Facebook ad targeting has changed dramatically since the release of iOS 14. Get up to speed on the latest Facebook ad targeting strategies with our handy guide.
Facebook’s ad targeting system used to be its biggest selling point as an ad platform—that is, before Apple released the iOS 14 update that wiped many targeting options off the map for good.
In this article, we'll give you an overview of the Facebook ad targeting world, including post-iOS 14 updates, how to ensure you're accurately tracking your audience's actions, and how to create a full-funnel targeting setup to drive as many purchases as possible.
Without further ado, let's get started!
Important Facebook ad targeting changes
2020 was a year of...well, many things. But in the Facebook ad world, it's known as the year things got more complicated (even if we ignore the pandemic-related issues).
During WWDC 2020, Apple first unveiled its new privacy plans for its platform. Among those new plans were some shocking changes for Facebook advertisers as it relates to tracking.
In an effort to shine a light on how our data is being tracked and used across various sites, Apple instigated a new policy that requires apps to get permission from end-users before they can track activity from their devices.
For Facebook advertisers, this means huge restrictions like:
- The inability to retarget users who have viewed a website
- Inability to track website conversion activity (purchases, post-ad clicks, etc.)
- The loss of ability to use ad formats like dynamic product ads (now Advantage+ catalog ads) that rely on product-specific pixel tracking
As you can imagine, this sent shockwaves through the advertising community as many wondered how they would be able to target people as they used to.
If all the iOS 14 changes weren't enough, Facebook introduced even more targeting restrictions just this year.
Starting from January 2022, the following ad targeting options have been removed:
- Health causes (e.g., “Lung cancer awareness,” “World Diabetes Day,” “Chemotherapy”)
- Sexual orientation (e.g., “same-sex marriage” and “LGBT culture”)
- Religious practices and groups (e.g., “Catholic Church” and “Jewish holidays”)
- Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organizations, and figures
Facebook removed these due to concerns that "[...]targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in underrepresented groups."
They also go on to state that they're working to expand the Ad Topic control settings to allow users to be able to see fewer ads related to politics, parenting, alcohol, and pets. They also plan on expanding this to include gambling and weight loss ads, among other things.
Even though these changes do present some challenges to advertisers, there are several things we can do to combat these changes, as we'll learn in this article.
How to adapt your Facebook ad tracking post-iOS 14
As we just mentioned, iOS 14 brought us a ton of targeting changes, but with those changes also came significant updates to how we can track people taking action on our website, too.
This, in turn, makes it even harder for us to create campaigns that target those who have visited our website or made a purchase from us. After all, you can't target what you can't track.
Today we're going to cover how you can get the most tracking data possible, as well as go over the 3 main methods of tracking—the Facebook Pixel, Offline Conversions, and server-to-server tracking (Conversions API).
The Facebook (or Meta) Pixel
The Facebook Pixel (or the Meta Pixel as it's now called) is the default tracking method for your Facebook ads when you create your ad account and probably the one you're most familiar with.
(Note: if you need to install the Pixel on your site, we have a step-by-step guide here.)
Installing the Pixel is the absolute baseline for your tracking and is by no means perfect and has significant flaws due to the aforementioned changes.
Due to privacy issues post-iOS 14, Apple has restricted the type and amount of data that is sent to your Facebook dashboard from third-party companies. Apple now requires every app in the App Store that tracks user data to prompt users by asking them if they’re willing to opt-in for tracking—meaning the default is to be opted out of any tracking that our Pixel does for us.
This means that even if your Pixel is installed, iOS users will not be counted towards your conversions or be available for retargeting in your custom audiences unless they've specifically opted in.
Here's a little example of the pre and post-iOS-14 flow:
We may sound all doom and gloom, but there are a few ways we can transform this third-party data into first-party data and get everything back on track.
Another tool we have up our sleeves comes from the second type of tracking available, called Offline Conversions.
While you may be thinking that something called Offline Conversions won't do any good for your online business, the truth is that the name is a bit of a misnomer these days.
