The Beginner's Guide to Facebook Custom Audiences

Woman using Facebook

Paid advertising is a tricky business. With careful planning and tracking, it can be a lucrative and reliable source of leads and sales. But, it can also be an expensive lesson.

The more you know about the people you’re advertising to, the better your ads will perform. This is why many business owners love advertising on Facebook. There are so many options for audience targeting.

One of my favorite options is Facebook Custom Audiences. With Custom Audiences, you can retarget people who have interacted with your business already. For example, customers and website visitors.

When you market to a Custom Audience, you know exactly who is seeing your ads. Your messaging can be laser-targeted. This will help you increase your conversion rate and get a better return on investment.

Types of Facebook Custom Audiences

There are three types of Custom Audiences. With each type, you can choose smaller segments of your audience. The more specific you get, the more effective your campaign will be.

1. Customer List

Use customer data, such as email addresses and phone numbers, to build a Custom Audience. You can upload your entire list, or smaller sections of it. As long as they use the same contact information with Facebook, you’ll be able to advertise to them. Remember that you must have permission. You can’t just upload any random email address or phone number.

2. Website Traffic

Advertise to anyone who has visited your website in the past 180 days, as long as they’re also logged into Facebook. It’s up to you to choose the time frame and decide exactly which website visitors to target based on the pages they visit. For example, you could target people that only viewed product pages in the last 30 days.

3. App Activity

If you have a mobile app, you can also create a Custom Audience based around app activity. Market to anyone who has engaged with your app in the last 180 days, as long as they’re also on Facebook.

For this post, we’re going to focus on the customer list and website traffic options since they are the most common.

How to Use Facebook Custom Audiences

There are hundreds of ways to use Facebook Custom Audiences. You can 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 a few of my favorite uses.

1. Grow Your Facebook Audience

Generally speaking, email should be your preferred contact information for leads and customers. If you have an ecommerce store, getting Facebook likes as a first step is not the goal. Instead, your goal should be to make a sale, or collect leads that you can sell to later. For that reason, encouraging website traffic to connect with you on social media trying to build your social media audience on your website is not a good idea. It distracts from the action you actually want visitors to take.

Build your Facebook audience by retargeting subscribers after they have left your website. At this point, you already have their email address so it’s safe to shift focus to page likes. Plus, because these people are already familiar with your brand, they will be more likely to respond to your ads.

2. Upsell Existing Customers

You can use Custom Audiences to create a list of people who have already purchased something from you. If you have more than one thing to sell, this is a great way to improve your customer lifetime value. According to Marketing Metrics, “The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%.”

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.

Example of an upsell ad

Via: State of Digital

3. Target People Who Abandoned Their Cart

What about the people who didn’t make a purchase? On average, Only 2% of shoppers convert on their first visit to a store. This targeting option allows you to use ads to follow up with the other 98%. Using your website traffic, you can reach out to people who placed items in their cart but didn’t follow through with the purchase.

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. Followup up with them quickly on Facebook 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 company 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 open your emails. Not only have they heard of your brand, they liked it enough to hop on your list and actually read what you have to say. Use your email service provider to find out who your active subscribers are and add them to a Custom Audience on Facebook. These are great people to target with product ads.

5. Get Feedback from Customers

Feedback is hugely valuable to business owners. The best feedback comes from the people who have given you their money: existing customers. 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 completed surveys, you can run a contest to incentivize it.

6. Facebook 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.

Facebook Dynamic Product 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.

7. 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. While list building generally happens on your website, you can use Facebook to build your list, 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.

Don’t Forget Exclusions

One of the things that make 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.

How to Set Up Facebook Custom Audiences

The most common Custom Audiences for online store owners are Email Custom Audiences and Website Custom Audiences. These are the two we’ll focus on today.

Website Custom Audiences

Setting up a Website Custom Audience takes a few steps.

Step 1: Create Your Custom Audience Pixel

The first step is to create your Custom Audience Pixel in the Ad Manager. A Custom Audience Pixel is just a fancy term for a snippet of code you put on your site that talks to Facebook and tracks your visitors. If you’re comfortable using Power Editor, you can also create it there. If you have access to multiple Ad Accounts, make sure you select the right one. Each Ad Account only gets one pixel.

The Ad Manager can be accessed from your business’ Facebook page on the right-hand side where it says “Promote”. You should see “Go to Ads Managers” at the bottom of the dropdown.

Where to find Facebook Ad Manager

Once you’re in the Ad Manager, select “Audiences” from the dropdown menu under “Tools”.

Where to find Audiences in  Ad Manager

If you have any Custom Audiences already set up, you’ll see them here. To create a new audience, click on “Create Audience” and “ Custom Audience”.

