illustration of avatars (people). customizing audience traits

Facebook Advertising Guide – Chapter III: Audience Targeting

With this Chapter, we are moving on to the next level in Facebook Ads structure: Ad Sets. At the ad set level, you can set delivery preferences by defining the audience, choosing placements, and establishing a schedule and budget. Ad sets are where Facebook Ads really get interesting. Each of the steps has a wide range of options which means that you can customize your ad to be aimed to exactly who you want to, shown at the times and platforms where your audience is the most likely to see it – all that within your set budget.

In this Chapter, we will start off with Audience Targeting – arguably, the most powerful feature of Facebook Ads and the main culprit in their popularity. We will explain three main approaches to creating your audience; when you should use which – along with a few new terms from the Facebook marketing lingo. Then we will cover Facebook targeting options. Brace yourself, though, to be both, in awe as a marketer and terrified as a user. Lastly, we will show you how to create each type of audiences presented here, on your own, step by step.


Choosing the right audience for your ad requires a bit of forethought. Before you start, you should already have a general idea who you are aiming your ad to and which action you want them to take. The purpose of the ad is already determined with its Campaign’s objective. Now is the time to pinpoint and reach that portion of users who are most likely to take that action.

Facebook offers powerful audience selection tools to reach both, quite broad and extremely specific audiences across its platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Audience Network. There are three ways to create an audience on Facebook:

  1. With Core Audiences you are manually creating a new audience within an Ad Set. For that, you are using only Facebook data to target ads. This is the default Facebook ad targeting option. Targeting options are extensive and include location, gender, age, language, interests, and behaviors.
  2. With Custom Audiences you can use several sources to create your audience and target the ads to people you already know. Data can be drawn from your CMS, website, mobile app or Facebook engagement to reach people you already have a relationship with.
  3. With Lookalike Audiences you can find people with similar characteristics to people who already engaged with your ads or Page by combining Custom Audiences or Saved Audiences with Facebook data.

 Core audiences

Building a Core Audience on Facebook lets marketers adjust ad delivery using the following traits: demographics, locations, interests, behaviors, and connections. When building Core Audiences, you can include or exclude people from your target audience based on any of these attributes. You can also save Core Audiences for future use and can modify Saved Audiences to test and optimize your targeting.

Skip to step by step guide to creating Core Audiences

Audience targeting options

facebook ads: location targeting options icon Location

Location targeting allows you to include or exclude people into your audience, based on the postal code, city, region, country or worldwide; and to deliver ads based on where people are, whether they live in a location, are new arrivals, or just visiting.

You can type in an address to deliver your ads to people who live within a 1-50 mile radius of this location. Or you can drop a pin in a location anywhere on the map provided. Only people who’ve included an address in their profile or have location services turned on will be reached.

There are different ways to define your audience based on location. You can request that your ads be delivered to:

targeting by location everyone iconEveryone in this location

targeting by location locals iconPeople who live in this location – targets people who identify that location as their home

targeting by location new residents icon People recently moved to this location (new residents) – targets people who recently updated their home location

targeting by location visitors icon People traveling to this location – targets those who have checked into or been tagged in a place that isn’t their primary location

targeting by location regions icon Regions
You can also set your audience based on region to identify and select countries based on non-geographic commonalities. Regions that you can advertise to include:

  • Free Trade Areas – allows you to advertise within a single free trade area — for example, the European Economic Area.
  • App Store Regions – target only countries where the iTunes App Store, Android Paid Store, or Android Free Store is available. Or mix and match.
  • Emerging Markets – identify and advertise in one of more than 20 countries that are experiencing rapid economic growth.
  • Euro Area – Target people in countries that use the euro as their common currency.

facebook ads: demographics targeting options iconDemographics

Demographic targeting draws from information that people share publicly on Facebook and allows marketers insight into very specific data about their prospective audience. Facebook gathers information about their users‘ education, political views, family/relationship status, life events, career, and much (much!) more – see image below.

Facebook targeting options by demographics:

facebook ads: interests targeting options icon Interests

Interest targeting focuses on consumer and lifestyle categories such as fitness, fashion, or hobbies. Whenever a user presses ‘Like’ button, Facebook collects the data. Based on that data, Facebook has created a long list of targeting options.

