Published 17 May 2021

How to Use Facebook Interests to Get Ahead of Your Competitors

We take a closer look at Facebook Interests, one of the main features of Facebook Ads. There are some myths and hypotheses worth investigating.

How to Use Facebook Interests to Get Ahead of Your Competitors
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Hire Digital Editorial

17 May 2021

Although Facebook has many targeting options and constant updates to its ad manager possibilities, it’s not easy to know how to use them effectively. Today we’ll take a closer look at one of the main features of Facebook Advertising which is Facebook Interests. There are some myths and hypotheses about these social media features that are worth investigating.

What are Facebook Interests?

This feature uses interest-based targeting, and “interests” are simply activities people spend time on online. How does Facebook know that and what signals do Facebook algorithms analyze? Let’s look for an answer from official sources first. In Facebook Blueprint lessons we can find the following information:

“Detailed targeting options, including interests, may be based on people’s interests, activities, and pages and posts they like on our platform.”

So basically all the information you provide to Facebook and all the activities like likes, shares, comments, and clicks may be used to establish your interests. What else? Let’s take a look at the off-platform information description:

“When you visit a website or use an app, these businesses or organizations can share information about your activity with us by using our business tools. We use this activity to personalize your experience, such as showing you relevant ads. We also require that businesses and organizations provide notice to people before using our business tools.”

Ok, so if you’re browsing the internet and the app and websites use Facebook tools (like Facebook pixel for conversion tracking), the information they’ve gathered may also be used for defining your interests and serving you the right ads.

So, if someone has so much information about you, they must know exactly and precisely what your interests are. Right? Let’s see.

How to see your Facebook Interests?

The easiest way to verify if the interests are correct is to verify them by yourself. You can actually see how Facebook sees your interests, and I also encourage you to try the same with your friends or family (if they allow you) and count how many of them make sense.

To do that go to https://www.facebook.com/adpreferences and in one of the sections, you’ll be able to see and edit some of the signals used to deliver ads to you. I won’t show you all my interests for obvious reasons but I found among them for example:

  • “Insurance” – I don’t have insurance and I haven’t thought about having one.
  • “Cats” – I don’t have a cat.
  • “Coupons” – I don’t even know what kind of coupons they are.

So let’s think about it. Even this simple test showed that if your main idea is to sell cat food to people interested in “Cats” you will probably lose a lot of money targeting people who never buy cat food. Are interests useless then? The answer is a resounding “no”.

How to use Facebook Interests?

Even if Facebook Interests are far from perfect, it is not completely useless. There are a few ways to use them effectively.

1. Use specific interests

“Cats” is not the best choice because it’s very broad. I could watch memes with cats (who doesn’t) and my friends have cats so it’s not completely wrong even if I don’t have one. You can try something more detailed like a specific cat breed, pricing of popular cat-food brands, pet toys, or pet stores to get to the right demographics.

2. Use a combination of interests

2. Use a combination of interests

If you want to reach real cat lovers, one criterium maybe not be enough but if you’ll choose a combination of interests, your chance of running a successful ad set increases a lot. 

There are 500,000,000 people interested in “Cats”.
There are 50,000,000 people interested in “Cat Food”.
And 20,000,000 people with an interest called “Big Cat Rescue”.

But only 2,000,000 are interested in all of the above.

If needed, we can go further down the road and get people really crazy about cats.

3. Combine interests with other criteria

I don’t want to get into too much detail about all the different targeting options here but if you did your homework you should have much more information about your clients, geographic area, age, gender, custom lists, lookalike audiences, and the technology they use. You can try all of that together with targeting to narrow your audience down and find your perfect customers.

4. Conduct A/B Testing

As you continue to run ads on social media, you’ll be able to create variations of audience targeting. You may always retarget your campaign as you gain more insights the more you use Facebook Interests. A/B testing also enables you to experiment with your ad copy and ad creatives. Trial and error usually lead to optimal results as in many digital marketing strategies.

5. Stalk your competitors

It’s worth looking into your competitors’ Facebook pages. Your competitors’ audience can be telling — observe what their general interests are. They are usually lookalike audiences and potential customers you can reach.

How to find specific Facebook Interests?

You can use a regular Facebook ads manager to look for interests but there are a few flaws in this approach.

