How To Use The 15 Facebook Ad Targeting Options

by Jason Keath on Jun 11, 2012

Facebook AdsFacebook ads are powerful because of the targeting options it gives to marketers.

Where else on the web, or anywhere for that matter, do we freely volunteer so much data about ourselves. Even our doctors can’t compete with the file Facebook has on us.

Most ads on the web are targeted at broad demographics. Mashable is young and male, CBS is older and female, etc.

On Facebook we reach exactly who we want. That might be more dangerous than most of us expect though.

When we surveyed Facebook advertisers earlier this year, we asked what their biggest challenges were with Facebook ads. Of the 6 answer options (ROI, Analytics, Targeting, Creative, Split Testing, and Management), ad targeting criteria was mentioned the least, just 4% of the time.

There are so many options for advertisers when deciding who will see their Facebook ads, it is hard to think of it as a challenge.

But here’s the thing. 

Because there are so many options, many advertisers just hunt and peck a few options and they forget about the strategy behind their Facebook advertising campaigns.

Think of it this way.

You can do a lot of impressive things flying a Space Shuttle, but if you don’t understand what all the buttons and controls do, you might want to stick to that Honda Civic.

space shuttle controls

Let’s review all of the targeting criteria available to us when creating a Facebook ad. This is an important step in understanding how to make Facebook ads work for our businesses.

Ad Targeting Popularity

Here is a glimpse at how popular the different Facebook ad targets were amongst those we surveyed.

facebook ad targeting criteria

Ok, so let’s break down each of these options and see how they can help us squeeze better results out of our Facebook advertising efforts.

1-4. Location (Country, State, City, Zip)

Location is always used with Facebook advertising. At a minimum one country must be selected. So, no, Facebook does not let businesses advertise to all 1 billion users at once. In fact, businesses can only target 25 countries at once. At last check, that is all the Facebook ad manager will allow.

If targeting more than one country, fine-tuning geographic targeting by state, province, city, and zip are not an option. Different local options are available according to each country. Facebook ad pricing, since based on competition, very greatly from country to country.

In the United States, advertisers can use Country, State, City, and Zip Code to narrow their audience targets. Using the same ad strategy, but running it with slight tweaks for unique states or cities can greatly increase ad success.

Facebook ad targeting location popularity

5. Age

Age is a quick way to create more relevance between an ad and the target audience. The range is from 13 to 65 years old. It also an option to remove the age max, in order to target Facebook users over the age of 65.

Many successful advertisers will test different ad images and copy against multiple age ranges. This tests the success of calls to action in general, amongst various age groups. And it also helps find creative assets that may work better with one age group or another.

Youthful ads may work better with a younger audience. Sports images may work better for men. These are assumptions and should be tested like any assumptions.

6. Gender

Gender is a simple option. Businesses can advertise to men only, women only, or everyone. Sometimes this is very simple. Mountain Dew and the WWF are likely sending ads to men only. Revlon and Oprah are probably sending ads to women only.

If a product or brand focuses on men or women specifically this feature is clearly useful. But most brands are relevant to both men and women. We are looking to create as much relevance as possible with each Facebook ad experience. Men and women see the world differently and will experience Facebook ads differently.

In our Facebook ad report, Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, noticed that gender was not a very popular targeting option amongst advertisers surveyed. “[Advertisers] are not putting high importance on some very important targeting options such as gender. We see big differences in performance based on gender.” said Lazerow.

7. Precise Interests

This option allows advertisers to target Facebook users that have listed a specific interest on their Timeline. These precise interests are pulled from their Facebook profile activities, interests, job titles, education, pages they have likes and groups they belong to.

Precise interests are very powerful. Jenny Craig can target ads at Facebook users who like the Facebook page for the Biggest Loser television page. Targeting the fans of other pages can create a lot of relevance for the ads a business runs. Target competitors, publishers with known demographics, celebrities, locally relevant pages, and more.

8. Broad Categories

Consider broad categories a larger audience bucket, compared to precise interests (usually a smaller audience). These are pre-organized audiences that Facebook creates by examining basically anything a Facebook user does, clicks on, or writes anywhere on Facebook.

There are lots of options in Broad Categories that may be appealing, but for the most part these are very large groupings of Facebook users that should be chipped away at using other targeting options. Here are a few examples of the types of Facebook users a business can target with this option:

  • Small business owners (6.4 million in the US)
  • People engaged for 1 year (2.3 million in the US)
  • Hispanic (9 million in the US)
  • Has a birthday in the next week (2.8 million in the US)
  • Soccer fans (8.7 million in the US)

9. Connections

The connections option allows Facebook ads to be targeted according to the relationship a user has with a Facebook page. Businesse can target fans or exclude fans.

This is an essential targeting criteria for Facebook advertisers as it is the best method for achieving conversion results with Facebook ads. Webtrends recently quoted data from their rich client dataset that revealed a 7-times larger click through rate when ads target existing fans.

“Connections should be the number one criteria used by advertisers. Nothing increases a click-through rate more,” said Justin Kistner, Director of Social Products at Webtrends.

Facebook advertising can be used to build awareness, grow an online audience, create more fan engagement, and to convert fans to a sale (or new user, email subscriber, etc). Build an engaged audience on Facebook and then use fan targeted ads, using Connections, to convert them.

10. Friends of Connections

Targeting the friends of connections is a great way to incorporate some social proof and relevance in ads when trying to grow a Facebook audience. Ads with this option enabled show Facebook users which of their friends already like a page, app, or event on Facebook.

11-15. Advanced Targeting Options

Facebook now lists a few of the demographic targeting options under this “advanced” section. These options are great for narrowing an audience. Each of these advanced options comes from information entered by users into their profiles, but none of it is required. So if a business uses these options to fine tune their ad audience, realize it can exclude those that have not chosen to include this information.

  • Interested In: This allows a business to target Facebook users according to the gender they are interested in for a friendship, dating, a relationship or networking.
  • Relationship Status: This allows a business to target Facebook users that are married, single, engaged, or in a relationship.
  • Languages: This targeting option is best used when targeting an audience that speaks a language that is different from most of the people in the targeted geography.
  • Education: This option enables the targeting of Facebook users that are in high school, college, or a college graduate. Businesses can also target Facebook users that went to a specific school, study a specific topic, or for current college students, their expected graduation date.
  • Workplaces: Targeting Facebook users by where they work can be useful in various B2B, job search, and industry specific scenarios.

Go forth and do your part to make Facebook ads better for all of us. Create relevance. Create value. And remember: Facebook ad targeting is only as useful as the strategy behind the ad campaign.

Post Author

As the CEO and founder of Social Fresh, Jason is the lead analyst and consultant for all Social Fresh brand clients. Jason has 15+ years of experience as a marketing leader and focuses on how to help brands be more...