HomeBlogPrivacy-First Facebook Ad Targeting: 3 Creative (But Compliant) Workarounds

Privacy-First Facebook Ad Targeting: 3 Creative (But Compliant) Workarounds

Author: Navah Hopkins
Last Updated: March 30, 2023 | Facebook Ads, Social Media

Facebook is a viable ad network for most advertisers, supporting ecommerce and lead gen businesses alike and helping both B2B and B2C own their customer journey.

But between increasing pressure from privacy compliance and updates forcing more conversion modeling, the targeting options from the early days just aren’t there anymore. We can’t rely purely on native audiences like we once could.

facebook ads detailed targeting

This leaves us with two options:

  1. Own that there will be more waste in our Facebook ad spend and build that into our marketing plans, or
  2. Get creative.

    In this post, I’m going to show you how to get creative—with three easy hacks to set up effective, privacy-compliant Facebook audiences.

    Hack #1: Create content-specific audiences with UTMs

    This first tip is from the amazing Michele Morgan (who offers even more privacy-friendly Facebook targeting options here). UTM parameters are customizable snippets you can add on to the URLs your ads are pointing to, to track your campaigns’ performance. They can be used to identify your traffic sources and which creatives are getting profitable engagements.

    There are five UTM parameters you can add on to the end of the destination URL (landing page) in your ad:

    • Source is which website or channel you’re using (example: Facebook, Google, Email)
    • Medium is the element within the source site (example: VideoAd, banner, newsletter)
    • Campaign is whatever campaign, offer, or product you’re promoting with that medium (example: AprilPromo)
    • Content can be used to identify which link was clicked if the medium has multiple links (example: Button, TextLink)
    • Term is used to identify the keyword you’re targeting if a paid search ad (Example: Dress+Pants).

    For this hack, you’ll use a UTM to create audiences based on content users engage with. This will enable you to target categories that have been removed from Facebook native targeting.

    It will look something like this:


    Before you stress about needing to do a bunch of additional work, remember that Facebook has a handy UTM builder in the ad builder interface.

    facebook ads UTM builder

    Hack #2: Use in-market segments on other channels to build source audiences

    All too often, advertisers wait on installing tracking code until they start advertising on a channel.


    By getting ahead and placing your code, you’ll be able to start building source audiences for future lookalike and retargeting campaigns—which is what this workaround is about.

    Both Google’s in-market audiences and Microsoft’s Audience Network can help you to build these source audiences.

    Google in-market segments

    Google allows for the following transactional segments that are a little more restricted on Facebook:

    • Employment: Facebook will disapprove ads that try to use targeting when focusing on employment. The exception to this is on custom audiences (i.e. folks who have consented to be tracked/targeted by you). Using Google’s in-market and life events audience segments, you’ll be able to build a traffic list that can then be turned into a remarketing or lookalike list.
    • Real Estate: Like employment, Facebook considers real estate a special interest category. Often ads get accidentally tagged in this category due to ad copy or creative. Using the residential and commercial in-market segment can help curate your Facebook and Instagram spend.
    • Finance: Facebook has been taking an increasingly critical eye on financial industries, which is why Google’s in-market audiences are so powerful. Audience segments focusing on credit monitoring and lending services are particularly powerful.


    google ads in-market segments

    Keep in mind that using these segments still requires a cookie compliance plan. This data will only be useful if users are comfortable accepting tracking.

    Microsoft Audience Network

    Microsoft Ads has many of the same in-market and life event audiences. There are some that are specific to Microsoft Ads worth exploring:

    • Politics: Political ads face a lot of scrutiny and restriction and politics is one of the targeting options Facebook removed due to sensitivity. Being able to build an interest audience through Microsoft Ads topic targeting is a powerful way to get more focused targeting.
    • LinkedIn: While there is overlap with Google’s employment targeting, Microsoft’s LinkedIn audience targeting is a powerful way to prefilter spend. Whether you’re looking to target by company or by stage in the person’s career, these pre-qualifiers can help build a powerful remarketing or seed audience for Facebook.

    By using other channels to create audiences you’ll be able to unlock this for yourself on Facebook as well as build in extra communication points with your clients.

    Hack #3: Use greater than 1% lookalike audiences

    One of the big reasons advertisers stress over the loss of special interest audiences is the fear of relying on automation to uncover the right people. We want to be the ones in control. For example, when creating a Facebook Lookalike Audience (LAL), we prefer to go with 1% (if you’re unfamiliar, the lower the percentage, the closer the match but the smaller the audience).

    Yet by opting into the higher (and therefore looser lookalike percentages), we can pick up the audiences we lost without running afoul of the privacy-first web. The signals haven’t gone went away, they just can’t be actively targeted.

    Akvile Defazio recently Tweeted about this:

    akvile defazio tweet supporting 5% facebook lookalike audience

    Not quite sure what it is about those Facebook 5% lookalike audiences, but they continue to perform super well and better than any other lower %s.

    We love it, clients appreciate it, and our accounts benefit from it. If you aren’t testing higher LALs, I encourage you to do so.

    While this might seem like a “give up” strategy it’s really just adapting to the times. Ad platforms always bake more signals and values into their automated options than their manual ones. By allowing more automation and ceding some control, you can retain the bigger value add: targeting the right audience and achieving higher ROI.

    Try these privacy-first Facebook audience targeting workarounds

    Despite all of these customer data privacy updates and changes, there are always paths forward to target your ideal prospects. By using other channels as well as leaning into automation, we can continue to get meaningful value out of Facebooks ads. To recap, here are the three hacks:

    1. Use UTMs to create content-based audiences
    2. Use in-market segments on other channels (like search) to create source audiences for Facebook LAL/remarketing campaigns.
    3. Try creating Facebook LAL audiences with a >1% match.

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    Meet The Author

    Navah Hopkins

    Navah Hopkins is a Top 25 PPC Expert and international speaker who has been in the digital marketing industry since 2008. She specializes in paid media strategy and helping brands build relationships with profitable partners and customers.

    She’s a cofounding member of the Paid Search Association, a group dedicated to empowering the next generation of PPC practitioners, and she continues to give back by sharing lessons learned at conferences and local universities, and in blogs and webinars for SEJ, SEL, Semrush, and WordStream.


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