Facebook targeting options by interests
Interests are one of the best Facebook ads targeting options as they allow you to target people specifically interested in a subject related to your product. You can reach specific audiences by targeting their interests, activities, pages they liked as well as related topics. By combining those, you can expand your ad’s reach.

facebook ads: behaviors targeting options icon Behaviors

Behaviors targeting lets you reach people based on their device usage and other activities. The amount of targetable behaviors available is in the hundreds! Unlike interests, behaviors allow you to target people by purchase history, intent, and more. This data is gathered by Facebook; analyzing their own data as well as external data sets. Below are listed some of them, but the list is constantly expanding.

Facebook targeting options by behaviors

facebook ads: connections targeting options icon Connections

Connections targeting is based on audience engagement with your Facebook Page, Facebook Events, or app. This option can be very powerful, especially if your business has a strong Facebook following already. It allows you to target people who are fans of your Page, app or event as well as their friends.  You can also target those who are neither but are somehow connected to your fanbase.

Facebook targeting options by connecrions

That sums up targeting options. However, the real power is in finding the right combination of those and pinpoint only those users who’d like to see your ad.  To refine the results and help us keep the track of our chosen audience, Facebook Ads have built-in tools:

  • Audience Size indicator
    Your audience selection only needs to meet one targeting criteria, not all. The indicator helps you to select the right size of the audience – not too big (higher cost with lower ROI) and not too narrow (a small number of people). Audience selection only needs to meet one targeting criteria, not all
  • Audience overlap
    When you have two or more audiences selected, you can check the overlap (percentage of people that are in both audiences). The overlap is not inherently bad but can become problematic if the percentage of overlap and the budgets of the overlapping ad sets are high enough, and the audiences are being used at the same time. This can cause ad sets to end up in the same auction which would drive up the costs. The solution is to remove the ad set that has a worse performance history from the auction.
  • Audience Exclusion
    You can exclude people from your audience by selecting Exclude from the Audience and choose the audience that overlaps with your target.


Caution: restrictions icon Targeting restrictions

There are some restrictions when it comes to Facebook Ads. These are important to keep in mind, otherwise, your ad won’t successfully pass the review and get to the auction stage.

Alcohol Promotion

Advertisers promoting alcohol in their ads must follow all applicable laws, regulations, and industry codes in their respective countries. If you are targeting multiple countries in the same ad set, please target the highest age.
To ensure proper targeting, if you target an age group outside the legal directives, Facebook automatically set the minimum age to the legally approved limit for the specific country/state and then approve the ad.

facebook alcohol promotion restrictions map


Advertising on Facebook and Instagram is allowed for approved dating sites. But there are restrictions when it comes to targeting. You’ll need to create separate ads in order to target both men and women.

Financial Services

The promotion of credit card applications for accredited institutions (Ex. large banks), loans, and other bank-related activities can be targeted only to people ages 18 and older. Please make sure your landing page for these ads include proper disclosures about transaction fees and other related information.

Health & Fitness

If you’re promoting health and fitness products and/or services, including vitamins and supplements, you must target your ads to people ages 18 and older. If you target your ad to people younger than 18, you’ll be notified in Ads Manager that we’ve automatically set the minimum age to 18 so that it can be approved for delivery.


Facebook Advertising Policies prohibit advertisers from using our ads products to discriminate against individuals or groups of people. Ads are discriminatory when they deny opportunities to individuals or groups of people based on certain personal attributes (such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and disability or medical or genetic condition).

Note, anytime you run Facebook ads, you’re already agreeing to follow non-discrimination policy.

facebook custom audiences icon Custom Audiences

Custom Audiences help you incorporate the information you already have to reach people on Facebook and Instagram, across multiple devices, in a way that protects your audience’s privacy. Facebook uses hashing –  a process that turns the information you share with Facebook into short fingerprints that are impossible to reverse. With hashing, both, your own data as well as Facebook’s data is being securely anonymized and combined together and lets you reach existing customers on Facebook and Instagram in a privacy-safe way.

You can generate Custom Audiences from a variety of sources. You can use information that you already have or insights generated by Facebook, based on interactions your customers have with your site, app, Facebook or Instagram page, or even your store location. Other options include:

Custom audiences are also key for creating Lookalike Audiences, which allow you to find people similar to existing customers and clients.

You can learn more about Custom Audiences targeting at Facebook Blueprint course.

facebook lookalike audiences icon Lookalike Audiences

Lookalike Audiences can help you find and deliver ads to the people who share demographics and behaviors with your current customers. You can use Lookalike Audiences to reach people who are similar to:

  • Existing customers
  • People who like your Facebook Page
  • Visitors to your website
  • People who engage with your mobile app

To create a Lookalike Audience, you will need to be either the owner of a Facebook business page or have admin or advertiser permissions on a Facebook ad account.

