We often get asked how to find good interests to target for Facebook ad campaigns. So we’ve decided to write a super in-depth guide.
But we also get asked: once you do the research and find the interests, how do you use the information?
So we decided to divide this guide in two parts.
In the first one, we cover interest-based targeting and specifically how you can reach your audience more accurately than your competitor by spending less money and get better performance at the same time.
In the second part, we show you how to use all the data you collected to improve your Facebook ad campaigns.
We’re also showing you how you can use your newfound interests and keywords to target your perfect audience.
There are many different ways to do targeting research, and in the first part of this guide, we describe the 16 most effective methods to find people’s interest that fit your offer.
You can jump straight to the “how to do it” section, but why don’t you take a coffee and refresh your memory going through the whole guide? Here’s what you’ll find:
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Interest-based targeting is generally used for cold audiences – when you want to introduce yourself to people who haven’t heard of you before.
Facebook is an amazing resource for that
Can you imagine how much work it would take to uncover most of your market around random websites and market to them if Facebook wasn’t available?
First, you have to figure out EVERY website they could possibly visit. Then you need to research the demographics of EACH of those sites to decide whether it’s actually good enough for you to spend time promoting on. Only after that, you can start figuring out how to promote yourself to these people, either through advertising or guest posting – if the site allows it at all.
I admit it sounds cheesy but in all honesty, I see it as a privilege that I only have to know how to advertise on one site even though that beast is Facebook.
Note: I will not be talking about lookalike audiences and retargeting in this article. They are both great options but deserve their own posts altogether.
Users on Facebook don’t care about your ad, so what do you do?
“You create interest.”
“But didn’t you just say that we were targeting an interest?”
“Yes, I did.”
When you search on Google, you have intent. You know what you’re searching for – you have an intention of finding something. On Facebook people are looking to see what’s up with their friends, be inspired, get new inputs but they don’t know what that’s going to be. They have zero interest in you or your ad. Zero. (unless you’re a weirdo like me who likes to look at ads!)
It’s up to you to create that interest, and one of the sneaky ways to do that is by using what you already know they are interested in – the stuff they filled in their Facebook profile themselves.
The key that interested-based targeting offers you is that you can speak to what you already know they like.
Pro tip: Facebook isn’t too happy about you calling out the interest you are targeting, but when you find a subtle way to do it, it’ll make people interested.
Example: You are targeting Liverpool football club. Instead of writing “Did Liverpool find a new striker?”, You could make it much subtle by using their own language “Did the Reds find the new Torres?”. This may require some insights into your audience, but I’ve found the results to give disproportionate results compared to the work it took to create.
When you’re searching for interests, Facebook has keywords just like Google. However, on Facebook, it’s words that they put on your profile to fit you into a “box” that advertisers can target. This is based on your behavior, on which fan pages you like and on lots of other variables.
In the next lines I’ll show you exactly what to look for and how to do it but, first, let me show you something interesting.
Are you aware of those pre-fabricated interests – the ones that you can select from the drop-down menu when creating your ad set along with behavior and demographic targeting? Probably yes.
Those are usually very broad and tricky to make useful. Let me show you why.
If you open up Facebook ad preferences, you’ll be able to see what you supposedly are interested in on Facebook. How well-suiting do you find it compared to your actual interests? Personally, it doesn’t suit me well.
Below is an example of my own supposed ad preferences. Those circled in red are those that I’m NOT interested in, but Facebook still thinks I am.
While some of them are correct, what do they truly mean?
I’m interested in online advertising because I’m interested in Facebook advertising. Wouldn’t it be a waste to target me using those two interests? Imagine how many irrelevant people you’re actually reaching. That’s why I rarely use broad interests. While Facebook is improving their advertising platform constantly, I haven’t found them effective.
Keywords, on the other hand, is a blend of fan pages, buzzwords, and so on.
Keywords are pretty much a mixed bag and can be everything from absolutely horrible to unquestionably fantastic! They can generally be put into two different groups: fan pages and other keywords. My experience is that often those other keywords will perform worse than fan pages except if you layer multiple of them on top of each other.
