Facebook Custom Audiences: The Complete Guide

A good ad will fail without the right audience. Facebook Custom Audiences let you target the right people every time, making it an essential tool for successful Facebook advertising.

However, a lot has changed since Facebook first rolled out the tool in 2013. That’s why we created this updated 2022 guide to Facebook Custom Audiences.

In this post, we will go through everything you need to know about Custom Audiences, from basic setup to advanced implementation.

Facebook Custom Audiences help you improve your Facebook advertising campaigns by putting the power of ad placement directly in your hands. With your ads in front of your ideal readers, nothing is standing between you and advertising success.

Facebook Custom Audiences: The Basics

Before we get into the juicy details, let’s go over some basics to make sure the tactics in the following sections will make sense, regardless of your Facebook advertising skills.

What is a Facebook Custom Audience?

A Facebook Custom Audience lets you target your Facebook ads at a specific group of people who have already interacted with your brand. 

So, instead of targeting your ads to people through luck or broad demographics like age or gender, you can target your ads based on data pulled from your own website, app, offline lists or from Facebook itself.

Using a Facebook Custom Audience allows you to do some pretty cool things, such as:

  • Retarget ads to people who have interacted with one of your Facebook posts.
  • Craft ads for specific segments of your audience, like your bottom-of-the-funnel email list. 
  • Upsell new products to people who are currently customers.

In short, Custom Audiences can make your marketing efforts a lot more direct. And when you have the power to get your perfectly crafted Facebook ads in front of the eyeballs you designed them for, you should see an overall improvement in ROI and conversions.

Facebook Custom Audience Permissions and Rules

When it comes to Facebook Custom Audiences, there are a couple of rules you have to keep in mind. 

Facebook lays them out in this document, but here are the basics you need to know:

  1. You can create Custom Audiences only with data you have received permission to use. This should go without saying, but you need to get permission to use people’s data. You cannot scrape data from public websites or download email lists from people who have not given you permission to contact them or use their data.
  2. You can’t keep people who have requested to opt out of your other customer lists (e.g., your email lists) in your Custom Audiences. If you created a Custom Audience based on a customer list and some of those customers have since opted out, you need to update your Custom Audience. This means that if you are basing your Custom Audiences on your own data, you will need to update them frequently to comply with this regulation.

If you need help keeping your customer list and Custom Audience in sync, considertrying AdEspresso for free, and let us keep your audiences synced for you.

For most people, these two rules shouldn’t be a problem. Respect people’s data and you have nothing to worry about.

Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences

Lookalike Audiences are audiences that Facebook can build for you based on your Custom Audiences or an external data source. 

The people who will be in your Lookalike Audiences may have never even heard of your brand. Through advanced algorithms, Facebook identifies users similar to those in your custom audience and targets them with your ads.

It works like this:

  1. You are running ads to a Custom Audience made up of customers who have bought bikes from your local bike shop.
  2. You ask Facebook to target the ad at a Lookalike Audience based on the Custom Audience.
  3. Facebook analyzes the people on your list and builds a profile of who is most likely to want to go to your store—perhaps people who live in the area, like biking, like the outdoors and are between the ages of 25-50.
  4. Facebook targets your ads to people who fit your profile and continues to make adjustments based on how well the ads perform.

If you are interested in learning more about getting the most out of your Lookalike Audiences, take a look at our guide on how to use Lookalike Audiences for your online business.

Top Tips for Using Facebook Custom Audiences

The best way to see the biggest returns on your Custom Audiences is to be very specific with how you pair ads with Custom Audiences.

Use Custom Audiences to Guide People Through Your Sales Funnel

Custom Audiences can improve your Facebook marketing when you segment them by your sales funnel and specifically tailor ads to the needs of each funnel segment.

Start by creating or uploading customer lists segmented by funnel stage. You may already have this for email marketing campaigns. Next, upload these segments as separate Custom Audiences, and potentially make Lookalike Audiences based on them to widen your advertising net.

Finally, create ads aimed at each particular segment’s needs, and target them to your Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences.

Turn Video Views into Sales

A video is often the best way of introducing your brand to new prospects. But it’s also very difficult to get across a brand awareness message and a sales call to action at the same time. By building a video view Custom Audience, it’s possible to create a very simple two-step sales funnel.

For example, Hootsuite promotes videos with case studies, such as this one featuring Accor Hotels:


Facebook viewers who watched the video can be targeted with a free trial offer by using the Video Custom Audience option.

This way, you know that your free trial offer is being seen by people who are interested in Hootsuite, and not just by the general public.

Upsell to Existing Customers

It’s easier to sell to someone who has already bought from you than to sell to a total stranger. Yet it’s surprising how often brands think that the sales funnel stops once the first purchase is made. Often, they’ll exclude their current customer Custom Audience from ad campaigns instead of thinking about how they can leverage this audience.

Here’s an example of how upselling can be done. GlobeIn uses an ad that offers a free glassware set on top of the perks usually offered by signing up for a yearly subscription to their service.

This ad is clearly targeted at current subscribers, and it gives them a reason to rethink signing up for a yearly membership over a monthly one.

Since they are already subscribers, you know they like your product, so you have a better chance of upselling the more expensive subscription rather than finding all new customers to sell to.

Make the World’s Largest Social Network Work for You

Custom Audiences can be the x-factor in any great Facebook ad campaign. By granting you the power to place your ads with pinpoint precision, Facebook is giving you the freedom to truly create your ads with specific audiences in mind. Instead of having to rely on one-size-fits-all-advertising, you can give your potential customers the custom experience they deserve.

Getting your ads in front of the right people, though, is only half the battle. Now it’s time to talk design. Take a look at our Expert Guide to Facebook Ad Design to learn more about how you can make ads that are designed to attract readers and convert leads.

We’d like to hear about how you use Facebook Custom Audiences! Let us know in the comments below.