The Death of Facebook Interest Targeting: Shifting Budget Priorities

Facebook Interest Targeting

[AUDIO VERSION: As an experiment, I also recorded an audio version of this blog post. Click below to listen. Let me know if this is something you find helpful!]

I don’t like making things black and white. There is a time and place for interest targeting in Facebook ads. But it’s far less central to my advertising than it once was.

This isn’t because it’s necessarily less effective than before (though some may disagree since the merger of precise and broad interest targeting). It’s more about the emergence of better options that has made interest targeting less necessary.

The purpose of this post is to explore why interest targeting is dropping in priority and align the types of targeting you should be using instead.

What is Interest Targeting?

I shouldn’t assume you know what I’m talking about here.

When creating an ad in Power Editor or the self-serve ad tool, you’re able to list interests to target.

Facebook Interest Targeting

As you can see in this screen grab, this allows me to target “people who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to” particular people or brands.

While this does include people who like these pages, it also includes users interacting with them.

The Weaknesses of Interest Targeting

First of all, the merger of interest targeting (combining precise and #interests) has caused a headache for some marketers. I’ve heard of examples where the potential audience targeted has multiplied as a result. Bigger is not always better in this case.

Now, that’s also why it was important to be targeting a very specific interest to start. For example, I was targeting a group of brands that includes Mari Smith, Amy Porterfield and Social Media Examiner. The audiences for those interests changed very little, if at all. But if you targeted something more broadly (like “social media marketing”) you’ve likely seen effectiveness decrease.

The second major weakness of interest targeting is that you are putting a great deal of faith in the brands you focus on. You assume they built a highly relevant audience that would be interested in your brand, but what if their fans were bought or brought in through poorly targeted advertising?

You guessed it, you may be accidentally running ads targeted at bots and fake accounts. There’s little way of knowing how a brand built their audience, so you take a bit of a risk by targeting it.

The New Facebook Ads Targeting Priority

Interest targeting now only needs to be done when you have no other options. The truth is that you can very easily target users who already have a connection to your brand.

Here’s how I prioritize the type of targeting I’ll use with Facebook ads…

1. Fans: Some will scoff at paying to reach your fans. Such people don’t have a proper understanding of Facebook, and don’t grasp how valuable this group of people can be.

Yes, you should pay to build your fan base with ads. Yes, you will reach them organically. And no, you won’t reach every fan with a single post.

When you understand how Facebook works, you know that expecting a high percentage of your fans to read a single post is unreasonable. But if you promote it, you can reach more.

These are the people most likely to buy from you. I’ve found it time and time again. You can get incredibly high ROI when running ads promoting your product to your fans.

Sure, you could just share an organic post to this group. But, as you know, you likely won’t get 10% of your fans to see it organically. So why not promote the post if it is likely to result in positive ROI?

I always scratch my head when I hear a marketer tell me they pay for Facebook ads, but don’t promote anything to their fans. You’re leaving money on the table!

2. Custom Audiences (Email Subscribers): This is likely your most valuable list. This includes not only those who subscribed to your newsletter, but those who bought from you.

Create ads that target your email subscribers who aren’t currently fans. Do this to increase your fan base, but also do it to promote posts and sell products.

You may wonder why I list your current customers second after fans even though I mentioned this is your most important list. I’ve personally found that fans respond best on Facebook — they expect to see you in their News Feed and provide the most positive feedback. It’s all about context.

That doesn’t mean that email subscribers who aren’t fans don’t want to see you. It’s just that, in my experience, this group doesn’t get me quite the response that I get from fans.

When you target this group, make sure to exclude fans. There’s no reason to hit them twice. Run ads to get them to like your page, read a blog post or buy a product.

3. Website Custom Audiences (Website Visitors): You have no idea how happy I am that this feature is available.

Very few of your website visitors are subscribers to your email list. Or, more precisely, this is the case if you get much traffic from places other than your email list (60% of my traffic comes from Google).

As a result, this feature fills a gaping hole. Without it, you could target your fans and email subscribers, but there were still potentially huge numbers of users who read your content but who are not being targeted in your ads.

