Have you ever wondered why you’ve seen the ads that appear your Facebook Newsfeed and right side column?
I remember when I first started seeing them and wanting to know why I’d been targeted, of all things, for maternity clothes when I was eighteen, in college, single, and with babies no where on my radar.
As it turns out, I later realized several friends had started to have children, and I was targeted by association, or—more accurately—an association with connections to those Pages. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Facebook has given advertisers a long list of options to choose from when they’re targeting certain audiences. In almost all cases, the information on your profile simply lumps you into those audiences a certain ad is being targeted for. In only a few cases are you targeted specifically and directly by your user ID or e-mail address. We’ll talk about all of this a little further down in the post.
There are 8 reasons that you’re targeted by Facebook Ads, and you can actually see why each ad was shown to you if you’re interested enough to look.
How to See Why You’re Targeted by Facebook Ads
If you ever wanted to know why a particular ad has been shown to you and why you were targeted for it, now you can find out.
When looking at any ad, you’ll either see an x in the top right corner if you scroll over an ad in the right side column, or you’ll see an arrow that leads to a drop down menu in the top right corner of Ads that run in your Newsfeed.
If you click on the x or arrow respectively, you’ll see the option “Why am I seeing this?” If you click on it, Facebook will actually tell you why you were targeted by that particular ad campaign.
In this first example, I was targeted by Plated’s ad because I was a woman of a certain age. This is common; a lot of advertisers tend to keep their targeting broad to connect with as many potential customers as possible.
In our second example, I was targeted for a crest whitestrips ad because a third party company DLX provided Facebook with information saying that I might be interested in that product.
Facebook’s targeting options are extremely extensive, and you may very well see a different reason explaining the targeting criteria with each ad you click on. If you want to take a look at some targeting options from the advertisers’ point of view, you can take a look at our guide on targeting here.
1. Your Demographics
Demographics is a huge category of targeting on Facebook Ads, and is easily one of the most commonly used by marketers using the Facebook Ads system.
These demographics go from relatively broad defining characteristics like gender (which encompasses large groups of people) to very specific ones like education level, job position, or homeowner status.
Age and gender tend to be the most frequently used aspects of demographic targeting. A lot of large companies like to target users based purely on age and gender if they use demographic targeting; this keeps their reach large while still narrowing their audience down to one that they believe will largely be interested in their ad.
Sometimes users are targeted based on location, getting as specific as a zipcode or as broad as an entire country. Either way, location is a particularly popular targeting tool.
This is especially true when it’s a brick-and-mortar business looking for local users. Businesses like clinics, restaurants, and small independent businesses often target local users within a certain radius or zip code.
All of those Pages, bands, hobbies, books, and businesses that you’ve liked on Facebook can be interpreted by Facebook as your interests, and these interests can be used to target you on Facebook. These interests can be broad (eating out) to niche specific (vegan restaurants), and are often used by brands with a highly specific audience in mind.
Thanks to third party companies, Facebook is able to track your activity both on and off the site. They’re able to use this information to see things like what sites you visit and interact with, your purchase behavior, and actions you take (like charitable donations).
This is information a lot of users are unaware Facebook has. I didn’t know, for example that Facebook was targeting me for ads because I’d made donations to pet rescues in the past, but I found it a bit strange when a ton of ads from non-profits asking for donations suddenly showed up in my Newsfeed. Now I know why; they were targeting me based on behaviors that aligned with their goals.
It’s common that the connections you do or don’t have to certain Pages play an important part of marketers’ targeting strategies. Businesses will target you based on whether or not you’ve already liked their Page or their competitors’ Pages.
Sometimes, businesses will even target you for their ad campaigns when your friends have liked either their Page or their competitor’s Pages. Remember those maternity clothes ads I kept seeing? That’s why.
6. Visits to a Site Off-Facebook
Businesses can install tracking pixels on their websites that are created by Facebook. These pixels send information back to Facebook and tells Facebook (not the marketers) what users have visited certain sites.
Facebook will then let you target these users for their ad campaign. Marketers like these since they often have high conversion rates since you’re already familiar with their brand, product, or business. Again, businesses never have your names or access to your information; only Facebook does.
7. Information From a 3rd Party Site
DLX and other third party companies can—and do—track off-Facebook behavior and activity and report back to Facebook with the information to allow advertisers to target their ideal audiences. They track purchase behavior, sites visited, and almost every action you make online.
A lot of users greatly dislike that third party companies (or that anyone, really) is tracking their off-Facebook and even offline behavior, let alone that they’re then sending this information to Facebook for marketers to use.
The good news is that all of this information is kept confidential and safe; your name or identity is never shared. Even so, a lot of users feel that their privacy has been invaded, with some users being frustrated enough they delete their Facebook accounts entirely. If you want to disable this part of Facebook Ads and opt-out from having this information tracked, stored, and shared, take a look at how to opt-out here.
8. Relationships With Businesses Off-Facebook
If you’ve purchased from a site or if you’ve opted into their newsletter, Facebook considers that as you having given that business your permission to target you directly on Facebook.
This is where businesses target you directly, knowing that they are targeting you specifically.
They do this with a targeting feature called custom audiences, and they actually upload a list of user names and either your e-mail or user ID. These are specific names and profiles—they are targeting individuals.
Not just any business is allowed to “scrape” your user ID or e-mail address; this has been banned. Facebook now has certain rules about who can use this feature, which you can find out more about here.
Essentially if you’ve downloaded or used a business’s app, have signed up for their newsletter or made purchases with them and they’ve gotten your e-mail and contact information through white-hat, legitimate means, businesses are allowed to target you directly for ad campaigns. Again, these campaigns tend to have high conversion and success rates, so marketers use them with highly targeted messages.
What This Means for You
A lot of the time there’s more than one targeting feature being used by marketers. Location and connections are often used in conjunction with a lot of other targeting features.
An important thing to remember in the midst of all this is that Facebook does keep your information safe with Facebook Ads; advertisers never see the profiles or identities of who their ads are shown to unless users interact with the ad by commenting or sharing.
What do you think of Facebook’s targeting system? Will you opt out of some of the tracking Facebook takes part in? Leave us a comment and let us know!