Is Interest Targeting Useless? (Facebook Ads)

Are Facebook Ads useful? Are they useless? Am I reaching the people Facebook says I’m reaching? How accurate is Facebook’s targeting? How can I effectively target my audience on Facebook? These answers, and more:

Article Difficulty Level: Beginner

There’s been a lot of debate recently over Facebook Ads. Facebook has been taking flak from almost every direction, and Ads are no exception. Ironically enough, they are currently being simultaneously criticized for collecting too much data on people, and for not having accurate data on people.

Last week, NPR published a very poorly researched and biased piece on the supposed inaccuracy of Facebook’s ad targeting. They only sought commentary from one side of the debate, causing quite a stir in the online marketing community. The article reads more like an attempt at investigative journalism rather than a public interest news story. But is it accurate? When you target people on Facebook by their interests, does it actually reach only those people?

For the beginners here, let me explain what I’m talking about.

Facebook makes its money off of ads. The reason why people spend so much money (over $40Bn last year) on Facebook ads is because of their ability to target specific people using various criteria. This makes advertising much more efficient because it reduces the amount of money you waste advertising to people who aren’t potential customers.

Facebook has over 10,000 data points on every single one of its users, on average. They collect that from numerous sources – information they submit, pages they like – but also from third parties, like public records, credit card companies, etc. Facebook does not have a way for anyone to see all of the data on a specific person, advertisers simply give Facebook a targeting criteria and Facebook goes out and finds everyone that meets it, and shows them the ads. This is their selling point to advertisers: spend money with us and reach ONLY your audience, saving money and increasing your profit margins.

So what is Interest Targeting, specifically? Interest Targeting is what Facebook is facing criticism over, so it’s important to understand what it is. Interest Targeting is when you target people on Facebook by selecting any of Facebook’s massive database of criteria. You can target people who are interested in specific topics, or by their demographic information, or by personal attributes. All of these fall under Interest Targeting. But isn’t this how I just described Facebook Ads overall?

As it turns out, Interest Targeting is only a small part of what Facebook Ads has to offer. It is the original method of targeting users that has been around since Day 1, but it has largely been replaced by more advanced techniques and tools. Personally, it has been months since I’ve used any form of interest targeting at any level. Interest Targeting is still used by beginners as an introductory method, but it is not what professionals use.

Interest Targeting is not as accurate as the general public seems to think. And, guess what? It never has been. Professionals know this. Facebook doesn’t claim anything to the contrary. When it was initially rolled out, it was by far the most advanced and accurate advertising platform ever seen by man – relatively speaking. It hasn’t become inaccurate, our standards for accuracy have simply changed. As the advertising world has evolved, so have our expectations. Even Facebook claims that it’s only around 80 percent accurate. My general estimate is that it’s around 60-70 percent accurate. Ten years ago, that was revolutionary. Now, people are filing lawsuits when a couple of their campaigns don’t meet their expectations.

Lookalike Audiences and Custom Audiences are what professionals use to target people. Interest Targeting is often a good hook for salespeople to use when talking to average business owners because that’s all they will understand, but it shouldn’t be what digital marketing teams are primarily using on the back end anymore. 60-70 percent accuracy in today’s world is amateurish. And that’s why I’m personally a bit irritated at these lawsuits and at the recent NPR article. Not only are they taking for granted and even looking down on a technology that was revolutionary just a few years ago, but they are displaying their ignorance on the topic when they stake their public reputation on something they clearly know nothing about.

Custom Audiences are audiences that you generate – customer lists, your existing page likes, people who have viewed a video you uploaded, people who visited your website, etc. These are 100% accurate forms of targeting, but they take serious time and money to build. It is important to note that you can’t actually see a list of everyone on any of these audiences unless you are the one that directly uploaded it in a spreadsheet.

Lookalike Audiences are AI – generated audiences that are statistically similar to one or more of your Custom Audiences. You can take a Custom Audience and have Facebook find a certain percentage of the people in a country that share the most common denominators with that source audience. Lookalike Audiences are about 90-95 percent accurate when done correctly, in my experience. However, doing them correctly takes a high level of technical expertise. I explain Lookalike Audiences in more detail here.