You will also need one very important thing before you begin: source (seed) audience – the audience you select as the starting point. A seed audience is a group of people who are important to the success of your business – those who purchase a lot from or are highly engaged with your brand. You can create a seed audience using data from:

  • Custom Audience
  • Your customer information
  • Your Facebook pixel- Pixel helps Facebook’s ad servers recognize website visitors across devices. Since you can specify page visits and actions that trigger the pixel, this can then be used to create a seed based on customer behavior.
  • A mobile app
  • Facebook Page fans

After you’ve determined seed audience, you need to fine-tune the audience size (i.e. find the right number on the scale) to correspond to your goal –  be it similarity or reach.

Lookalike Audience size –  You can choose the size of a Lookalike Audience during the creation process. This size is expressed on a scale of 1-10 – meaning 1 to 10% of the total population in the countries you choose. Smaller audiences (numbers 1-5 on the scale) match your source audience more closely. Larger audiences (numbers 6-10) increase your potential reach, but with lesser similarity. Recommended seed audience size is 1,000 to 50,000 people. The quality of the source audience matters too – using your best customers leads to better results.

From that point, similarities between the two audiences are being compared and your Lookalike audience is being created. Facebook warns that it may take up to 24 hours for your Lookalike Audience to be created, but you can use it for ad targeting before it finishes processing.

To learn more about Lookalike Audiences, you can take a Facebook Blueprint course.



Before you start the targeting, you must know who are your customers and who you wish to reach with your ad. Well targeted audience means money well spent; while targetting a too wide or too narrow range can render a low-performing ad. It is crucial to reach those people who are most likely to be interested in your product or service. As mentioned above, Facebook offers a wide range of targeting options that will help you reach the right people!

Finding the right audience is a process: you choose the audience who you think is most likely to respond to your ad; keep your eye on the performance and refine it.

To resume, Facebook has three primary audience types:

  • Core Audiences – Target ads using Facebook data.
  • Custom Audiences – Use data from your CMS, website, mobile app, or other sources to target Facebook ads to people you already know.
  • Lookalike Audiences -discover new audiences by combining Custom Audiences with Facebook targeting.
  • Saved Audiences – any of the above three types you created and saved earlier

Which one you will choose, depends on the data you collected within your previous targeting or through your website and Facebook Page. If you are completely new to Facebook Ads, odds are you’ll be creating a new core audience now.

facebook core audiences icon Create Core Audience

The default Facebook ad targeting option is Core Audiences. Targeting happens at the ad set level, and audiences can be broken out into separate ad sets when you’d bid differently to reach each audience.

When creating a Core Audience, you narrow down your audience by targeting their demographics, locations, interests, behaviors, and connections. Complete detailed targetting you can find attached as a bonus to this Infographic. You can also include or exclude people from your target audience based on any of these attributes.

Detailed explanation of Core Audience Interface

facebook custom audiences icon Create Custom Audience

As we already established, you can generate Custom Audiences from a variety of sources:

  • Customer files (via Facebook Pixel)
  • Website activity
  • Mobile app activity
  • Offline activity
  • Facebook engagement

Below we will explain how to do each of those.

To make sure you are delivering the right message to the right audiences, you can fine-tune your audience, by combining Custom Audiences with other targeting options (as in Core Audiences). This means that you can be pretty specific when targeting the audience.

Custom Audience From A Customer List

  1. Before you begin
    Before you begin, make sure the customer file you want to use is ready and that it is GDPR-compliant!
  2. Navigate to your Audiences
    Click the Create Audience creation button or drop-down menu and select Custom Audience.
    Click Customer File.
    Click Add from Your Own File
  3. Add Customer File
    Click the Original Data Source drop-down to specify where the information in the file initially came from. You can either copy/paste the file or upload it. Give your audience a name and description if you want to.
    Click Next.
  4. Edit data mapping
    You will see a preview of your data and how Facebook classified it. There are three statuses:

    • Status icon all good  means Facebook identified the type of data and will use it when trying to match the information in your customer file to people on Facebook. Only the data with this symbol gets uploaded for matching
    • Status icon data omitted means Facebook hasn’t identified the type of data and this data is omitted from matching
    • Status icon data error means the data type has been identified but it is not in a supported format

    You can interact with your data preview in three ways:

    • Change the data’s type – click the drop-down menu and choose what type of data you’ve provided. From this drop-down menu, you can also choose Do not upload, and it won’t be used for when matching.
    • Remove the data from match consideration
    • Change the data’s format – click the Choose format drop-down menu and choose what format we should be using to match your data.

