In a previous post, I discussed how you should approach Meta ads targeting now. Things have changed quite a bit, and it’s important that you evolve with those changes. But, what does the future of Meta ads targeting look like?
I don’t have a crystal ball. These are all predictions. But, if you’ve been paying attention during the past few years, you’ll likely agree that these predictions are reasonable, if not likely.
Some of you will read this and feel comfortable, knowing that these changes are unlikely to impact you since you’ve adjusted well to the evolution of Meta advertising so far. But I also know that this will make some of you very uncomfortable.
When is the “future,” exactly? I could see some, if not all, of these changes enacted during the coming year. It wouldn’t shock me if some happened suddenly in the very near future.
I have no inside information. It’s always possible I’m wrong. But, here’s what I expect will happen…
Where We’ve Been Heading
We’ve been trending in a natural direction for a few years now…
2. Tracking challenges related to iOS 14 and privacy changes impact remarketing.
3. Meta begins expanding targeting beyond the audiences we’ve selected — first as an option and then by default (in most cases).
4. Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns roll out, which eliminate targeting inputs.
5. Advantage+ Audience targeting rolls out, which allows optional targeting “suggestions.” Otherwise, Meta will find your This is the group of people who can potentially see your ads. You help influence this by adjusting age, gender, location, detailed targeting (interests and behaviors), custom audiences, and more. More based on pixel activity, conversion history, and prior engagement with your ads.
Maybe you’ve resisted it. But there is a very clear, natural progression happening here.
Advantage Audience Expansion Will Be Eliminated
Once Meta started rolling out Meta's AI-powered targeting option. Meta will attempt to find your audience for you based on pixel activity, conversion history, and ad engagement. You can also provide targeting suggestions that Meta will initially prioritize before going broader. More, predictable confusion resulted. There are now four different features that sound like nearly the same thing.
1. When turned on, Meta can expand your audience to reach people beyond the Detailed Targeting (interests and behaviors) that you selected, but only if that expansion is expected to lead to better results. Location, age, gender, and exclusions are hard constraints, and the expanded audience will continue to follow those rules. More: If Meta’s systems believe that better performance is available beyond the detailed targeting inputs you’ve provided, your audience can be dynamically expanded.
2. When turned on, Meta can expand your audience if it believes you can get better results by doing so. That expansion will be achieved by increasing the percentage of your lookalike audience, using the original custom audience for training. More: If Meta’s systems believe that better performance is available beyond the lookalike percentage that you’ve selected, your Lookalike audiences allow advertisers to reach people who are similar to an audience of people already close to you. Lookalike audiences are based on custom Audiences, which tend to include your current customers or people who have engaged with your business. More can be dynamically expanded.
3. When turned on, Meta has the ability to expand targeting beyond your selected custom audience. The location, age, gender, and exclusions that you input will continue to be used as hard constraints. More: If Meta’s systems believe that better performance is available beyond the custom audiences you’ve provided, your audience can be dynamically expanded.
4. Advantage+ Audience: Advertisers have the option of providing targeting suggestions using detailed targeting, lookalike audiences, and custom audiences. Meta will prioritize matching those suggestions prior to moving more broadly.
The differences are subtle. In each case, you provide initial targeting inputs (though with Advantage+ Audience, they are merely suggestions). Meta can expand beyond that audience to get you better results — though, Advantage+ Audience seems to suggest that expansion definitely will happen.
Advantage+ Audience also has the potential to go much broader. And if you don’t provide targeting suggestions, Meta will use your past A conversion is counted whenever a website visitor performs an action that fires a standard event, custom event, or custom conversion. Examples of conversions include purchases, leads, content views, add to cart, and registrations. More, pixel data, and engagement with prior ads to build and evolve your audience.
The typical advertiser will not understand the subtle differences. They also won’t understand that Meta released Advantage+ Audience as the enhancement that is intended to be more effective than the prior three options.
There truly is no reason for Advantage Detailed Targeting, Advantage Lookalike, and Advantage Custom Audience to continue to exist. You can accomplish nearly the same goals (with improved results, according to Meta) by simply using detailed targeting, lookalike audiences, or custom audiences as suggestions — if you use anything at all.
