The New Playbook for Facebook Interest Targeting in 2024

Oct 20, 2021
Jul 15, 2021
23 mins
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Facebook interest targeting

Facebook interest targeting is a great way to reach the right audience with your ads. Learn how to use interest targeting to acquire and convert new audiences.

To both advertising amateurs and veterans, Facebook interest targeting is a go-to for audience creation, diversification, and specification. You want your ads to reach a fresh target audience, and an excellent way to go about it is through comprehensive interest targeting.

We’ll tell you all about it in this comprehensive blog post, which will take you all the way from interest research through selecting the right interests to some advanced tactics.

How does Facebook interest targeting work?

Facebook interest targeting works the way it sounds -- it targets the things you’re interested in. As you scroll through your newsfeed, you’ll notice that stuff you looked into in the past or have engaged with while within the platform or outside of it are shown through related Facebook ads for products, people, activities, and many other types.

How does Facebook know all this? They derive the information from your lifetime activities on the platform. These activities range from anything between businesses, hobbies, shopping, and thousands more. To regular Facebook users, this sounds like a way for businesses to sell. But to advertisers, it’s their way of working alongside Facebook to reach their target audience.

How can you check your interests?

You can check what interests advertisers use to provide you with relevant ads through your Facebook profile’s ad preferences. Go to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads > Ad Settings > Categories used to reach you > Interest Categories.

Facebook user interest categories

You can click on any of your interests on the list to learn more about why Facebook thinks you’re interested in them. Aside from seeing the categories advertisers use to reach you, you can also remove any category on your list if it’s irrelevant to you.

Why is Facebook interest targeting important?

Advertisers can’t simply run Facebook ads for the sake of putting their name and what they have to offer out there. Without location, demographics, behavior, and interest targeting, all their Facebook advertising spend would yield below satisfying results. You’re showing your Facebook ads to millions of people on the platform, but how many of those people are interested in your business?

Facebook’s interest targeting feature allows you to deliver your ads to your target people. These people have shown interest in your industry in the past, for example, by engaging with one of your competitors. Therefore, they are more likely to engage with your ads. To reach your target audience, you’ll have thousands of interest categories in Facebook Ads Manager available for targeting. Narrowing down your targeting options means you can show your ads to relevant and fresh audiences.

Picture this -- you’re trying to sell car parts. Ideally, you’re going to advertise it to people who own cars through interest targeting. Without Facebook’s interest targeting helping you show your ads to -- in this case -- car owners, your products won’t yield the success you want them to.

Why? You’re going to spend money on running Facebook ad campaigns to show it to millions of people. But how many of those millions own cars and will buy your product? Are the ones who don’t own cars even interested? You’re wasting thousands of dollars on ad spend as you show your ads to general audiences. Add the fact that you have more than 10 million other advertisers on the platform vying for the same attention. The number of advertisers on the platform is expected to grow, and that means spending more to reach your target audience.

Why is interest targeting crucial for beginners?

While big advertisers can run advertisements without detailed targeting and not take a blow to their budget, small ones can’t. This is why a deep understanding is important to both types of advertisers, but more so for the latter.

As a newbie, you’re not equipped with the budget to pay for irrelevance. This means you’ll refine your audience through copious amounts of interest targeting research on Facebook and beyond. Refining your audience will take a lot of time, but it’s worth every hour spent snooping around for interest keywords relevant to your niche.

Why? Because no matter how banger of an ad you run, if you show it to the wrong audience, it won’t be as good as a mediocre ad that’s shown to relevant audiences.

A comprehensive dive into what your target audience looks like will help you show your ads to the right people. While every impression can’t be relevant to your niche, you’re still going to end up with better ROAS when your targeting options match your target people. This is because you spend less on CPA and irrelevant traffic with a specific audience. Showing your ads to more people who aren’t interested in your business may yield some results, but you’re not going to make your target ROI.

When should you use Facebook interest targeting?

Facebook interest targeting is useful to any type of advertiser out there, especially when you’re just starting. In Facebook advertising, starting means you don’t have enough pixel data to feed Facebook’s algorithm and help it find your target audience. Meta pixel is an analytics tool that gives you access to measuring the effectiveness of your ad campaigns by providing you with a good understanding of what actions your website visitors take.

When your website has enough pixel data to help Facebook’s algorithm, you can move on to targeting lookalikes and creating custom audiences. Lookalike audiences are segmented by Facebook based on characteristic similarities with your existing customers. On the other hand, Facebook custom audiences are existing audiences you find on Facebook using your resources -- customer lists, website or application traffic, or engagements on the platform.

