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Facebook’s new targeting restrictions: what does it mean for advertisers?

In Autumn 2021, Facebook announced significant changes to the way advertisers can target prospective customers in Ads Manager. These changes came into effect in mid-January 2022, and have reduced the possibilities for advertisers looking to expand their current audience.

27 January 20223 min read

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In Autumn 2021, Facebook announced significant changes to the way advertisers can target prospective customers in Ads Manager. These changes came into effect in mid-January 2022, and have reduced the possibilities for advertisers looking to expand their current audience.

So what are the changes, how are advertisers affected and what are the options for future targeting?

What will be affected?

Facebook has clamped down on any targeting that could be interpreted as sensitive. Topics viewed as such include:

  • Religion
  • Health
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Political affiliation
  • Sexual orientation

This doesn’t just apply to specific interest targeting, but also any events, figures or organisations relating to that topic.

For instance, if you wanted to target Catholics, prior to 19th January Catholic Church was available as a targeting interest. Now, not only is that keyword unavailable, but so too is Pope Francis, The Bible and Baptism.

Feminism, as another example, is also off the table, along with associated terms such as Women’s Rights, Hilary Clinton and Planned Parenthood.

What targeting remains available?

This is clearly a big hit for organisations hoping to target people with quite specific – albeit supposedly sensitive – interests. So what is left for advertisers to target?

  • Broad targeting remains in place. Advertisers can still find prospective customers by gender, age, language and location.
  • Custom Audiences, uploaded from an advertiser’s own data, or gathered from website or app traffic or engagement on Facebook, is unaffected.
  • Lookalike Audiences also remain available to use, as they are based on Custom Audiences.

What are the options for advertisers?

As things stand, here are the options for advertisers:

  1. Follow Facebook recommendations for existing audiences. If an advertiser already had an audience up and running as of 19th January, it will continue to run until 17th March. It may need to be updated with recommendations from Facebook, although it is now clear yet what those recommendations will be.
  2. Set up a broad targeting audience – by age, gender, location and language – and allow Facebook’s algorithms to do the rest. Again, it is not clear how Facebook will find the correct audience for broadly targeted ads, but it supposedly tracks the language used in the advert to allocate interests.
  3. Do as much analysis on your own Custom Audiences as possible. Sort your data by campaign, date, or any other information available to make your Custom Audiences as specific as they can be.
  4. Find some workarounds. A few years ago, Facebook removed the ability to target Muslims through specific keywords like Islam or Muslim. However, terms such as Ramadan and Eid were still available, allowing advertisers interested in a Muslim audience to target them reasonably well. Similarly, while Feminism and Women’s Rights are now excluded, lower-profile feminists like Simone de Beauvoir are still available.

Facebook are always updating and amending how Ads Manager works, so who knows how long the current restrictions will stay as they are. It may be that, if results suffer, advertisers are drawn away from Facebook, forcing a backtracking or alteration to this new regime. We’ll be monitoring the changes closely and seeing how they effect the targeting we do for fundraising campaigns, stay tuned for updates on this over the coming months.


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