How to Get the Most out of Facebook’s Powerful Targeting Features

By Sean Brown | February 8, 2018

Recent changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm are making it harder than ever for brands to reach their audience organically. In simple terms, Facebook has become pay-to-play.

A solid Facebook advertising strategy is integral to keeping your brand relevant. If you’re not already experimenting with Facebook ads, you’re losing out on precious engagement every day.

You can’t expect your ads for baby diapers to convert if you’re showing them to parents with teenagers. Targeting is how you show your ads to the right people. Here’s a quick guide on how to take advantage of Facebook’s extremely powerful targeting options to find the customers the are most likely to click on your ads.

What Makes Facebook’s Targeting so Special?

On average, Americans spend over 40 minutes on Facebook each and every day. In terms of the global population, one in seven people already have a profile on Facebook — resulting in over two billion monthly active users.

With a serving size this large, Facebook allows advertisers to get incredibly granular with their targeting options.

Facebook continues to preach the term “people based marketing.” As opposed to tracking cookies with generic data, Facebook’s targeting is based on real people, with real profiles, and real interests.

This results in significantly higher ad engagement than other platforms and allows for particularly savvy marketers to vary their ads to specific segments of their audience.

A Brief Overview of Audience Options

Custom/Lookalike Audiences

Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences are the bread and butter of Facebook’s targeting options. Custom Audiences can be created based on customer email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook user IDs, app user IDs, and data from Facebook’s Pixel tracking.

In short, Custom Audiences allow you to retarget website visitors, past ad viewers, and in general, the segment of your audience most likely to make a purchase.

Lookalike Audiences piggyback off of Custom Audiences to expand your reach while still retaining the targeting characteristics of your best customers.

Once you’ve built a Custom Audience that works particularly well for a given ad set, Facebook can automatically create a new audience that mimics top performers within a previously created Custom Audience.

Lookalike audiences are great for expanding your reach once you’ve tested a few campaigns and identified which audiences are the strongest.


Adding Facebook’s Pixel to your website allows you to target various audiences at specific points in the customer lifecycle. The Pixel helps you track events like purchases, or clicks to a certain page on your site.

In addition to providing valuable insight into how you can optimize your ads, Pixel can also help you improve the layout of your website if it’s not converting.

Core Targeting

Facebook’s Core Targeting revolves around location, age, gender, languages, and other, more detailed categories like demographics, behaviors, and interests.


Keep it local — only advertise in places where you’re actually going to sell your product. Combining Local insights from your page with location-based ad campaigns can be a powerful combo for small businesses looking to optimize their reach within the surrounding area.

When in doubt, keep it broad and track the performance of your ad sets. Then simply create audiences based on the highest performing sections of your last set.


Unless you’ve been testing ads and collecting data for a while, it’s best to start off with age and gender left open. If you’re noticing a massive drop-off in performance after age 35, it’s safe to say you can limit the upper end of your age range. But remember, you don’t want to miss out on a key section of your audience just because you made a wrong assumption about who’s going to click your ad.


An obvious but often overlooked portion of many ad campaigns. If you’re advertising internationally, make sure everyone can read your ads.

Facebook allows you to add multiple languages to each ad set, so make sure you take advantage of them if you want to capture everyone in your intended audience.

Detailed Targeting

Core Targeting consists of three main categories: demographics, interests, and behaviors. All of the data in here is based on the content users share, which apps they use, what ads they click, what pages they engage with, their device usage, purchase intent, and travel preferences.

Keep It Small, but Not Too Small

The best audience size for a Facebook ad set is somewhere between 250,000 and 1,000,000 people. This is the sweet spot for Facebook’s targeting power and will typically result in the cheapest CPC (cost-per-click).

Don’t get overzealous with targeting, especially if you’re a small business trying to reach your local town. You shouldn’t throw out your customer profiles but always start as broad as possible to reach the users that are most likely to convert.

If you’re sending traffic to a website, it’s best to let Facebook pixel do the work for you. With a large sample size and Lookalike audiences based on Pixel data, Facebook can better optimize your campaign and get CPCs down while finding new customers in your target audience.

Test Everything

Don’t drop all of your spend on a single campaign until you’ve tested every variable at least once. With audiences, start broad, then split test the best performers against each other until you find the targeting options that convert best.

If you’re a small business targeting based on location, you can also try split testing for different creative to see which types of content resonate with your audience the most.

With Facebook ads, pretty much everything can be customized and tested. If you want to be successful, you need to start taking advantage of this early on.

Get Narrow by Layering Multiple Targeting Options

“Or” targeting with various purchasing behaviors and demographics is already pretty powerful, but the real magic happens when you start to narrow your audience using “and” targeting.

After listing a set of detailed targeting options, you have the option to both exclude or narrow further.

Think about it this way, if you’re a local bar trying to reach incoming college students, you can start by targeting people that just moved to the area and then narrow it to users who are currently in college.

This allows you to tailor extremely specific messages to various niches within your community and customer lifecycle.

It’s important to keep in mind that hyper-targeting won’t always result in the best CPC, so it’s best to use a mix of broad and narrow audiences when optimizing your Facebook campaigns.