If the keyword isn’t linked to a particular fan page, it will often be a “like by association” keyword. It’s a keyword Facebook uses to describe you that you haven’t liked yourself, but rather one Facebook’s algorithm has given you. That could be based on your behavior such as commenting on a friend’s post, talking about the topic in Facebook Messenger or in other subtle ways interacted with the topic.
Ideally, I aim to find specific fan pages around the topic with high engagement. Running just one fan page per ad set (along with relevant demographic settings) allows me to laser-target those people and all I have to do is to research the website they’re a fan of. I’ll try to figure out which topics they’re interested in and what language they use before finding my own angle to persuade them with.
The problem is that some fan pages can be unavailable from targeting. There’s no really clear explanation for how or why this happens, but Facebook told Amy Porterfield that they are not indexed (whatever that means exactly is unclear). So if you find a keyword available that isn’t the actual fan page it might be a “like by association” keyword or a buzzword.
The going theory regarding the latter is that if a certain topic gains lots of traction all of the sudden, Facebook will automatically pull the description from Wikipedia and make sort of an info page about it. Like this one:
Towards the end of this article, I’ll show you how to distinguish between fan pages and regular keywords.
But first, let’s dive into what we should look for in our research and how to find it.
So, what am I looking for about these interests?
The essence is to target those who are really into your subject, not just the generic fan who is somehow interested or follows the subject to get the occasional news. We need to find the people who think about it, talk about it and in all, love the topic. Those who are interested in multiple facets and know those things that aren’t common knowledge by the superficial fan.
Digitalmarketer described this in a great way using something they call the “But No One Else Would” Trick. The idea is to look for the people who knows what no one else would about the topic.
As they mention in their example, Tiger Woods is a famous golfer, but he is so famous that people would follow his page for other reasons that golfing. On the other hand, a golf enthusiast would know who Bubba Watson is, but no one else would.
You can apply this when you look for targeting ideas such as influencers, events or magazines. Instead of just targeting Bubba Watson, you can expand to also target people who like both Tiger Woods AND Bubba Watson. That allows you to just grab the hardcore golfing fans who are part of the Tiger Woods fan page.
Before you do targeting research, you should have an idea about your buyer’s persona.
As Neil Patel describes it: “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
To create your own buyer’s persona, he suggests answering these questions:
- What demographics do they occupy?
- What does a typical day in their life look like?
- What are their pain points?
If you want to learn more about the buyer’s persona, I’d suggest you check out his article here.
It’s about time to dive into the core of this guide: the specific methods you can use to find interests to target. Those that will set you far apart from your competition.
16 ways to research targeting interests
When I do targeting research I simply fire up Evernote and go through all the ideas you’ll find below. Whenever I find a keyword that is relevant, I check if it’s available for targeting and, if it is, I just write it down. That’s it.
By “checking if it’s available” I mean that when I have a potential keyword, I simply open Audience Insights and enter it there. If Facebook finds it, I know that the keyword is good and that I can add it to my campaign later. If it doesn’t show up, I know it’s unavailable.
Note: After this section, I’ll also share some ideas on how to evaluate the targeting research you’ve done.
#1. Audience Insights – sort by affinity
Lots of courses on Facebook advertising will sell you this as magic, a secret trick to targeting. It is not. Actually, I call it a basic tool because it’s available to everyone.
It is a great method tho, as it is super easy to use, and it’s an amazing tool -because it has so much data available and it’s free, but it’s no secret weapon at all. It’s the easiest way to do research regarding how little you have to do versus the possible outcome you can get for your time. The problem is that I’d expect all my competitors to get the same results as me.
It’s easy to go about. Here’s a step-by-step.
- Step 1: You open up Audience Insights, enter an interest and a country.
- Step 2: Click “Page Likes.”
- Step 3: Scroll down and click “Affinity” to sort by affinity.
Affinity means how much more likely the audience of your interest is to be similar to a certain page, compared to everyone on Facebook. I usually test those above 10x.
In the screenshot below, it means that the audience who likes F1 racing is 3.4x more likely to be interested in my interest “Formula One” compared to everyone on Facebook.
