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Spying On Competitor Targeting To Determine Their Facebook Marketing Strategy

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by

facebook marketing

If you’re advertising on Facebook, you’ve probably hit a road block at least once when it comes to targeting. You can play with audience insights all day long, but sometimes you just can’t locate that exact sweet spot that would be best for your specific business. So, why not use what your competitors are using?

Whatever niche you’re in, you’ve probably done your research. You’ve visited some of the top sites in the game, Liked some of the highest performing Facebook pages, and maybe even bought an array of products. Doing all of this online has most likely made Facebook think you’re interested in the industry. Therefore, if your competitors are targeting properly, you’ll start seeing their ads appear. For example, I’m in the Internet marketing game and I see a lot of ads for Internet marketing products, ebooks, and webinars. But I also help my girlfriend with her makeup blog. So I also see a lot of ads for makeup and beauty products even though I don’t actually use these products and certainly am not their target demographic. This can apply to almost any niche provided that you’ve done your research into the given industry.


Spying On Your Competitor’s Facebook Marketing Strategy

Of course, you can’t get gain access into your competitor’s business / ad manager. Therefore, we will have to use a little reverse engineering to make this strategy work. This is something that I love to do when trying to kill time, and to see what my own competitors are doing as well. We’re going to do that here with some real-life facebook ad examples from my own news feed.

There are 3 main placements for Facebook advertising. You have your native ads on desktop and mobile, and you have your right rail ads. Each of them will show you information about the ad you are seeing. We’ll begin with the right rail:


Right Side Ad Targeting

How To Spy On Your Facebook Ad Competitors
As mentioned, the ads currently targeted at me include both makeup/beauty ads, as well as some for Internet marketing.

Given the above 3 ads, how do I find out what they’re doing? The answer is easy enough. Hover on the image to see a little X.

How To Find Your Competitors Facebook Strategy

Click on the X and you’ll be presented with several options. Click the option “Why am I seeing this?

Why Am I Seeing This Facebook Ad?

From here, you’ll be given a lightbox popup with information about the ad. Sometimes this is very vague, as we’ll see momentarily, but sometimes it will give you some interesting ideas. Let’s see how Mr. Brown targeted me.

How To Reverse Engineer A Facebook Ad

For the Liberty Mutual ad, it’s one of the vague descriptions since they’re using an agency called TheTradeDesk.

Ad using An Facebook Advertising Company

The Nordstrom ad? They’re using TellApart to target people. So unfortunately it doesn’t reveal exactly how they targeted me. It’s possibly a retargeting ad.


Newsfeed Ad Targeting

Let’s take a look at a few Newsfeed ads. This first ad I saw was from a competitor. Which is funny because this is exactly what I would look for when doing my research. To find what they’re doing, let’s click on the chevron that points down on the top right.

Digital Ocean Facebook Ad

You’ll receive a similar box of options as the right rail. Click the same “Why am I seeing this” to see more information. You’ll see that our competitor is using a dark post that’s targeting me based on my interest in Linux. Interesting, because I was briefly targeting this not too long ago. Maybe they did a little reverse engineering as well?

How To Target A Niche On Facebook

Here’s another example of a Newsfeed ad. They’re selling SEO services and the targeting they are using is interesting.
Facebook ad for SEOFacebook Ad Targeting Moz Marketing Software

They’re targeting Moz Marketing Software, something that Glen at Viperchill wrote about a few months ago. This is interesting to me because they’ve been targeting this for awhile and so did Glen before he wrote his article. I am only aware of this due to a mutual friend of mine and Glen’s. As such, either this advertiser has a relation to Glen or they’ve been doing some reverse engineering themselves. Although we’re only scratching the surface, you are beginning to see how deep the rabbit hole can go.

In a matter of coincidence, Viperchill showed up when I continued scrolling down my page. Let’s see how Glen is targeting these days.

Viperchill Facebook Ad

How Does Viperchill Target on Facebook

He’s targeting those interested in Darren Rowse, the founder of ProBlogger. This is actually the 4th person that I’ve seen this month targeting Darren. I really like this targeting because it shows you that you don’t have to just target brands and hobbies, you can find some of the biggest names in the industry to target as well. Which, if you’re doing it, there’s a chance your ad costs might be slightly less expensive because most advertisers would go after recognizable brands rather than individuals.


Mobile Newsfeed Targeting Examples

My first example was the first ad to show in my feed, and it is actually our good friends Bluehost. How about we take a look at what they’re doing.

How To Spy On Your Facebook Competitor

Facebook Ads Help

I’m glad this one showed up because of the targeting they’re doing here. In this example, they’re targeting a lookalike audience from an existing audience. A lookalike audience is an audience that Facebook will generate for you based on an audience you’ve added into their system. So this could either be their customers, a retargeting list, or a couple of other options. They’re trying to find people that are similar to people who have bought their services previously, so there’s a good chance that they may be interested as well.

Our next ad is one of those ads that doesn’t give you much information. Why is that? Because they’ve incorporated several layers within their ad. Age, location, interest, and many other options can be used to target. Using multiple targeting options will make it more difficult to see exactly what is being done.

How to tell how your competition is targeting on facebook

This is basically how you can tell what your competitors are doing on Facebook in order to give you some ideas for targeting. These were just a few examples, certainly not all-inclusive. One particular ad message to be aware of will say something similar to “ABC advertiser is trying to reach people based on their current customers” which means they uploaded your information as a custom audience. When I see this from an advertiser that I know that I haven’t given them my information, I block and report them since it probably means they bought my email from somewhere or scraped it somehow. Neither of which should be done.


How Can You Edit Your Facebook Interests?

This can be a little complicated as Facebook takes a lot of factors into consideration when matching you with interests. Some of these can be what pages you like, what websites you visit, and what products you buy. To remove specific interests, you just need to manage your ad preferences.  From the “why am I see this” popup, you can remove the exact interest (for example, the Moz Marketing Software) or you can click to go to all of your preferences. There, you can pick and choose what to remove or add.

Hopefully this has shed some light on how to use your competitors’ Facebook ads to find new targeting options. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments!

Kyler is the Associate Marketing Manager at HostGator. You can usually catch him writing articles or running around to get things done. Other than that, he’s out there fighting crime. It may not be real crime, but someone has to call others out on Reddit.
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