With interest targeting, however, you can tap into Facebook’s database and utilize what it knows about its users’ interests. This would help you close the knowledge gap due to your missing customer data. By telling Facebook the keywords your potential customers are interested in, you give Facebook a picture of what people you want to show your ads to look like.

Not a beginners-only tactic

Aside from being a new advertiser without enough information on who your target audience is, Facebook interest targeting also helps if you have a niche that’s easy to define. This means your target people can be defined by a set of common interests with precision. These interests can be hobbies, brand interest, or affinity for things relevant to your niche.

Advertisers with higher pixel data volume should still use interest targeting to create diversified audience segments for different ad sets. Targeting interest also means you can reach segments beyond what your lookalike audiences alone can achieve.

For example, let’s say your brand promoted a big sale in the past couple of weeks. The ads you ran for this event attracted a bunch of traffic, which is great. But after the sale, you can’t 100 percent rely on your website’s pixel data because not everyone a sale attracts is willing to buy your products at full price.

However, interest targeting will still be a reliable solution for you. Facebook’s interest database will remain reliable and make sure you get the big traffic back, but it remains relevant.

What are the interest categories available on Facebook?

Facebook’s interest targeting is part of the Detailed Targeting section in the ad set setting on the Ads Manager. Facebook gives you the option to browse interests from its visible and default categories and to look up interests related to your ads.

Browsable interests

The browsable interest lists come with categories and subcategories -- those subcategories still have more specific ones under them. Being more specific with your targeting options gives you access to more niche audiences, but going too specific might give you a less than ideal audience size.

browsable interests in detailed targeting

However, with browsable interests, you can’t go that specific because they’re seen by advertisers as too broad. You’ll have to pick each subcategory to funnel your target audience to gain a profitable CPA and drive relevant traffic. The main Facebook interest categories are:

  • Business and industry
  • Entertainment
  • Family and relationships
  • Fitness and wellness
  • Food and drink
  • Hobbies and activities
  • Shopping and fashion
  • Sports and outdoors
  • Technology

If you want to know all the options, on our friend Paco's website you can find the complete Facebook interests list.

Searchable interests

While you can refine your target people by selecting subcategories by subcategories in the browsable interest section, there are specific interests that are only available when you search for them. Entering an interest query to the left of the “Browse” button allows you to find tailored interests you wouldn’t find otherwise even if you go through hundreds of subcategories.

When you search for a Facebook interest, you can type in specific keywords that will help you find the right interest to target the relevant Facebook users. The more specific your query is, the more specific Facebook’s interest suggestions get, but if you target a very niche audience, you might not find the exact interest you're looking for. In that case, go a bit broader with your interest targeting.

searchable interests in detailed targeting
Pro Tip: There’s a limit of 25 suggestions when you look up a specific interest. If you can’t find the exact interest you’re looking for, just be more specific with your query.

Searching for interests related to your Facebook ads will help you refine your audience, helping you reach your ROAS.

The choice of interests available for targeting is endless, but a comprehensive interest targeting research would help you narrow your targeting down to the most relevant ones.

6 ways to research your target audience’s interests

Researching your target people’s interest categories is essential to reaching the right audience by selecting the correct interest categories for your Facebook ad campaigns. Before reading further into this section, we strongly recommend listing down the keywords that relate to your niche.

Not 100 percent of the keywords you come up with are available for targeting. Raising awareness for your brand means you’ll target people based on the following:

  • Demographic
  • Page likes
  • Location and language
  • Facebook usage
  • Purchase activity

If Facebook doesn’t find the interest keyword you entered, it’s unavailable for targeting. Coming up with a good set of keywords is a good idea -- this helps you narrow all your ideas down to ones that work with Facebook’s interest targeting. Once you’ve summed up the keywords you’re going with, you can start your interest research.

Facebook Audience Insights is no longer with us

On July 1, 2021, Facebook announced the removal of marketers’ access to their Facebook Analytics tool. Before this tool’s removal, advertisers had the option to analyze and learn about their audiences using demographic data and affinity for Facebook fan pages.

But there’s no need to lose any sleep over that, my fellow advertisers! There’s still plenty of interest-targeting research methods handy, and we’re going to show you the most efficient ones.

1. Use Google Search

A free-for-all tool you can leverage is Google. Use it to look for niche-related keywords and focus on results that link to the following online entities, which you can later look up for targeting availability:

  • Public figures
  • Associations
  • Websites
  • Brands
  • Products
  • Magazines
  • Blogs

Let’s say you have a jewelry eCommerce business. If you sell birthstone necklaces, it’d be great to find people who are interested in this product. When scrolling through Google’s first page results, you can find Etsy’s product page.

