ad, make sure that same image -- or a variation of it -- also appears on the landing page so visitors know they're in the right place.

In this second example, Verizon also does a reasonable job with its image and copy:

droid razr ad

But, again, they lose me as soon as I click through on the ad. Notice the lack of Droid RAZR information, which the entire advertisement was based on?

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This lack of consistent visual messaging along the click path is confusing and ends up costing more money than it’s worth. Not only are you missing out on sales, but you’re losing money every time someone clicks and doesn’t take an action.

Lesson Number 3: Tell a consistent, visual story starting from the first ad click all the way through to the last point of conversion.

Of all the ads I tested, True Value's ad was the only one I think really nailed it. Go figure.

This ad ...

true value ad

Leads to this page ...

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Even though the page itself is pretty simple, the entire process is crystal clear. The image that was used in the ad was modified for the landing page to include the call-to-action, “Click to print your coupon,” making the next step easy to grasp within a matter of seconds.

And how did they know I’d print that coupon?

Well ... I’m 27, I'm married, I'm a male, I'm a father, and I've Liked the pages Saving Money, Super Coupon Lady, and DIYnetwork, among other things that would signal I'm a responsible adult living on a budget and Likes to take care of things around the house.

Which leads me to first advanced targeting method ...

1) Facebook Ad Targeting by Interests

Using the True Value ad above as an example, the “27, Married, Male ...” targeting might work well enough. However, it's still very broad in a lot of ways. Our first method -- the “Interest Cloud Technique” -- requires you to really get inside the head and shoes of the people you’re targeting.

The goal is to create a cloud of all the potential interests of a person who might get excited by a trip to the hardware store, and then make sure there's a convenient geographic location available to them. For example, while I was impressed with True Value’s marketing funnel, their closest location is roughly an hour away from where I live. Realistically, most people probably aren’t going to drive an hour away just to cash in on a $5.00 coupon.

So if I were to create an interest cloud for someone who would get excited about a $5.00 coupon, it would look something like this.

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Actually, this is only about 1/4 the size of how I might target an ad like this. But reading through it will give you a sense of the thought process you should take -- starting broad with DIY, then moving onto specific activities, and then getting even more granular with specific television shows. If I were to continue to drill into this, I’d be also looking up the names of the hosts for many of these shows, writers for the magazines, and other celebrities within the home improvement/home design/landscaping worlds.

Having a broad range of specific keywords like this covers all your bases when marketing to a specific interest graph.

Next, because in-store redemption is critical to the success of the overall campaign, I’m going to run several smaller campaigns using the interest graph above, but targeting the different regions in the country.

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The reason for doing this instead of just using “United States” is to find my most responsive markets throughout the different regions of the country.

Ideally, I’d like to find my top-performing markets across the nation so I know how to allocate my budget for future ad spends. For example, If I find my northeast market (Region 1) outperforms the Pacific Northwest market (Region 10), I’d want to put more money into Region 1 for future campaigns.

Because the overall goal of this campaign is to drive more foot traffic into each individual store means I have to drill down into each region and target all of the cities in which there is a store. To do this, I’d open up the store locator and find the addresses for every store in every state for any given region. In New Hampshire, for example, there are 10 stores ...

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On Facebook, I’d then target the ad by city, and then enter every city where True Value has a location. Then, I'd repeat for every state until I’ve targeted every store in every city for the entire region. It would look something like this:

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I know what you're thinking. "But this takes an incredible amount of time to put together!" You're right -- it does. But the benefit is, now you’ve targeted every single person on Facebook who is most likely to take action on your offer and is within driving distance of your locations. This results in higher CTRs, which is rewarded with lower cost-per-clicks, and more happy customers.

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But we’re not done yet. In addition to testing the effectiveness of each region, let’s say you wanted to see which demographic had the most buying power. You could then break the ad targeting down even further by age and gender. In its reporting, Facebook breaks age down in the following buckets: 13-17, 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+.

Segmenting even further by age range and gender allows you to slightly modify your messaging (if necessary) while honing in on very specific segments of the same customer base. So a sample of the campaign might look like this:

  • Region 1, $5.00 off coupon, 25-34, Male
  • Region 1, $5.00 off coupon, 25-34, Female
  • Region 1, $5.00 off coupon, 35-44, Male
  • Region 1, $5.00 off coupon, 35-44, Female

While tedious, this level of depth is intended for you to find your most responsive demographic segments within any physical location. Knowing this will allows you to easily target those markets for future campaigns, and also helps you identify the precise demographics where you’re underperforming so you can strengthen your efforts within that market. That conversation might sound like, “We need a quick boost in sales to reach our Q4 goals. Why don’t we run a promo to females ages 25-34 (with interest graph attached) in Newport, RI; Kent, CT; Holliston, MA; and Highgate Center, VT -- in addition to another promo to the 45-54 males in ...?”

And if you wanted to segment your messaging even further, you can add in targeting criteria by relationship status and partner interests. For example, it’s not hard to imagine that a 25-34 year-old single woman interested in men is at an entirely different stage in life than a 45-54 year-old married man.

Getting this specific with your segmentation allows you to use creative that speaks directly to the person clicking on the ad. Not only does this improve your conversion rates, but in the long run, it also plays a huge role in brand affinity in different markets.