Let’s be clear: this controversy is just a cry for attention. It is fake outrage. It is a pathetic attempt by a group of individuals to insert themselves into the recent Facebook controversy for the free press. And, shamefully, NPR gave them that attention without even bothering to do any research or seek an opposing point of view. These companies suing Facebook spent a small amount of money on a beginner-level advertising tool, and threw a temper tantrum when the results were ONLY several times more cost-effective than anything else they could have spent that money on. If I was a business owner reading this lawsuit that had never spent money on Facebook Ads, I would imagine I’d actually be very impressed by the results, and would consider purchasing ads. This is actually happening right now – the recent controversy surrounding Facebook has spurred a sharp spike in advertising revenue because it has educated average business owners on what Facebook can accomplish for them. This is also why you are seeing a spike in uneducated business owners purchasing ads using Interest Targeting… It’s all over the news.

Facebook ads should be left to the professionals. When Facebook first opened up their ads platform to everyone, the barrier of entry was virtually nonexistent. It was extremely simple, and anyone could do it. But it has evolved into something far more complex. Since Facebook Ads is a dynamic bidding platform, the increased competition requires exponentially higher levels of expertise in order to achieve a profitable ROI. And if you don’t understand what that means, you shouldn’t be running Facebook Ads.

It takes a long time to learn how to run Facebook ads that are successful. It is very complex and highly technical. The perception that “anyone can do it” is outdated. Anyone can do graphic design, but that doesn’t mean you can create something good enough to sell without months or years of training and practice. If you are a business owner at any level, you need to realize this.

If you are going to run Facebook ads yourself and be successful, you need to be prepared to spend months learning the system, and thousands of dollars in education, testing, and experimentation. If you aren’t prepared to do that, you should hire a professional, someone with years of experience. Don’t hire a brand new “digital marketing agency” with a collective few months of experience under their belt. Vet the team selling you their services, and make sure they have proven expertise. Freelancers are a good option, but you should always demand case studies and client recommendations and make sure they span at least a year or so.

Facebook isn’t easy. Don’t take it for granted. If you invest time and resources into it, it’ll pay off. But if that is your intention, make sure you do it right.

Here is where I’m sure you expected to see a sales pitch. Nah. You can’t hire me. I have a full time job and two side businesses, and my free time is for my family. I’m just a nerd that likes to write. If you like this content and want to support me making more, though, you can join my Patreon.

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Principles Of Facebook Retargeting

“Retargeting” is the buzzword in social media right now, but what does it really mean? Is it hard to retarget people on Facebook? No, it’s (relatively) easy and effective – I’ll explain.

Article Difficulty Level – Beginner

Retargeting, simply defined, is the concept of displaying ads to people that have already seen or engaged with your ads before. For advanced users, it is the art of displaying specific ads to specific people who have viewed or engaged with your ads in a specific manner.

Ads on Facebook can be targeted in numerous ways, such as Interest Targeting (which was gutted this week), Lookalike Audiences, or Geographic Microtargeting. Each of these methods has their own unique usefulness and effectiveness, but each of them also have their flaws. The main flaw in each of these is that no matter how precise you set your targeting, you’ll always reach people that you aren’t intending to reach. This lowers your Click Through Rate (CTR) and raises your Cost Per Mille/Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM). This is why so much time and resources are devoted towards making these tactics as efficient as possible by the big multi-million dollar corporations and marketing agencies.

Retargeting solves this inaccuracy. By only targeting people who have already indicated an interest in your content, you can potentially raise your ad efficiency by a significant margin. But efficiency isn’t the only benefit of Retargeting.

Retargeting lets you run highly relevant ads to highly relevant audiences. Since you can actually run specific ads to people that have engaged with specific pieces of content in specific ways, you can write your copy very specifically. Sounds specific, doesn’t it? With most ads, you have to write your copy to appeal to everyone in your target audience – using very general language. With retargeted ads, you can speak directly to people, mentioning the specific actions they’ve taken in order to see that ad, or referencing specific things you know they’ve seen or done that put them in your targeting. You have to be careful not to be too specific, though, because Facebook will sometimes frown on that. Given the recent scrutiny, they don’t always like advertising to people just how specifically they are being targeted.

Retargeting also lets you capture valuable people and follow them around. If you know for an absolute, irrefutable fact that someone is in your target audience and is a likely customer, then you want to be in front of them every single day. With retargeting, you can capture people and put them in a totally separate targeting bucket with a separate budget and separate set of ad copy to ensure that your brand is in front of them consistently.