Google search first page results

The next step would be to check out this company’s website. You can easily understand that this is a jewelry brand, and its popularity was already proven by its high ranking on Google. Then, you can look for the brand’s Facebook page, which will be used as a potential keyword to check for targeting availability.

Let’s check Etsy’s page for targeting availability.

Etsy targeting availability

For more keywords to check, you can scroll down to the bottom of the results page, where you’ll see what other queries people enter to look for things related to your query. These related search keywords are useful because they’re topics people usually look for when looking for businesses related to your niche.

related searches for birthstone necklace

Once you’re satisfied with your new keywords for interest targeting, you can move on and look up other related queries, or use other interest targeting research methods you’ll find below.

2. Fan page suggestions

When you click “Like” on a related fan page, the action will give you suggestions of related pages. Check each Facebook page and their availability for targeting in Facebook Ads Manager. If you find them there, you can continue going deeper by checking the similar pages of the ones suggested after you click like the first time.

We’re still on Etsy’s Facebook fan page, and we hit their like button to see related pages. If you see a relevant keyword, you can go ahead and check it for targeting availability, as we did for the keyword “Etsy.”

Facebook page suggestions

3. Use suggestions in detailed targeting

After gathering several interest keywords, you can use them to look for related interests in the Detailed Targeting section in Facebook Ads Manager. You might get some results that seem far from what you were aiming for, but they may be worth the shot. All you need to do is type in each interest in the free search bar, scroll down, and find what’s relevant to your niche.

Facebook detailed targeting suggestions

Note that you can only see up to 25 suggestions for each interest you type in, so might want to add a few more to see additional keywords. Just make sure you don’t stray too far from your main keyword.

4. Use Similarweb

Similarweb is a tool you can use to get information about the audience on a particular site. Let’s use Etsy’s website as our example. It shows you the audience interest categories of people who frequent the website. There’s also a section for other websites Etsy’s visitors frequent, along with topics relevant to their site visitors.

SimilarWeb audience interests

Aside from audience interests, Similarweb also shows you websites similar to your query. In this example, we’re still using Etsy’s website. You can either choose to view based on website similarity or competitors’ ranks.

SimilarWeb competitors and similar sites

5. Use Wikipedia

Because millions of people use Wikipedia, the information it contains can be useful for your interest targeting research. In the wealth of information within the website’s over 6 million articles, some articles can give you related keywords.

In this example, we’ll be using “necklace” as our query. We searched the page for the “See also” section that contains links that can help us determine categories that are potentially relevant to our niche. Now, we can check these niche-related keywords for their targeting availability and add them to our list of keywords to use for interest targeting.

Wikipedia see also section

6. Madgicx’s Audience Studio

Marketing tech company Madgicx came up with the Audience Studio for hyper-targeting. Using this tool, you can automatically explore profitable hidden interests that will be beneficial to your ad performance.

The same tool can also be used to unify performance data for every audience you’ve created, even if you use them in different ad sets. This feature gives you insight into your best audiences, which is extremely useful for future ad campaigns.

Here’s an example of an apparel eComm business using Madgicx. As you can see, the Audience Studio offers relevant interests to the apparel industry - mostly competing clothing brands and retailers.

Research interests with Madgicx's Audience Studio

Creating interest targeting audiences

Different advertisers use different methods in creating audiences for Facebook interest targeting. This section will tell you all about audience creation, how you can use different but related keywords to target audience segments, and how you can leverage combining keywords to reach the right audience for your ads.

Single interests

Targeting single interests means one interest per ad set. While that sounds like a waste of time in testing -- testing one interest at a time gives you immediate insights. Since you’re only working with one keyword, you’ll find out what keywords work better among all ad sets with single interests.

The downside, however, is that testing single interests takes a long time, and costs more than testing multiple interests at once. You’ll encounter more errors, but those errors should also be taken as insights. You know what works and what doesn’t.

Interest profile

When you create an interest profile, you’re merging multiple interests to create an image of your target audience. It’s like creating your ideal person using interests!

However, you can’t pinpoint what works when the performance of each interest isn’t measured individually. Interest profiles are worth the run for their ability to test multiple interests, but the insights aren’t as helpful as single interests.

You can use three different methods to create an interest profile:

  • Interest stacking
  • Interest layering
  • A combination of both stacking and layering

When stacking interests, the logic of “OR” applies. The audience segment you’ll get when you stack keywords is the combined audience size of people interested in at least one of the interests A, B, or C. Interest layering goes by the logic of “AND,” letting you combine interests A, B, and C. Once you combine interest stacking and layering, you can create multiple stacks with different keywords and separate each stack using “AND.”