The original reason for the creation of Offline Conversions was to ensure that businesses with physical locations could also track any events (calls, purchases, reservations, etc.) that happened as a result of a Facebook ad.
This was done by uploading (manually or automatically with Offline Conversions API) a list of your events with customer data. This could be in-store transactions, a list of prospects who called you, etc.
Ever since the introduction of the iOS 14 restrictions, however, advertisers have also been using Offline Conversions as a way to recapture lost data from ad tracking, even if they don't have a physical storefront. By giving Facebook the missing components (i.e., user data), you can regain some of that lost attribution and fill in the space where the Pixel falls short.
Using Offline Conversions also allows you to:
- Regain access to the 28-day attribution window, which is no longer supported otherwise
- View different performance breakdowns by gender, age, location, platform, device, etc.
(Note: You can find our guide to setting up Offline Conversion tracking here)
While the Pixel and Offline Conversions combined can give us a vast majority of our data back, there's still one last piece of the puzzle.
Server-to-server tracking (Conversions API Gateway)
Given that Apple limits the data that's passed from third-party providers back into Facebook, there's only one way to combat this issue head-on: become first-party data providers for Facebook instead.
Facebook released the Conversions API feature to 'solve' this problem. This setup could be done via a third-party integration like Shopify or WordPress, which takes your website data and passes it back into Facebook.
The tricky part of this is that since there's still a middleman, we're passing through a third party, and thus, we’re not able to capture the data that’s being passed back and forth.
In another effort to finally make it to a first-party system, Facebook developed two solutions based on the Conversions API:
- Conversions API Gateway (using the Amazon API Gateway)
- Conversions API for Server-Side Google Tag Manager (GTM)
By using the Conversion API Gateway instead of the basic Conversion API setup, you can pass data directly from your hosting server to Facebook—meaning you become the first-party data provider and can skirt around the third-party rule.
The process looks a little something like this:
The Conversions API Gateway is superior to the first version as it won't be affected by cookies or ad blockers and doesn't fall under the scope of the iOS 14 restrictions.
Facebook's recommendation is still to use both the Conversions API Gateway and the Pixel together for the best results. Facebook will automatically remove any duplications, so you won't need to worry about that.
(NOTE: You can find our setup guide on the Conversions API Gateway here.)
What if I can't set up the tracking myself?
If everything you just read sounds like complete technobabble, don't beat yourself up over it. Chances are you're more focused on Facebook ad strategy over the intricacies of server-to-server tracking, even though they're both extremely important.
If you'd rather hand off this setup task entirely, we have a great option for you: The Madgicx Cloud Tracking service.
With Cloud Tracking, Madgicx will set up and maintain all the tracking services we mentioned above within 2-3 business days - with no coding required on your end.
Which, as we all know, is the best part.
Madgicx clients see an average lift of at least 20% higher ROAS inside their dashboards, meaning less money spent on inaccurate and outdated data and better quality target audiences for you.
You can get started with Cloud Tracking services by signing up through the Madgicx app. Cloud Tracking also comes with a money-back guarantee.
The full-funnel Facebook ad targeting strategy
There are few things that will cost you more time, money, and effort than an incorrect Facebook ad targeting strategy.
Unless you're a very well-known brand, chances are the vast majority of your audience will be unfamiliar with who you are and what you have to offer.
Given that around 53% of consumers research products before they purchase them, creating campaigns with a purchase goal right out of the gate might not drive the results you expect or need.
That's why your Facebook ad targeting strategy should always include a full-funnel approach.
What is a Facebook ad funnel?
In short, a Facebook ad funnel is a tactic designed to take your audience from complete total strangers to loyal (and repeat) customers. Each step of the funnel gives your audience more information about you and entices them to engage more with your brand.
A Facebook ad funnel has 4 unique steps:
- Acquisition Prospecting
- Acquisition Re-Engagement
For those of you who are more visual learners, it looks a little something like this:
Let's dive into each of these a little bit further to learn how they work together.
