Meta’s Removal of Detailed Targeting is a Reminder of What’s to Come

Meta announced that more detailed targeting options will be removed on January 15th. It’s the continuation of a trend that began more than three years ago.

Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This is a reminder that you cannot rely heavily on granular targeting. Not only might it go away, but your targeting inputs matter less and less with each new update.

I didn’t write this post to scare you. Instead, I’m hoping to break through to help you understand what’s happening and is bound to happen. It’s time to embrace this direction and prepare for it.

Targeting Trends

It’s debatable when the first shoe dropped related to the current direction of targeting. From about 2012-15, the focus was on developing new powerfully specific ways to target people. New detailed targeting to reach people by actions and behaviors. New custom audiences to reach those who have engaged with you. All focused on your inputs.

Maybe things didn’t officially start shifting during the election season of 2015, but that’s certainly when the seeds of change were planted. The use of targeting to manipulate elections attracted scrutiny. Meta (then Facebook) found itself under significant regulatory pressure.

Cambridge Analytica surely contributed to greater awareness of ways people were being tracked and how it was used for targeted advertising. Meta developed new rules for special ad categories that were aimed at preventing discrimination in the areas of employment, credit, and real estate.

Then iOS 14 happened a few years later, and doubts emerged around how accurate and complete some of our ad targeting was. Meta took an interest in machine learning, AI, and modeling to help repair lost data and fill in the gaps.

Meta performed a sweep to remove certain ad targeting options in the early parts of 2022. Those removals focused on “detailed targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation.”

The removal of those targeting options feels like deja vu now.

During the past couple of years, Meta launched several products that helped clarify the path that we’re on…

1. Advantage Targeting Expansion Tools. Meta launched Advantage Detailed Targeting, Advantage Lookalike, and Advantage Custom Audience. When used, Meta can expand your audience beyond your targeting inputs if more or better results can be found. In some cases, it’s an option that you can turn off. In others, expansion is on by default.

Advantage Detailed Targeting

2. Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns. Meta launched its advancements in machine learning and AI to help e-commerce advertisers. When running Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns, no advertising inputs are provided at all beyond a cap on reaching current customers. Instead, Meta relies on signals and historical data.

Advantage+ Shopping

3. Advantage+ Audience. Meta applied what it was doing with Advantage+ Shopping to create a version for any objective. Advantage+ Audience allows you the option of providing targeting suggestions, with the expectation that delivery can go much broader. If you don’t provide suggestions, the algorithm will focus on pixel data and conversion history as a starting point.

Advantage+ Audience

While you can switch back to the old targeting method, Advantage+ Audience is now the default approach.

We could even include Chrome’s phaseout of third-party cookies in 2024 as another critical change that is likely to impact how targeting happens.

Targeting Today

Given all of these trends, the picture of targeting today looks like this…

1. You have fewer detailed targeting options than ever before.

2. Your targeting inputs aren’t always required.

3. When provided, your targeting inputs mean less than ever before because the algorithm can and will go broader.

These are facts and are not debatable. Whether or not you insist on using granular targeting options and you believe they are more effective does not matter. In some cases, the impact of those granular inputs are probably far less than you think because the audience is expanded. In others, you may actually hurt your results by refusing to evolve with the trends.

That isn’t to say that broad targeting works 100% of the time for all advertisers and you should never use granular targeting. Instead, know that the way you are targeting opposes the way Meta wants. That will eventually catch up to you.

What’s to Come

Unless something shocking happens, we’re heading in a rather obvious direction.

1. It’s quite possible that Meta will repurpose Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns for other objectives (this is already in the works for leads). This means the possible removal of all targeting inputs. Before you consider it a bad idea, this also assumes that Meta’s delivery algorithm improves to make it possible.

2. If not #1, Advantage+ Audience becomes the default requirement. No more switching to the old targeting methods. Any targeting inputs you provide, regardless of the objective, will be suggestions only.

3. Detailed targeting options continue to dwindle, eventually settling on a broader category of behavior. Again, this assumes that we’ll be able to use detailed targeting at all soon. But if we do, this approach of broader categories makes the most sense since it gives Meta more control over these smaller interests that end up falling into sensitive areas.

What You Should Do

It’s time to be blunt. There’s no stepping around this. You can’t keep targeting the ways that you always have. And frankly, you may be hurting your results if you are.

The first thing you should do is an audit of your current advertising approach. Maybe it worked five years ago. Does it actually make sense now?

And by “making sense,” I don’t just mean that you’re getting good results. It’s possible you’re still getting decent results in spite of yourself. Are you creating five ad sets per campaign for different cold targeting options? Due to targeting expansion, there’s probably way more overlap in that targeting today than there would have been in the past.

Start embracing some of the targeting methods that will continue to be available in the coming months and years. Experiment with Advantage+ Shopping Campaigns if you’re promoting an e-commerce brand. Start using Advantage+ Audience, both with and without targeting suggestions. Does it matter which one you use? Does that approach impact longevity?

Let me be clear that I did not immediately embrace broad targeting. I resisted the initial Advantage Targeting Expansion options when they were released. Over time, I began to see that they did help results (with some exceptions). I now fully embrace Advantage+ Audience with targeting suggestions.

I’m not necessarily saying to completely abandon something if it works, especially if you’re positive that the alternative does not (though I’d question that). Instead, prepare yourself the best you can for what is likely inevitable. Test broader targeting. Don’t just test it because you hope to prove that it fails. Try to find ways that will make it work for you.

Because one day, and that day is likely not far into the future, you likely won’t have a choice.

Your Turn

Have you embraced broader targeting?

Let me know in the comments below!