    If you need to change anything about your customer file to maximize the number of identifiers to be used, do so now. Once you’re ready, repeat the steps above. When you’re satisfied, click Create & Upload.

  5. Hashed upload and creation
    Facebook hashes your data, uploads it and creates the audience for you. This may take a little while if your file is large.

Custom Audience from the Website

You can retarget audiences who have visited your website by creating a Custom Audience from your website using standard events or custom events.

  1. Before you begin
    Set up a Facebook pixel on your website.
    Set up standard or custom events.
    Check that your pixel is active.
  1. Go to Audiences in Ads Manager.
  2. Click Create audience and select Custom Audience.
  3. Click Website traffic.
  4. Include people who meet any or all of the selecting criteria.
  5. Enter the number of days you want people to remain in your audience after they visit your website.
  6. Give your audience a name, then click Create Audience.

Bear in mind that you can also create Custom Audiences from events with specific parameters. To do this, click Add a parameter (Optional) once you’ve selected an event.

Custom Audience from Mobile App activity

Custom Audience can target ads towards specific groups of people who are most likely to take the action that you want them to take on your app. Facebook’s software development kit (SDK) is the equivalent of the Facebook pixel, for mobile apps. Using the Facebook SDK, you can pass data to Facebook from your app and use that data to specify who you want to include in your Custom Audience.

  1. Before you begin
    • Register your app: make sure that you have the ad account rights to the app that you want to use. Your app needs to be measuring app events to create a Custom Audience from it.
    • Set up the SDK and log app events on the Facebook for developers site: once you register your app, you’ll need to set up app events for each platform that your app is available in, in order to reach users taking specific actions (called „app events“) within your app. This is done by sending an event from your app via Facebook’s SDK. This event can be one of 14 pre-defined events or you can set up your own custom events.
  2. Create your Custom Audience
    • Go to Audiences at the ad set level in Ads Manager.
    • Click to select Custom Audience in the drop-down menu. Select App activity.
    • From the drop-down menu, select which app events you’d like to base your audience on. The app events your app is set up to measure for will automatically populate in the drop-down menu.
    • You can either include or exclude people in your Custom Audience who have completed any of five different app events of your choosing.
    • Choose how far back you would like your audience to be populated by when the event occurred for people using your app.
    • Add details to the app events you base your Custom Audience on by selecting Refine by and choosing the type of details you want to specify.
    • Name your audience.
  3. Click Create Audience to finish upload and creation
    Your audience is ready to use immediately, but note that it may take up to an hour for it to be pre-populated with users from the past who have logged a matching app event.

Custom audience from Facebook engagement

Engagement Custom Audience is based on Facebook information only. Therefore, you won’t need to set up a pixel or SDK in order to create these Custom Audiences.

You can reach people based on how they’ve engaged with:

  • Your Facebook Page: Deliver ads to people who viewed your Page, engaged with your posts or ads, clicked on call-to-action buttons, sent a message to your Page, or saved content from your Page.
  • Videos posted to your Page: Deliver ads to people who watched a certain length or percentage of videos posted to your Page.
  • Your Lead ads: Deliver ads to people who opened a form, opened a form but didn’t submit it, or opened and submitted a form.
  • Fullscreen mobile experiences: Deliver ads to people who interacted with a collection or Canvas experience.

facebook lookalike audiences icon Create Lookalike Audience

To create a Lookalike Audience, you will need to be either the owner of a Facebook business page or have admin or advertiser permissions on a Facebook ad account. After that, follow the below steps.

Creating Lookalike Audience Step by step interface explanation


We have compiled all the relevant data from this article to an infographic which you can download below.

Download Facebook Ads Audience Targeting Infographic here.

In the next article, we will dive deeper into the structure of Facebook Ads and explain how to pick where to show your ad.

Go back to:
illustration of avatars (people). sitting around stylized mobile phone from which rise the speech bubbles with facebook ads,

The next Chapter available on Monday, June 3rd
illustration of avatar (person). holding ad set file and considering place them



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