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Facebook Removes Ad Targeting Options - Should You Be Worried?

August 22, 2018

Big news in the paid social world: Yesterday, Facebook announced that it has removed over 5,000 ad targeting options from its advertising platform in order to uphold its goal of “protecting people from discriminatory advertising on our platforms.” According to the announcement, “this includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion.”

advertiser-certification-facebook-removes-targeting-options

This announcement follows the changes Facebook made to Custom Audiences in the spring. In response to the backlash that followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook ended Partner Categories—subsets of its targeting options that drew on third-party data to allow advertisers to target users based on stuff like tax bracket and place of work. Plus, Facebook launched the Custom Audiences Permission Tool: a way to verify that users have consented to businesses using their information.

Why has Facebook made these additional changes to its targeting options? It could in part be a response to allegations that some landlords and home sellers were using Facebook to exclude users from seeing their ads based on traits like ethnicity and religion—a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

In yesterday’s brief update, Facebook had this to say: “While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important.” However, the post did not provide details on which specific targeting options have been eliminated.

Additionally, Facebook announced that it will soon roll out its non-discrimination certification to all U.S. advertisers. Basically, if you want to advertise on Facebook, you have to prove you know the difference between targeting and discrimination. Businesses advertising things related to housing, employment, and credit have been required to do this certification for about a year now.

This falls in line with Facebook’s emphasis on putting user experience and safety before, uh, money.

What does this mean for Facebook advertisers?

Well, here’s the thing: we don’t exactly know which targeting options have gotten the axe. We do know, thanks to Digiday, that most of them are exclusions—the things you use to keep certain audiences from seeing your ads.

Facebook reps say they won’t release a list of the eliminated options due to concerns that discriminatory advertisers will simply come up with similar audiences to exclude. Members of our team have reached out to Facebook to see if they can give us any other information.

Until then, it’s safe to assume your Facebook campaigns will be fine as long as you’re running them in a fair and ethical way.

Think of it this way: basically all of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertising. After the historical drop in stock value that followed the company’s Q2 earnings call—during which executives revealed slowed revenue growth and projected more of the same for the rest of 2018—it’s unlikely that Facebook would eliminate any major targeting options that decent advertisers rely on for generating business.

In other words: Facebook has enough on its plate. It doesn’t want to upset the people whose money it relies on to survive—that would be you. Cutting targeting options that are primarily used by good businesses for good reasons would be rather foolish.

Worst case: you’re down a couple targeting options that were, at most, marginally important to your Facebook campaigns.

Best case: your campaigns continue to thrive, and one of the world’s largest advertising platforms gets a little more fair.

TL;DR—Keep at it.

Here's the upside in all this:

  • Lookalike Audiences aren’t going anywhere. Your most valuable prospects are here to stay.
  • There are tons of targeting options. If one of the ones you use has been removed, you can probably get creative and find something adjacent.
  • Continue to test and optimize your ads with remaining audiences to maximize the value you get out of them.
  • Don’t forget that there’s an expanding suite of targeting options on the Google Display Network: In-Market Audiences, Affinity Audiences, Life Events, etc.

Let us know if you have any other questions about these changes and we'll do our best to answer them!

Conor Bond

Conor Bond writes words about stuff on the WordStream blog. He likes to drink coffee, play basketball, and pretend he doesn't care about his inadequate facial hair.