Creating Special Ad Audiences in 2020

Feb 4, 2020, Written by Shelby Thomas

Creating ads that work with Facebook’s constant audience limitations is like chasing a lock that’s never quite within arm’s reach, and if you’re lucky enough to unlock it once, the key breaks the following week.

In other words, optimization is hard.

The thing is, optimization takes time. The complexity arises out of a need to test various assets, such as budget, audience interests and behaviors, location, demographics, creative format, etc. The list goes on, but the money does not.

If you are in the business of promoting real estate, employment, or finance, things only get harder. These are called “Special Ad Categories” now, and boy are they special.

Special Ad Categories

Let’s specifically list the categories that are included as a Special Ad. If you’re in one of them, you must select a box for every ad run that identifies it as a special ad category, which will significantly limit your targeting options.

  • Housing – real estate listings, homeowners insurance, mortgage loans, home building, or other related opportunities
  • Employment – job offers, internships, certification programs, or related opportunities
  • Credit – Financial advice, credit cards, insurance, or related opportunities

Yet, we must work with what we have, and we do have a little. Let’s pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and look at what targeting options we can salvage for special ad categories.

Option 1: Manual Targeting

Here’s a list of what you can target for special ad categories in 2020:

  • Locations smaller than a 15 mile radius
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income Level
  • Narrow Interests and Behaviors

So, as we can see we’re just left with 15+ mile selections and detailed interests and behaviors. For example, whereas you used to be able to target real estate ads to certain zip codes and income levels, you now have to guess what that type of audience would be interested in, such as “luxury real estate”, “interior design”, “luxury vehicles”, etc.

If you’re lucky, those detailed interests will somewhat match what you’re looking for. From there, it’s up to you to test a few options against one another to see which gets the highest engagement rate. For more details on A/B testing, see here:

Tip: To start, try selecting as many interests as you can that could match your consumer profile so that you get a large enough audience for Facebook to work its algorithm. It will learn from your audience’s behavior and engagement on your ad, and work to find more users who can provide a lower cost per action.

Option 2: Special Ad Audiences (Lookalike Audiences)

An easier way to tackle special ad categories is with a “Special Ad Audience”, which is relatively new. They are similar to traditional lookalike audiences in that they allow you to automatically build an audience based on existing customers or engagement you have already received.

Here’s a quick list of all the data sources you can choose to build your special ad audience:

  • Website traffic – target people who show similar online behavior to your website visitors (must have FB pixel installed)
  • Video engagement – target people who have watched a certain % of your social videos and find more people like them.
  • Customer List – This will be the most accessible. Almost every business has a customer email list they have built up over the years. You can upload this to FB, from which they will search for users who have shown similar online behavior.
  • Page Engagement – target people who share interests and behaviors with people who have already liked or engaged with your page.

Those are only a few of the options available, but the most effective from what we have found.

Once you have identified your data sources, you can choose which percentage of the population to target on a scale from 1-10%, with 10% being the broadest set of your selected location that would look-a-like your data source.

Tip: The goal is to go as broad as you can while seeing positive results. If you are seeing great engagement with a 10% lookalike, don’t think about cutting it down! Remember: Facebook will continue to learn even from lookalike audiences which type of users are going to respond best. It’s good for you, and it’s good for them.

Don’t Try to Outsmart the System

I’ve conveniently tried that for you. I have tested several ads that I thought would not be flagged for a special ad category, but lo and behold, they are swiftly rejected. If you think there could even be a possibility that your ad could be related to to a special category, stay on the safe side and choose a Special Ad Category. 

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Shelby Thomas

As a Marketing Project Manager, Shelby's goal is to provide value for clients with results-driven solutions in website development, digital advertising, and traditional marketing collateral.

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