Acquisition - Prospecting: At this stage, you're looking to engage with people who have never heard of your brand before and show them who you are and what problem your product or service can solve for them. We refer to this type of audience as a 'cold' audience.
Typically we'd use interest-based targeting (more on that later) to sift through the millions of people on Facebook and find those who are already interested in what we offer.
This is also a great opportunity to use a lookalike audience to improve the quality of your cold prospecting. There are a few types of lookalike audiences that would be useful here:
- Lookalike audiences based on current customers. If you’re looking for more happy customers, the best place to look is within your own database. Using an uploaded email list of your current customers as a seed audience for a lookalike audience is a good place to start.
- Lookalike audiences based on website purchases. The problem with using an email list is that it does require maintenance, meaning you need to continually upload your email list. Instead, you can create a lookalike audience based on the purchase Pixel event to prevent that issue. Keep in mind that you’ll be missing out on a significant amount of data if you aren’t using the first-party tracking method we mentioned above.
- Lookalike audience based on Facebook or Instagram engagement. Since the source of this audience is based not limited by third-party tracking, it isn’t restricted by any privacy policies (which means fewer headaches for us).
Acquisition - Re-Engagement: Now that we've put out the welcome mat, so to speak, we want to display our competitive edge by showcasing what makes our product or solution different from others on the market.
At this stage, we want to target those who are slightly familiar with us—so those who have liked or followed our Facebook and Instagram pages or engaged with previous ads or any of our organic content.
We'll be using Engagement custom audiences to target people who have done any of the actions we mentioned above.
Retargeting: Now, we can finally start our retargeting phase. At this point, we want to reach out to those who have visited our online store or general website (blog, etc.) but have not yet become customers. At this stage, we want to convince them to become our customers and go for the purchase.
Here you should be retargeting using custom audiences built from website visitors (including product page visits) or those who have added an item to their cart but never finished the process.
A great tip for this stage is to make sure you're giving the best possible offer you have to make the sale. People love free things, so offers like free shipping or a free add-on item will go a long way. You can even use the latter offer with a minimum purchase threshold to increase your average order value.
Retention: Customers who have had a positive experience with a company are more likely to return than not. Given more US consumers are now switching brands than since the start of the pandemic, it's important to try and recapture the attention of your satisfied customers to prevent them from going elsewhere.
In the Retention phase, we want to use a custom audience of our customers to buy from us again. Usually, these are items that are similar to the products they originally purchased from you, but you can also advertise add-on items that go along with the original item. For example, a phone case if the customer purchased a mobile phone, etc.
How do I create a Facebook ad funnel?
The truth is that the setup can be pretty arduous. To create a strategy like the one we listed above (and provide room for testing different iterations at each step), you'd likely want to run these tests:
- Interest targeting vs. lookalike audiences
- Lookalike audience percentages (1%, 2%, 5%, 10%)
- Video watchers vs. page fans
- Video watchers of specific view percentages (95% viewed vs. 75% viewed, etc.)
- 30-day vs. 60-day website visitors
- Visitors who have shown higher intention (added items to their cart, added payment info, etc.)
- Product catalog sets
- Upsell vs. cross-sell targeting
At a minimum, that's 16 different audience types that need to be set up manually just to do a minimum amount of testing at each stage.
If you think it's time-consuming, you'd be right—but as annoying as it may seem, these tests are extremely important to run as they can be some of the primary factors that make or break your campaign's success.
Luckily with Madgicx's Audience Launcher, you can instantly launch all of these audiences (and even more) across your entire funnel in just a few clicks.
Here you'll find over 100 custom-made audience setups spanning every stage of the funnel we saw today. Audience Launcher also automatically excludes audiences from later funnel stages (such as retargeting audiences from acquisition ad sets) to ensure that Facebook doesn’t go after warmer audiences and miss out on the ones you really mean to target.
