Facebook Custom Audiences 101: A Starter Guide for Ecommerce Businesses

Facebook custom audiences

Facebook advertising is incredibly popular for two big reasons. First, it’s the biggest social media platform in the world, boasting nearly 2.5 billion active users

Second, it offers granular audience targeting options, making it easy to get your Facebook ads in front of the people who are most likely to buy your products.

One of Facebook’s best options for advertising to a niche audience is Facebook Custom Audiences. Custom Audiences lets you retarget people who have interacted with your business before: those who have purchased from your store or visited your website.

Learn about the types of Facebook Custom Audiences you can build, and how to create one and improve your retargeting efforts.

What is a Facebook Custom Audience? 

A Facebook Custom Audience is a defined group of people who have interacted with your business. To create Custom Audiences, you can use data sources like customer lists, website or app traffic, or engagement across Facebook and Instagram. You can create up to 500 Custom Audiences per ad account.

iOS14.5 updates and Custom Audiences

Apple’s recent iOS14.5 update impacted Custom Audiences, but they are still effective.The update turned off the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) by default. The IDFA tracked people’s behavior while using apps, making it easier to create targeted ads. 

Now, people can opt-in or opt-out of data sharing, which limits your ability to track user activity and shrinks your audience size. As of April 2022, only 25% of people have opted in to share data. 

Facebook recommends broad targeting or using Advantage detailed targeting to improve ad campaign results. 

💡 TIP: Want better ad performance? Use Shopify Audiences to find relevant buyers and lower advertising costs with custom audience lists—powered by Shopify’s unique insights from commerce data.

Types of Custom Audiences

Before getting into how to create a Custom Audience, let’s go over the different types available. 

  1. Custom Audiences from customer lists. This group is made up of people who’ve shown an interest in your business or product, but doesn’t come from Facebook engagement or the Meta pixel. You tell Facebook “identifiers” collected from your audience (e.g., an email address) and Facebook matches the data to their profiles to develop the audience. 
  2. Custom Audiences from your website. After installing the Meta pixel, you can match website visitors to their Facebook profiles. You can use this data to target people who’ve visited a specific product or category page, all website visitors, or recent visitors by choosing a timeframe. 
  3. Custom Audiences from app activity. Want to target people using your mobile app? You can set up a Custom Audience for that, too. 
  4. Custom Audiences from engagement. This group consists of people who’ve interacted with content on your Instagram account or Facebook page. You can target people who’ve taken actions like viewing a video, clicking an ad, or following your Facebook page. 

You can also create Lookalike Audiences from a Custom Audience. A lookalike audience is a group of people who share key characteristics with your existing audiences. Targeting a lookalike audience helps you find potential fans and customers easier. 

The more you know about the Facebook users you’re advertising to, the better your ads will perform. When you market to a Custom Audience, you know exactly who is seeing your ads, and your messaging can be targeted with laser-like precision. This will help you increase your conversion rates and get a better return on investment.

How to create a Facebook Custom Audience

To create any Custom Audience, go to your Audiences in Ads Manager. 

how to create a custom audience

Click the Create Audience dropdown menu and select Custom Audience. 

From there, you’ll have various sources to choose from. Let’s dive deeper into three main options you’ll use: website, customer list, and Meta Sources. 

Creating a website Custom Audience

1. Choose Website under Your sources

website custom audience

2. Set rules

Choose the source, events, retention period, and rules. Some rules you can choose are:

  • Target all website visitors
  • Target people who’ve visited specific pages 
  • Target visitors by time spent on your website 

website custom audience 2

3. Name your audience

Stay organized and give a name to each audience. Also write a description for more clarity if needed. 

name your audience

4. Click “Create audience”

And just like that, Facebook will create your Custom Audience based on the information you supply.

Creating an Engagement Custom Audience from Meta Sources

1. Choose a Meta Source

There are many Meta Sources to choose from. For example, we’re choosing “Instagram account.” Choose a Meta Source you want to use and click “Next.”

instagram audience

2. Set rules

Each Meta Source will have its own events, retention period, and rules. 

