A good ad will fail without the right audience. Facebook Custom Audiences let you target the right people every time, making it an essential tool for successful Facebook advertising.
However, a lot has changed since Facebook first rolled out the tool in 2013. That’s why we created this updated 2021 guide to Facebook Custom Audiences.
In this post, we will go through everything you need to know about Custom Audiences, from basic setup to advanced implementation.
Facebook Custom Audiences help you improve your Facebook advertising campaigns by putting the power of ad placement directly in your hands. With your ads in front of your ideal readers, nothing is standing between you and advertising success.
Facebook Custom Audiences: The Basics
Before we get into the juicy details, let’s go over some basics to make sure the tactics in the following sections will make sense, regardless of your Facebook advertising skills.
What is a Facebook Custom Audience?
A Facebook Custom Audience lets you target your Facebook ads at a specific group of people who have already interacted with your brand.
So, instead of targeting your ads to people through luck or broad demographics like age or gender, you can target your ads based on data pulled from your own website, app, offline lists or from Facebook itself.
Using a Facebook Custom Audience allows you to do some pretty cool things, such as:
- Retarget ads to people who have interacted with one of your Facebook posts.
- Craft ads for specific segments of your audience, like your bottom-of-the-funnel email list.
- Upsell new products to people who are currently customers.
In short, Custom Audiences can make your marketing efforts a lot more direct. And when you have the power to get your perfectly crafted Facebook ads in front of the eyeballs you designed them for, you should see an overall improvement in ROI and conversions.
Facebook Custom Audience Permissions and Rules
When it comes to Facebook Custom Audiences, there are a couple of rules you have to keep in mind.
Facebook lays them out in this document, but here are the basics you need to know:
- You can create Custom Audiences only with data you have received permission to use. This should go without saying, but you need to get permission to use people’s data. You cannot scrape data from public websites or download email lists from people who have not given you permission to contact them or use their data.
- You can’t keep people who have requested to opt out of your other customer lists (e.g., your email lists) in your Custom Audiences. If you created a Custom Audience based on a customer list and some of those customers have since opted out, you need to update your Custom Audience. This means that if you are basing your Custom Audiences on your own data, you will need to update them frequently to comply with this regulation.
For most people, these two rules shouldn’t be a problem. Respect people’s data and you have nothing to worry about.
Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences
Lookalike Audiences are audiences that Facebook can build for you based on your Custom Audiences or an external data source.
The people who will be in your Lookalike Audiences may have never even heard of your brand. Through advanced algorithms, Facebook identifies users similar to those in your custom audience and targets them with your ads.
It works like this:
- You are running ads to a Custom Audience made up of customers who have bought bikes from your local bike shop.
- You ask Facebook to target the ad at a Lookalike Audience based on the Custom Audience.
- Facebook analyzes the people on your list and builds a profile of who is most likely to want to go to your store—perhaps people who live in the area, like biking, like the outdoors and are between the ages of 25-50.
- Facebook targets your ads to people who fit your profile and continues to make adjustments based on how well the ads perform.
If you are interested in learning more about getting the most out of your Lookalike Audiences, take a look at our guide on how to use Lookalike Audiences for your online business.
How to Make a Custom Audience on Facebook
You can start making a Facebook Custom Audience by signing into Facebook Ads Manager. Then, click on the dots in the top-left corner, and select Audiences.
On the next screen, you’ll want to pick the first option: Create a Custom Audience.
These choices are split between Your Sources and Facebook Sources. The options include:
- Website: Data picked up by a Facebook pixel on your website
- Customer List: People from your own customer lists
- App Activity: Users of your apps
- Offline Activity: Data you have collected the old-fashioned way, like in person or by mail
- Video: Audiences of your Facebook videos
- Instagram Account: Users who have interacted with your Instagram account
- Lead Form: Facebook users who have started or completed one of your lead ads
- Events: People who have shown interest in or attended one of your events
- Instant Experience: Users who have opened one of your experiences, either on Facebook or Instagram
- Facebook Page: Followers or visitors of your Facebook page
- Shopping: Data from anyone who clicked on any of your shopping experiences on Facebook or Instagram
- On-Facebook Listings: Users who interacted with your On-Facebook listings
As for which data source to choose, there are no wrong answers. You can have up to 500 Custom Audiences on Facebook, so start where you have the most data, and don’t be afraid to get crazy and experiment a little.
Below, we will go over how to create some of the most popular types of Custom Audiences.