Meta should, and likely will, eliminate those three options. It’s the natural progression, and I’d be surprised if they survived much longer.
Advantage+ Audience Will Become Fixed Default
We’ve seen this progression with other Ads Manager features in the past. Meta makes or plans to make a setting a fixed default. There are protests. Sometimes (like with Advantage Campaign Budget (formerly Campaign Budget Optimization) automatically manages your Facebook campaign budget across ad sets to get you the overall best results. More), Meta backs off.
We’ve seen this with Advantage Detailed Targeting and Advantage Lookalike for specific optimizations. You no longer have the option to turn them off.
We’re starting to see signs of this related to Formerly known as Automatic Placements. When you utilize Advantage+ Placements, Meta will automatically optimize which placements are used and when to get you the most results for your budget. More. Meta, at the very least, wants to discourage adjusting from the default.
You have limited ability to make any adjustments to Advantage+ Shopping The campaign is the foundation of your Facebook ad. This is where you'll set an advertising objective, which defines what you want your ad to achieve. More, including targeting. The entire purpose of Tailored Campaign setup is that it’s streamlined and you can’t edit defaults.
Meta’s process with these decisions is rather straight forward. They analyze results when advertisers use the default and when they make manual adjustments. If results are consistently superior by keeping the default, Meta will either lock it in or make it difficult to change.
At the moment, advertisers have the ability to bypass Advantage+ Audience and use old targeting methods. But it’s not entirely clear and obvious that this is possible. It’s an intentional design decision to discourage these changes.
Meta will surely monitor to compare results when advertisers use Advantage+ Audience vs. the original targeting options. They have some of these results already, which is why we’re seeing the current design.
It’s logical to conclude that, while there may be isolated exceptions based on objective or optimization, the original targeting options will be discontinued. You will still be able to use detailed targeting, lookalike audiences, and custom audiences as targeting inputs during this phase. But they will only be as suggestions.
I can see this happening first with detailed targeting and lookalike audiences. It’s possible that custom audiences without expansion will survive — or at least for now.
Most or All Manual Targeting Inputs Will Be Removed
Why not keep going?
Once again, this isn’t a particularly bold prediction. We’ve seen it already with Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns. You cannot provide any detailed targeting, lookalike audiences, or custom audiences for targeting — even as suggestions.
Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns, according to reports from Meta, have been more effective than prior Sales campaigns optimizing for purchases. If it can work for Sales, why not for other When you create a campaign, one of the first things you'll do is select an objective. The campaign objective is your ultimate goal. Your selection will impact options, including optimization and delivery. Options include Awareness, Traffic, Engagement, Leads, App Promotion, and Sales. More and optimizations?
There will likely come a time when these targeting inputs won’t be possible for any campaign type. Meta will dynamically determine your targeting based on:
- The The Performance Goal is chosen within the ad set and determines optimization and delivery. How you optimize impacts who sees your ad. Meta will show your ad to people most likely to perform your desired action. More
- Past conversions
- Pixel data
- Engagement with prior ads
- Global user engagement data
In a way, detailed targeting will still exist, but only Meta will use it. The data is all there for Meta to find, and your inputs won’t be needed.
I do think this could be problematic given the current Ads Manager structure. Eliminating targeting inputs makes sense for purchases. But Meta may need to provide additional layers of performance goals to provide clarity regarding what you actually want for this to work in other cases.
One could argue that removing targeting inputs could be a smart move for Meta related to privacy and perception, as well. If advertisers are unable to select specific interests and behaviors, the process of delivering ads may seem less “creepy” to non-advertisers.
Maybe Not Now
I can hear the complaints through my computer screen. “This will never work.” There are bound to be reservations about instituting such an approach with Meta’s current advertising feature set. And many of those reservations are valid.
But Meta’s machine learning and AI will only improve. No matter what you think of the effectiveness of Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns, Advantage+ Audience, or any of the audience expansion tools now, think about a year or two from now.
Think about the advancements we’ve seen in AI just this year. A future without targeting inputs shouldn’t seem far-fetched.
Hey, I could be wrong. But I feel strangely confident about these predictions. They don’t feel particularly bold. It’s the natural progression of where we’ve been and where we appear to be heading.
What do you think of these predictions for the future of Meta ads targeting?
Let me know in the comments below!