You can try Audience Launcher free during a 7-day trial of Madgicx and save yourself some time and hassle ;)
6 Facebook targeting best practices
Now that we've covered a bit of the strategy behind how we're setting up our targeting, we can go into some specific Facebook ad targeting best practices.
1. Don't rely only on lookalikes for acquisition
It seems that every year I hear the same thing in the advertising community:
“Interest targeting is dead!”
“Broad targeting just doesn’t work!”
“Lookalike audiences are the only worthwhile cold audience types!”
In reality, this can’t be further from the truth. Given all the changes to tracking and the continued campaign to remove hyper-personalized ad targeting from the platform, interest-based targeting and broad targeting still remain some of the best ways to find audiences who are interested in what you have to offer.
While the strategy specifics may be different than in the past, if you have a solid interest targeting strategy, you’ll be able to target people who are ready and willing to give your brand the attention it deserves.
You can also use broad targeting tactics (for example, using only location, language, and age filters) to find those who may not have known they even had a problem they need to solve with your product. However, note that this method is most effective for accounts with a lot of pixel (and server-to-server) data and a large spend.
2. Utilize first-party and in-Facebook data for custom audiences and lookalikes
Not to sound like a broken record, but it truly is imperative that you're working with the most (and best quality) ad data that you possibly can.
This means implementing the Conversions API Gateway in addition to Pixel tracking, as we mentioned earlier, to bolster your targeting options, as well as using what Facebook provides natively.
Engagement-based custom audiences (video views, page likes, etc.) all come from actions taken on Facebook natively. Since nothing happens outside of the platform, you can be sure that the iOS 14 restrictions won't apply to those audiences.
3. Customer list-based retention audiences are a goldmine
As we learned earlier, Facebook's tracking system has several challenges that make it hard to track conversion data.
As a retailer, however, you're able to take customer information directly from your purchase data and create a custom audience based on your customers. You can use this to either:
- Create retention campaigns to increase sales from existing customers
- Create value-based lookalike audiences to target better-quality cold traffic
You can do this by uploading a list of email addresses and other demographic information to Facebook. Either way you cut it, re-using your customer data to enhance your targeting is never a bad idea.
4. Don't bid too low for your audiences
There's a reason why people say not to skimp out on quality. While we all want things as cheap as possible, if you underbid, chances are your ads won't ever reach your target audience in the first place.
Our advice here is to be sure you're using the right bidding strategy for your campaign's unique goals.
5. Use your best creatives when testing new audiences
Just like with a true scientific experiment, you want to have a set of controls (i.e., things that stay consistent) and variables (i.e., things that you test).
If you're already testing out your audience strategy, you don't want to add new ads to the mix. Otherwise, you won't be quite sure which of the 2 main changes did the trick. Make sure you're putting your best foot ads forward and using your top performers when testing new targeting options.
We have resources on how to create killer Facebook ad copy and 16 inspiring Facebook ad graphics if you're in need of a refresher!
6. Follow the process: target, analyze, optimize, repeat
Things change quickly in the advertising world. Waking up to find that your Facebook ads aren't as profitable as they used to be is, unfortunately, part of the game.
For this reason, you'll always need to be testing every aspect of your ads, from targeting and creatives to bidding and advanced optimization.
While it's true that Facebook ad targeting options have changed significantly over the past few years, Facebook still remains one of the most profitable platforms for eCommerce advertisers.
By building a strong Facebook ad funnel, shoring up your tracking, and following the best practices we set, you'll be well on your way to creating high-performing Facebook audiences.
From setting up accurate tracking to targeting audiences, Madgicx has all the solutions you need to build a solid targeting strategy that actually works post-iOS 14.
Tory is a digital marketing specialist and the current Marketing Manager of Breadcrumbs.io. She's been featured in various high-profile marketing blogs like Hootsuite, AdEspresso, and Databox and holds certificates for both Google and Facebook Ads. In her spare time, she gardens and paints from her house in the Florida panhandle.