How to Create a Customer List Custom Audience
After clicking on the Customer List option on the Custom Audiences page, you can start to build a Custom Audience from your existing customer lists.
In the next step, you can begin importing your customer list. You can do this in one of two ways:
- Import a customer list from Mailchimp
- Import a CSV or TXT file
When formatting your CSV or TXT file, follow the guidelines that Facebook sets out in this document so that your list is as clear as possible to Facebook’s AI.
For people new to this sort of thing, use Facebook’s template to avoid any mistakes.
When you are all done, hit next in the bottom right-hand corner.
Now, you need to tell Facebook whether you have included a customer value on your list.
A customer value is a number given to each customer on your list that tells Facebook how valuable this customer is to your business. If you want to take advantage of value-based Lookalike Audiences, this value is required.
When you are done, click next.
Now, just upload your list, name your audience and add a description if you need a reminder of who this Custom Audience is targeting.
If you are using a file with customer values, you will also need to tell Facebook which column has these values.
Finally, Facebook is going to ask you to confirm that it has mapped your data to the correct identifiers. So, go through the list and make sure that emails are seen as emails, names as names, etc.
When you are done, hit Import & Create, and you’re all done!
How to Create a Website Custom Audience
Start by selecting Website from the Custom Audience Source menu.
Now, Facebook will start walking you through the process of setting up a Facebook pixel on your website. The pixel is a piece of code that allows Facebook to collect information about the users of your site so that you can market to them on Facebook.
For this section, all you will need to do is pick a name for your pixel (most likely your website’s name) and see whether installation on your site can be done easily. If you are using a common website builder like Wix or WordPress, Facebook can do most of the work for you.
If not, check out our guide to the Facebook pixel for a step-by-step walkthrough of the installation process.
Once your pixel is installed, you can go to the next step — setting up your Custom Audience.
On this screen, you choose which website visitors Facebook will include in your Custom Audience from. Start by clicking on the Events drop-down menu.
Your options include:
- All website visitors: This is anyone who has visited your website(s).
- People who visited specific web pages: This allows you to filter based on URLs, either including or excluding certain keywords, entire URLs.
- Visitors by time spent: Select the top 5%, 10%, or 25% of website visitors based on the time they spend on your site.
- From your events: Pick a pixel event to build an audience from. For instance, use the purchase event to build a list of recent customers. This option may not be available if you have not set up any pixel events yet.
Depending on your choice, you can refine further so that your audience captures exactly the people you want it to.
When you are good to go, click Create Audience, and you’re finished
How to Create an App Activity Custom Audience
Start by selecting the App activity source, and click next.
On this page, fill in all of the details: the app you will be sourcing your contacts from as well as the audience name and description.
If you see “no apps available,” you’ll need to register your app with Facebook first. Head over to this page for instructions on how to do that.
Once your app is selected, you’ll also be able to refine your audience based on in-app events.
This can include people who have:
- Reached a certain level of your game
- Added payment info
- Purchased something from your app
- Spent a certain amount of money
Once you have chosen your app audience, you can create your ad. If you want to learn more about app events, you can read Facebook’s description of what they are and how you can use them for your Facebook marketing.
How to Create an Engagement Custom Audience
An Engagement Custom Audience is any Custom Audience that you create based on Facebook sources. Since all of the data is already on Facebook, these audiences are generally easier to set up.
Let’s take a look at each type of Facebook source you can use to create an Engagement Custom Audience.
The most important part of creating a Video Engagement Custom Audience is picking your target group.
This drop-down menu shows you your options. You are free to select multiple options. Once selected, you can pick the specific videos you want the data pulled from.
This can be as broad as anyone who has engaged with your account or a more narrow selection, e.g. people who have saved your post or ad.
With the lead form selection, you can source data from your current or past lead forms to create a new Custom Audience.
You’ll need to specify the page and the lead ad you want to pull the data from, as well as the events that will determine who goes on your new audience list.
Your options are:
- Anyone who opened this form
- People who opened but did not submit the form
- People who opened and submitted the form
Fill in all other details and you are ready to go.
Select the event you want to draw data from, and then choose which segment of people you want to include in your new audience.
Once you have decided which segment best fits your marketing goals, you can create your Custom Audience.
To create an Instant Experience Custom Audience, start by picking which Instant Experience you want to base your audience on.
Then, simply choose from either “People who opened this Instant Experience” or “People who clicked any links in this Instant Experience.”