  1. You’ll see only a few suggestions for every keyword you try.
  2. The suggestions are extremely unsmart to put it lightly (look at the screenshot).
  3. You will see the same few interests as anyone else. That means most people will target the same (or similar) group of people and get into an extreme bidding war

Luckily there are other ways to find interests. I will share my two favorite methods.

1. Use Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook Audience Insights is a powerful tool that will not only give you interests ideas but also provide a lot of useful information about your target audience. These are insights you can use to optimize your channels and social media marketing efforts.

Just go to https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience-insights and you can analyze any audience you want there. They might be people who contribute to your page likes, but also those with a specific interest. I will try “Cat food” and immediately I will find out that 70% of these people are women, and 30% of them work in Administrative Services. The most popular product among them is Purina, and so on. Most of this data may be used directly in creating your Facebook custom audience.

2. Get the complete Facebook Interests list

How to get a complete Facebook interests list? Is it even possible? And why Facebook doesn’t publish a PDF with the list openly in ad manager or anywhere else?

As usual, it depends. As we already know interests are created automatically based on the various signals from Facebook and its partners. It means the list is constantly changing and evolving. 

If you keep the same interest in your ad targeting for months, it doesn’t mean you’re targeting the same people over and over. Some of them will drop from the list and some of them will be added after a certain timeframe. Some of the interests will be removed, some will appear.

But still, there are many more options than what we see in the Facebook Ads manager. To discover all of them we need to create a Facebook App and get the info from the API. But don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it may sound. Just follow this simple instruction:

1. Create the app

Go to https://developers.facebook.com/apps and click on the “Create App” button. Choose a goal, a name, your email address, and connect it to the business manager (this is optional, you don’t have to do this, we won’t be promoting the app for real).

2. Get the access token for your app

When you’ve created your app and you’re in the dashboard go to the Tools -> Graph API Explorer. Choose your app, choose the “App Token” option. In the Access Token field, you’ll see what we are looking for. Copy that token.

3. Look for the interests list

Now you can use a marketing API. Here’s the full documentation of how it works but we will try only one thing today. 

Try this URL:

https://graph.facebook.com/search?type=adinterest&q=[Cat]&limit=10000&locale=en_US&access_token=your-access-token

And replace the bolded text with the access token you’ve generated in the previous step. You will see the full interests list containing the word “cat” and suggestions based on that, and there are hundreds of them. You can find the interests here your competitors wouldn’t think of, and reach a very specific audience.

As you might spot there are a few parameters in the URL we used. Let’s break it down.

  • type=adinterest – this is the syntax to list all the interests with a chosen keyword. There are other types as well, you can find details in the API documentation.
  • q=[Cat]– this is the keyword we’re looking for. You can type anything else here which makes more sense for your business.
  • limit=10000 – this is the maximum number of results you will see. If you change it to “limit=10” you will see only the top 10 results.
  • locale=en_US – this is the language of the results. You may use another language if that’s the case for your campaign but keep in mind the audience size you will see is the global size. So if you check the language, the audience size will stay the same so it’s not that big of a difference.

I hope based on these few tricks your Facebook campaigns will scale fast without wasting resources on the wrong audience, regardless if you own a small business or a large conglomerate. If you’re interested in more tips on how to implement Facebook Pixel (and others too) using the data layer and Google Tag Manager – go ahead and visit this blog post: https://hiredigital.com/blog/google-tag-manager-data-layer.

Facebook Interests FAQ

Are Facebook interests accurate?

It's not an easy question. They are to some degree. You can test it checking your personal interests by Facebook and in Facebook Audience Insights and decide which interests may sense and which are too vague or too specific for your ads.

How to use Facebook interests?

There are many ways around them but most important is - keep a close look at your audience size. Too broad size mean your audience is probably not homogeneous. Too narrow means you won't get enough impressions for decent results. It may be a good idea to use combinations of interests and other criteria.

How to see full Facebook interests list?

In Ads manager, you can see only a few suggestions. However, via Facebook API you can get a full list of interests around keywords of your choice. That's the closest thing to the full list you can get. Remember interests are constantly changing so the list is evolving too.

Keywords

How-tos
Ad Targeting
Facebook Advertising
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