For an Instagram account, you can select events such as:

  • People who’ve visited your profile.
  • People who’ve liked, commented on, or saved a post. 
  • People who’ve engaged with or saved an Instagram ad. 
  • People who’ve messaged the account.

ig account rules

3. Name the audience

Write a clear name for your audience and quick description if needed. For example, you can have an audience called IG-PROFILE-VISIT-180 for people who’ve visited your Instagram profile within the past 180 days. 

4. Select “Create audience”

Facebook will then create your Custom Audience based on your criteria. 

Creating a Custom Audience from a customer list

1. Create a customer list

Create a CSV for TXT file of identifiers (like an email address or phone number) so Facebook will match your information to Facebook profiles. Use as many identifiers as possible to create a highly defined audience. 

Facebook also has a guide on how to format your customer list

2. Choose the “Customer list” source

Select the “Customer list” option and click “Next.”

customer list

3. Import customer list

Upload the CSV or TXT file for the customer list you want to use. For example, you may import a customer list from your email marketing platform and CRM. 

4. Review your list and click “Upload and create”

Confirm that your identifiers are mapped correctly. If you get a green check mark symbol, it means you are ready to start the matching process. If you get a yellow exclamation symbol, you need to review and update identifiers to match Facebook’s requirements. 

After you receive the green light (or check mark) and your list is added, click “Upload and create.” 

Important notes about Facebook Custom Audiences

When you’re creating Custom Audiences on Facebook, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to avoid errors and make sure you’re targeting the right people with your ads.

  • You need a Facebook Business Manager account to create Custom Audiences. If you don’t already have a Business Manager account, Facebook will prompt you to create one when you try to build a Custom Audience, or you can just start the process by creating a new Business Manager account.
  • You need at least 20 people in your Custom Audience to serve ads to that audience. If your website isn’t getting much traffic yet—or if your email list is very small—you may want to try running ads to send traffic to your site or encourage email subscribes before setting up Custom Audiences.
  • You may not be able to pull all of your customers, visitors, or subscribers into a Custom Audience. Not everyone who visits your website will be logged in to Facebook. Similarly, people on your email list may use a different email address for their Facebook account. So if your Custom Audience is smaller than you expected, it’s not necessarily because of an error.
  • You need to update your email Custom Audiences regularly. If you manually uploaded a list of contacts to Facebook to create your Custom Audience, you need to make sure you update it regularly by uploading a new CSV file with new contacts only, replacing your Custom Audience with a new CSV file of all of your contacts, or copying and pasting new subscribers into your Custom Audience list.

How to use Facebook Custom Audiences

Facebook Custom Audiences lets you select from a variety of parameters to get very specific about who you target. As a result, you can create better, more optimized ads.

Here are six of my favorite things you can do using Facebook Custom Audiences.

1. Grow your Facebook audience

Custom Audiences can help you grow your Facebook audience. Create a Custom Audience of people who’ve signed up for your email list or visited your website recently, then use that Custom Audience to run ads encouraging those people to follow your business on Facebook.

2. Upsell existing customers

You can use Custom Audiences to create a list of people who have already purchased something from you, i.e., your existing customers. If you have more than one thing to sell, this is a great way to improve your customer lifetime value.

If you have related products or accessories, offer them in an ad targeted at recent shoppers. Using a special time-sensitive promotion will encourage them to take action right away.

3. Target people who abandoned their carts

There are many reasons why people abandon their carts. Often, they just got busy and didn’t get a chance to complete their purchase. But if they added something to their cart, there’s a good chance they want to buy it.

Follow up with them quickly with a targeted Facebook ad before they forget or, worse, buy it somewhere else.

4. Sell to active subscribers

People who have never heard of your business before are the hardest people to sell to. Most of us don’t just visit a website for the first time and buy something. We want to get to know and trust the business first. That’s why it’s hard to sell to strangers on Facebook.

Improve your conversion rate by selling to active subscribers—the people who’ve not only subscribed to your list but also actually open your emails. Not only have they heard of your brand, they like it enough to subscribe to your list and regularly read what you have to say.

5. Get feedback from customers

Feedback is hugely valuable to business owners. Getting regular feedback will help you make sure your customers are happy. Even better, feedback is a great source of marketing and product ideas.

