Facebook are in the process of removing Partner Categories targeting options. This is the statement they released:
It’s one of the very few updates Facebook have made to their advertising platform, that actually makes things worse for advertisers.
Before I get into why, and what this really means, I need to explain a few things…
Facebook Partner Categories
Facebook is able to gather a lot of data on its users from their activities on their channels. This is where a lot of interest, demographic and behavioural targeting options come from.
But they can’t deduce everything they want to know about their users from Facebook activity alone.
That’s where Partner Categories come in (at least they used to).
Partner Categories come from 3rd party data mining companies.
These 3rd parties have information on people that is collected outside of Facebook that can be used in ad targeting.
Here’s an example:
Facebook cannot accurately ascertain who is and who isn’t a homeowner on their own.
They are provided with that information and match it to people’s profiles so that it can be used in ad targeting.
Even though this is all done anonymously, you can imagine why this might raise some eyebrows. Particularly with the new GDPR regulations and the current sentiments around digital marketing.
In fact, the screenshot above was taken from a US based client’s ad account. These options aren’t available in the UK anymore.
Where is This Relevant?
These partner categories were only available in 7 countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, UK and USA.
If you’re not advertising in any of those markets, this update is not going to affect you at all.
If you are advertising to people in those countries then you may need to make some adjustments to your targeting options.
Partner Categories contributed hundreds of different targeting options and some industries are going to be affected more than others.
Here’s Facebook’s Partner Categories removal schedule:
Why Are Partner Categories Being Removed?
Facebook is trying to get ahead of a potential issue here.
They first announced that they were going to remove partner categories just after the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
And with the new GDPR regulations, you can understand why they would want to be proactive and be seen to be protecting their users’ data.
I would expect Facebook’s PR department to be pushing for more of these changes over the next few years – let’s hope they’re not too successful!
Is This a Big Deal?
There’s an argument to be made that they never were that effective in the first place.
Partner Categories have been a part of Facebook advertising for over 5 years but most advanced Facebook advertisers try to stay away from them.
From my experience, they are not as accurate as we would like them to be. Here’s why…
In order for 3rd party data to be used in ad targeting, Facebook needs to be able to match it to people’s accounts. Which, when done anonymously, is not that easy to do.
Anyone that has retargeted website visitors, will know that match rates between the amount of traffic you generate and how many people are included in your website custom audience, are not close to 100%.
The effectiveness of these partner categories also depended very much on how accurate the 3rd party data was in the first place.
I wouldn’t be surprised if conclusions about people’s demographic or behavioural information were reached a little too easily given the evidence…
Or if the data was slightly out of date.
Both of which would explain why they didn’t live up to the hype.
Will it Affect You?
Whether or not this update affects you will depend on the country you’re advertising in and how reliant you are on these targeting options.
It will affect US advertisers a lot more than the rest of the world as there are far more partner categories available for that market.
In the UK, it will affect some of the campaigns I run, but not many.
I have generally found that these targeting options were not as effective as others.
As a result, I have naturally gravitated towards targeting options that are based on people’s activity on Facebook.
Also, as people conduct more and more of their online activity within Facebook, Facebook will be able to create new targeting options itself.
Facebook is working very hard to get people to spend longer and do more on their platform.
The relatively new Marketplace is a perfect example of that.
The data that Marketplace and other initiatives provide could even replace Partner Categories with better targeting options.
I would also encourage you to become less reliant on basic demographic, interest and behavioural targeting options, regardless of this update.
My best results are very often achieved with custom audiences and lookalike audiences.
Check out this video to learn more about using lookalike audiences:
How will this update affect you? Are you running successful Facebook ad campaigns that use Partner Categories? If so, which ones?
Let us know in the comments section below.
Ben Heath is the Founder & CEO of Lead Guru which produces high-quality Facebook advertising resources for business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs.