Instagram Ad Targeting: 87-Point Guide To Crush It In 2020

Instagram ad targeting can make or break your Instagram advertising campaign.

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When it comes to Instagram advertising, it’s fair to say that Instagram ad targeting is one of the most important success factors.

With such a large amount of active users, it’s easy to target the wrong people on Instagram. This would translate in never being able to reach the people who actually wanted to buy your product.

In this article, we’ll try to tackle Instagram ad targeting deep enough so that you never target the wrong audience and maximize every dollar you spend on Instagram advertising.

Here’s what you will learn:

  • How Instagram ad targeting works?
  • How to create Instagram & Facebook ads audiences?
  • How to create Custom & Lookalike Audiences on Instagram?
  • Which Instagram targeting options you should use?

When it comes to Instagram ad targeting, we always recommend making as many tests as possible. You might think you are targeting the best audience, when in fact you could generate even better results. Don’t settle, keep looking!

How Instagram Ad Targeting Works?

As most of you probably know, Instagram is a placement inside the Facebook ads platform. In other words, targeting on Instagram is the same thing as targeting on Facebook yet you still need a different strategy.

The first step in creating an Instagram advertising audience is to go inside the Facebook business manager. You would then need to go inside your menu and select audiences.

Create custom audience
Audience creation Instagram

When entering the Audience page, you’ll see three options:

  • Custom audience: people who have taken an action with your brand.
  • Lookalike audience: an audience that resembles the custom audience selected.
  • Saved audience: audiences created from any option available (interests, demographics, custom audiences, etc.)

Some people call “value-based audiences” as a separate audience, but they are essentially a type of custom audience. In our case, we will keep it simple. A value-based audience would be the people who bought the most from you in dollar amounts for instance.

What are Instagram saved audiences?

Saved audiences are the initial Instagram ad targeting audiences you should create. If you are starting Instagram advertising, you should definitely start your saved audience. In these audiences, you can choose amongst many criteria’s such as:

  • Location
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Income level
  • Interests
  • Behaviour
  • And much more!

You can create your saved audiences in the audience section as shown above or directly when you launch your initial Instagram campaign.

Without further due, let’s dive into all the options you have when it comes to creating your first or hundredth saved audience:

Instagram saved audience
Instagram saved audience

As you can see, you can choose from locations, age, gender, language as well as detailed targeting which includes demographics, interests and behaviours. Finally, you can target based on a connection type. We’ll dive into each of them in the following paragraphs.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to Instagram ad targeting is that we won’t add any custom audience or lookalike audience. You can add them later, but when getting started, nobody ever interacted with your ads, so you don’t have the option yet to create those two.

Instagram saved audience #1: Location

Location targeting is very important when launching a campaign. You might only be able to sell in specific places which makes using this feature essential to create the right saved audience.

You can target locations based on the following location points:

  • Country
  • State/Region
  • Counties
  • DMA (Designated Market Area)
  • City
  • Postal Code
  • Specific Address Radius

All you have to do is start typing the location you want to target in the text box and Instagram will pull out the relevant info it finds from its database. For instance, you can start typing “New” and you’ll see a bunch of options including “New York”, etc.

Instagram targeting

If you want to learn some advanced targeting tactics, I recommend our article “Facebook’s Advanced Location Targeting“.

Let’s keep going, you’ll also see next to location a drop-down menu with tons of options when it comes to Instagram location targeting.

  • Everyone in this location: this is actually the default setting which includes everyone who is living, has recently been or has travelled to your location.
  • People who live in this location: an audience based on people who spend a lot of time in a certain location, enough so that Instagram can guess they live there.
  • People recently in this location: if someone has visited a location but doesn’t live here.
  • People travelling to this location: pretty obvious, those are people who are visiting a place while staying in a short timezone.

Instagram saved audience #2: Demographics

Of course, you can choose which age, gender, language & demographics your saved audience should cover. If you have that information based on your past customer’s data, it’s a good place to start.