Use Facebook to follow up with customers after they make a purchase, and ask them to fill out a survey. If you want to improve your odds of getting your surveys completed, run a contest to incentivize it.

6. Build your email list

Building an email list is a good idea for any online business. It’s the most reliable way to keep in touch with both active and potential customers. And while list building generally happens on your website, you can use Facebook too.

By targeting people who have visited your website, you’ll get more email subscribers. Website visitors already know you, so they’re more likely to sign up than complete strangers.

More advanced ways to use Facebook Custom Audiences

Once you’ve mastered the basics of advertising on Facebook using Custom Audiences, you may want to take things a step further by creating even more targeted ads with some of the more advanced options Facebook offers.

Advantage+ catalog ads (formerly dynamic product ads)

Most Custom Audiences need manual setup. This is especially true if you want to target website visitors based on the products they looked at. For websites with a lot of pages, this becomes impractical pretty quickly.

Advantage+ catalog ads offer a more automated solution. Website visitors see ads based on the products they looked at and how close they came to checking out. You only need to set the parameters and create the ad template. After that, it runs automatically.

Shopify users can set up Advantage+ catalog ads easily using Shopify’s Facebook and Instagram app. When you set up the Facebook sales channel, your products are automatically made available to it. Those products are then synced to a product catalog on Facebook you can use to create dynamic retargeting ads.


One of the things that makes Custom Audiences so powerful is the ability to exclude people. For example, if you run an ad to get website visitors on your email list, make sure you exclude current subscribers.

Similarly, if you’re using Facebook to sell to website visitors and you only have one product to sell, people are probably only going to buy from you once. Save money by excluding anyone who has already completed a purchase.

Failing to use exclusions is the number one mistake I see business owners making with Custom Audiences on Facebook. Constantly advertising to people who have already converted is expensive. Always think about how you can segment your audience further by excluding people.

Lookalike audiences

After you’ve created a Custom Audience, you can use lookalike audiences to expand it to include people who haven’t signed up for your email newsletter or visited your site but share some of the same qualities as the people who have.

This is a great way to get your products in front of people who are likely to be interested in what you’re selling but aren’t yet familiar with your business or products.

To create a lookalike audience, you need at least 100 people from a single country in one of your existing Custom Audiences.

Value-based lookalike audiences

If you want to get really granular with your ad targeting, you can create value-based lookalike audiences that let you assign an indicator identifying the highest-value customers on your list.

This additional piece of data lets Facebook refine its targeting even further to expand your audience only to people who are the most likely to generate a high lifetime value as customers.

Pixel events

If you’re using the Meta pixel (formerly the Facebook pixel) on your website, you can also set up Pixel events that automatically add visitors to your Custom Audience when they perform actions such as:

  • Adding a product to the shopping cart
  • Adding a product to a wishlist
  • Making a purchase
  • Performing a site search
  • Subscribing to your newsletter
  • Viewing a specific piece of content

This helps you automate the process of building your different Custom Audiences and ensures that you’re only targeting the people you want to see specific ads—like an abandoned cart ad, for example.

Start advertising your ecommerce business today 

Once your first Custom Audience is ready, it’s time to start advertising! Every time you create a new campaign, you’ll have the option to choose one of your Custom Audiences for targeting. You can also create a new Custom Audience at any time. A custom audience based on your current users is a great way to level up your marketing efforts using advertising.

Illustration by Eugenia Mello

Facebook Custom Audience FAQ

What is a Facebook Custom Audience?

A Facebook Custom Audience is an audience that you create on Facebook using your own customer data. This data can include information like email addresses, phone numbers, and physical addresses. You can use Facebook custom audiences to target ads to specific groups of people, or to exclude people from seeing your ads.

What is the difference between a saved audience and a custom audience?

A saved audience is an audience that you've created and saved to use again in the future. A custom audience is an audience that you've created for a specific campaign and may not use again in the future.

Is it better to have a specific audience on Facebook?

Yes, it is generally better to have a specific audience on Facebook so that you can better target your content and ads. Having a specific audience also allows you to track the results of your campaigns more effectively.

How long do Facebook Custom Audiences last?

Visitors to your website or app can stay in a Custom Audience for up to 180 days. People who have been in the Custom Audience for 180 days will be removed unless they come back.