The Future of Meta Ads Targeting

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…

1. Thousands of interests removed.

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 audience 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 Advantage+ Audience, predictable confusion resulted. There are now four different features that sound like nearly the same thing.

1. Advantage Detailed Targeting: 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. Advantage Lookalike: If Meta’s systems believe that better performance is available beyond the lookalike percentage that you’ve selected, your lookalike audience can be dynamically expanded.

3. Advantage Custom Audience: 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 conversions, 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), 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.

Advantage Detailed Targeting

We’re starting to see signs of this related to Advantage+ Placements. Meta, at the very least, wants to discourage adjusting from the default.

Advantage+ Placements

You have limited ability to make any adjustments to Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns, including targeting. The entire purpose of Tailored Campaign setup is that it’s streamlined and you can’t edit defaults.

Tailored Campaign

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.

Advantage+ Audience

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 objectives 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:

  1. The performance goal
  2. Past conversions
  3. Pixel data
  4. Engagement with prior ads
  5. 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.

Your Turn

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!