The good thing about interest layering is that you can test multiple keywords at once, letting you maximize time and costs. The insights, however, aren’t as helpful. Since you tested stacks within layers of interests, you can’t be sure which keywords performed best. Interest layering is very useful if you want to narrow down your target audience and increase its relevance.

Interest stacking

Earlier, we’ve mentioned that you can add multiple interests in the Detailed Targeting field in Facebook Ads Manager. The number of audiences per interest is summed up. You’ll always end up with a broad audience when stacking interests, especially if you add your keywords and don’t get an audience overlap because they’re segmented into one of the interests in the stack.

A good way to stack interests is to test interest categories separately. After finding out what categories perform best, narrow down to find keywords that drive the best results. For example, using interest categories for an ad set to target competitors, another to target magazines, celebrities, and many others that are relevant to your desired keywords.

Let’s say you have an activewear eComm business. If you’re selling sportswear that could fit different kinds of sports, it may be wise to target people interested in all of these kinds of sports and stack all of those interests together in one ad set.

Facebook interest stacking

Interest layering

Using interest layering, you push Facebook to show your ad campaigns to the most relevant people within your target audience. This is possible thanks to the “AND” logic.

Let’s get back to your activewear business. You’d want to target people interested in sports, athletes, and whatnot. Moreover, you can tailor your advertisements to fit their liking. If you have a big sale of LeBron James jerseys or a big brand that can afford to pay the NBA star for an advertisement, you can use interest layering to entice his fans to consider your brand.

A great solution would be creating an audience of people whose interests match with LeBron James AND activewear. This will help you reach a more specific audience with higher chances of converting.

Facebook interest layering

You can even narrow down your targeting by clicking “Narrow Further” and adding another layer of interest to “AND” with the first two. You don’t have to think about the order of interests. You’ll get the same results no matter the order.

Another thing about interest layering is that you can avoid audiences who didn’t mean to end up within a specific interest audience, matching you with a more relevant audience as a result.

If you want to get more specific, you can target specific locations, but that will lead to significantly smaller audience size. You can be highly specific with interests when targeting a big geographic area, but you can only target a small area with less specific interests.

Interest stacking and layering combined

After a comprehensive interest targeting research, it’s time to combine all the useful interest keywords you’ve gathered. In combining stacking and layering, you can create multiple layers and add one or more interests within the layers.

An “OR” logic will be applied within each layer. Between the layers, the “AND” logic applies. Facebook will then show your ads to the audience segments with at least one interest in each layer.

If your activewear business wants to promote soccer (European football) products, it’s a good idea to stack a bunch of soccer-related interests and narrow down your audience by layering it with an interest in sportswear.

Facebook interest stacking and interest layering combined

Easily create audiences with Madgicx’s Audience Studio

In the Audience Studio, you can create audiences by adding multiple interests and creating intersections between two single interests, two stacks, and a stack with a single interest. It’s a convenient way to get the figures on your interest-based audiences.

In our example below, we’re using a single interest and a stack as our included audiences, with website visitors from the past 30 days excluded. This helps us narrow down our target audience to 280,000 people who haven't visited the site in the last 30 days, which is especially helpful when you’re looking for cold traffic.

Interest layering, stacking, and exclusion with Madgicx's Audience Studio

Advanced tips on Facebook interest targeting

Now that you’ve got the basics of Facebook interest targeting covered, it’s time to go down to advanced tips! There’s a lot of tinkering you can do to get to your perfect audience, and we’ll tell you all about it.

How big should your audience be?

When you ask advertisers about the ideal audience size, you’ll most likely get very different answers. The thing is -- there’s not a concrete number or range for how big or small your audience size should be. The size of your audience depends on your ad objectives and niche, among other things.

The customary range for audience size is 50,000 to 200,000 for starters. This is a good ballpark when you have a low volume of pixel data. When you’ve earned enough traffic to allow Facebook to target relevant audiences, you can eventually increase your audience size.

Exclude audiences

When running acquisition ad campaigns, it’s important to exclude existing website visitors and past purchases. If the goal is to introduce your brand to new people, you should spend the impression budget on new and relevant audiences to reach cold traffic. There’s also the option to exclude custom or saved audiences and audiences based on demographics, interests, and behavior.

In Facebook, running an acquisition campaign requires you to do this because one of the platform’s main data points is past website visits. To Facebook, people who’ve been on your website in the past are the best audience segment to show your ads to. If it’s not a re-engagement or retargeting campaign, but an acquisition one -- the warm traffic won’t be relevant. This is something beginners often overlook.