FOR EXAMPLE: Imagine you have a booth at a convention in Alabama. You’re selling, let’s say, vending equipment to elementary school principals. You’re at a convention center where 3,000 of those principals will be at over the next week. You’ve used my Geographic Microtargeting (GMT) tactics to set up a Saved Audience targeting everyone that is physically at that event. You snap a quick video of you standing in front of your booth: “Hey, y’all! I’m so excited to be at the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center here in Mobile* with you guys. If you’re in the main convention room for the sessions today, just take a right when you leave out the main door. I’m at booth #334, about halfway down on your left. I’m giving away FREE vending machines to help with your school fundraising, so come on by and ask me about that. Hope to talk to you soon!”

*This actually happened to me. I did this. It’s a real-world example. 

Video gives you the most retargeting options on Facebook. You can actually send specific ads to people that have not only watched specific videos of yours, but you can filter it by how much of that video they have watched. It’s quite incredible. With Geographic Microtargeting, you’ve narrowed your audience. With Lookalike Audiences, you can expand that audience. But with Retargeting, now you can attack that audience. If Interest Targeting is a shotgun, Lookalike Audiences are a biological weapon, Geographic Microtargeting is a nuke, and Retargeting… is a sniper rifle. Does that make sense? Since you’ve used GMT to narrow down your audience to only people physically inside the building, you are able to use the very specific text and language in the example above that forces them to stop, watch, read, and listen.  Once they’ve watched 3 seconds of your video, you’ve got them. Now, you can retarget them.

The convention is over. What happens? They keep seeing your ads! As soon as you close up shop and get back home, you hop on your desktop and set up your Retargeting. You create a Custom Audience targeting people that have watched 3 seconds of your video but less than 50% (I’ll write a post explaining how to do this in the future), and start running an ad to them: “Did we miss each other at the principal’s convention? I was the booth with the vending machines. In case you thought I was selling anything – I’m not! Our machines are totally free, and we do all the work every month.”

Because they engaged with your content in a specific way, you are able to run more specific content to them. Imagine how much more likely a principal that attended that conference is to stop and read your new ad versus a generic one targeting all principals in Alabama. Your click-through rate will skyrocket! This is great for lead generation, but it also has massive implications for e-commerce and other industries. I can see the wheels turning in your head right now… you’re excited at the potential, aren’t you?

The potential is limitless. Facebook allows you to retarget people using a wide variety of criteria. You can use video views, which are my favorite for building an audience in conjunction with GMT strategies. Or, you can upload an e-mail subscriber list. Or you can use a Pixel – a plug-in that Facebook has for your website that’ll track people on your site and let you retarget them. And that’s where it gets REALLY cool….

You can actually retarget people on Facebook based on specific actions that they take on your website. If someone adds an item to their cart but doesn’t check out, you can send them an ad reminding them to go check out. You can send people ads for specific products based on products they’ve already looked at on your website. And, since I know you are wondering… yes, THAT’S how Amazon does that. If you’ve ever gotten product ads for a site you’ve visited, and the products actually seem relevant to your browsing history – they are using Pixel retargeting.

Pixel retargeting is extremely complicated. You could literally take a college course on the topic and still not know everything. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about it. There are e-commerce specialists out there that could run circles around me. Cat Howell has some fantastic courses and resources on this topic, as does Jon Loomer. I may develop my own some day, if I have the time and money. If you’re interested in learning more about this, or are struggling with implementing it, I’d recommend joining Facebook Ad Hacks or becoming a Patreon of this site.

I don’t have the space here to walk you through every part of Facebook retargeting. I wish I did. I wanted to talk about the basic principles behind it though, and stress how effective it can be. I’ll continue to write more on the topic in future days, so make sure you subscribe to this blog and follow me on Facebook if you don’t already. At the beginning of all of my posts on here, I like to state the difficulty level, so that people can spend time with the content most helpful to where they are at in life. Since this is a beginner-level article, I’ve tried to sheer away from getting too detailed. If you have specific questions though, feel free to ask – either in the comments section of wherever you saw this post shared (if I’m there), or in the comments on this blog article.

I sincerely hope this article has helped you. I’d appreciate any feedback you have, as always. Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

Always remember: Analyze, Test, Optimize, Implement. The strategy for success, on Facebook, and in the rest of life. 

