How to Target Your Facebook Audience (Even if You’re a Rookie)

If you’re trying to build an online business, then chances are good you’ve come across a few stories about how incredible Facebook ads can be as a marketing tool.

“A zillion webinar sign ups that resulted in a million sales!”

“Automated list building around the clock!”

“A constant stream of high-quality traffic that converts!”

That’s great. But how’s it really done?

It starts with a solid understanding of the three things you can use Facebook ads to do:

  1. Make sales.
  2. Grow your list.
  3. Introduce your business to new people.

Each one of your campaigns will have one of these objectives.

After you’re clear on the objective of your campaign, the next step is to figure out exactly who you want your ads to be shown to. For ads that aim to grow your list and introduce your business to new people, I want you to target cold audiences.

All that means is people who have never (or almost never) engaged with your business before. They don’t know who you are or what you do . . . but they’re about to!

What follows is a look at how to put together the right cold audience for your particular business, plus common pitfalls of Facebook ad targeting and how to avoid them.

Note: This is a guest post from Claire Pelletreau who’s a Fizzle member and a total WIZ when it comes to Facebook Ad stuff. She’s been doing this for years. AND she even joined us on the podcast.

Facebook Ad Rookie Errors

These errors can cost you hundreds (if not thousands) of wasted dollars in your campaigns and they are very common. If you’re not already making these errors, chances are you will at some point.

So, in this podcast episode below we discuss all three and some ESSENTIAL Facebook Ad mindset stuff with an expert. Make some time for it, subscribe on your mobile device and enjoy!

Creating Audiences with Detailed Targeting

The most common way to create a cold audience for your Facebook ad is by using an option called Detailed Targeting.

I’m going to walk you through the ins and outs of Detailed Targeting, but first you’ll want to open up the Audience section Facebook’s advertising interface so you can follow these instructions. Here’s how you get there:

1. Go to

2. Click on the right “hamburger” menu at the top left of the screen.

3. Click on All Tools.

4. Then click on Audiences found under Assets.

5. Click on the blue Create Audience button, and select Saved Audience.

You’ll see a screen just like this:

As you can see, the Detailed Targeting section comes after the basic demographic filters of Locations, Age, Gender and Languages. Think about who your ideal customers or clients are, and fill in that info before you move on.

(Just ignore the Custom Audience field and leave it blank.)

Demographics, Interests, and Behaviors

Detailed Targeting has been around since the beginning of Facebook ads, just with different names. Let’s define the different categories you’ll find under Detailed Targeting.

1. Demographics

This is pretty straightforward: under Demographics, you can choose your audience based on things like education level, religion, relationship status and more.

You can even get specific with info about home ownership and “life events” like “newly engaged,” “recently moved,” “away from family” and people who have birthday’s coming up.

2. Interests

By Facebook’s definition, interests can mean all kinds of things! Entrepreneurship, scuba diving, social media, baking, attachment parenting, comedy movies, marriage. If you’re talking about a particular topic on Facebook, it’s probably an interest you can plug into the Detailed Targeting section of the Audience interface.

But . . . I don’t want you to use these kinds of interests in your audiences.

The problem here is that we have no way of knowing how Facebook determines that you’re interested in such general categories.

If I share an article about how to bake Philadelphia soft pretzels because lots of my friends are from Philly, does that mean I’ll fall into the group of people interested in baking? (I’m mostly interested in the end result of baking, not in the act itself.)

Interest targeting can make for a really successful Facebook ad, but I want you to do it like this: instead of general interests, target the people, businesses or organizations that have a very similar audience to your own.

Some of the people and businesses I target often are:

  • Amy Porterfield
  • Jon Loomer
  • Social Media Examiner

These three all talk about Facebook ads in their work, so their audience is primed to learn about them. (Thanks, guys!) When I include them in the Detailed Targeting section of my audience, that means my ads will reach their fans.

It took me a long time to figure out the interests that made the most sense for my particular ads. All you can do is test, test, test, which is time-consuming and no, it ain’t cheap.  But it’s worth it; when it comes time to do a bigger paid campaign, you won’t waste time figuring out who you should be targeting. (There’s much more on finding the right interests very soon.)

3. Behaviors

Also found under Detailed Targeting, Behaviors is a weird term Facebook uses for a hodgepodge of other information they have about you. Some examples include:

  • if you’re a member of a credit union
  • if you’re a fan of 1 or more football teams
  • if you have an upcoming anniversary.

Random, right?

You definitely want to go in there and explore what your options are under Behaviors. You may be surprised by what you find!

Mixing, Matching and Excluding Interests

Want to target fans of Elizabeth Gilbert who identify as Republicans?

Or people interested in health coaching who also manage a Facebook page?

It can be done, my friend! Just click on the Narrow Audience button and make sure your two different specifications are in different boxes, like this:

You can add more than one thing in each of those boxes, and they’ll change the size of your audience. 

(Audience) Size Matters, OK?

If you’re putting together a cold audience, you’re no doubt wondering how large it should be. Warm and hot audiences are almost always small, e.g. less than 100,000 people. Some are less than 10,000! And that’s OK for those types of audiences.

But when it comes to cold audiences, their size depends on a few things:

  1. Is your audience insanely specific (like Elizabeth Gilbert fans who are both Republicans AND small business owners)? If so, then you don’t have much control over the size; you have to take whatever you can get.
  2. Are you trying to reach people in a small geographic region, like your city and the surrounding areas? Again, this is a case in which your audience probably won’t be 2,000,000 people.*
  3. Do you have an online business whose target market is quite large? Some examples are people in the fitness, health, retail and B2B industries.