#2. Search Google
Another way is to search for ideas OUTSIDE Facebook. Personally, I use Google to search for things such as:
- Public Figures
All I do is use Google to search for categories related to my niche.
I then search for their fan page on Facebook or visit their site to see if they link to a fan page and then check if it’s available for targeting.
#3. Stalk your current customers and see which fan pages or interests they like
You can also check your customer’s’ profiles on Facebook or if you notice people who are engaging a lot with your brand they sometimes have their interests/likes publicly available.
This could also be people who are engaging a lot with competitors’ content or the content of other fan pages.
You simply go to their profile page, select their interests and check the ones that might be relevant for you to get new ideas.
#4 & 5. Fan page suggestions and pages liked by fan page
The method itself is very simple.
You find one fan page to start off with and then you like that page. Most pages will then give you suggestions to like similar pages. Open those and check their availability in Audience Insights. Done? Now check the similar pages of those similar pages.
You can pretty much go on as long as you want until the suggestions you get are either too different from what you are looking for or you keep seeing the same suggestions over and over again.
If you scroll down, you will notice a section on the left-hand side saying “liked by this page.” You can click it and get even more suggestions!
#6. “Create ads” suggestions
- Step 1: Fire up Ads Manager or Power Editor.
- Step 2: Enter each interest you have found already (one at a time!) and click the suggestions button.
You will notice that if you choose a like by association interest, your suggestions will usually be way off compared to a real fan-page.
Here’s a screenshot from Power Editor.
#7. Create a Google campaign to learn which sites people come from
A great tip I got from Glen Allsopp over at Viperchill, is to run an ad campaign on Google simply with the purpose of seeing which sites people visit when they click your ad.
This should work even better if you run a retargeting campaign to people who have visited your site!
#8. Use Social Bakers
This is another great example from Glen. In this case, he fired up Social Bakers, looked at the fastest growing sports brands in a certain week and noticed “Spartan Race” that stood out among other more obvious choices.
#9. Use Facebook Graph to get inspiration
The Facebook graph is something that was used a while ago.
I’ve found Audience Insights to be more helpful to me, but you can find the occasional gem.
What you do is use the Facebook search bar to look interests, pages, groups and so on by entering the audience you are looking to find such as: “pages liked by men who like FC Barcelona and Valencia CF” and segment by location, etc. as shown on the right-hand side.
Jon Loomer shows some great examples and Social Media Examiner too.
#10. Search Facebook for posts
Open this link: https://www.facebook.com/search/str/elizabethkbradley.com/stories-keyword/intersect
and now substitute exchange ELIZABETHKBRADLEY.COM with the name of your competitor or another website you’ve found.
It searches for places where it’s shared on Facebook – these might have a similar audience since they are interested in your competitor.
#11. Search Google for posts on Facebook
A similar trick to that is searching Google for this:
Again exchange TEACHABLE.COM for whatever is relevant to you. The idea is similar to above, but I’ve found that it returns different results.
#12. Good ole Wikipedia
Yep, Wikipedia has lots of suggestions to get your juices flowing. In this example, I’ve searched for “Physics.”
What I like to do is search the page (keyboard shortcut: CTRL+F on Windows and CMD+F on Mac) for the “see also”-section.
As you can see below, I’ve highlighted some of the links that might help develop ideas further. Particularly the list of physicists and list of physics concepts might be interesting to look at.
If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll notice among others “branches of physics” which has lots of things you could target.
You need to click the “show” button I’ve highlighted on the right-hand side which has now turned to “hide” as I clicked it.
I don’t know much about physics so I’m not going to go into details with the branches but notice how many suggestions you get and how you can click on each one and check the same two things for even more ideas.
There should be enough to get you going for the next decade!
#13. Browse products on Amazon and movies on IMDB
As I was doing research for this article, I stumbled upon this great tip from Mindvalley’s Khai Yong Ng. If you are looking for ideas on authors or books, browse Amazon or go to a real bookstore!
Obviously, Amazon has a ton of products so you can easily look for ideas for other types of products too.