 

You Can’t Rush Digital Success

Yesterday, I wrote an article for the digital marketing company I work for (Addison Technologies). It’s about a topic near to my heart that I don’t feel like is talked about enough.

We’ve all seen the videos of some social media “guru” standing in front of a fancy house and fancy car promising us the world if we just follow his super-special formula that only he knows, which you can learn about for a moderate fee. And if you’re a business owner, odds are, you’ve had some young-gun “social media expert” come along and give you a hard sell on their “viral marketing” services, or some such nonsense.

This is a rampant problem. The barrier of entry into social media marketing is virtually nonexistent, and this has led to a sharp rise in the number of fake-it-til-you-make-it “experts” and “agencies” – all willing to promise you the world at bargain prices as long as you sign their contract. I’m in online groups for digital marketing experts that are filled with these types. I’ll see dozens of posts a day from them – “I just landed my first client in [niche] – anybody got any good ideas?!” These people have bought the lie that digital marketing is quick and easy – and now they are selling it to you.

Success online takes time and hard work – just like success at anything else. The REAL experts know this, and they don’t try to sell you flash-in-the-pan strategies that burn out as soon as the ink on your contract dries. Addison Tech has been doing this for 18 years, and I’ve been doing it for 10. We know what it really takes.

In my article for Addison Tech, I talk in depth about the strategies these people use to trick you into giving them money, and how to avoid doing business with them. I’m not pitching anything myself, here – the odds of you being in Addison Tech’s target market are slim. I just want to share some tips that will hopefully help you avoid the traps set by these snake oil salesmen.

Read my full article here.

How Does The Facebook Algorithm Work?

What drives the content on your Facebook news feed? What types of content perform better? What can you do to improve your reach on Facebook? An expert explains.

Article Difficulty Level: Beginner.

When I’m consulting with or training a business on how to effectively use Facebook ads, one of the biggest issues I run into is that the person running the company’s social media presence usually has either a very low-level understanding of how the Facebook algorithm works, or they believe some popular misconceptions about it. In order to help educate the public and dispel some of these myths, I thought I’d take a stab at explaining what the Facebook algorithm is, how it works, and what that means for you.

You must understand how the Facebook algorithm works if you manage the social media presence for any business, including your own. Otherwise, your entire strategy is nothing more than a shot in the dark. If you’ve ever wondered why some people are able to post content that goes viral while your stuff remains motionless, that’s because those other people understand the Facebook algorithm and they are tailoring their content and strategy to take advantage of it. But first, what is the Facebook algorithm?

The content you see on Facebook is determined by an algorithm called Edgerank. Think of Edgerank as an artificially intelligent being. When Facebook first created it, it was a child – simple in thought and action. The posts on your news feed mostly appeared in chronological order. As time went on, engagement began to affect the content that you saw. Posts that got higher engagement reached more people. This change is what created the concept of viral content, and is what shapes almost everything we do online today.

As time went on, Edgerank grew up. It became more complex, capable of using a much wider range of factors to determine what content floated to the top. It developed a personality of sorts. Just like a teenager, the more unique it became, the easier it has become to predict it’s behavior. Right now, Edgerank is in the process of becoming an adult. It left home and was exposed to the world through the recent political scrutiny it has received. It’s been criticized by it’s elders that don’t understand how it thinks, and it is desperately trying to be “cool” in a world that wants to control its every move.

How does Edgerank work? Well, nobody really knows. But we know enough. When you’ve been using Facebook as a marketing tool as long as I have, you tend to see behind the curtain just by poking and prodding after a while. Just like you can observe a person’s behavior and come to conclusions about their personality and their thought processes, so can we guess at how Edgerank influences our world.

Facebook has explained Edgerank in general terms. Experts with far more experience and resources than I have done in-depth studies and reverse engineered enough so that we have a fairly good understanding of how the algorithm works and what it does. In simplest terms, it attempts to increase the reach of valuable content and decrease the reach of bad content. It defines “valuable” content as content that Facebook thinks people want to see more of, as determined by their past behavior. Facebook studies its users behavior in order to see what they like and don’t like, and Edgerank is adjusted to give preference to the type of content that users tend to prefer. So, if you want to succeed on Facebook, you need to understand what this content is and how to duplicate it.

Edgerank has changed recently. At any given point in time, this statement will be true – because it is always changing. However, it changed much more than normal this year (2018), so if you’ve studied it before, you need to go back and study it again. Reading this article is a good place to start.