When it comes to age, you can target people from 13+ to 65+. We always recommend making decisions based on data, meaning that if you don’t know your target market’s age then you should go wide at first.

Age, Gender & Language
Age, Gender & Language

Furthermore, you have to be careful with audiences younger than 18 because Facebook has more rules around what you can and can’t advertise. You can read further in the Facebook ads policy section.

You can also target genders which doesn’t have more options than male, female or all. You can create a campaign for men and another one for women. Personalized Instagram ads based on the targeting, generally works better!

Furthermore, you can target people based on languages. It’s important that people read the language in which you write your ads, wouldn’t you say?

Finally, you can target your audience based on demographics information which covers education, financial, life events, parents, relationships & work.

  • Education: field of study, schools & undergrad years.
  • Financial: mostly based on income.
  • Life events: anniversary, birthdays, new relationship status, etc.
  • Parents: parent status with the approximate age of their child.
  • Relationships: covers the relationship status.
  • Work: employers, industries & job title.

As you can see, demographic targeting can be pretty specific for your Instagram ad targeting. The more you know about your audience, the better you can target them!

Instagram saved audience #3: Interests

Interest targeting with Instagram advertising is the option most start with when it comes to launching their campaigns. It allows you to reach people who are interested in something very similar to what you want to sell.

If you sell soccer shoes, you could target interests such as soccer celebrities, soccer clubs, soccer shoe companies, and so on.

There are two ways to select interests, you can either browse in the pre-defined menu or start entering a word just like the location targeting and you will start to see suggestions.

Here a few categories when it comes to interests:

  • Business & industry
  • Entertainment
  • Family & relationships
  • Fitness & wellness
  • Food & drink
  • Hobbies & activities
  • Shopping & fashion
  • Sports & outdoors
  • Technology

When you start adding interests, you’ll see something really awesome from Instagram. By clicking on suggestions, you’ll see a bunch of related interests to the ones you already added. This really helps in making this process much faster. Here’s what it looks like:

Interests suggestion Instagram Ads
Interests suggestion Instagram Ads

Interest targeting is a really good first step in setting up the right Instagram targeting options.

Instagram saved audience #4: Behaviour

Behaviour targeting is an interesting way of targeting people. For instance, you can target people who has bought in the last 7 days from a Facebook ad or has travelled recently. It’s really all about people’s behaviour.

Most beginners do not focus on behaviour-based targeting when starting their Instagram campaign but it can be a good option to test new audiences along the way. To better understand the options available, let me list a few behaviours you can target on Instagram.

You can target ex-pats, mobile device users, politics, purchase behaviour, Ramadan, and so on. For instance, a lot of eCommerce advertisers like to target “engaged shoppers” which are people who clicked the “buy now” button recently on Instagram.

Instagram saved audience #5: Connection type

Connection type audiences are really useful when you launch a promotion that includes some form of social connection. For instance, if you want to sell tickets to a festival, you could target the friends of the people who liked your Facebook page.

The connection types are based on 3 different places:

  • Facebook pages: people who like your page, friends of people who like your page or excluding those who like your page.
  • Apps: people who use your app, friends of people who use your app or excluding the people who use your app.
  • Events: people who responded to your event or exclude the people who responded to your event.

Although you can’t base it on your Instagram page, your Facebook page might still be a good audience to target. Another tip is that you can click on “advanced combination” and combine any of the audiences above for your Instagram campaign!

Instagram Custom Audiences

Instagram custom audiences are audiences with people who have taken an action in relation to your Instagram profile, Facebook page or website. These are the audiences you will use to set up your retargeting audiences. There are so many options when it comes to Instagram custom audiences that it can often feel overwhelming.

There are many different Instagram custom audiences, here are the most important ones with their most-used features.

  • Your sources: website, customer list, app activity & offline activity.
  • Facebook sources: video, Instagram business profile, lead form, events, instant experience, Facebook page.

