Facebook Ad Targeting Post-Cambridge Analytica: No More Third Party Data


  • In response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has decided to remove Partner Categories from their advertising platform.
  • While this partner data is useful, it was never the most significant data that drove successful Facebook campaigns.
  • First-party data should always be the priority when it comes to targeting.
  • The easiest way to utilize first-party data in Facebook is through remarketing.

Facebook came under significant scrutiny after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Due to this examination, Facebook is removing targeting; more precisely, they have decided to remove Partner Categories or third-party data targeting from the Facebook advertising platform. Some of you may even have noticed warnings such as “We Will Be Removing Some Detailed Targeting Options,” when trying to target specific interests, behaviors, or demographics.

What are these partner categories and how are these targeting audiences gathered? Third-party data, or in Facebook parlance “partner categories,” is user data collected based on interactions with websites across the web which is then used to identify users as having specific interests or behavior patterns. Data providers then sell this targeting information to advertisers and digital agencies as a black box solution, meaning marketers don’t know the details as to how it was collected or even how reliable it is. Examples of third-party data include the following:

  • Household income
  • Presence of children in home
  • Automotive shoppers
  • Company size
  • Corporate executives
  • Retail purchase behavior
  • Likeliness to move
  • Business travelers

Now that we know what is going away, how does this impact how Redefine Marketing Group runs Facebook campaigns? While this partner data was undoubtedly useful in refining the targeting used for our clients, it was never the most significant data that drove successful Facebook campaigns.

First-Party > Third-Party

Data has been such a hot topic for the past few years and with good reason; with useful data about your customers, decisions about targeting and optimization become easy. The key in that last sentence is “your customers.” All businesses and specific campaigns are unique and have unique audiences that will show defined interests and needs. As stated above, third-party data is a black box and often unreliable. What is reliable is what you know about your current customers. Data that you have on your customers is considered first-party data; this is because you collected it and you know what it means. First-party data will always be the priority when it comes to targeting.

Using First-Party Data in Facebook: Remarketing

How do we target first-party data in Facebook? The easiest way to utilize first-party data in Facebook is through remarketing. Remarketing means that we place a piece of JavaScript on your website that in turn drops another piece of code in the web browser of any user that visits your site. Facebook’s ad platform can identify users with that browser code and serve them ads for your business. The audiences that Facebook is creating using this code is one type of Facebook custom audience.

Remarketing typically shows a high rate of conversion because users already identified their interest in your products and services by visiting your website. Remarketing keeps your business front of mind and entices people to complete conversion actions that are of value to your business, like a sale or filling out a lead form.

Using Stored Data

Another form of Facebook custom audience, based on first-party data, is data that you have stored in a database. What we mean by that is any data that a customer has given you, perhaps their email address or their phone number. You can upload these values into Facebook. Facebook then finds the users on their platform who have entered these contact values when setting up their Facebook accounts. The match rate isn’t always very high, because people often have multiple email addresses used for different things and may not have even given Facebook their phone number, so keep in mind this audience may be small. Targeting people in these audience pools is a great way to inform them about special offers, sales, or new products and services your company offers.

Leveraging Lookalike Audiences

The third type of audience that can be created using both of the first-party targeting options we have described is a lookalike audience. We generate lookalike audiences using one or both of the previous two types of Facebook custom audiences. Facebook looks at those audiences and analyzes what all of those users have in common, regardless of whether those commonalities have specific relevance to your current marketing objective, and creates an audience that looks like those individuals.

A lookalike is what we ideally want to start with for any campaign we are building for a client. While it isn’t enough on its own, it is a focused starting point to weed out individuals that look nothing like your current customers. Once we have the lookalike set up, we layer on targeting that is still available within Facebook–Facebook’s interest and behavioral data.

Although Facebook removing data provided by outside providers is an inconvenience, it’s not necessarily a significant issue. Our best practices involve using your customer data and lookalike audiences based on that data as much as possible and then relying on additional targeting options within Facebook only to refine and optimize our campaigns and audiences. Our clients can rest assured that we have them covered and can run successful Facebook campaigns even without third-party data. Let’s talk about how we can refine your Facebook campaigns for optimal performance.

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Mauricio has close to 20 years of digital experience and a core foundation in the technical side of SEO. He’s led and executed strategy both in-house and on the agency side and enjoys defining successful strategies for our clients.
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