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Facebook Advertising

Hitting Your Target: How Custom Audiences Can Help You Reach Your Goals

Hitting Your Target: How Custom Audiences Can Help You Reach Your Goals

by John Larkin

John runs the blog here at eCommerceLift and is a verified Shopify Expert. Interested in an initial growth consultation? Click here

A year ago


Hitting Your Target: How Custom Audiences Can Help You Reach Your Goals

At the London Olympics, the BBC commentator John Inverdale was widely pilloried for whispering during the archery final that “the odds of hitting your target go up dramatically when you aim at it.” While he deserved every bit of the slagging he got for stating the blatantly obvious, the truth is, for eCommerce retailers, the benefits of really targeting your audience can reap massive rewards.

Oftentimes, when you hear about successful Facebook advertising campaigns, you hear about big brands and what they are doing - but their spend is totally out of reach for the average small business.

One of the most widely-quoted examples of a successful Facebook advertising campaign is that of Petflow.com, a company that leveraged a spend of $200,000 on social media advertising into $10 million of sales. That’s well and good for giant companies like Petflow, but the key point is that it’s pretty hard to fail once if you are starting out with $200,000 in the first place.

Most small businesses don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even thousands of dollars in a lot of cases) to risk on campaigns that may or may not result in a positive outcome. That’s where targeting comes into play.

If your eCommerce store is just starting to use Facebook as an advertising tool, then the key message we keep re-iterating is that you should use Facebook as a tool to get customers to your website.

Once the customer is on your website, they are on your territory. The ball is in your court, to use a hoary old sports cliché. By all means, you can direct them to “like” your Facebook page from your own homepage, but bear in mind that (as we explained before) “likes” are good for building your brand, but the point of advertising has to be to drive sales. 

Let’s just say you have an eCommerce site selling t-shirts and you want to focus on a specific target market. For the sake of argument we will say you want to target males aged between 25-35 in the New York area. This is just not specific enough in terms of an area to focus on, and even if you did order a campaign to this demographic, it would cost an absolute fortune.

Instead you might want to concentrate on males between 25-35 in New York who are into technology. It’s far more effective than the old ways of scattergun advertising. Basing an advertising campaign on a potential customer’s interests as well as the old broader paramaters of age and location are almost four times more effective than ads which only used demographics or category-based targeting options.


You have to think niche. Start with a small group and scale it out when you find out what works. You don’t need to target everyone. If you can target 10,000 people with an ad you can get a fairly good idea of how effective the campaign is for a fairly low investment.

Henry Ford once said that about half his advertising worked. The problem was identifying which half. Much the same can be said when it comes to advertising in the modern age. There is no golden standard or hidden keywords you need to use to sell your products and anyone who tells you there is simply wrong.

And with small eCommerce companies with a limited budget you can run out of money before you find out what works, but again, that’s the attraction of creating a custom audience.

Probably the most crucial area to target is the correct target audience. With Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool, you can easily connect the dots between a customer who browses your site on their mobile device but then retarget them to their desktop device, where they may feel more comfortable making an actual purchase.

Some people question the validity of advertising on Facebook in the first place. Just this week a piece in the New York Times by Eilene Zimmerman entitled “When Advertising on Facebook Can be a Waste of Money” which quoted a disgruntled advertiser called Derek Muller who said “Wherever you’re targeting… advertising your page on Facebook is a waste of money.”

The piece, which focused its ire on the phenomenon of “fake likes” made some valid points (the fact that there is no defined mechanism to delete ‘fake likes’ is a pretty major Facebook flaw), but to dismiss Facebook as an advertising channel is folly.

The basic premise of advertising is to hit people where they are; and like television, radio or print, the simple fact of the matter is that people are spending more and more time Facebook and more than that, unlike other forms of media, it is somewhere that customers actually interact with brands, be it through “likes” or entering contests or engaging with the brand’s message.

Even the notion espoused in the New York Times article of harvesting “likes” as the only method of Facebook advertising is somewhat antiquated. Newsfeed advertising is where the growth is (and compared to side-bar adverts - they are stunning effective… with 44 (that’s not a typo) times the click-through rate and five times the conversion rate of the side-bar rates) and ads are becoming ever more targeted.

Fake likes are one thing, but smart advertisers have moved on. Likes are good for getting looks, but we are now focused on converting looks to bucks.

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