Facebook’s Pared-Down Targeting is the New Deal… But Is It a Big Deal?

September 2nd, 2019 by Brandt Arceneaux

If you are as enthusiastic about Facebook advertising as the nerds at Search Influence, then 2019 was an exciting year for you. Among other developments, Facebook made some major changes to their targeting options, beginning in the Spring with new requirements for Special Ad Categories like housing, financial services, and employment. These new targeting restrictions were intended to prevent advertisers from doing what I call “creative discrimination,” for example, only targeting high-income people for real estate ads. Many resources explain these new Special Ad Categories and how to create effective audiences for them.

Spiral staircase photographed from the top down

However, in Summer 2019, Facebook announced another round of changes to targeting, including thousands of interest, behavior, and demographic criteria. This time, there was very little information available about the upcoming changes, and advertisers were understandably agitated. Facebook announced, “As of August 19, 2019, some targeting options may no longer be available for new campaigns.” Digital advertising discussion threads from Reddit to Quora lit up with discussions and speculation about the new changes. Advertisers feared they either wouldn’t be able to target their ideal customers anymore or that it would become more expensive to target them.

I have great news, though: you probably have nothing to worry about. Three major factors should help mitigate your fears. First, although Facebook was not specific about which targeting features they removed, advertisers found that the criteria removed were outdated, redundant, or just not that useful. Second, creative advertisers could leverage other targeting criteria to make up gaps in audience coverage. Finally, cleaning up available targeting criteria falls in line with Facebook’s push for broader targeting in advertising campaigns.

Facebook Taketh Away… But Also Giveth

Before the changes took hold, Facebook helpfully highlighted affected audiences in Ads Manager so advertisers could get a head start on editing their targeting. The eliminated categories were largely irrelevant to all but the most targeted campaigns. For example, here at Search Influence, we found that some removed targeting options included song titles, foods, and streets in the French Quarter.

Facebook suggested appropriate replacements for some of these targeting options (“Louisiana Creole Cuisine” instead of “shrimp and grits,” “French Quarter” instead of “Royal Street,” etc.). Some other criteria did not have a suggested replacement, but we found them easy to discard or replace with better targeting. Other removed categories included particular job titles, interests, and behaviors whose audience sizes were very small and not very useful. The result is that although thousands of categories were removed, there are still many ways to reach the exact audience you want with your Facebook ads.

Introducing… The Replacements!

Even advertisers who relied heavily on precise targeting could still find their ideal audiences with clever workarounds. As I noted above, Facebook offered alternatives for removed criteria right in Ads Manager. These alternatives seemed widely relevant and showed that Facebook had put some thought into the effects of their changes. Savvy advertisers immediately researched alternative criteria to replace the ones that had been removed.

For example, we could replace the interest “Royal Street” (a shopping mecca in New Orleans’ French Quarter) with the interests “shopping” and “French Quarter.” This alternative could not only replace the “Royal Street” interest but could also help us reach other audience members who are likely to convert on our ads.

Broaden Your Advertising Horizons

Speaking of reaching more audience members, advertisers realized these changes fell in line with Facebook’s advice of broader targeting from advertisers. This advice seemed counterintuitive to many advertisers, who saw targeting changes as a ploy to force Facebook advertisers into paying more. However, Search Influence has found that broadened targeting has improved performance in many of our campaigns.

Facebook explains broad targeting as “mostly relying on our delivery system to find the best people to show your ads to.” Essentially, you are leveraging a tool that Facebook has spent millions of dollars optimizing. As Facebook points out, “This approach can lead to us finding potential customers you never would’ve known about otherwise.”

To help advertisers transition to this unfamiliar method of casting a wider net, Facebook bolstered some Ads Manager tools to help advertisers evaluate audience performance. The Audience Insights feature now shows advertisers detailed information about their audiences, allowing for better optimizations and planning.

Along with new analytic tools, Facebook rolled out and encouraged advertisers to use the Detailed Targeting Expansion setting with somewhat broad audiences. This feature allows Facebook to find users who are similar to your audience for detailed targeting but can provide better results for your campaign at a lower price. Many advertisers have had success with broad targeting and Detailed Targeting Expansion and now advocate for simplified campaigns as a way to let Facebook do the work for your campaign.

Target with arrows piercing the yellow center

Stay on Target

If you’ve made it this far since the targeting changes without any problems, you should be good to go. Because there are still thousands of options left to help you find those high-intent audience members, you may not even have noticed that thousands of options are suddenly gone. There are lots of ways to find your audience members, even if it means some creative combinations of interest, behavior, and demographic targeting.

Finally, embrace broad targeting. Facebook has invested millions in technology that predicts user behavior, so do yourself a favor and use it. At the very least, testing your ideas against Facebook’s algorithm is a prudent way to optimize your campaigns. If you need help setting up a Facebook campaign or running tests in your current one, contact Search Influence to collaborate with one of our digital advertising experts!