If you are looking for movies or actors, have a look at IMDB.com.
#14. Similarweb and Similarsites
Similarweb is a great tool to get information about the audience on a particular site.
You’re also able to see the most popular sites that people visited before and after they visited the site. In this example I’ve used Amy Porterfield’s website as an example:
Similarsites. I used Amy Porterfield as an example again.
There are several similarities to sort by. In this case, I sorted sites by similar topics.
#15. Google Display Planner
Get specific website ideas there and see if they have a fan page or keyword available.
- Step 1: Open Google Display Planner
- Step 2: Select “find new targeting ideas” > enter your information > search > click the tab “placements”. You can narrow it down by websites too if that makes more sense.
Click the tab “individual targeting ideas, ” and once you click the URL of a website you will even get demographics data – of course, this is from Google, so you’ll get more accurate data by plugging that website into Facebook’s Audience Insights.
#16. The “why am I seeing this?”-button
As Tammy Cannon and Claire Pelletreau explains you can see how ads shown to you are targeted.
When you see an ad simply click the small carrot as shown below.
And you’ll be shown this menu on which you click “why am I seeing this?”.
And booyah, there you have it! All you’ve got to do is write down “Mike Dillard”.
There are many different ways to do targeting research. I realize that one can only take in so much information in one ear before it pours out the other.
So, while I’ve written as many targeting ideas as I can think of, I recommend you start out by just trying a few at a time and stick to the ones you prefer.
I prefer to start with audience insights as I’ve often been able to find the fastest results there but many times I’ve actually found the best results outside Facebook.
Listicles was all the hype a while back and these articles are great to gather ideas that you can target on Facebook.
One thing is to do the research and find the interests. Another is to put it together in the end. You need to creatively put the options together to reach the exact right people.
In the next section, we are going to talk about how to do that as well as how to target groups, plus one of the major issues I’ve stumbled upon in my own research.
5 Methods you can use to target your audience
The simple and easiest way to get an ad campaign up and running is to choose one of the broad, prefabricated interests we discussed earlier.
They are easy to set up and requires very little research. However, there’s often not much to gain from just targeting one of them.
#1. Broad, prefabricated interests
When you are setting up your ad simply click the “detailed targeting”-field and the menu with interests and behaviors will pop up.
#2. Fan pages
As mentioned before you can also target specific fan pages.
It requires more research and I’ve found that the more time you put into the research the better results you get in terms of finding a fan page that has your audience, is highly engaged and has fewer competitors.
#3. Layering keywords
Broader keywords and like by association keywords can be used effectively by layering them on top of each other.
Within the “Detailed targeting”-field, Facebook allows you to use OR and AND statements.
The OR statement is what you usually use when you select several interested, for the person to see the ad they need to be interested in either X or Y.
The AND statement allows you to target people who are interested in X and Y which means you can find people who are matching much more specifically.
This makes a huge difference in effectivity but also makes it trickier to test as you will have 2x or 3x the amount of combos to test and each will give you a different audience.
As you can see above, simply clicking the “Narrow Further”-button enables the AND statement.
I’d suggest you write a buyer’s persona and find the two or three most important parts of your core audience and look for ways to target that.
An example could be that you want to target a small privately-owned health clinic.
In your research, you may have found that your target audience is interested in health related topics, small business topics, and entrepreneurial topics.
So you create one audience consisting of people interested Entrepreneur Magazine AND the private health clinic association AND WordPress or some other tool they use in their daily practice.
Do you see the power of layering them on top of each other?
Another thing I’ve noticed recently is that Facebook groups are increasing in popularity as it has become well-known that the organic reach has decreased.
Everyone and their mother have one, and for a good reason.
Particularly with the new Facebook groups app, they are a great way to keep an engaged crowd but the problem is you can’t target them with your ads.
… Or can you?
#4. Target groups
Attila from Iamattila.com recently shared a great tip about how he target groups using exactly the AND statement I described above.
It’s pretty simple:
- Step 1. Go to the page or group and check out the about section for keywords (and tags) that are used to the describe it.