2) Facebook Ad Targeting by Job Role & Company

Now let’s say you sell a product that is targeted specifically for company presidents, vice presidents, CEOs, and other high-level executives, and you want to target very specific companies. In this case, we’re going to use what I like to call the “Michael Scott Office Infiltration Technique.”

We’ll start by using the interest cloud method from earlier and insert all the different positions a C-level executive might use to describe their position within a company. (Check out this Wikipedia entry for reference.)

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(Again, if I were targeting, this would only be a partial list.)

Next, add a minimum age filter. I like to start at 25, but this totally depends on who comprises your target audience. Now, without any age cap or location filters, we have a list of 1.2 million Facebook users who are potential targets in the entire U.S.


Where this gets interesting is when we start targeting these high-level executives by the business they’re responsible for. To do this, you simply scroll down to “See Advanced Targeting Options.”

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For grins, let’s say you wanted to target the C-Level executives at Facebook.

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Or perhaps you’ve created a brand new online marketing software that would be perfect for traditional ad agencies ...

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Or maybe -- just maybe -- you’re a really talented freelancer, and you want to shop your resume around to Fortune 50 companies.

apple targeting resized 600 audience 12k

The power of the "Workplace Infiltration Method" can’t be emphasized enough, especially if you’re a marketers in a B2B industry. If your business regularly sells solutions to a specific market (like banks, for example), you only need a list of banks you’d like to market to, and the titles of the types of people you’d like to have that engagement from.

Combine this with an effective, organic inbound marketing strategy, and you’ll always be in your target’s field of vision.

3) Facebook Ad Targeting by Socioeconomic Status

But what if you want to target your ads to other higher paying markets? This next one is what I call the “Fresh Prince Targeting Technique.” To start, we’ll use the profession cloud from before; but this time we’re going to geo-target using the 100 richest zip codes in the U.S.

Marketing 101 says that the best sales come when a customer: 1) quickly identifies the need for a product or service, and 2) can easily afford it. And what do we know about people who live in wealthy neighborhoods? They’re probably willing to invest in things they know will improve their careers or make their personal lives more enjoyable.

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Let’s see how many 25-34 year-old men in the C-level profession cloud live in just the first 15 wealthy zip codes:

audience 5k

Now the obvious thing to be excited about is, there is a decent potential market in the C-suite. But don’t always think in terms of sales being the success factor. This is just a hunch, but my gut tells me that some of these men may fall into the “celebrity executive” category. With the right promotion, you could potentially land endorsement deals (at best) and huge earned media wins. The key to creating a successful promotion is to find out exactly what executives live in these areas, then recon their social media profiles to discover what kinds of things they like. Oh ... and the best part?

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Of course, it’s not just the C-suite you can target -- there’s no shortage of other interests that you can target. The only word of warning is, if you’re going to sell in higher income markets, be prepared to offer something of seriously high value and quality. Don’t think you can peddle mid-level products with a higher price tag and get away with it. There’s a reason they live in these neighborhoods, and it’s not because they invest their money unwisely.

4) Facebook Ad Targeting by Reverse Targeting

This fourth method has to be my new favorite: “The Reverse Targeting Technique."

Using the site http://citytowninfo.com/employment, we’re able to find a breakdown of virtually every profession in every industry in the United States. Not only that, but as you’ll see in the screenshot below, you can also get a quick glimpse of the median pay in the field, number of jobs, and it’s projected percentage of growth.

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And when you click on any of the professions, you'll be brought to a page that gives you an overview of the profession, the top-paying locations in the country to have that job, and the top-paying industries for that particular job. In other words, this is a treasure trove of data for someone using Facebook ads! To illustrate, let me share with you the top locations in the country for someone working as a “computer and information scientist.”

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By only plugging in these cities (normally segmented by region; I just got lazy) and the phrase “computer scientist” into the precise interests section, I was able to build a very respectable target profile.

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If I wanted to segment even further, I could also segment by age and gender. Then, also using the “Top Industries” tab in the report, I could start researching the companies within those industries in the cities I’m targeting.

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Doing this allows me to target entire departments within the companies I can enter in “Workplaces.” This is perfect if I offer a corporate training solution, or any service specific to that job. And it's even better if my product is really niche -- like specifically designed for "durable good wholesale computer scientists" -- because now I can filter out all the computer scientists who my product is not made for, and make sure all of my marketing dollars are going to the exact right people.

But perhaps my favorite thing about the Reverse Targeting Method is that it gives you the perfect starting point for finding JV partners and viable markets for affiliate products. Surely, within every industry there are leaders trying to push the field forward. Why not help them expand their reach? 

Wrapping Up

With the amount of personal information Facebook has on its users, it’s always surprising to me that more people don’t give the social network's ad platform a shot. By taking the extra time to research all the different ways people might describe their interests, then researching how those interests are marketed, you can create targeting profiles, copy, and images that will not only stand out, but will also make your ad’s click path an enjoyable experience.

If you’ve made it this far, I very much appreciate you taking the time to learn about these methods. If you know someone who might find this article useful, please share it with them, and if you have any questions or any other methods you know are effective, please add them in the comments below.

This is a guest post written by Tommy Walker, the host of “Inside The Mind,” which is a show that fuses internet generation humor with high-quality online marketing advice. He is currently running an experiment in crowdfunding to make season 2 a reality.

Image Credit: JD Hancock

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An actionable process for launching Facebook Ads, including hacks from members of HubSpot's Paid Ads team.