Acquisition campaigns have cold traffic as part of their agenda. As they’re created to introduce a brand to a new audience, it’s important to exclude people who already interacted with that brand. If you include warm traffic, you’ll end up with a bigger audience size but lower engagement levels for your acquisition campaigns.

Pro Tip: The biggest time frame you can exclude for past website visits is 180 days.

Moreover, you can exclude irrelevant interests, demographics, and behaviors. Let’s say you are a university that wants to promote its law studies. Naturally, your list of excluded audiences should include practicing lawyers, law school lecturers, and others along the line. The chances of them engaging with your law studies ad campaign are extremely low. Maybe they will click out of curiosity, but that would be it -- irrelevant traffic.

Combine interests with demographics and behaviors

Aside from getting highly specific with interest targeting, you can narrow your targeting options even further by combining niche-related interests with demographic data and behaviors. If you’re looking at very specific sets of Facebook interests to target, combining them with either or both can lead your advertisements to target smaller audiences, albeit highly specific.

This method could be especially useful for broad interest keywords that you can’t narrow down while keeping their original thoughts. This will help you get down to showing your ads to a target audience that is more prone to convert. For example, you can target people by gender, relationship status, education level, life events, or purchase behaviors.

If you had an eCommerce jewelry business and you would have liked to promote your necklaces, which additional characteristics would you use to find your target audience? Since a necklace could be a nice romantic gift, you could try targeting people whose anniversary is coming up soon. Combined with an interest in necklaces, this could be a powerful audience that will drive conversions.

combining interests with behaviors in Facebook detailed targeting

Intersect lookalike audiences with interests

When you’re targeting a high-percentage lookalike audience, the possibility of your ad set ending up with a big and broad audience is high. Now, even lookalike audiences, which are one of the most popular and efficient targeting methods, might become less accurate as they get bigger.

A good way to narrow big lookalike audiences down is by intersecting them with interests. You can add one or multiple interests to be the basis of filtering, and you’ll end up with more relevant lookalikes - people who are similar to your customers and have the same interests.

Testing interests

Now that you’ve got a list of your perfect audience’s interest keywords, you’re ready to find out what works and what doesn’t. This is where testing comes in, and we’ll tell you about two common methods among Facebook advertisers.

1. Manual interest testing

If there’s one thing common among all methods of testing interests, it’s that you’ll have to give it time and budget. One of those methods is setting up the experiment manually using ad-set budget optimization (ABO) to provide equal opportunities to the variables (the different ad sets) in the experiment. What you’ll be doing here is stack interest categories in each ad set and define equal budgets for each ad set.

Each category will be an umbrella for a set of target keywords. When enough data has been collected (=the ad set has spent enough), you’ll be able to derive insights on which categories are more profitable for you. This should be your signal to start narrowing those high-performing categories down to single interests to make your targeting more specific.

Note that ABO is much better for testing than CBO (campaign budget optimization) since it allows you more control over the budget of each ad set within your campaign. CBO campaigns might not even spend on certain ad sets and might also prioritize larger audiences, even if they don’t drive better results.

2. Facebook’s automated A/B testing

Some advertisers also use Facebook’s A/B testing feature, which isn’t all too bad, but you’re time- and budget-limited when using it. Since the experiment is automated, you can’t control when you want to stop the testing even if you’ve got all the insights you need. This means you’ll be spending money the whole time your test is running, and even after you’ve drawn the conclusions on which interest categories and single interests perform well.

Final thoughts

Now that you know interest targeting helps you reach the right people to show your ads to, it's time for you to put it to use and grow your ROAS. When learning about Facebook interest targeting, it’s important to keep these in mind:

  • Interest targeting is a useful targeting method that applies to all advertising experience levels. You can use it at the beginning, and continue to do so in the future to create audience diversity.
  • While researching your audience’s interest is important, creating and using lookalike and custom audiences from your business or Facebook’s database is still useful.

Combining interest-based targeting with other targeting methods is always a good way to narrow down your audience. You create a clearer picture of who you want Facebook to show your ads to, which positively impacts your ads’ performance.

In the end, you’re looking to create the best possible audiences for your ad campaigns. You’ve spent a lot of time creating the most scroll-stopping ad sets, why not take more time and curate the perfect audience for those advertisements?

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Oct 20, 2021
Jul 15, 2021
Natalie dela Vega

Natalie values content writing as a way to inform and ask people questions. To her, posing questions spark her own and others' curiosity and encourage learning.

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