In a little over two weeks, my base Website Custom Audience has nearly 100,000 users on it. That’s 100,000 unique users who have visited my website and are on Facebook.

Considering there are only 16,000 people on my email list and about 40,000 people who like my Facebook page, that means there are at least 44,000 new people being targeted who are familiar with my content.

And what better group to target when promoting a post than someone who has recently visited my website? You could make an argument that this may be even more relevant than your fan base when it comes to post promotion.

The beauty of WCA is that you can promote a post while also excluding those who already read it. That’s being efficient and limiting waste!

Of course, you should also target website visitors who aren’t fans and try to convert them. And they are also likely buyers, so you should target them when promoting products.

An example of this is my ad that promotes my one-on-one service

Facebook WCA One-on-One Ad

4. Lookalike Audiences: It’s a very short step from Lookalike Audiences to interest targeting, but I prioritize lookalikes first.

If you aren’t familiar with Lookalike Audiences, this is when Facebook generates an audience of users you can target who are similar to one of your Custom Audiences. We can assume they do this by combing through mounds of data that will include interests, demographics and more.

The key here is that you aren’t guessing which brands to target. You are using your proven customers or website visitors as the starting point for this lookalike audience list.

While I rarely target Lookalike Audiences when selling products, I will target them when building my fan base, promoting an especially popular post or driving registrations for a free webinar.

5. Interests: And that brings us here.

As you can see, there are four really good targeting options before you even get to interests. I still target interests, but I put a smaller percentage of my budget into them than I once did.

I use Graph Search to help me find the interests to target. And I’ll also cross interests with users on Lookalike Audience lists (users on a Lookalike Audience also connected with certain interests) to make that targeting more relevant.

This is mainly for audience building now, though it isn’t as effective as targeting website visitors who aren’t fans. And I’ll also occasionally target people by interests to promote posts.

The Evolution of Your Facebook Ads Targeting

Now, I also understand that the first four targeting types may not always be much of an option.

Let’s assume that you just started both your business and your page. In that case, you don’t have fans yet. Your email list is just getting started. And traffic to your website may be nonexistent.

So in the beginning, the bulk of your budget may go in this order:

  1. Interests
  2. Lookalike Audiences
  3. Fans
  4. Custom Audiences
  5. Website Custom Audiences

That doesn’t change the priority list. That order remains the same. It’s just that you’re going to exhaust that list so quickly that you need to expand the net to grow.

This is also why it’s so important to not only build your fan base, but grow your email list and website traffic as well. The more people who visit your website and subscribe to your newsletter, the larger the relevant audience of people you can target.

As you grow, more and more of your budget should go towards targeting your fans, email list and website visitors, shifting away from interests and lookalikes.

Your Turn

How much of your budget do you dedicate to targeting interests versus the other methods?

Let me know in the comments below!

  • Collin Davis

    Just a question here Jon, how does Facebook know the audiences that have already visited my website? Do you need to place a specific pixel or tracking code for this ??

    Or does Facebook take this data only from logged in Facebook users visiting website??

    • Jon Loomer

      Hey, Collin. Read my post(s) on Website Custom Audiences. Yes, a pixel is involved!

      • Collin Davis

        Yes Jon..have started reading and it all seems so very exciting the things that can be done with Facebook ads :) Thanks once again for the fantastic knowledge you share for free :)

  • Jacob Curtis

    Great post, Jon. Will be sharing to my friends first thing tomorrow. Just wanted to comment on the recorded audio version test — nicely done! I’ve seen more and more blogs utilizing the audio feature. Just like your video series, I’m excited to see how this develops. I like it! Keep it up!

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Jacob!

  • Sean Flanagan

    Enjoyed the audio too! Good stuff.

    • Jon Loomer

      Awesome! Thanks, Sean!

  • Kyle Battis

    Hey Jon, LOVED the audio version of your Blog post. My vote is to keep that up. Great info

    • Jon Loomer

      Great! Thanks for the feedback, Kyle!

