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Facebook Custom Audiences 101: A Guide for Ecommerce Businesses

A guide for ecommerce businesses on utilizing Facebook Custom Audiences.

Facebook is a popular advertising platform for two big reasons. First, it’s the biggest social media platform in the world, boasting nearly 2.5 billion active users. Second, it offers granular options for audience targeting, making it easy to get your ads in front of the people who are most likely to buy your products.

One of Facebook’s best options for advertising to a niche audience is Facebook Custom Audiences. Custom Audiences lets you retarget people who have interacted with your business before: those who have purchased from your store or visited your website.

The more you know about the people you’re advertising to, the better your ads will perform. When you market to a Custom Audience, you know exactly who is seeing your ads, and your messaging can be targeted with laser-like precision. This will help you increase your conversion rates and get a better return on investment.

How to use Facebook Custom Audiences

Facebook Custom Audiences lets you select from a variety of parameters to get very specific about who you target. As a result, you can create better, more optimized ads.

Here are six of my favorite things you can do using Facebook Custom Audiences.

1. Grow your Facebook audience

Custom Audiences can help you grow your Facebook audience. Create a Custom Audience of people who’ve signed up for your email list or visited your website recently, then use that Custom Audience to run ads encouraging those people to follow your business on Facebook.

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2. Upsell existing customers

You can use Custom Audiences to create a list of people who have already purchased something from you. If you have more than one thing to sell, this is a great way to improve your customer lifetime value.

If you have related products or accessories, offer them in an ad targeted at recent shoppers. Using a special time-sensitive promotion will encourage them to take action right away.

facebook upsell ad example

Via: State of Digital

3. Target people who abandoned their carts

There are many reasons why people abandon their carts. Often, they just got busy and didn’t get a chance to complete their purchase. But if they added something to their cart, there’s a good chance they want to buy it.

Follow up with them quickly with a targeted Facebook ad before they forget or, worse, buy it somewhere else.

4. Sell to active subscribers

People who have never heard of your business before are the hardest people to sell to. Most of us don’t just visit a website for the first time and buy something. We want to get to know and trust the business first. That’s why it’s hard to sell to strangers on Facebook.

Improve your conversion rate by selling to active subscribers—the people who’ve not only subscribed to your list but also actually open your emails. Not only have they heard of your brand, they like it enough to subscribe to your list and regularly read what you have to say.

5. Get feedback from customers

Feedback is hugely valuable to business owners. Getting regular feedback will help you make sure your customers are happy. Even better, feedback is a great source of marketing and product ideas.

Use Facebook to follow up with customers after they make a purchase, and ask them to fill out a survey. If you want to improve your odds of getting your surveys completed, run a contest to incentivize it.

6. Build your email list

Building an email list is a good idea for any online business. It’s the most reliable way to keep in touch with both active and potential customers. And while list building generally happens on your website, you can use Facebook too.

By targeting people who have visited your website, you’ll get more email subscribers. Website visitors already know you, so they’re more likely to sign up than complete strangers.

How to create a Facebook Custom Audience

There are a variety of ways to create Custom Audiences on Facebook. You can:

  • upload a customer contact list
  • use website visitor or app activity data
  • use offline activity data
  • use data from how users engaged with you on Facebook or Instagram, such as watching a video you posted or visiting your business’ profile
  • build a Custom Audience with Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app

In this post, we’re going to cover how to create a Facebook Custom Audience using the three most common options: uploading a contact list, using website visitor data, and using Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app.

1. Upload a list of customer contact information

If you have a list of email addresses for your customers/mailing list subscribers, you can upload either the complete list or small sections of it to Facebook to create a Custom Audience. As long as your customers/subscribers use the same email address with both your brand and Facebook, you’ll be able to target them with your Facebook ads.

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However, it’s important to remember that the people on your list must have opted in to receive messages from you. You can’t purchase a list of email addresses or upload random email addresses or phone numbers.

To create a Custom Audience on Facebook using a contact list, click the shortcuts icon in the top-left corner of the screen, then select Audiences.

create facebook custom audience

Click the Create Audience dropdown, then select Custom Audience.

create facebook custom audience

Next, select Customer list.

create facebook custom audience from customer list

You have a few options for recreating your list in Facebook as a Custom Audience:

  • Copy and paste the data. If you only have a small list, you can manually copy and paste the data from your list into Facebook.
  • Upload a CSV file. If you have a large list, you’ll want to upload a CSV file. You can save any spreadsheet containing customer/subscriber contact information as a CSV, or you can download a CSV of your contacts from your email marketing provider. Before uploading, make sure that all the email addresses (or phone numbers) are listed in a single column with no other information.
  • Connect Shopify to Facebook. If you happen to host your email list with a Shopify-supported email service, you can connect Facebook directly to your list instead of uploading or copy and pasting.

After you’ve added your list, Facebook will match the customer data with Facebook users.

2. Target people who’ve visited your website

Another option is to create a Custom Audience composed of people who’ve visited your website recently (as long as they were logged into Facebook when they arrived).

The first step in creating a Custom Audience composed of website visitors is to create a Custom Audience Pixel—a fancy way of referring to a snippet of code you put on your site that talks to Facebook and tracks your visitors.

