How to Maximize Results with Facebook Custom Audience Targeting

By Logan Schmidt

Facebook’s seemingly endless pool of user data is a great resource for marketers and businesses looking to start custom audience targeting. But with more than 1.7 billion active adult Facebook users, how do you filter through the masses to make sure you’re putting the right message in front of the right audience?

Smarter marketing begins with audience segmentation. By starting with Facebook Custom Audience lists, your social marketing can then expand and target social media users who mirror their interests, activities and habits, but who have never interacted with your brand before. Here’s how:

What is a Facebook Custom Audience?

Facebook defines its Custom Audience feature as a way to “connect with people who have already shown an interest in your business or product.”

Facebook allows you to build audience lists based on the contact information you’ve internally gathered about your customers and site visitors, as well as social media users who have interacted with your digital content on Facebook or Instagram. Once you build the initial Custom Audience list, your marketing strategy kicks in: How do you want to target these audience lists? Do you want to expose them to ads with new messaging? Or, do you want to exclude them entirely from this particular ad campaign?

The biggest advantage of creating Custom Audience lists on Facebook, is that you are able to leverage all your current data to build highly relevant, targeted audiences for your paid ads.

How do you Build a Custom Audience on Facebook?

There are 10 sources of data, more or less, from which you can build your Custom Audience lists.

1. Website traffic

A good pool of potential customers to target with your social ads are those who have already visited your website. They have a baseline familiarity with your business, and may just need a little extra nudge to convert. Once you have the Facebook Pixel installed on your site, Facebook can translate website traffic data onto its platform, and match your site visitors with their Facebook profiles. From there, you can build a Custom Audience, or a series of Custom Audience lists based on specifying factors:

  • Any and all website traffic
  • Traffic to particular pages
  • Traffic within a certain time frame (past week, past six months, etc.)

You can also use this data to exclude certain people from your ad campaigns. Maybe you only want to target people who visited your website more than a month ago — if that’s the case, you’d want to create a Custom Audience of all website traffic from the previous 30 days, and then exclude them from your targeted campaign.

2. Customer lists

Tapping into your current customer list can be a great source for a Custom Audience. To target your customer list on Facebook, you simply upload a CSV or TXT file, or copy and paste contact details directly onto Facebook.

Typically, email lists are the most commonly used identifier, but you can also use phone numbers, first and last names, city and state locators, age, DOB, etc. to build out the list.

Important: This data gets hashed in the system, which hides the identity of the contacts you uploaded and their identifiers.

3. App activity

If your business has a corresponding app with app events, you can create a Custom Audience list in Facebook based on anyone who’s interacted with it. Interactions include anyone who has launched your mobile app or took a specific action within that app.

4. Offline activity

Tap into your offline — or “off Facebook”– business tools to expand your Custom Audience pool for targeted advertisements. For example, if your business uses a POS system, that system is constantly gathering customer data.

You can upload that data to Facebook, which will then try to match it with data included in users’ profiles, and allow you to create a list of those individuals.

5. Video

If your business has videos on your Facebook or Instagram profiles, you can create audiences based on users who have interacted with those videos, or users who have had specific interactions with them (i.e. likes, comments, views). One example of a Custom Audience list could include everyone who has watched 50% of a specific video.

6. Instagram business profile

Since Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, the two platforms have become increasingly integrated. One of the benefits of this crossover is the ability to create a Custom Audience based on people who have interacted with your company’s Instagram profile. 

When building a Custom Audience to target with Facebook advertisements, you can choose the specifications for what types of Instagram interactions you’d like to include — whether you want to build an audience list based on users who have visited your company’s Instagram profile, users who have saved one of your company’s Instagram posts, or commented on one of your Instagram posts or advertisements.

7. Facebook page

Just as you can create Custom Audiences based on users who engage with your business’s Instagram profile, you can create similar audience lists based on users who visit, comment, post, or interact with your company’s Facebook Page.

8. Lead forms

Filling out a lead form can be cumbersome for those on a mobile device.

Facebook lead ads simplify the process by pre-populating a user’s Facebook contact information in a form the second someone taps on an advertisement. 

Your business can create a Custom Audience list based on any user who clicked on the lead ads, filled out the form, or started a form without completing or submitting it.

Facebook lead form

9. Events

Facebook events are popular features for individual Facebook users and businesses alike. If your business created a Facebook event, you can then build Custom Audience lists based on those who responded to it, or even those who visited the event page. 

10. Instant Experience (IX)

Like a Facebook advertisement, an Instant Experience (IX) showcases your business, product or services to users in a full screen, post-click experience.

Like a lead form ad, IX takes users to a secondary page. In this case, it takes them to something that looks like a landing page, without ever leaving Facebook’s platform. 

Facebook tracks data on users who interact with your business’s IX, which you can then use to create a Custom Audience to target in future campaigns.

Facebook Instant Experience

Facebook Custom Audience vs. Facebook Lookalike Audience

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? 

While that debate wages on, the answer is much clearer when you’re talking about Facebook Custom Audiences versus Lookalike Audiences. You can’t have a Lookalike Audience without first having a Custom Audience.

We just went through the 10 different sources of user data for Custom Audience lists. So how do you build a corresponding Lookalike Audience?