Similar to the Instagram option, for Facebook Page, start by choosing the page you want to use.
Then, choose how broad or narrow you want your audience to be, fill in any other details and click Create Audience.
Start by choosing your platform — either Facebook or Instagram — and the page you want to use.
Next, define the event that you will base your audience on and click create.
Lastly, for On-Facebook Listings, start by choosing the listing you are interested in.
Then, simply choose whether you want to source from “People who viewed products in my catalog” or “People who messaged about products in my catalog.”
How to Create a Lookalike Audience
Once you have finished creating Custom Audiences, you can also take advantage of Lookalike Audiences. Lookalike Audiences find new potential customers by selecting users who are similar to the people who are in the Custom Audience that you base your new Lookalike Audience on.
Start by going back to the Ad Manager and clicking on Custom Audiences. This time, instead of clicking on “Create a Custom Audience,” choose “Create a Lookalike Audience.”
On the next page, you’ll need to fill in three pieces of information:
- Your Lookalike Source: This is the data source or Custom Audience you will base your Lookalike Audience on.
- Audience Location: This is where your audience should be located.
- Audience Size: This tells Facebook how precise you want them to be with this new audience. 1% will be smaller in size but the most precise, while 10% will be much larger but less precise.
When you have filled it all in, click Create Audience and let Facebook work its magic. This does take some time, so expect to wait up to 24 hours for your new Lookalike Audience to be available.
Top Tips for Using Facebook Custom Audiences
The best way to see the biggest returns on your Custom Audiences is to be very specific with how you pair ads with Custom Audiences.
Use Custom Audiences to Guide People Through Your Sales Funnel
Custom Audiences can improve your Facebook marketing when you segment them by your sales funnel and specifically tailor ads to the needs of each funnel segment.
Start by creating or uploading customer lists segmented by funnel stage. You may already have this for email marketing campaigns. Next, upload these segments as separate Custom Audiences, and potentially make Lookalike Audiences based on them to widen your advertising net.
Finally, create ads aimed at each particular segment’s needs, and target them to your Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences.
Here’s how we do it at AdEspresso:
- We boost blog posts to cold traffic on Facebook and collect data on who interacts with them.
- People who interact enter the top of our funnel and get targeted with free trial ads.
- Free-trial users who don’t subscribe are added to our bottom-of-the-funnel segment and can be targeted with promotions and ads to try to bring them back.
To keep our custom audiences as accurate as possible, we use Data Sync on AdEspresso and Facebook pixel to exclude current and previous customers.
Turn Video Views into Sales
A video is often the best way of introducing your brand to new prospects. But it’s also very difficult to get across a brand awareness message and a sales call to action at the same time. By building a video view Custom Audience, it’s possible to create a very simple two-step sales funnel.
For example, Hootsuite promotes videos with case studies, such as this one featuring Accor Hotels:
Facebook viewers who watched the video can be targeted with a free trial offer by using the Video Custom Audience option.
This way, you know that your free trial offer is being seen by people who are interested in Hootsuite, and not just by the general public.
Upsell to Existing Customers
It’s easier to sell to someone who has already bought from you than to sell to a total stranger. Yet it’s surprising how often brands think that the sales funnel stops once the first purchase is made. Often, they’ll exclude their current customer Custom Audience from ad campaigns instead of thinking about how they can leverage this audience.
Here’s an example of how upselling can be done. GlobeIn uses an ad that offers a free glassware set on top of the perks usually offered by signing up for a yearly subscription to their service.
This ad is clearly targeted at current subscribers, and it gives them a reason to rethink signing up for a yearly membership over a monthly one.
Since they are already subscribers, you know they like your product, so you have a better chance of upselling the more expensive subscription rather than finding all new customers to sell to.
Make the World’s Largest Social Network Work for You
Custom Audiences can be the x-factor in any great Facebook ad campaign. By granting you the power to place your ads with pinpoint precision, Facebook is giving you the freedom to truly create your ads with specific audiences in mind. Instead of having to rely on one-size-fits-all-advertising, you can give your potential customers the custom experience they deserve.
Getting your ads in front of the right people, though, is only half the battle. Now it’s time to talk design. Take a look at our Expert Guide to Facebook Ad Design to learn more about how you can make ads that are designed to attract readers and convert leads.
We’d like to hear about how you use Facebook Custom Audiences! Let us know in the comments below.