- Step 2. Set up a campaign where you target keyword #1 AND keyword #2 AND keyword #3 or however many you see fit from your research – obviously, the more you pick the more specific you can target.
It won’t be particularly for that Facebook group but it’s likely that people who liked that page will be targeted.
You can use the same trick for “unavailable” fan pages. If you stick ‘til the end I’ll share another trick you can use to find those magic “unavailable” fan pages.
#5. Use the “exclude”-function
Facebook has added an exclude option that as the name says gives you the option to select an interest and exclude people who like other interests from it.
If you are in the fishing niche you could target something like the magazine Outdoor Life and use the exclude function to exclude the audiences you don’t want such as hunters, trail runners, and hikers.
How big should the audience size be?
You are likely to hear as many different answers to this question as there are Facebook marketers and there’s no right or wrong.
It all depends on your strategy and what you’d like to achieve.
Personally, I like to run lots of campaigns with smaller audiences – it does require more manual work but the performance is usually higher as well.
Generally, I’ve found that aiming for around 100.000 people in your audience is a decent size. However, don’t worry if you have 75.000 or 150.000.
How to distinguish like by association-keywords from actual fan-pages
There are different ways to distinguish like by association-keywords from actual fan pages. None of them is 100% accurate but combined they paint a strong picture.
#1. Compare audience size in Audience insights with amount of fans on the fan-page
- Step 1: Open Audience Insights
- Step 2: Enter the keyword in Facebook Audience Insights under “interests”
- Step 3: Remove the country targeting and set all other targeting settings to default (see screenshot above)
- Step 4: Open the fan page in a separate tab as if you would browse it normally on Facebook
- Step 5: Compare the number of likes on the fan page to the “monthly active people in” in Audience Insights
As you can see in the example above the Facebook fan page has 56.884 people liking the page but Audience Insights tells us there are 250K-300K monthly active people when I enter AWeber (which by the way was the only “Aweber” I could find available for targeting).
Liking something and being active are two different things but this clearly can’t be that fan page however it may be that particular fan page PLUS people who engage with the topic through like by association.
As I said this isn’t perfect but if those two numbers aren’t close it’s an indication that it might be a like by association-interest.
#2. Interests only (using lowercase)
Often I’ve found that keywords written purely with lowercase are more likely to be a “like by association” interest than if they are spelled normally (with the first letter in the word being uppercase and the result lowercase).
#3. Look at official statistics
If you are targeting something that has official statistics (for example teachers in America), try to research how many people there are in the country and compare it to the amount you have found in Audience Insights.
Has Audience Insights found more people than the official statistics? – then it must be a like by association-interest.
#4. Fan pages that look like Wikipedia
I mentioned these previously. They are the info-pages that seem to be pulled from Wikipedia when a topic gets lots of attention in a short period of time.
If you search for the page on Facebook and it looks like the one below, it’s a buzzword and not an actual fan page.
#5. Suggestions from Audience Insights
- Step 1. Open Audience Insights
- Step 2. Enter an interest, your country of choice and click the “Pages Likes”-tab (see screenshot below).
- Step 3. Sort the suggested page likes after affinity by clicking the affinity column (see screenshot below).
If the affinity is low (10x or less) for all suggested pages and the pages are clearly about different topics than your interest it indicates that the audience is very broad which again leads to a like by association interest.
As you can see in the screenshot above, for the keyword “Formula One”, after I sorted by affinity, only the first three are somewhat related to Formula One and motorsport. The rest are football related. If this was a strong fan page you’d see lots of motorsports related pages at the top of the affinity-list.
One trick to finding unavailable fan pages
Remember I mentioned there’s another way to find unavailable fan pages? Well, it’s time-consuming so you probably won’t have time for it but I thought I might as well include it here just in case.
You will be able to find some “unavailable” fan-pages by trying out various keywords around the topic such as the company category mentioned on their fan page.
I was once able to find an unavailable fan page by writing the company’s original name (they changed it some years ago), which I found on their website’s history page.
This suggests that all fan-pages are available but some are tagged incorrectly.
