Aug 30 2018
Basis Technologies

Facebook Ads Targeting: What Recent Changes to Facebook’s Ad Platform Mean for Your Ad and SEM Strategy


Facebook has been popping up a lot in the news lately with regard to its data collection and distribution methods. The recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal has called into question the way Facebook uses its customers’ personal data to help advertisers with precision marketing on the platform. Not to mention, new data privacy regulations like GDPR are changing the way that companies worldwide approach gathering and sharing private consumer data.

In light of these recent events, Facebook is making some adjustments to the way it collects and uses customer data. If you advertise on Facebook, you may be wondering how changes to the social media platform will impact your reach and ad results. Below, we’ll explain which Facebook ads targeting options are changing and what these changes mean for your social media and paid advertising strategies.

Why Facebook Is Changing Ad Targeting

Unless you’ve been taking a hiatus from the news recently, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard about Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Without going into too much detail, this data scandal involved a political data firm that accessed and used Facebook user data to map out personality traits. Then, the organization used that information to target specific audiences with digital ads that were political in nature.

After this information recently came to light, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared before regulators to explain Facebook’s user privacy practices. The social media platform found itself under fire from both government organizations and the public, who, understandably, were concerned about how Facebook user data was being collected, shared, and used.

Though the data scandal has certainly impacted the public’s opinion of Facebook, this isn’t the only recent event changing the climate for the Facebook advertising platform today. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which started on May 25, also has an impact on Facebook ads targeting. GDPR is a European Union regulation that aims to give citizens control over their own personal data through stricter privacy regulations for consumer data.

Under GDPR, Facebook will no longer be able to collect or use data for behavioral ad targeting. To become GDPR compliant, Facebook will need to find a form of ad targeting that doesn’t use personal data unless it has explicit consent from its users. This change in Facebook's data privacy rules may cause some alarm for businesses that rely on Facebook’s sophisticated targeting features to reach the right consumers for their products and services.

Which Facebook Ads Targeting Options are Changing

Before you can understand how changes to Facebook ads targeting will impact your social media ad strategy, it’s important to know how Facebook collects data from its users for advertisers to use. There are typically four different places from which Facebook collects data – advertisers, the voluntary information users put on their profiles like their birthday or location, interactions on posts, and data supplied from third-party data brokers.

Facebook is eliminating the data it collects from third-party brokers, or advertising partners as the company refers to them. The data that comes from partner categories allows advertisers to target Facebook users based on their offline behavior. This offline behavioral data can include consumer characteristics such as owning a home, being loyal to a specific brand, being in the market for a new vehicle, or belonging to a particular income bracket.

Essentially, the data that comes from these advertising partners is any information that isn’t provided by users in their profiles or gathered through their engagement habits on the platform. This third-party data comes from a variety of sources, including public records, surveys, and loyalty card programs. It has become beneficial for advertisers on Facebook, especially for smaller businesses that may not have access to large quantities of their own customer data.

With Facebook facing a lot of scrutiny over its mishandling of third-party data along with a need to comply with GDPR regulations, the company has started making changes to its privacy policies. After evaluating its data collection and privacy practices, Facebook has decided to eliminate third-party data from its ad targeting platform. This change means that advertisers will no longer have access to offline behavioral data that came from third-party data brokers.

What These Facebook Ad Changes Mean for Your Business

Though these changes to the Facebook ads platform may sound significant, the truth is that businesses will still be able to leverage rich data through Facebook ads targeting. Even after getting rid of offline behavioral and demographic information that was provided by third-party advertising partners, Facebook still has a wealth of data on its users. And all of this information is more than enough to help your business better understand and reach your target audience.

As of the first quarter of 2018, Facebook reported over 2 billion monthly active users. Every time one of these users does something such as like a friend’s photo, watch a video, or share a post, Facebook has this data. Any time a user messages a friend or makes a purchase or donation through the platform, Facebook has this data too.

Facebook has collected all of this information from users interacting on the platform to build a complex data profile. This data profile has a section that focuses specifically on advertising interests. (If you’re interested in learning more, you can download your own personal user data profile to see just how extensive this profile can be.)

Even though you won’t have access to data from third-party advertisers, your business is still able to leverage all of the data that Facebook pulls from its users’ interactions and engagements on the social media platform. This information alone is enough to help you build a significant customer profile by bringing together interest, locations, and specific keywords.

It’s also worth mentioning that Facebook often makes updates and improvements to its advertising platform to keep its advertisers satisfied. Advertising accounts for a significant portion of the company’s revenue, and they can’t afford to lose advertisers. In fact, advertising currently makes up 88% of Facebook’s total revenue. That’s why the social media giant continually works to improve their advertising platform over time.

What this means for your business is that even with the removal of third-party data from the ad platform, there will most likely be updates in the near future that help account for the lost targeting options. With technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning advancing at a rapid pace, more algorithms and data capabilities will continue to pop up, some of which will no doubt become valuable for improving ad targeting. These advances in technology bring some exciting new possibilities for advertisers.

Even if after all this, you may still feel that you just can’t live without the data you were getting from Facebook’s advertising partners. Just because Facebook has eliminated partner categories from its targeting options does not mean that you can’t contact the data firm directly to get the in-depth analysis you want on your target consumers. If you feel that your business is unable to launch a successful social media ad campaign without this data, then you can work directly with these third-party data brokers to access it.

