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

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...

  • I love doing facebook ads campaigns and its been really amazing how its gives the results dramatically to my all sites.

    Those are great tips, thanks for sharing :-)

  • This is an interesting
    read.Facebook is on of the most well-liked and popular social media network
    that has platformed a lot of new ideas to get converted into reality.Similarly,Facebook Ad campaign is catching up with other paid search engine
    promotion networks and people have started liking it even more.Your endeavor
    in bringing out the ways to make use of 15 Facebook ad targeting option is
    appreciable.This is exceedingly helpful for everyone who is targeting Facebook
    ads.Thanks for sharing!!

  • Piyabasu

    Very insightful and useful. Think my team is bang- on on most points still there is always scope to do better..defi worth sharing with all who are in this social media world

  • I still think vehicle ownership is a big one that’s missing. I wrote a post about the large difference between ‘liking’ Ferrari and owning a Ferrari as it relates to targeting. My point is FB should consider adding an application (I called it a digital garage) that allows users to add their vehicles to their FB page. While likes are great, we really want to know what people are buying. Listing your vehicle gives marketers a BIG data point to work with as it relates to targeting. I’d be happy to share my URL, but not until you agree that it would be OK to post it here. I’m not a fan of jumping in and posting URLs everywhere looking for eyeballs. 

  • Graemelch

    Yeah, that’s a good point. Not just for auto industry but great for profiling too.

  •  that’s a fascinating look at it … never thought of that, but it seems an addition of what you are suggesting, makes perfect sense.

  • Very interesting post.  Those are great tips, thanks for sharing :-)

  • Hi Jason I love your post… could you help me better understand how you use “connections” and “friends of connections” please?

    Also I clicked on your FB button above and the link seems to be incorrect… thought youd like to know…



    If youd rather email your answer you could send it to markpasay (at) gmail

  • Dave Pilcher

    Great post but be careful on using acronyms. I sat there for 5 minutes wondering why you would only target men for WWF as I would bet that the majority of the world would associate this with the World Wildlife Fund it is after all used as their logo text, but I guess you must be eluding to wrestling or something? It’s a culture thing so I always spell stuff like that out to avoid confusion.

  • Thanks for the insights! Fixed my FB ads and finally driving CPCs down the right way thanks to Precise Interests :-) This is a great reminder and an always useful resource I’ll keep handy in my bookmarks.

  • Really glad to hear that @twitter-24888015:disqus. Any chance we could use your experience as a testimonial? Please email me if so. Thanks!

  • Targeting by precise interests, more specifically people who like a certain page, seems to be hit or miss. Most of the time, it won’t pull up a specific page that I’m looking to target the users of. Anyone else experience this? Is there a limit to the number of ‘Likes’ the page has before it can be targeted?

  • davenathan

    Great piece, Jason. My Facebook Ads dream for 2013 is a dynamic URL token that can substitute the user’s age and gender – example: {age} / {gender}. PlentyOfFish does this and it would really help ad optimization.

  • good article but I don’t think #9 is technically possible. I can target ads to people who connect to MY pages, but not to other pages. Perhaps available only to larger advertisers?

  • Hi @facebook-504425272:disqus. Thanks for the great question.

    #9, “Connections” is for targeting your own fans, or excluding them. #7, “Precise Interests” can be used to target fans of other pages and is one of the more powerful targeting options.

  • I was an active on Facebook ads then I stopped it for sometime, now when I am back there I see a lot of things have been changed. And I find it really difficult to target ads for sponsored posts. Earlier I could specify the countries I want to target right where I am posting updates. Now it is picking three countries by default which are not in my strategy. Even when I change ads targeting in power editor it doesn’t seem to reflect any changes, also sometimes i don’t even see my running campaign in active campaigns in Power editor. Any suggestions on sponsored post targeting?

  • Hi Jason, This is the first time I’ve been on your site and it looks very helpful. I will certainly be coming back. Quick question…is there a way of targeting people who like other small businesses? i.e tina’s coffee house.

  • Thanks @martin97514:disqus. Do you mean, targeting the fans of Facebook pages of other small businesses? Yes, most definitely. Use the precise interests targeting options.

  • You should be able to change the geo targeting however you need to. Are you starting the ad in power editor?

  • I have run into that before but not lately. Sometimes you have to get the page spelling exactly right and it is not always what you assume. One error I have made at least.

  • Is there a writeup someone about how PlentyOfFish does this? Sounds interesting.

  • Thanks for the tip Dave!

  • Thanks for the reply. Yes…that’s what i mean but when I put (# name of business) it only shows major companies and interests as oppose to smaller fan pages.

  • Can you share an example of a page you are trying to target the fans of?

  • yes thank you
    (link-mag when searching)

  • davenathan

    Jason, what are your thoughts on the lack of day-parting available in the Facebook Ads interface? I’m specifically referring to something like “run campaign from 11 AM – 2 PM, Monday-Friday”. This seems like a no-brainer yet is only available through API partners.

