How to Run Successful Retargeting Ads with Facebook Custom Audiences

How to Run Successful Retargeting Ads with Facebook Custom Audiences

How to Run Successful Retargeting Ads with Facebook Custom Audiences

For years, marketers and salespeople have talked about “The Rule of 7” which states that people need to hear a brand’s marketing message seven times before they’ll make a move to purchase your product or service.

But the truth is, social media has really changed the game. We are inundated with advertising at every opportunity and now some industry professionals are suggesting that number may be 2-3x higher at 15 to 20 impressions.

But while the Internet and social media have raised the bar for the consumer’s subconscious, it’s also given savvy marketers the tools to be more focused with their advertising. You can now narrow your target to a specific audience of likely buyers instead of running an expensive national TV spot for everyone.

That’s one reason that retargeting is so effective for brands these days. It’s also one of the biggest reasons that Facebook was able to generate nearly $40 billion in advertising revenue in 2017.

The real magic behind retargeting ads with Facebook comes from its sophisticated Custom Audiences tool. This tool lets you effectively target and segment anyone who has interacted with your brand, online or off.

In this article, I’m going to give you an overview of the different types of Custom Audiences that you can use and along the way offer a few examples and suggestions about how we’ve seen brands generate the most value with each.

Facebook offers you five categories to create custom audiences. And as you’ll see, each has even more options within them:

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  1. Customer File

The customer file lets you upload a list of customers’ information to Facebook and match it with their Facebook profiles. Then you can reach them with targeted ads.

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If you use MailChimp, you can easily import your email list. But it’s pretty easy to create a CSV file from any database you have an upload it.

For example, you can include a list of webinar attendees, an in-store loyalty program, event attendance, etc. The possibilities are endless! As long as you obtain the information legally and ethically, you can upload it to Facebook and advertise directly to that group of people.

  1. Website Traffic

This option is even more automated because you don’t need to collect any customer information to create the custom audience. All you need to do is install a Facebook Pixel (code that allows you to measure, optimize and build audiences for your ad campaigns) on your site, which takes less than five minutes.

Then you can target anyone who has visited your site. If you want, you can even segment that traffic further and target anyone who has visited specific pages or those visitors who spent the most time on your site.

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  1. App Activity

App activity lets you create a custom audience of users that have used your business’s app. And similar to #2 above (Website Traffic), it lets you filter that audience by more specific criteria like most active users and highest spenders.

If you set up Facebook Analytics on your business manager account you can also target custom segments based on demographics or in-app actions.

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  1. Offline Activity

The offline activity option is pretty cool. It lets you target Facebook users who have interacted with your business offline. For example, customers who have purchased from your physical store or attended an event that you hosted.

As you might expect, it’s a bit more complicated since it requires that you set up custom offline conversion events and upload more tracking data manually:

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But for any company that does a lot of business offline, like retail chains and restaurants, this can be an extremely powerful tool.

  1. Engagement

Engagement is all about the Facebook social ecosystem. It lets you target users by the way they’ve interacted with your brand on both Facebook and Instagram.

You can create a custom audience based on any one of six areas of engagement:

  • Video
  • Lead Form
  • Fullscreen Experience (Collection Ads or Canvas)
  • Facebook Page
  • Instagram Business Profile
  • Event

Let’s take a look at each of these six more closely.

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Video lets you target users who have watched a specific video for at least three seconds on Facebook or Instagram.

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If you’re planning to use this as a way to find engaged customers, I suggest you use at least 10 seconds as your threshold because with autoplay enabled, it’s not difficult for a user to “accidentally” watch three seconds of video without paying attention.

However, this can be used to your advantage. Right now, Facebook doesn’t let you target ads based on group membership. But if you post a video on your business page and then share it in a private or public group, you’ll know that those views include group members. If you want to exclusively target group members, just make the video “unlisted” on your main page when you post it.

Lead form

Lead form audiences target people who have previously interacted with any of your Facebook or Instagram Lead Ads, which were launched a few years back.

You can also filter the custom audience by the way that users reacted to that ad. Did they submit their information or not? This gives you some great flexibility since each targeting is different.

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If you ran a lead form ad campaign that requested a few pieces of information and got a decent click rate but low conversions, you can try to capture those leads by retargeting them and requesting just their email or phone number this time and have sales follow up for the rest.

If you want to further prime prospects that submitted the form, you can run branding, expertise or PR campaigns for them shortly after they submitted their info while they’re still in the decision-making process.

Fullscreen Experience

Canvas is an ad experience that Facebook launched back in 2016 that lets you create fullscreen content that opens inside the mobile app. You can share brand-building content, create landing pages, or even sell products.

This option lets you target users who have interacted with a specific Canvas you’ve shared on Facebook in the past year:

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Customers who clicked links inside show a clear interest in something that you offered and offer a great opportunity for retargeting ads with Facebook.

Facebook Page

Your Facebook page is like a mini website for your company. It lets you target an audience based on how they’ve engaged with your business page in a similar fashion:

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Keep in mind that this only works for your business page, not profile pages or groups. So if you have a personal brand, it’s important to set up a separate business page.

As you can see, the advertising options here are pretty wide and the use cases are plentiful. Anything for which you would retarget customers from your website (except maybe abandoned carts) can be retargeted on Facebook as well.

The ability to target people who engaged with posts helps you capture the wider ecosystem of interested customers because it includes those who saw your content in their feed but may not have liked your brand yet.

Instagram Business Profile

This option works the same way as Facebook, but for Instagram accounts. It’s even more important to keep in mind that this means your business profile! Not your personal account.

This newer feature is great for brands that have a visual appeal and have spent time mastering their Instagram but are having trouble monetizing it.

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As with Facebook posts, the ability to build an audience of people who have engaged with any post or ad lets you capture potential customers who aren’t familiar enough with you to follow the account but have liked your content through Discover or ad placements.


Event-based custom audiences are pretty awesome. They’re a little more situational since you have to be hosting an event, but when the time is right, they offer a lot of great options based on how attendees interacted with your event page:

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You can remind the “Interested” attendees about ticket deadlines and reiterate the value of your event. And those who responded “Going” might be interested in additional events or products that your brand offers. It’s a pretty targeted customer group.

Offer VIP or travel packages? You can target those who already purchased their tickets with upgrade deals. They even offer a type of “abandoned cart” targeting for those who engaged with “tickets.”

This means you can spend extra advertising dollars to convince those who have already indicated a strong interest in attending. Or you could offer them a special personalized code for discounts.


It’s no secret that Facebook is an incredibly powerful advertising platform. And yet few people really use it to its full potential. Custom Audiences are a simple way to leverage your existing marketing efforts to funnel interested potential customers into your brand through personalized and flexible retargeting.

Eric Siu
[email protected]

Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain which has helped companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce acquire more customers. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.