Facebook Interest Targeting: How Your Profile is Targeted (The Good and Bad)

As I hear the stories of marketers of brands big and small, it’s one of the preferred methods of targeting with Facebook ads remains interests. Even those with big budgets are putting their trust in Facebook to find those people most likely to convert based on related activity on the platform.

When it comes to targeting my ideal audience with Facebook ads, I’ve always seen interest targeting as the last resort. When given the option, I’d strongly prefer reaching someone who is already connected to me (visits my website, is on my email list or engages with my Facebook page) to someone who might be a fit based on Facebook’s interest matching.

One of the primary reasons for this is certainty. I have a level of certainty that when targeting someone connected to me that the content I show them will be accepted or embraced. But when targeting interests, I have a very low level of certainty that the people I’m reaching will act.

The low level of certainty is due to the often vague nature of interests and how they are assembled. Why might someone have the “Digital Marketing” interest, for example? According to Facebook, it’s because they think digital marketing may be relevant to them based on what they do on Facebook, such as pages liked and ads clicked.

But that’s a pretty vague explanation. And depending on the nature of a page or an ad, someone may like a page or click on an ad for any number of reasons — not necessarily because they have an interest in the category of content that is supposedly associated with it.

I’ve had my doubts about interest targeting, but this was mostly based on theory and advertising results. Interestingly enough, Facebook provides very clear evidence for the potential pitfalls of interest targeting.

Your Ad Preferences

It’s unlikely you know this exists, but Facebook is transparent about what interests they have associated with your profile for the purposes of ad targeting. You can review and adjust these within your ad preferences.

Facebook Ad Preferences

Facebook breaks down your ad preferences into a few sections:

  • Your Interests
  • Advertisers and Businesses
  • Your Information
  • Ad Settings
  • Ad Topics

My primary focus for this post is the “Your Interests” section, which attempts to understand what you’re interested in based on activity on Facebook.

Facebook categorizes your interests into the following groups:

  • News and Entertainment
  • Business and Industry
  • Sports and Outdoors
  • People
  • Travel, Places and Events
  • Technology
  • Hobbies and Activities
  • Food and Drink
  • Education
  • Fitness and Wellness
  • Shopping and Fashion
  • Family and Relationships
  • Lifestyle and Culter
  • Other
  • Removed Interests

Within that page, you can remove preferences you believe aren’t relevant. And no, if you’re wondering: Removing all ad preferences won’t mean that no one can target you with ads. It just means you won’t see ads that are interesting to you.

Going through my list of interests for the first time a few years ago was eye-opening. There were 590 in all — some that were eerily relevant and others that made no sense at all.

Of those that were relevant, many were outdated. It was clear that these preferences were at least partially based on things I listed on my profile years ago — or possibly things I interacted with in the distant past. I’ve been on Facebook for more than a decade now, so my tastes have certainly evolved.

I decided to remove the interests that were furthest from a match. The result: My list of 590 interests was trimmed down to 338. Let’s take a closer look at how well (and not-so-well) Facebook knows me.

The Good Matches

Keep in mind that I kept a lot of very loosely connected interests. But here’s a collection of a few of the interests that are particularly strong matches:

  • baseball coach
  • Baseball-Reference.com
  • Digital marketing
  • Facebook Ads
  • Facebook for Business
  • My Son Plays Baseball
  • Power Editor
  • Parents with Teenagers
  • Facebook Page Admins
  • Drunk History
  • Superbad
  • The Godfather
  • Workaholics
  • Curtis Mayfield
  • Baseball Statistics
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Milwaukee Brewers

Well done, Facebook. Again, much of this is simply from me telling Facebook what interests me in my profile or by interacting with content in my News Feed. But some strong connections here.

Facebook Ad Preferences

The Bad Matches

Keep in mind, though, that I removed nearly half of the interests associated with me. Some were ridiculously general. Others are of no interest to me at all.

Here’s a fun sampling:

  • Concierge
  • Elevation
  • Goal
  • Mile
  • Speaker (politics)
  • Surveying
  • Yahoo!
  • Yahoo! Homes
  • Skill
  • Beverages
  • Drinks
  • Food
  • Lemon
  • Beaver
  • Caribou
  • Grass
  • Hour
  • Lion
  • Mammal
  • Million
  • Lisa Simpson
  • Yahoo! Messenger

I can’t help but chuckle at these, and this is really just scratching the surface. I’m sure I used Yahoo! products 10 years ago, but targeting me now for Yahoo! Messenger is pretty funny.

My favorite: Grass. I apparently have an interest in grass!

I apparently have an interest in both witchcraft and decision-making. Ummmm… Okay?

Facebook Ad Preferences

I really can’t even begin to understand why some of these were selected for me. It certainly underscores the inherent issues with trusting Facebook to find people who have interests related to your product or industry.

Your Turn

Go ahead and take a look at your ad preferences. What do you see? Is it relevant? Are there good matches? What are some of the funnier ones?

Let me know in the comments below!