This “trick” is something that does require patience and creativity but if you figure it out you will be greatly rewarded by lower prices and better performance due to the lack of competitors.
Conclusion and takeaways
Researching can be somewhat dreadful and time-consuming but I’ve found that it directly impacted my ads’ performance.
I look at it as a trade-off, the more money you have to spend on ads the less research you have to do as you can simply just test more keywords and let the data speak for itself.
The key takeaways are
- Write a buyer’s persona so it’s clear WHO you are looking for
- On Facebook, it’s all about HOW you target those people
- How well you’ve done point 1 and 2 will greatly impact your success
- Targeting research does take time and the more you do it, the better results you can expect
- Aim to target for high engagement, those that are truly interested in your topic
I know this can be a lot of information to digest and I imagine most people won’t make it this far but if you do, congrats – this is the end!
Now we want to read your comments!
Great Article. Really Helped me learn something new!
Very smart squared.
Rahul Ghohs says
Really informational content for anyone doing Facebook Ads.
Bernd Rosenkranz says
Thanx for that…..Great Article
AWESOME article Aske!! The most thorough I’ve read about interest targeting.
Thanks a lot
Awesome article! However I didn’t understand how “#7. Create a Google campaign to learn which sites people come from” works…Can anyone else could please explain in other words? Thanks in advance
veja sobre says
I hope very soon to be able to use AdsEspresso in my targeted campaigns on Facebook, it sure is an excellent tool. I think it’s the best of them all.
Great aticle ! learn a lot , thanks
Biba sheikh says
Hi, I will be studying this! Thanks. Can you answer a question for a problem Im dealing with? I am in a program that requested that we find a niche and test it on FB audience insights. However, the mechanics of the FB page are changed. I do not know how to find the top fan pages for niches. How can I find them or find top competition? I have spent so many hours during 2 days trying to figure it out. Is there an answer??? Thanks
Jin Ah Lee says
experiencing the same problem!
Great article, but Facebook has changed so much that I’m having trouble applying it. It’ll be amazing if you make an updated version. Thanks!
Exactly which part are you having trouble?
Lazaro Silva says
Surely Adespresso is here to stay, I’m running some tests in some campaigns and the tool is fantastic, so far I have nothing to complain about, I am indicating it to all my friends who use the faceads.
This is pure gold.
Wondering why I can put a topic such as yoga as an interest but some other broad terms aren’t available. Specifically, I am trying to use the term autism, but all I can find are autism-related pages, charities etc.
Super informative – TNX for taking the time to share!
Am facing a challenge with setting a marketing campaign aimed at surveying our potential users – was wondering if you have any useful tips on using FB adds to run a survey campaign (::
Thanx for that…..Very helpful for me 🙂
Marc Santos says
For the 1st research tip of sorting by Affinity this is not accurate at all. Whenever I type any topic, topics such as: Facebook, Barrack Obama, Megan Fox, Taylor Swift, and etc. keeps popping out as “relevant” pages that will most likely give you a hit.
Allen McKinney - Brighter Image Carpet Care says
Wow. Ton of information. Makes me realize how much I more I need to learn lol. Never had to much luck with Facebook ads for my service business but I see why now..
thank you so much !
Wow! super depth info…also hard to digest…
Which methods wud u reccomend to a begginer?
And is there any posts like ppe or wc m really confused..
Super-article! Like somebody said: this is pure gold!
Flavia Caroppo says
Thank you Andres 🙂
This should be updated now. Some tricks mentioned no longer work. e.g., checking out what a “liker” or a similar profile have liked. This is no longer available in profiles.
great article! one love!; )
this was a really helpfull article , its really appreciated sir
Ankit Bishnoi says
This guide is Damn amazing. I am surprised that why I don’t know about it before?
By the way thanks for this nice and useful information I was looking for this type of guide but I wasn’t can describe it, and then finally I got this. Thanks again
Digital Santhosh says
This is an excellent guide about Facebook interest targeting research. I learned a lot of useful things from reading this article.
Thanks for all those tips! Other dudes call it secret info and charge 200$ for a course or an app🙏🏽 Loved it