How to Make the Most of Facebook Ad Targeting Changes

If you relied on third-party data through partner categories for your Facebook ad targeting, you will need to start making changes to your Facebook ads strategy to account for this shift in data usage. Here are a few things to keep in mind while adjusting your Facebook ad strategy:

1. Use the information that you have at your disposal

When it comes to updating your Facebook ads strategy to account for the lack of third-party data, you’ll need to consider what types of information you still have access to that you can work with for targeting. Then, you can create a targeting strategy around this information.

For one, you will still be able to target user interests. Consider what your target buyers like and what interests they may have indicated on the social media platform. Though a home services company may not be able to target homeowners directly, the business can still dive deep into their own information about consumer interests to deliver targeted ad content.

For instance, the home services company might target Facebook users that like certain magazines or television networks like Better Homes and Gardens and HGTV. This type of media indicates an interest in home improvement. The company could also target users that like specific pages about home improvement such as brands like Home Depot or influencers like Bob Vila.

To find connections like these that are relevant and helpful for Facebook ads targeting, you’ll need to make sure that you have done your target audience research. Buyer personas come in handy here because they may give you new insight into your customers that you might not have considered before.

2. Get creative with your ad targeting options

With third-party data eliminated from Facebook’s advertising platform, you may have to get a little more creative with your ad targeting. Let’s use the example above of the home services company that used to target homeowners on Facebook. What else might this business be able to do to reach their target audience besides interest targeting?

Well, you could target consumers who have shown an interest in your competitors. When a consumer likes a competitor’s page, this is a good indication that they are interested in the same types of products or services that your business offers. By targeting Facebook users who like competitor pages, you can expand your reach in the target market and give consumers another option.

Another Facebook ads targeting option is retargeting or reaching back out to customers who have visited your site. Retargeting is one of the most successful ways to reach and convert qualified leads on Facebook. After you have placed the Facebook pixel on your company’s site, you’ll be able to reach back out to customers who leave your site without making a purchase and deliver targeted ad content that encourages them to convert.

Yet another option is to use Facebook Lookalike Audiences to target relevant consumers on the social media platform. Lookalike audiences are groups of people on Facebook who are very similar to your current customers. Using Facebook Lookalike Audiences can help you take advantage of connections that you may not have even thought of by reaching customers that share similar interests and traits as your best customers.

3. Collect more of your own customer data

With these changes in the Facebook ads targeting options, it becomes all the more critical for businesses to collect their own data from customers. Though you can work directly with third-party data brokers to recover some of the data lost in the Facebook ad platform changes, this just isn’t an option for most small to medium-sized businesses with limited budgets.

The best way to make up for this lost customer data is to gather it yourself. Though this can be a time-intensive process, it is worthwhile in the end because it helps your business learn more about the people you serve. The more you learn about your customers, the better you will be able to provide them with the information and insight they need to make more informed purchasing decisions.

The first step in this process is to work on building long-lasting relationships with your customers. By providing a valuable customer experience, you can build trust with consumers in your target audience. This trust will go a long way in helping you build stronger relationships with consumers and encourage them to engage with your brand and opt-in to provide you with more information.

Once you have a group of happy customers that your brand has worked to establish a strong relationship with, it will be easier for your business to get insights and information from these consumers. Whether you are getting their contact information in exchange for valuable content like gated e-books or simply sending out a survey that asks questions about their interests and buying behaviors, your business will be on its way to building complex data profiles in no time.

4. Consider shifting some of your advertising budget to other ad platforms

Remember, Facebook is not your only option for reaching new leads online. Though social media advertising plays a vital role in your overall digital marketing strategy, it is only one piece of the puzzle. If your business relied heavily on Facebook partner categories for your social media ad targeting, it might be time to consider shifting some of your ad budget to other channels.

Businesses today have a wide variety of effective avenues available to them for online advertising. If you find that despite your best efforts, your Facebook ads are just not as successful as they used to be, then it may be time to use some of that ad budget on a channel that offers a more significant return on investment.

Facebook Ads and SEM: Leveraging Data from Multiple Ad Platforms

With these changes in Facebook ads targeting, it has become more critical than ever for businesses to take an integrated approach to online marketing. In the end, the goal is to reach as many of your target buyers online as possible while making efficient use of your advertising budget. The most effective way to do this is to leverage data from both the Facebook ad platform and your search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns to improve your targeting, relevancy, and reach.

Aligning Facebook advertising and SEM efforts helps advertisers deliver more personalized and relevant content to consumers while maximizing their budget. By looking at both search engine marketing and social media ad campaigns, your business can better understand useful targeting options for your audience like geo-targeting and targeting by device. You can use the data and insights you gain from your social media and SEM campaigns to enrich the other.

Final Takeaways

Though the Facebook ads targeting options are changing, there is no reason for businesses to panic. Even if you rely on Facebook ads to reach your audience online, you will still have access to a wealth of data that will help you understand and connect with your target buyers. Not to mention, you can leverage data across your social media and SEM ad platforms to get more out of your advertising budget.