  • Yeah. This is a pain. Although it has helped me find higher activity times for certain demos that I might not have hypothesized.

    One manual way to get around it is to start the ads early, pause them once they are approved, and then un-pause for the times you want.

  • davenathan

    Small business owners don’t have time for that… think about a restaurant owner who thrives on lunch business. Then think about mid-sized businesses where the social media manager works traditional hours but wants to be able to control the conversation outside of business hours.

  • I don’t think the timing is that big of a handicap. Even for your examples.

  • Paul W Curran

    You need to download in power editor.

  • Michael

    Is there a way to target people that manage Facebook pages? I know there is a small business owner category but I’m looking to target Facebook page admins and managers.

  • Sarah Dowidat

    Hi Jason,
    Thanks for posting this blog, it’s very helpful. A quick question: I’m looking at using Facebook ads to target tourists. Are Facebook ads based on your current geographic location or solely based on the location designated in your profile? Thanks in advance for the help!!

  • FranklyFrank

    Jason – Can I exclude a certain profession or interest when I am advertising? Say I want to advertise to everyone EXCEPT teachers. Can I use a ‘-‘ or the term ‘not’ in front of a term to eliminate them from seeing the ad? Thanks!

  • Samuel Scheer

    This is exactly what I’m interested in and I’m having the same problem as Martin, has there been a solution to that?

  • That is probably the best way. Targeting precise interests like small business software, email software, etc could help too.

  • Profile.

  • Not that I know of

  • Cory

    Thanks for the post. Do you know if it’s possible to target the spouses/partners of a specific audience.

  • Never heard of that before Cory. I don’t think so.

  • Evan G

    Hi Jason, love your stuff here. I’ve been having trouble figuring out how to target users by their own name… like the image below. Ideally I’d be able to show them ads with their own name in the text, across many people.

  • giacomo

    Great post Jason!!
    Can we use facebook ID of another facebook page for targeting?

  • Helpful post Jason, appreciated! – Any idea on how to target homeowners? I see there is a partner category ‘homeowner’, but it is only available for English-speaking audience, I am targeting Spanish-speaking. I have tried age (over 30), married, college degree, any combinations of these three, etc., but no success. Any other ideas will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  • I just tested your requested in the Power Editor and pulled the following potential target audience. Seems like it’s working fine. Am I missing something with my targeting below?

    Potential Audience
    2,800,000 people
    Location: United States
    Category: partner category Homeowner
    Language: Spanish

  • Thanks Ryan, I just tried it and it indeed works for Spanish audience too. Great! Not sure what I was doing wrong before. Thanks for your help!

  • gibsonsdad

    Jason – I have a question about the workplace criteria. Does it target a specific workplace, e.g. San Francisco Public School District, or a general workplace, e.g. elementary school?

  • It is specific, ie IBM or The City of New York or Social Fresh. =)

  • Not sure which you are asking about, but you can target fans of another page using Precise Interests. And you can target specific users if you have their user ID by using custom audiences in Power Editor.

  • Great question. I honestly have no idea. I do not think so though. Unless they were fans of a page based on that name or you had those users emails/phones in a spreadsheet already and used it as a custom audience.

  • AndyKrals

    How would I target people with high blood pressure? Thank you, Andy

  • shilpi

    Jason – We are a startup company in USA,launched our app “PONTEFY” Trade|Buy|Sell last year ..I need help advertising on facebook to get more real users and not facebook “fake”!! Please help! What could be the best options that ebay or amazon could be using..

  • Nitin

    Awesome post, Jason. Is it possible to target ads to page-owners. Example: Restaurant/Cafes or Spa/Beauty/Personal care: each of which is a category page owners need to choose?

  • Kelli Nixon

    Jason, is there a way to target people who share mutual friends?

  • pradeep chaudhary

    How do i can change age limit for my page, many times i hv changed but it is showing 25 years and older… i want it should be from 13 years to no limit

  • Alec K

    Hello, How can I target a given nationality found worldwide

  • Alec K

    Given that they speak a language found in multiple countries, are found in multiple regions in multiple countries, who cannot be targeted using Facebook’s filtering options.

  • simon’s a great post…I am in a trouble and can’t find solution. My problem is even though I select specific city and country (kuala lumpur, malaysia)and other parameters in my post, most of the traffic comes from USA…that’s why I see from jetpack of my wordpress. Can you please help me in this? Thank you

  • Eva Biro

    Just wondering where you can find “Friends of Connections” thanks

  • Eva Biro

    what is an ideal number you should set your ad? I customized my audience and they are 4 000 000. Should I split it in 2-3 categories?

  • Val Orijel

    Hello, I just want to ask how to target homeowners. I need homeowners who wants to sell their house in US area

  • Derreck Burden

    Great article. Packed full of good information. Thank you.

  • Derreck Burden

    Great Article!