Where to create Custom Audience in Ads Manager

 You should now see a popup with three options. Click on “Website Traffic”. 

Select a Custom Audience

If you haven’t created a pixel before, you’ll be prompted to do so now. You’ll be given a few lines of code to place on your website. If you're not on Shopify, copy the entire code and click "Create Audience".

If you are on Shopify, scroll through the code and look for a string of 15 numbers. That's your Pixel ID. Copy this number and click “Create Audience”. 

Custom Audience Pixel Code Sample

Step 2: Install the Pixel on Your Website

In order for your pixel to work properly, it needs to be displayed on every page of your website. The best place to put the code is in the <head></head> section of your index page.

If your store is on Shopify, the process is much simpler. In your Shopify Admin, navigate to "Settings"→ "Online Store".

Shopify admin

Scroll down to the Facebook Pixel section and paste your Pixel ID.

Where to place Facebook Pixel ID

Click "Save" and you're done! Once you’ve added the code to your website, you can use the Facebook Pixel Helper in Chrome to make sure it’s working properly.

You only have to do this once for each website you want to promote.

Step 3: Create Your Audiences in Facebook

Now that you’ve created and installed your pixel, it’s time to start creating some Custom Audiences. To create your first audience, follow step one again to set your parameters.

For each website custom audience you create, you have five options.

  1. Anyone who visits your website.
  2. People who visit specific pages.
  3. People visiting specific pages but not others.
  4. People haven’t visited in a certain amount of time.

 Selecting a Website Audience

Within in each option, you can choose a time frame between 1 and 180 days. Make sure you name your audiences carefully so you remember what they are later. This is especially important if you have multiple websites sharing one pixel.

You’ll likely want to experiment with different audiences as you come up with campaign ideas and publish new content on your website.

In the meantime, there are a few custom audiences I like to set up on every new website.

All Website Traffic - 1 Day
All Website Traffic - 7 Days
All Website Traffic - 30 Days
All Website Traffic - 90 Days
All Website Traffic - 180 Days

For each of the above examples, you only need to add your domain and choose the right time frame, as seen below.

Anyone who visits your website Custom Audience

Let’s go through a a couple more examples.

Get Feedback From Customers

To get feedback from recent customers, create a Custom Audience that targets people who visit your order confirmation page. This should be a page they can only access after placing an order.

Customer feedback audience creation

Website Visitors Who Don’t Convert

You can include an exclusion to target website visitors who don’t convert. To do this, include traffic to your landing page, sales page, product page, or shopping cart, but exclude traffic that made it to your order confirmation or thank you page. 

Abandoned cart Custom Audience

Keep in mind the example above is just that: an example. You’ll need to use your own custom URLs to do this.

Email Custom Audiences

Email Custom Audiences are much easier to set up. Before doing anything in Facebook, you’ll need to gather your list of email addresses. If you are using customer phone numbers, the process will be the same.

I recommend uploading your entire customer list right away. However, you can also upload segments of your list such as people who subscribed from a specific form, people who subscribed after a certain date, or people who clicked on a specific link. Segments like these can be created in most email service providers.

You have two options for uploading your customer lists: copying and pasting the data or uploading it as a .csv file. Copying and pasting makes sense for shorter lists, but longer lists should be exported from your email service provider and uploaded as a .csv file. Before uploading, make sure that all the email addresses (or phone numbers) are listed in a single column with no other information. 

Creating email custom audience

If you happen to host your email list with MailChimp, you can can connect Facebook directly to your email list instead of uploading or copy and pasting.

Once uploaded, Facebook will try and match the customer data up with real Facebook users. If you have at least 20 people in an audience, you’ll be able to start advertising to it.

Finally, remember to update your email custom audiences from time to time. Facebook does not do this automatically.

Important Notes

There are a couple important details about Facebook Custom Audiences to keep in mind.

  1. Each ad account only gets one pixel. This means that if you run multiple websites, you’ll be using the same pixel for all your websites. Keep this in mind when creating and naming your website custom audiences.
  2. In order to protect the privacy of Facebook users, you can only advertise to an audience of 20 or more people. If your website isn’t getting much traffic yet, you may need to use longer time frames until it grows.
  3. You won’t be able to pull all of your website traffic or customer data into a Custom Audience. Not everyone who visits your website will be logged into Facebook. Similarly, people on your email list may use a different address for their Facebook account.

Start Advertising

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. Check out this post for an introduction to advertising on Facebook.

Have you ever experimented with Facebook Custom Audiences before? Tell me about your experience in the comments!


Start Advertising

About The Author

Casandra Campbell is an entrepreneur, craft beer nerd, and content creator at Shopify.