The Art of Setting Up Retargeting Exclusions Like a Pro

When it comes to competing with yourself in an ad auction, Facebook Ads isn’t as punishing as some other ad networks because their system will deduplicate your audiences. Or at least they’re not punishing in the same way.  But even though you can’t compete against yourself, you can still bid against yourself across ad sets which has its own set of drawbacks, most notably deliverability issues, inability to track frequency, and limited control of which ad set is triggered for which person in the event of audience overlap. For example, if someone is a monthly active user and also recently visited your blog, your preference will be to show them an “upgrade” retargeting ad, not an ad prompting them to sign up.

In fact, getting help with this exact issue had been such a highly requested ask that Facebook recently rolled out “audience overlap” visibility into it’s “inspect” reporting, currently visible in most ad accounts at the ad set level:

Paying attention to overlap is particularly important within retargeting campaigns because unlike lookalike audiences, which are generally in the millions, retargeting audiences tend to be much smaller, have much more overlap, and also tend to be full of your most valuable prospect & customers.

But despite the importance (and now ease of debugging), advertisers almost never get their ad sequencing and exclusions right. To be fair, the setup can get incredibly confusing and even counterintuitive at times. You might have an audience of blog visitors, an audience of MAU’s, an audience of customers, an audience of lookalikes, and so many others that it’s tough to keep them all straight. And now with marketplaces like Repixel and the ability to retarget someone else’s website, there’s a whole new element to consider, as an individual person can easily fall in 2, 3, or 10+ buckets, and you want to make sure each person is seeing the ad likely to produce the most value.

Where Advertiser’s Go Wrong

Most advertisers get 90% of the way there. They call a meeting with their team, break out the whiteboard, and after banging their head against a wall for enough time, typically wind up with an audience flow chart that looks something like this.

They take their 11 different audiences, setup customized ad creative, and load them into Facebook as separate campaigns. Done. But, savvy marketers don’t stop there and quickly realize that some people are going to end up in multiple audiences. With that in mind, it seems to be everyone’s first instinct to exclude each audience from all of their other audiences, which is what I’ve started calling the “ven diagram” approach. This is on the right track, but there’s one fatal flaw…

An Issue with The Ven Diagram Approach

Let’s go through a simple example where you’re targeting four audiences: Lookalikes (for prospecting), Blog Visitors (retargeting), Repixeling (retargeting someone else’s website), and Pricing Page visitors (high intent traffic). If you exclude each of these four audiences from each other in an attempt to avoid overlap, you’ll get something that looks like this:

Notice the problem? The people that are in multiple audiences (noted by a red X) aren’t getting any ad impressions at all! They’re completely excluded and removed from your ads account. This is an obvious issue because, needless to say, these are the people that should especially be seeing ads.

The Solution: Use a Pyramid and Prioritize

The way to fix this problem is by moving from the “ven diagram” approach to a “stacking” approach. And the stacking should be done in order of priority to your business. So in the above example, you’d have:

To avoid overlap, you should exclude all audiences above the audience that you’re targeting in the pyramid. So when you’re targeting pricing page visitors, exclude your blog visitors, repixeled visitors, and lookalikes. When you’re targeting blog visitors, excluding repixeled visitors & lookalikes. And so on and so forth.

By doing it this way, not only do you avoid overlap in your audiences which gives you the ability to prioritize who sees which ad, but you also don’t give up the overlapped parts of the ven diagram, which adds a meaningful number of people (and valuable people) to your campaigns.

The beauty of this strategy is it scales regardless of how many buckets you add. And pro-tip for those in the Search world: the pyramid approach works great for keywords and match types as well.

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