Edgerank now has three main factors that it uses to determine what content you see. Each of these factors affects a single score that is assigned to every post that you might see, and that score is completely relative to you as an individual. Nobody else’s news feed will ever look exactly like yours, even if they have only the exact same friends as you and like only the pages that you like. The three factors that Edgerank uses to determine your unique score for every potential post in your news feed are:

  1. Affinity Score (Engagement/Relation)
  2. Edge Weight (Content Type)
  3. Time Decay. (Age)

Affinity Score measures two separate things. First, it measures how close the person generating the content (the “Edge”) is to you. This is why you see more posts from people that you are closest to, and less posts from the people on your friends list that you haven’t talked to in forever. We don’t know all of the ways that Facebook calculates this, but one of the biggest factors is how frequently you engage with that person.

Affinity Score also measures the engagement on that content (the “Edge”). As we all know, posts with more engagement reach more people. It weights each engagement separately too – comments are worth more than likes, shares are worth more than comments, etc. In addition, it also (supposedly) factors in the amount of time since that engagement occurred. If you’ve ever logged onto Facebook and most of the posts on your news feed are about stuff that happened three days ago, that is due to an error in this part of the algorithm.

Edge Weight is affected by the type of content that you are posting. I’ve used “Edge” to refer to pieces of content, but that content can be anything on your news feed – not just a post, but a “Trey Edwards liked this post” type of post that you will see often on Facebook. Each of those posts are considered “Edges.” Edge Weight is a measure of the weight of any given Edge type. So, for instance, when Facebook is rolling out a new feature, they will give it a boost in Edge Weight. Live video, for instance, gets a boost in reach inherently just because it is a type of content that Facebook wants to push. Right now, posts in Groups have the biggest Edge Weight bonus. This is why it is always smart to be one of the first people to use new features that Facebook rolls out.

Edge Weight is also altered on a per-user basis. In other words, your Edge Weight for a certain type of content (say, videos) may be different than someone else’s. If you tend to watch a lot of videos, then videos will receive a higher Edgerank score for you than other types of content.

Time Decay is pretty straightforward. It’s just a measure of how long it’s been since that Edge was created. The older a post is, the lower it’s Edgerank score will be.

All of these factors create a single score for every potential post in your news feed. Your news feed is then simply a list of all of those posts, sorted by highest Edgerank score to lowest. However, nobody actually knows what these scores are, or exactly what weight is given to each factor. Facebook keeps this a closely guarded secret. This is the algorithm that makes Facebook work the way it does, and it is what drives the site’s success. The better this algorithm becomes at predicting what content people want to see, the more time people will spend on the site.

Use this knowledge to your advantage. Study the experts. Go to pages that you know get a large amount of reach and engagement. See what kind of content they are posting and what they are saying and how they are saying it. All of these things are carefully tailored by social media experts in order to intentionally boost Edgerank scores and get content in front of as many people as possible. The only cost associated with this is the time you take to learn it.

There’s no silver bullet. I can’t tell you exactly what to do to succeed, because Edgerank is always changing. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. Today, live video and Groups are the best way to build reach and engagement. Tomorrow it may be something else. Stay on top of the trends and follow the experts. My blog is just getting started, but I’ve been doing Facebook for a long time, so you might start by following mine. I’d also suggest following Social Media Examiner, Mari Smith, Cat Howell, Ad Zombies, and Jon Loomer. All of these pages are no-nonsense, no-gimmick genuine experts. I’d also recommend joining the Facebook Ad Hacks group – a free-to-join group of about 70,000 Facebook marketers as of the date this article was published. It is run by Cat Howell, who I mentioned above. It can be a bit intense at times, but it is a great environment to learn in.

A word of caution – don’t get stuck in the weeds with the gimmicky marketers that run ads of themselves talking into a camera about how many thousands of dollars they make a day while driving fancy cars and living in a huge house… those are scams. Trust me. They rented that car and that house for the day so they could film that video. If they really made that much money with some secret formula no one had ever heard of before, the last thing they’d be doing is giving it out. Those are nothing more than modern-day snake oil salesmen. There is no secret sauce to making Facebook work for you. It takes a lot of study, hard work, and trial and error – just like everything else in life. Just don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks – sometimes you’ll be surprised at your results.

Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up in the comments section.