If you answered yes to #3, then here’s what I suggest:

Run ads to audiences between 500K and 2M people. But only if they make sense.

Here’s what I mean by “make sense”:

I can easily create an audience of online entrepreneurs by including big name businesses under Interests. (For example, Marie Forleo, Ramit Sethi, Chris Brogan, Social Triggers, Ali Brown, etc.)

But it’s not always that easy to reach a huge audience number if your target market is a lot smaller. Adding more interests, demographics or behaviors just to increase your audience size will probably work against you.

*A quick note about audiences for any business that serves a small geographic location:

Because of the limited number of people who are physically close to your business, you should ignore my advice about using businesses, brands and organizations under Detailed Targeting.

You should try out two audiences to start:

  1. One with age and location filters, plus general interests (like “fitness” if you’re a local gym owner or “fine dining” if you’re promoting a restaurant)
  2. One with only age and location filters.

The second audience is will be broader and more general, but it might still out-perform your specific but tiny first audience.

You Won’t Know If It’ll Work Until You Try

Sometimes it makes sense to use a small and ultra-specific audience. Other times big audiences will get you the best results.

The only way to figure out which one works best is to try them both. (There’s an entire chapter inside my latest book devoted to all the tests you can run with your audiences. Keep reading for a something deal I’m giving to you Fizzle-fans.)

Example Interests to Try in Your Cold Audiences

You’re crystal clear on this by now: general interests (like “coaching”) aren’t usually as effective as business or brand names (like “Andrea Reiser – Happiness Coach”) when creating your cold audiences.

But you might be staring at the screen and wondering:

“WHICH business or brand names make sense to target then???”

It can be really difficult to find different interests to target. Lots of people manage to come up with a few but then run out of ideas.

This is where almost all of my clients need at least a little handholding, but once I give them a few ideas of brands to target, their brainstorming powers move into overdrive.

So let me get you started with a boatload of interests you can target:

If you’re a marketing consultant or coach, you might run ads to people interested in:

  • Gary Vaynerchuk
  • Neil Patel
  • Digital Marketer
  • LKR social media
  • Middle finger project
  • Buffer (app)

If you’re a nutritionist or a fitness personality, you could target people interested in:

  • Weight Watchers
  • Kris Carr
  • Elizabeth Rider
  • Eat to Perform
  • Dave Asprey
  • Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation

If you’re a life coach, you might try to reach people interested in:

  • Hay House Daily Meditations
  • Nick Ortner
  • Marianne Williamson
  • A Course in Miracles
  • Gabrielle Berstein
  • Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts

HOLD UP. This is important:

Just because I’ve listed a business name or brand above does not mean you should use it in your audience.

Think about this:

Regena Thomashauer is an author, life coach and founder of the organization (and Facebook page) Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. You can reach her fans and followers by including her page in your audience.

But her fans are probably very different from those of A Course in Miracles. They have dramatically different voices, messages, and values. If Regena ran ads that targeted people interested in A Course in Miracles, she may reach a whole lot of people who are offended by the name of her new book, Pussy: A Reclamation.

You can see that there’s almost no overlap between their audiences:

You can find this handy information in the Audience section of the Ads Manager:

So make sure that you research the interests on my lists. Check out their pages to see what they post about, what problems they’re addressing, and how they address them. If you get a sense that your audience probably overlaps with theirs, include them as interests in your cold audiences.

“The interests you suggest don’t make sense for my business. What should I do?”

Most of the interests I’ve listed are the result of a tool called Audience Insights. I use it all the time, and while it isn’t a secret or anything, most people I talk to have never heard of it before.

In order to use Audience Insights, all you need is some basic demographic information about your ideal cold audience and one or two interests that you’ve brainstormed. It’s OK to use general interests while researching with this tool.

Interest Targeting FAQ:

“There are multiple options when I type one of the interests; which one do I choose?”

Choose all of them. It’ll increase your audience size.

“For the love of all that is good in this world, where are all the Facebook pages I want to target?!?”

Even if you’ve figured out all the demographic specs of your perfect target audience, you’re bound to run into this classic interest targeting problem: none of the businesses whose fans you’d like to target show up in Facebook’s Interests field.

Every single advertiser is cursing about the same thing, but I’m sorry to say that there’s no trick. Most Facebook pages aren’t in their advertising system, at least not yet. Sadly this is the only explanation Facebook gives for this issue:

Not every topic is available as a choice within targeting. If a particular term isn’t found within targeting that may be because it is too small of a topic and may be represented within a larger topic, or it may be sensitive. The targeting choices available do change as topics are added or removed.

“Facebook says my audience is too narrow. What do I do?”

You might see this message while putting together your audience or campaign:

You should either give your screen the finger or politely ignore it, whichever one is more your style. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Follow my guidelines about audience size and you’ll be fine.

“I just discovered I can target people based on their income or net worth! I should do that, right???”

You can certainly try that, but I’ve found that adding in highly sought-after behaviors (like income or net worth requirements) can make your costs skyrocket. Think about it: everyone and their mother is probably trying to run ads to people with lots of money so that they’ll be more likely to buy! So competition is stiff, which always drives up costs. Keep that in mind.

Go Use Your Audience!

Now that you’ve got the Detailed Targeting thing sorted out, add in the location of your ideal target audience, and then their age. Give your audience a name at the top of your screen, and then hit Create Audience at the bottom.

You are officially ready to use your brand new audience in an ad! Try running a simple ad to a blog post or video that addresses one of your target market’s biggest pain points.

Claire Pelletreau is a Facebook ad consultant and Fizzle Member who’s just written a new book called Bullseye: Reach Your Best Target Audience with Facebook Ads.

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