  • Eran Malloch

    Hi Jon. Thanks for your insight – always helpful. I have heard a “rumor” that FB will probably introduce additional targeting options (for ads) that are more Graph Search related in perhaps a few months. This will probably put all the UID scrapers out of business and make it “legal” for us to get very focussed. Have you heard anything similar? That would be incredibly helpful AND powerful if they introduced it.

    • Jon Loomer

      There are a bunch of changes coming, which is making it impossible to update my Power Editor course. But I’ve heard rumors too.

  • sidster

    “I always scratch my head when I hear a marketer tell me they pay for Facebook ads, but don’t promote anything to their fans. You’re leaving money on the table!”

    Um, nope. For people like me who do affiliate marketing via FB pages, the numbers don’t add up to do promoted posts.

    I get 10-20% reach on a post with an affiliate link (and this is for a very hungry niche with a quality fanbase). That’s reach of my fans even if it goes viral (virality of an affiliate link post means very little as it is my own fans who buy – there is little correlation between virality of an affiliate link post and clicks on the link for my pages).

    So, let’s say for simplicity sake I get 15% reach of my fans. Historically, the CTR tends to be around 2% to the link from a FB post. So if I have a page with 20,000 quality fans, then 60 people will click on the link. Figure a conversion rate around 3%, and that’s about 2 sales.

    So, 2 sales. A lot of my products are in the $20-$30 range (you’re not going to be moving TV sets and computers daily on FB and even if you did somehow, the conversion rate would be miniscule). So, say $30 multiplied by 2 sales multiplied by a commission of ~10% equals a whopping $6.

    Now, if I pay to promote a post, that will wipe out the $6 commission I make, which results in a negative ROI.

    Finally, and this is important, many affiliate programs from trusted companies (Amazon, etc.) forbid PPC ads, which arguably knocks out promoted posts from consideration.

  • Arthur Rose

    Hi Jon, as a beginner to FB marketing, this post has been EXTREMELY useful.
    Do you have a complete FB marketing course? Can’t afford your one-on-one session right now, but really like your teaching style…Thanks!

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks, Arthur! Right now I have my Power Editor course and my Insights course. The Power Editor course will eventually be broken into two (Power Editor and General Facebook Ads) with the addition of a third course for self-serve ad tool.

      Courses will keep coming. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Julie Lowe

    I liked having the audio version! I wouldn’t have had time to read the post yet this morning, but I was able to listen while I was working on other things, so that was great to have! Question about WCA – how much site traffic do you think you need to make that work effectively? If I have a small amount of traffic, could I go ahead and use it, but just combine the targeting w/ another list – like my email list – to get more reach? Thanks!

    • Jon Loomer

      Go ahead and use it! The one nice thing is that you can use durations up to 180 days. The way I see it, the smaller the audience on a day-to-day basis, the higher the duration should be. Budget should also be a consideration there. If you want to reach more people and are willing to spend, you’ll need to increase the duration.

      An example is my main WCA, which is now 100,000 strong. I’m going to experiment, but I expect that shorter durations (and smaller audiences) will be more effective than using the full 100,000.

      And I’m glad you like the audio version!

      • Julie Lowe

        Thanks, Jon!

  • Grant Perry

    Excellent article as always. Like most of what you write I’m basically in full agreement. I’m still using interest based targeting, basically for my lead gen (email signup) campaigns. In my case it’s targeting Americans and Canadians with an interest in a certain country (e.g #Mexico or #Belize) and offering a free guide on how to retire or travel better there.

    I find fans, custom and lookalike audiences better for direct sales or excluding existing customers.

    Basically, they all still have a place in the mix. I’ve been supposedly given access to WCA but still can’t see the option in the Power Editor. I’m like a rabid dog waiting for it…

    • Jon Loomer

      Very true, Grant. I haven’t completely phased out interest targeting myself yet. But definitely low on that priority list!