You can create a Custom Audience Pixel using the same workflow you’ll use to create your Custom Audience. Start by clicking the shortcuts icon in the top-left corner of the screen and selecting Audiences.

create facebook custom audience

Click the Create Audience dropdown, then select Custom Audience.

create facebook custom audience

Next, select Website.

create facebook custom audience from website visits

Give your pixel a name, enter your website’s URL, and click Continue.

creating a facebook pixel

Next, you’ll want to select the conditions for creating your Custom Audience. You can choose to target all website visitors, only people who viewed specific pages of your site, or only people who spent a specific amount of time on it You can also specify the timeframe—up to 180 days.

creating a website custom audience on facebook

When you’re finished making your selections, give your audience a descriptive name, then click Create Audience.

website custom audience on facebook

3. Use Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app

Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app lets you create, manage, and track your Facebook ad campaigns without leaving Shopify. It also automatically configures your Facebook tracking pixel for you, allowing you to create ads targeting people who’ve visited your site.

To create Facebook audience-building ads using Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app, follow the instructions in the video below.

You can also use the app to create dynamic retargeting ads. These display as personalized Facebook carousel ads that include products your site visitors viewed or added to their carts.

Important notes about Facebook Custom Audiences

When you’re creating Custom Audiences on Facebook, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to avoid errors and make sure you’re targeting the right people with your ads.

  • You need a Facebook Business Manager account to create Custom Audiences. If you don’t already have a Business Manager account, Facebook will prompt you to create one when you try to build a Custom Audience, or you can just start the process by creating a new Business Manager account.
  • You need at least 20 people in your Custom Audience to serve ads to that audience. If your website isn’t getting much traffic yet—or if your email list is very small—you may want to try running ads to send traffic to your site or encourage email subscribes before setting up Custom Audiences.
  • You may not be able to pull all of your customers, visitors, or subscribers into a Custom Audience. Not everyone who visits your website will be logged in to Facebook. Similarly, people on your email list may use a different email address for their Facebook account. So if your Custom Audience is smaller than you expected, it’s not necessarily because of an error.
  • You need to update your email Custom Audiences regularly. If you manually uploaded a list of contacts to Facebook to create your Custom Audience, you need to make sure you update it regularly by uploading a new CSV file with new contacts only, replacing your Custom Audience with a new CSV file of all of your contacts, or copying and pasting new subscribers into your Custom Audience list.

Shopify users can also automate the process of updating their customer audiences using apps from the Shopify App Store, like Audience Push to Facebook or Facebook Custom Audiences.

More advanced ways to use Facebook Custom Audiences

Once you’ve mastered the basics of advertising on Facebook using Custom Audiences, you may want to take things a step further by creating even more targeted ads with some of the more advanced options Facebook offers.

Facebook Dynamic Product Ads

Most Custom Audiences need manual setup. This is especially true if you want to target website visitors based on the products they looked at. For websites with a lot of pages, this becomes impractical pretty quickly.

Facebook Dynamic Product Ads offer a more automated solution. Website visitors see ads based on the products they looked at and how close they came to checking out. You only need to set the parameters and create the ad template. After that, it runs automatically.

Shopify users can set up dynamic product ads easily using Shopify’s Facebook Marketing app. When you set up the Facebook Marketing app, your products are automatically made available to it. Those products are then synced to a product catalog on Facebook you can use to create dynamic retargeting ads.


One of the things that makes Custom Audiences so powerful is the ability to exclude people. For example, if you run an ad to get website visitors on your email list, make sure you exclude current subscribers.

Similarly, if you’re using Facebook to sell to website visitors and you only have one product to sell, people are probably only going to buy from you once. Save money by excluding anyone who has already completed a purchase.

Failing to use exclusions is the number one mistake I see business owners making with Custom Audiences on Facebook. Constantly advertising to people who have already converted is expensive. Always think about how you can segment your audience further by excluding people.

Lookalike Audiences

After you’ve created a Custom Audience, you can use Lookalike Audiences to expand it to include people who haven’t signed up for your email newsletter or visited your site but share some of the same qualities as the people who have.

This is a great way to get your products in front of people who are likely to be interested in what you’re selling but aren’t yet familiar with your business or products.

To create a Lookalike Audience, you need at least 100 people from a single country in one of your existing Custom Audiences.

Value-based Lookalike Audiences

If you want to get really granular with your ad targeting, you can create Value-based Lookalike Audiences that let you assign an indicator identifying the highest-value customers on your list.

This additional piece of data lets Facebook refine its targeting even further to expand your audience only to people who are the most likely to generate a high lifetime value as customers.

Pixel Events

If you’re using the Facebook pixel on your website, you can also set up Pixel Events that automatically add visitors to your Custom Audience when they perform actions such as:

  • adding a product to the shopping cart
  • adding a product to a wishlist
  • making a purchase
  • performing a site search
  • subscribing to your newsletter
  • viewing a specific piece of content

This helps you automate the process of building your different Custom Audiences and ensures that you’re only targeting the people you want to see specific ads—like an abandoned cart ad, for example.

Start advertising

Once your first Custom Audience is ready, it’s time to start advertising! Every time you create a new campaign, you’ll have the option to choose one of your Custom Audiences for targeting. You can also create a new Custom Audience at any time.

Have you experimented with Facebook Custom Audiences before? Tell me about your experience in the comments.

Illustration by Raúl Soria

This article was originally published by our friends at Shopify.

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