First of all, to create custom audiences, you can either create them while you choose your audience in the ads manager or head over to audiences in your Facebook business manager tab. All our examples will start from the audiences tab!

If you want to dive deeper into Facebook custom audiences, I recommend our article “Facebook Ads Custom Audiences: Everything You Need To Know In 2020“.

1. Instagram Custom Audiences based on your website

This type of Instagram custom audience is one of the most used when it comes to setting up retargeting campaigns. Why? Someone visiting your website and taking an action is probably the highest form of intent you’ll find alone.

Website Traffic Facebook Retargeting Campaign
Custom audience based on website

You’ll then have a lot of options when it comes to website custom audiences. You can first choose the timeframe, in general, the more recent, the better your Instagram custom audience will perform.

Another thing to keep in mind is having a large enough audience. If you have 10 visitors per day and create an audience with a timeframe of 5 days, your audience might be too small. We recommend an audience of at least 100, closer to 300.

You’ll also be able to choose the action on your website you want your visitors to have taken. Here are a few options:

  • All website visitors
  • People who visited specific web page (you can add the URL)
  • Visitors by time spent (top 5%, top 10% and top 25%)
  • Any conversion goal: content views, add to carts, initiate checkouts or purchases if you have enough.

Finally, don’t forget to create a name for your audience. It’s really easy to forget what a custom audience is, unfortunately. It’s why adding a name is crucial.

2. Instagram Custom Audiences based on a customer list

If you already have a list of customers in a CSV file with their emails such as an email list, it can be a great place to start. All you have to do is select customer list when creating your custom audience and then you’ll be able to upload your CSV file.

The hard thing is often setting up your CSV file correctly so that Facebook understands it. It’s not hard per se, but it does take a little bit of time. Here’s the information you can add on Facebook that can help you build a strong customer list custom audience.

Customer List Instagram

You can also build as you can see customer value based custom audiences which can then be used at lookalike audiences which we’ll talk about later in this article. These audiences can be really powerful, because you can target your highest value customers and ask Facebook to find people similar to those highest value customers.

3. Instagram Custom Audience based on app activity

Those custom audiences are really good for SaaS companies or mobile apps. You can create an audience of your top users, or your non paid users to push them to become paid users. You can even target people haven’t logged in your app in a while.

There are so many audiences you can create around your app but first, you’ll need to integrate your app with your Facebook ads account. Here’s Facebook’s guide on connecting your app to Facebook ads.

App Custom Audience
App Custom Audience

Don’t forget that the timeframe you choose, for example, 10 days, will keep evaluating the people who have taken an action with your app. In other words, it only keeps the most recent data to keep optimizing the activity happening in your app.

4. Instagram Custom Audiences based on Facebook sources

When it comes to Facebook sources, you are filled with options. You can choose audiences that are related to the following sources:

  • Facebook page: anyone who engaged with your page, sent you a message, clicked on your call-to-action or saved your post or ad.
  • Instagram business profile: anyone who visited your business profile, sent you a message, engaged or saved your post or ad.
  • Video: 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 25%, 50% or 75%.
  • Lead form: opened form, opened form but didn’t submit, submitted form.
  • Events: responded going, interested, purchased a ticket and much more!
  • Instant experience: opened the instant experience, clicked any links.

Those custom audiences can be very powerful when it comes building your initial custom audiences because they are easier to build than purchase custom audiences. Someone watching a video shows less intent than someone who buys from your store but it’s still better than someone who didn’t do anything.

You can build these audiences initially to start creating an audience of people who might be interested in your product or even create lookalike audiences which we’ll talk about just below.

Instagram Lookalike audience

Although often called Facebook Lookalike Audiences, Lookalike audiences are some of the most powerful audiences to target when it comes to customer acquisition. Instagram takes your selected custom audience to create an audience of people similar to those inside your custom audience.

As we’ve spoken before, your custom audience can be for instance your customers. Facebook can create a lookalike audience of your buyers to find even more buyers for you. At SH1FT, Lookalike audiences generally outperform any other cold targeting audiences.