  • Robert A Lyon

    For me personally, I’d go in this order when it comes to post medium: text, video, audio. The reason is time. With that said, I have a couple reader friends who travel and always listen to audio books. I also know an author who claims to have built his core followers through podcasting, so I guess it really depends on the individual. Good post.

    • Jon Loomer

      You bet! My main concern is reaching people the way they want to be reached. That doesn’t mean replacing text with video or video with audio. Just trying to be everywhere.

      Thanks for the feedback, Robert!

  • dirkboz

    Great topic! I think it depends on the goals of your ads. I primarily use FB ads for lead gen, so interests are still my primary targeting method. I’ve found other advertising platforms that can compete with FB ads when it comes to targeting existing customers (email lists, website visitors, etc.), but haven’t found anything that comes close to FB ads when it comes to going after new customers based on their interests and demographics.

    • Jon Loomer

      Good points Dirk!

  • Jon Bjork

    Nice summary getting us up to date with interest targeting. The change confused me a first, because I would love to have poached off other fan page’s fans. And thanks for addressing the evolution from startup to success.

    • Jon Loomer

      You bet Jon! And make sure you listen to this weekend’s Pubcast!

      • Jon Bjork

        :-) I don’t miss any of them… Cheers!

  • Devin Mason

    The audio version is great. It makes it easier to follow along with your additional commentary. Audio definitely makes it easier to multitask. I hope you keep doing it.

    • Jon Loomer

      Great! Love hearing that!

  • Michelle Pescosolido

    I would say 75% of my budget goes to promoting to my fans and 25% to my blog visitors using WCA. Great article on the breakdown and you brought up a very good point, we don’t know how a particular interest we are targeting got their followers. Definitely one of the big reasons why I don’t do this type of targeting. FYI….I didn’t listen to your audio post, just in case you were wondering ;)

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Michelle!

  • Mtn Jim Fisher

    love the audio Jon! and great info on how you target, thanks.

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Jim!

  • Leah Mazur

    Very useful article as usual, Jon! Thanks for sharing

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Leah!

  • Justin Brooke

    Really depends on your business model and goals.

    If you have a small budget, just getting started, or trying to engage your warm audience, then precise interests fall to the back of the line.

    However, for a business that is trying to grow, has products to sell, and employees to pay, #1 priority is new acquisitions. Precise interests are a goldmine for driving new lead and customer acquisitions.

    We spend a little over $150k per month on ads and precise interests are our most important targeting feature on Facebook. Without them we would never be able to drive the 10,000+ clicks and 3,000+ leads per day that we are driving for our clients.

    For a growth focused business I would put precise interests first and the rest of the options 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th as ways to recycle, reengage, and build rapport with all the new visitors that precise interests are bringing in.

  • Eric Moran

    I’m loving the podcast Jon. As much as I like you having guests on, you provide plenty of insight and are obviously comfortable recording alone as well.

    The only complaint I have is your beer selection – we need to work on that. I’d be more than happy to send you some prime selections from the finest Northern California breweries if you have an address to flip over. Otherwise, keep doing what you do and thank you for the help!

    • Jon Loomer

      I actually drink a glass of red wine this week because it was sent to me. My drink selection can be “bought.” ;)

      • Eric Moran

        Shoot me an address and it’s done! (I’d imagine you don’t just give it out to random weirdos who critique your beer selection – if you have a PO Box that would work :) )

  • Aaron Friedman

    Great post Jon! And I really liked the audio feature… I can actually get work done, while listening to your audio—then reference your written post when putting your tips to use.

  • Renato

    Great article! But I couldn’t find the part about merger of precise and broad interest targeting on the link you gave us (10 Very Recent Facebook Changes You May Have Missed). Can you tell me where it is? Thanks!

    • Jon Loomer

      I was pointing to the wrong link. Try again!

  • Anthony Nitz

    Jon, my business is hyper local so aside from marketing to my fans and
    email list custom audiences I do put a lot of focus on interests for the
    following reason. I pick local venues such as churches, schools,
    workplaces etc that I know the only reason they like them is because
    they had to have gone there or they live with someone who does. In this
    case I think Interests work great to build my fan base and because I
    can run a highly targeted ad to that interest group. Example, I ran an
    ad to a church group. I overlayed a picture of me with the church behind
    me in the distance and suddenly I was getting calls from that group.

