Facebook Tests Replacing Keyword Ad Targeting With Broad Category Targeting

Facebook is testing a major functionality change for its self-serve performance ad tool that would replace the specific Like keyword targeting with broad category targeting. If implemented, this change would make somewhat accurate targeting more accessible to novice advertisers, but severely limit A/B testing and eliminate many advanced strategies used by expert advertisers to attain high click-through rates.

Facebook might decide not to implement the test, or it could add broad category targeting as an additional option. But in the meantime, those in the beta test are stuck without keyword targeting, as Facebook has confirmed that no one can opt out of it.

Normally, advertisers can type the name of a Facebook Page into the Likes & Interests targeting field in the ad creator, and may then select from a drop down menu as well as a number of suggestions to decide who the ad will appear to. This allows advertisers to hone in on a very specific niche of users with whom their ad will resonate.

In the tested interface, users see a tree of two columns with very broad categories in the left pane, such as Activities, Business/Technology, and Sports, that open up into slightly more precise sub-categories in the right pane, such as Cooking, Literature/Reading, and Food & Dining.

Instead of being able to target users who Like the popular console video game Call of Duty: Black Ops, advertisers would have to target the broad category of Activities and the sub-category of Gaming (Console). In this case, an ad for a first-person shooter war-themed game similar to Call of Duty would be shown to users who Like a much wider range of games from puzzlers such as Tetris, to family-friendly platform games such as Super Mario Bros. This would probably lead to a much lower CTR for the ad than if it could be targeted to those who Like especially similar games.

Presumably the goal of the test is to make it easier for those without knowledge of the specific Facebook Pages that relate to their ad’s topic to create somewhat accurate advertising campaigns. In the case of advertising for something with broad appeal, such as a physical book store, being able to target users who Like a wide variety of books, authors, and words related to reading with a single ad targeted to the broad category Literature/Reading could be useful.

Instead of long keyword brainstorming sessions, advertisers could leave it up to Facebook to decide who will see their ads. In August Facebook tested and later implemented a feature that lets advertisers broaden their age targeting to reach a larger audience than they initially specified. However, many advertisers would be outraged and potentially shift ad spend away from Facebook if they could no longer choose their own keywords.

Facebook’s largest advertisers have been slowly moving to use third-party tools built on the Facebook Ads API, which allows advertisers to programmatically run huge, efficient advertising campaigns. Facebook could decide that expert advertisers should use one of these advanced tools while simplifying its own self-serve tool.

Still, the best option would be to offer both, perhaps showing the broad category targeting tool by default to cater to novices, and placing keyword targeting below a fold for experts to find.