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Finding Leads Through Facebook Advertising: Audience Targeting

A primary reason Facebook is such a powerful marketing tool is that it knows virtually everything about its users. As an advertiser, I can target users on Facebook based on demographics, geography, education, incomes, relationships, interests, behaviors, the list goes on. The level of audience granularity you can achieve is something that goes beyond anything else in the advertising world. 

This makes Facebook an ideal channel for lead generation. Advertisers can proactively find high potential audiences of new customers to reach using Facebook’s wide array of targeting options. Facebook has a pretty useful guide to understanding all its available targeting options, however some of these options are more useful than others if you really want generate leads efficiently using Facebook advertising.

target audience for Facebook ads

The Basics: Demos & Geos

One mistake a lot of direct response advertisers make is putting too much stake in demographic and geographic targeting. Yes these targeting options are the base for defining your audience, but alone they won’t move the needle. Just because your customer base is primarily males in the US ages 18-36 doesn’t mean that every person in that demographic is remotely interested in your product.

Still it’s necessary to understand basic demographic targeting, and it does afford advertisers a variety of options. The ability to exclude specific locations (ie. states or cities where products don’t ship) cuts out unwanted impressions and reduces potential complaints. Targeting by genders, languages, and age ranges sets a base for more granular targeting options. Education, Income, and Relationships can all be useful targeting for certain businesses to help define their markets. 

Advanced Class: Interests & Behaviors

Facebook’s interest & behavioral targeting is what really starts to separate it from other mediums in terms of audience segmentation. Interest targeting allows you to deliver ads to users based not only on pages they’ve liked & interacted with, but also their interests and activities. This includes public conversations, and allows advertisers to target users interested in specific topics. An example being an E-Commerce company can target people interested in brands they sell, competitor pages, and their general product categories.

Facebook’s behavioral targeting is even more valuable for lead generation, allowing advertisers to target users based on past purchase behavior and intent. Facebook buckets these users by purchase types & industries. This data isn’t applicable to every industry, however many verticals (travel & fashion in particular) are extremely well built out.

Moving The Needle: Custom & Lookalike Audiences

By far Facebook’s most valuable targeting product for lead generation is Custom Audiences. Here advertisers can leverage their own internal databases by uploading a list of existing customers (inputs include email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook user ID’s, and Mobile Advertiser ID’s) to Facebook Ads Manager, which Facebook will then match with its user base.  This will give advertisers the ability to target all or sub-sections of their existing customer base with Facebook ads.

Although targeting your existing customer base isn’t necessarily useful for generating new leads, Facebook also allows you to create “Lookalike Audiences” off of your existing Custom Audiences. Here Facebook will build a list of users similar to those in your Custom Audience based on demographics, interests, intent, and behaviors. You now have an extremely qualified list of potential leads, and can create Lookalikes of different sizes based on affinity to your audience. A smaller Lookalike audience will have the strongest affinity to your Custom Audience, however a larger Lookalike allows you to reach a greater number of users.

Best Practices: Leveraging Lookalikes

There are a variety of ways to leverage Lookalikes for lead generation and new user acquisition, but here are a few best practices:

  1. Go After Valuable Customers – Instead of building a Custom Audiences using your entire email database, build one of only high value members. By targeting Lookalikes based off of high value members you’re more likely to not just drive efficient leads but greater customer lifetime value.
  2. Get Product Specific – If your site has specific product categories, don’t hesitate to segment audiences this way as well. For example a fashion E-Commerce company could have a list of shoe purchasers in the past year, and target a Lookalike based off this audiences with ads featuring shoes in the creative.
  3. Use Lookalikes From Website Behavior – In addition to the above inputs, Facebook in early 2014 announced Website Custom Audiences, allowing advertisers to build audiences of users browsing your website. Although its primary use is retargeting, Lookalikes can again be created from this product to generate new leads. This is also an effective way to get more granular with your audiences if your internal databases aren’t robust, since you can create a variety of rules around audience inclusion & exclusion based on your sites URL structure. Jon Loomer gives a great overview of Website Custom Audiences and how to use them on his blog.
  4. Build Lookalikes from your Fan Page – Facebook also lets you create Lookalike audiences from your own Fan Page. Since the majority of your fans are already customers creating a Fan Page Lookalike provides another potential audience of high value users (disclosure: the linked study was performed by a social intelligence company I used to work for).
  5. Conversion Pixel Lookalikes – Finally my favorite input to create Lookalike Audiences from is your own Conversion Pixel. This allows advertisers to target users similar to those who have not just completed the action you want (ie. sign up for a mailing list), but have actually clicked through an ad to do so! This creates a much stronger signal that the audience is built on, and can often drive the most efficient new leads.

Often Forgotten: Exclusion Targeting 

One thing often lacked by marketers on Facebook is a proper understanding of how to use exclusion targeting. This is imperative when your advertising goals are lead generation or new user acquisition to ensure you aren’t wasting impressions for these campaigns on existing customers. To avoid this try and have a Custom Audience of your entire customer base that you can exclude. As mentioned above it is usually a prerequisite for fans to be customers already, so you may want to exclude your Facebook fan base as well. As an app developer looking to acquire new users, Facebook has built in targeting allowing you to exclude all Facebook users who already have your app installed on that device. Excluding the right users ensures you aren’t wasting impressions, clicks, and money on users who can’t complete your desired action.

Bonus Points: Use oCPM bidding

Even though this article is focused entirely on audience targeting (not bidding) this is still a relevant point. When using oCPM bidding with your conversion spec set as your defined action (measured in most cases by a conversion pixel), Facebook will optimize your ad delivery to users most likely to complete that action. Within whatever targeting segment you’ve specified (demographics, interests, Custom & Lookalike Audiences, etc.) Facebook’s oCPM bidding algorithm will look to find the highest quality users to serve ads to. Although just using it doesn’t ensure success, advertisers are much more likely to see positive results when optimizing towards a specific action.


Facebook is an extremely valuable channel for lead generation because its audience is so big and so engaged. It has over eight hundred million daily active users that it has inordinate amounts of data on. This allows Facebook to build an impressive repertoire of audience segmentation products. Smart advertisers can use these to generate new leads efficiently and at scale.

(target audience / shutterstock)

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