If you’re launching a new product or expanding your business, it can be tough to find the right audience online.

Facebook Ads has one of the richest targeting platforms and is one of the more affordable ways of getting your product seen by your ideal customer. Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and an Audience Network, has a wide reach! If your customer is online, they have the opportunity to see one of your ads if you’re running them from on Facebook.

When we’re just starting out with ads, it’s common to start running ads with broad targeting – things like age and location. But the risk is that you spend a lot of money for people to see these ads and they aren’t your audience. It’s more effective to add some kind of interest-targeting so you’re putting your ads in front of likely customers.

Interest-based targeting is something that Facebook has a reputation for doing well. This means that you can target people based on their interests, for example, if you’re a sportswear company, you can target people who love running.

However, over the last few months, Facebook has been removing some interest-based targeting options for topics they consider to be politically or socially sensitive. This means that we now no longer have the option to target certain cause-based issues. If you’re an environmental group, looking to find people interested in climate change — you now no longer have the option to do so. Many targeting options around race or disabilities are now no longer an option. While this is potentially intended to reduce issues of discrimination, it also means that not-for-profits and purpose-based organisations now have far fewer options to find – and support – audiences around these topics.

This reduced number of targeting options isn’t just a challenge for purpose-based organisations. Realistically, some businesses are looking to target audiences that are harder to find because their interests aren’t as concrete as others. For example, if your target audience is people interested in feminism, this is very hard to target because this interest is based on the way someone thinks rather than a specific interest, hobby or product purchased, which is how interest-based targeting usually works.

In this blog, I want to share some other ways you can find likely audiences for your business using the ‘lookalikes’ feature of Facebook, especially in cases where you can’t easily use interest-based targeting.

Let’s dive in.

What are Facebook Ads Lookalikes?

Facebook Ads ‘Lookalikes’ is a targeting option within Facebook Ads Manager. In this tool, you can build a ‘custom audience’ of people who have engaged with your business in some way, for example, a list of people who have visited your website. From there, you can have Facebook target an audience that is similar to the custom audience you’ve built. Facebook uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to pinpoint this new audience based on patterns it finds in your custom audience – this is called building a ‘Lookalike’ audience.

On top of this, you can also add demographic targeting to your ad set.

For example, you might ask Facebook to ‘find people similar to everyone who has visited your website in the past three months’. You could also add additional targeting to this so that the Lookalike audience receiving these ads are specifically people who are aged 25 – 55, and who live in Sydney.

It’s worth noting from the outset that building a lookalike audience always requires a base audience – a custom audience –  to build off. Having least a hundred people in your custom audience is a solid start – but having more people for the AI to learn from, the more accurate the targeting will be. So using this technique is something that is useful particularly for businesses that are established or have a sizable base audience to build from, rather than startups building from scratch.

Your Website Lookalikes

In the example above, I mentioned that you can use people who have visited your website as a custom audience. To do this, you must have the Facebook Ads / Meta Ads pixel installed on your website in order to anonymously tag and track people who have visited your site.

In recent months, this has become less reliable as a tool because of the changes from Apple which mean that if anyone visits your site on an Apple device, it will not register their visit unless they have consented to tracking (and spoiler alert: that’s not many people!). Nonetheless, some data is better than no data, and I think it’s still work building an audience from this data if you can.

It helps to have at least 100 visitors to your website to build this audience, so having this pixel installed from day dot means that you’re  tagging and building an audience over time. This is particularly useful if you’ve got a smaller website and may take time to get over 100 visitors.

My favourite feature of this custom audience is that you can select to have people who have visited your website in general, or a specific page. For example, if you’ve got a ‘contact us’ page, you can build a custom audience based on people who are much more engaged with your business, not just those casually strolling by your website.

This can also be done for all kinds of pages – whether it’s a sales page or a specific conversion on your site (for example, a ‘thank you’ page after someone has signed up for your newsletter).

Building a lookalike audience off this more-deeply engaged audience can be a great way to find people new people who are likely to engage with your business.

Your client list or mailing list

If you’re looking for people who are similar to people who have bought from you in the past, you can upload an anonymised copy of your client contact details or your newsletter list. Facebook then matches this data with Facebook accounts to target. This gives Facebook the most accurate data set of the people most likely to buy from you in order for it to learn because it’s based on real customers.

However, I’ve found that this option isn’t always successful – especially with smaller databases – because Facebook matches people based on the data you input. Someone’s name and email address on Facebook might not the same one they’ve given you — for example, they’ve given you a work-based email, but they’ve signed up to Facebook with a personal email.

This list is most effective if you’ve got a minimum of 1000 contacts that you can upload, and if possible, multiple data points such as name, email and phone number.

However, if you can upload the list and there’s a solid set of matches, I’ve seen strong success with Lookalike audiences based on this audience group.

Your Facebook event RSVPS

One of the workarounds to the Facebook Pixel being impacted on third-party sites is that you can target audiences based on their behaviour within Facebook itself. If you’ve got a Facebook Event, you can target people who have said ‘yes’ or ‘interested’ in an event. Building an audience from this group is a great way to find people more like this audience.

While not every business runs physical events, you might want to get creative if you’re wanting to explore this. You could try to get people to RSVP to a product launch, a webinar, livestream or another virtual event.

A strong approach when using RSVPs to build a custom audience is to launch an initial campaign to encourage audiences RSVP, then once you’ve got a solid dataset, you can then build a Lookalike audience from them.

Your Page Engagees

Once again using the data from within Facebook itself, you can build an audience from people who have engaged with your page or ad. This means people who have done actions like clicking or commenting on your page content.

This is particularly useful because it means you can capture people who are interested in your product or brand, but who might not follow you on social media. You might have someone who has seen your ad several times and clicked on it – but doesn’t actually follow you on Facebook. Building an audience based on people who have engaged with your page is a great way to find these people who are engaged with your product, but may not be following your brand.

You can build custom audiences based on people who engage with your Facebook Page, Instagram account, or ads on either of these platforms, then a Lookalike audience from there.

Your Video Viewers

Running video ads is very cost-effective on Facebook. This is also a great technique overall for cost-effective retargeting because running a video ad is a great way to find people and then segment them. You can build an audience based on the people who’ve watched a specific percentage of your ad – for example, above 75%. From there, you can build an audience and then retarget those people who have shown they are interested in your product.

Once you’ve pinpointed your custom audience based off people who have watched the majority of your video ad, you could build a Lookalike audience from them.

The Recap

Facebook ads are changing all the time, and with interest-based targeting shifting all the time, we need to look for alternative ways to find these audiences, especially if we’re a purpose-based business whose typical targeting options now don’t exist.

Some options you can test with your business are building Lookalikes from:

  • Your website (either site-level or page level)
  • Your mailing list or client list
  • Your Facebook event RSVPS
  • Your Page Engagees
  • Your Video Viewers

You can test these groups individually, or combine them to create an ad that encapsulates your warm audiences altogether. Either way – always spend time to test, learn and reflect in order to design more effective ads over time.

If you’d like a hand with your social media advertising for your purpose-based business, I’d love for you to get in touch!

Want to work with Rachel?

Rachel Beaney is a writer and social media content specialist, helping businesses connect with their audiences.

She’s worked with local, national and global companies, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping businesses tell their stories with creative and data-driven solutions.

She is based in Sydney, Australia.

Want to work together? Rachel would love to hear from you. Get in touch today.