It’s simple…

When you create a “lookalike,” you start by selecting the country in which you want your audience list to pull from. From there, you select the audience size from a range of 1% to 10%.

Facebook screenshot

For example, you can create a Custom Audience list based on anyone who has watched 100% of a specific video posted on your company’s Facebook page. If you want to build a Lookalike Audience, Facebook will analyze the profiles of every Facebook user who watched 100% of that video and find other users who share similarities.

What kinds of similarities are we talking about?

Facebook looks at everything from a user’s demographic information, expressed interests (including “liked” Facebook pages, music, politicians, movies etc.), to their social media behaviors and more.

When you select the audience size percentage range — for the sake of this example, let’s say you set the audience percentage to 1% — Facebook will look for the top 1% of the population in that country or region that matches that Custom Audience and create a Lookalike Audience. 

Best Facebook Custom Audience Strategies

To best utilize your Custom Audience lists, you need to identify where those groups are within the buying process. Are they on the verge of conversion? Or are you trying to raise their awareness of your business?

Creating a marketing funnel is the first step in developing a more cohesive digital marketing strategy to match the right message to the right audience. 

Separate campaigns by Lookalike and Custom Audiences

To optimize your Facebook advertising budget, group Lookalike Audiences in campaigns with other lookalikes, and Custom Audiences in campaigns with other Custom Audiences. 

Why the need to separate? 

When you’re using Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO), if one audience, whether it’s lookalike or custom, is significantly larger than the other, you risk having one type receive most or all of the ad budget. Oftentimes businesses will want to spend a certain percentage of their ad spend on acquiring new customers.

Targeting top-of–funnel and bottom-of-funnel campaigns separately will allow them to optimize similarly. For example: if you have a top-of-funnel prospecting audience with a potential reach of 400,000, but a remarketing audience with 5,000 people, your campaign results will likely be all over the place. At the same time, Facebook’s algorithm will have a difficult time determining where your budget is best spent with such uneven distribution. 

Organize audience lists based on where they fall in the sales funnel

Facebook audience sales funnel

Organizing your Custom Audience and Lookalike Audiences into campaigns based on which part of the sales funnel they fall into, allows you to better tailor your message to match their level of familiarity with your business, product, or services.

  • Top-of-funnel campaigns: The goal is to acquire net new prospects. Use Lookalike Audience lists to initiate brand awareness, traffic, or reach campaigns. At this stage of the sales process, audiences don’t need to have much, if any, familiarity with your brand.
  • Middle-of-funnel campaigns: The primary goal of “middle” funnel campaigns is to nurture leads. Organize Custom Audience lists to reflect people who are likely familiar with your business but may or may not currently be a customer. One example of a Custom Audience list that would be a good fit for a middle-of-funnel campaign would be users who have viewed certain videos or visited certain pages of your website, but have yet to convert.
  • Bottom-of-funnel: Audience lists that fall into this “bottom” category are those closest to leads and purchases. Audience lists at this stage should typically reflect past customers or users who have expressed a strong interest in your products and services based on their interactions with your website or Facebook and Instagram profiles. You can also exclude a Custom Audience list that meets this criteria and target their Lookalike Audience instead.

Facebook Custom Audience Creation Tips

Customer list uploading best practices

When you upload emails, Facebook matches up the email addresses people use to login to Facebook with the emails you upload (they also look at your backup email). So if you use a different email address you might not get matched (B2B obviously has a much lower match rate).

I recommend downloading the template and filling out everything you possibly know about the people. Email, Name, City, DOB, etc. If you don’t know something then you can leave that blank. This will likely improve your match rate and make your custom audiences more valuable.

Create and target audience lists based on the recency of interaction

Tap into the data offered by Facebook Pixel and create Custom Audience lists based on when a person visited your website. 

Create lists based on website traffic over different time frames and divide users in to campaigns accordingly. You can target up to 180 in the past, depending on the quality of your pages or the products and services you’re promoting, it may make sense to target people who have visited in the past 10 days, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc. Also, don’t forget to think about creating audience lists based on how long a person spent on your website. 

You can target the top 5%, 10%, and 25% of your website traffic based on how much time they spent on your site. Making Custom Audience lists for each of those categories allows you to reach highly engaged people differently than other audience groups.

Create naming conventions for Facebook audience lists

Creating a common governance of your audience naming conventions will help prevent headaches down the road, especially if you have multiple people creating Custom Audiences for your ad campaigns. 

Facebook gives you 50 characters to name each Custom Audience list. One of the best practices is to be as specific as possible to avoid confusion. Call out the kind of audience, any important details that are unique to that particular segment, and the lookback window. 

Ex: [CA] – [Emails_CurrentCustomers] = Custom Audience list created from email list of current customers

Ex: [CA] – [Traffic_Blog] – [90] = Custom Audience list created from website traffic to your blog within the past 90 days

Start Custom Audience Targeting Today!

Embarking on a targeted Facebook advertising campaign can seem daunting if you don’t have a strategy in place. Once you establish what part of the sales funnel you’re trying to reach — top, middle, or bottom — you can start building and targeting your Custom Audience and Lookalike Audience lists.

Check out our Paid Media services to learn more about marketing and remarketing strategies and how they can help your business reach new audiences on Google and social.

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