  • Andrew

    For customer acquisition (esp small guys, or a new growing business) interest targeting is still a very important tool. The other methods you describes relies on good mailing lists, strong traffic. I think the issue is, we are missing a Quality Assurance step. In our case we literally spot checks new fans or new post engagements. For example we check if the fans interact with our competitors or related pages. We found post comments tend not to be bots.

  • Chris Hoffman

    Loved the audio version. Really nice feature.

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Chris!

  • Kev

    Here from the 11 min podcast. Really good, bite size ,post. Love the format of short clips.

    /interest link didn’t work in the podcast description

    • Jon Loomer

      /interest should work. I may have said /interests in the audio, but I’m not able to use that.

  • Antonio Calero

    CA and WCA are great for brands with tons of traffic and/or subscribers, but for those starting could be not so useful – not even when combined with Lookalike Audiences. And I think that’s when Interest targeting could be an alternative. However, as you mention, it is not an easy thing to master and it requires a lot of attention. In my experience I’ve seen that sometimes less is more, and running 2 campaigns with different and small target audiences could be more effective than running one single campaign with a massive audience.

    • Antonio Calero

      PS: I think the audio is a good thing as it allows listening to the post whilst doing other tasks. And if it doesn’t take much of your time, I’d leave it.

      • Jon Loomer

        Thanks Antonio!

    • Jon Loomer

      Well, it’s also why brands with smaller audiences should make use of the longer durations of WCAs.

  • Monica McPherrin

    I loved having a recorded version Jon. I hope you’ll continue to do it. It’s easier for me to hear it and understand than to just read it. I tend to skim too much.
    Great topic and very helpful. Appreciate the post.

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Monica!

  • Kris de Leon

    Great post Jon. I don’t often target our fans when it’s time to promote offers, so I should start experimenting with that. Our highest converting target group has always been the lookalike audience, so I’d like to compare conversions with the fans group.

  • Teagan

    Hi Jon,
    I am based in Sydney, Australia, and from what I can see, we are a little behind on some of these features. I am not sure if I am missing something super obvious, but I am pretty sure I cant asscess or dont have the graph search feature. Furthermore I definitly havent got the WCA fetaure either, which is a bit frustating as it semes like a really useful feature! Any idea when this may be rolled out? Or should I have it already (particulary the graph search)?
    Thanks, love you work

    • Jon Loomer

      Graph Search in particular has been slow, Teagan. Really can’t tell you when Facebook will roll out any feature globally.

    • Zach LaPerriere

      Hi Teagan,
      Have you tried switching your FB account to US English? That’s worked for a number of people I know outside the US. I myself am in the US but somehow had British English set up, and didn’t get Graph Search until a few months ago when I realized my mistake.

      • Teagan

        Thanks Zac I will definitely give that a go. I knew we were a little behind down here but this is a bit silly! :)

  • Gaurav Mendiratta

    Great Post Jon! We have experiences similar to @dirkboz:disqus. We still mostly use Interest targeting. We are now getting into retargeting through FBX. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Jon Loomer

      FBX is fine, but why not Website Custom Audiences?

      • Gaurav Mendiratta

        It still does not show in my ad account. Do you think its a good replacement for FBX?

  • Precious Valenzuela

    Does this work for countries outside the US?

    • Jon Loomer

      It does, but it’s a roll-out.

  • Jim Park

    I noticed that Facebook took out the Website Custom Audience from the list to choose from. Do you think it’s temporary or the beta period is over?

    • Jon Loomer

      No, I have it back. Just make sure you’re going far enough because Facebook changed the flow. After clicking Create Custom Audience, click the Custom Audience option.

  • Nitish Dhiman

    Great Post @jonloomer:disqus

  • Sarah Pinnix

    Thanks for this. Loved the audio because I like to multitask my other work while my brain listens to instruction.

  • David Johnson

    The audio post is awesome… Great Idea!

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks David!

  • Andrew Voirol

    The Social DinerPromote Your Page Too Just testing something (ignore me)

  • Selena Thurbon

    LOVE the audio version – I have time to listen to your blogs, but often don’t have time to read them!! As I have subscribed to your pubcast, these are automatically coming thru to my downloaded audios!! Also like the fact that they are not TOO long! Keep up the great work Jon!

    • Jon Loomer

      Thanks Selena!

  • gopinathpara

    Great Post Jon! i’m actually trying to get the best results to my campaigns on facebook. We are running some ad campaigns for a life coach.our targeted audiences are CEO,business owner kind peoples who are making lot of money but struggling with maintain balance between business and personal things. what are the suggestion would you made to achieve exact targeting ? our current targeting
    Location: Miami (+25 mi), Florida, United States (For another campaign overall USA)
    Age: 29 and older
    Gender: male (we are running different campaigns for men and women)
    Interests: Acting, Meditation, Yoga, Karma, Business, Actor, life coaching or ceo founder
    Category: broad category Small business page owners

    Do you have any suggestion to make ?

    • KoaKoa

      After one year, do you have any suggestions for realize this goal? For me, FB doesn’t want my ads for a life coach but i don’t know why…

  • Barry Nicholson

    Another excellent, relevant post. I just encountered this situation yesterday…a client starting with no list, wondering how to budget for various targets, etc. This spells it all out. Thanks for being awesome :)

  • Anthony Porter

    See something told me not to bother with the interest section… Thanks for your valuable words of wisdom Jon! I actually found you from google! “How to advertise on a budget” … You came up first buddy! Now I have to work on people who search “How to save tons of money spending for my small business” and “Statewide Technical Consultants” shows up first ;-)

  • Dani Siregar

    Interest targeting is fifth in priority for my Facebook ads targeting. Here’s the list and why… Suprised!! :D

  • Courtney Engle Robertson

    I’m hunting for a way to advertise to fans of an author’s page that will be speaking for my organization. It isn’t really competition, but finding the author’s local fans that would want to know about the event. Any suggestions?

  • MarcellusWallace

    Hey Jon, how can I tell Facebook whether a user has paid or has signed up for my service? Do I need different pixels?

  • Joe

    “Create ads that target your email subscribers ”
    Can someone shed some light on how this happens exactly? It sounds like I’m handing my list of emails over to facebook?

  • napkin_marketing

    I loved the audio version too.. I can let it play while I multi-task and clean the kitchen! Hey a marketer needs to do these things at home too!
    Jon- have you noticed that in the regular facebook ad tool (not the facebook ad editor), certain FB pages youre trying to target in “Interests” are no longer coming up? I used to be able to enter just about every FB page I want to target into Interests for an advertiser and have it come up. But now some very prominent FB will not display at all in interests. Have you encountered this?

  • Sheryl

    I posted an ad for a local political group using geographical and interest targeting to reach local users of similar ideals. (The group’s Facebook page is brand new, and they have no email lists or website user data.) Facebook estimated that their budget would reach 1,400 to 4,000 users a day. Instead, it reached 96 in its first two days, and 53 on the last day, consuming barely 1% of our set budget. Any idea what went wrong?

    I tried editing the interest list and got an error message. Emailed Facebook and got a response asking for a screencast, which I sent five days ago, and they never responded. Very frustrated with them right now. :/

  • Jayna Armstrong

    Love the audio option!

  • Isabele Bianco

    Facebook interests literally is gone. No one sees it more in their campaigns. Does anyone know what’s going on?

  • danielgrant

    First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics , i will be always checking your blog thanks.Google

  • Shahrina Shaharin

    Great content Jon. I love how you elaborate it

  • Sunni Sukumar

    Hi Jon, I love the audio version of the blog post. Really helps me absorb the information at a deeper level to hear the intonation / pacing in your voice. And you gave me some solid insights into targeting priorities, too. Thank you!