Building a Custom Audience
Building a Custom Audience

Here’s how you can create a Lookalike audience for your Instagram ads in a few steps:

  • Go inside your business manager and select audience
  • Click on create and select Lookalike audience
  • Enter your source, location & audience size
Instagram ad targeting
Facebook Lookalike Audience

For the location, you need to make sure your custom audience has enough people from the location you are trying to reach. The minimum is 100 but we recommend generally around 300 people.

For the percentage, one percent is the most specific audience and 10% the least specific. We generally try the 1-10% inclusively, being the biggest audience to let Facebook optimized. We learned that since the Facebook Power 5 udpate!

How large should your Instagram audience be?

When it comes to Instagram targeting, most fear targeting audiences that are too large. Generally, audiences of millions of people are never fully used. Think about it, you would need to spend thousand and thousand of dollars to reach everyone, but the question is: “do you want to reach everyone?”

When it comes to Instagram ads, the initial people you reach in your audience generally are the ones that generate the best results. It’s why we often recommend targeting broad audiences on Instagram.

Although we advise against narrowing your Instagram audiences, sometimes it can help generate better results if the targeting is more accurate. If you launch a new product, launch ads for a new Instagram ad account or target a new audience then you should probably try to narrow down your audience.

Back in the days, we called narrowing down the audience “laser-targeting”. There’s a function when you choose your Instagram ads audience that allows to “include people who match at least ONE of the following” and “MUST ALSO match at least ONE of the following”.

Instagram ad targeting
Instagram Laser-Targeting

For instance, if you chose “engaged shoppers” & “golf”, then you’ll only reach people who are interested in both of these audiences. It can be a good strategy if you don’t have a seasoned pixel.

You can also choose to exclude an audience. It would allow you for example to exclude your customers from your ad acquisition. This would make sure that you don’t do “audience overlap”.

Audience overlaps happen when you target the same audience within two ad sets. It’s why we generally make sure we exclude our list of customers or anyone who has already visited our website from the acquisition audience.

How to target the right audience with Instagram ads?

After seeing all the options when it comes to Instagram ads, you might have tons of smart ideas but a hard time choosing which one to try. It’s why we made this section, to help you get started with the best possible plan of action. We’ll try implementing our years of expertise in ad targeting inside your brain.

Here are five hacks we think you’ll love when it comes to Instagram ads targeting:

Instagram ads targeting hack #1: Start with Saved Audiences

When it comes to Instagram ads, you can’t build Instagram custom audiences let alone Instagram lookalike audiences. You have to target people based on demographics, behaviours and interests. This will allow you to start advertising while giving to Instagram a chance at finding the best audiences for you.

By “testing” those audiences, you’ll start to see which one works best and we recommend saving those audiences that work really well. Why? Overtime, by accumulating audiences that work well for you, you’ll be able to go inside the Audience Insight tool inside your Business Manager.

This tool will enable you to gather even more information as to which audiences work best for you by showing you other interests that have similar people as well as specific information about those audiences like the marital status or education level of your audience.

Instagram ad targeting
Facebook Audience Insight

After you’ve found those audiences, you’ll be able to create custom audiences out of the people who started interacting with your brand. And overtime, you’ll be able to create lookalike audiences based on those people which should work wonders if you’ve gathered enough data.

Instagram ads targeting hack #2: from custom audiences to retargeting

When it comes to Instagram targeting, it’s really important to realize that there is a difference between someone who knows about your brand and someone who doesn’t. Generally, people that know about your brand tend to convert better than those who don’t. If it’s not the case for your brand, you might be doing something wrong.

If you want to learn more about retargeting, I recommend our article “Facebook Retargeting: 155-Point Guide + 18 Refreshing Examples“.

In fact, according to Criteo, website visitors who are retargeted are more likely to convert by 43% compared to cold audiences. With that in mind, we decided to recommend a few of our most performing custom audiences for your Instagram retargeting ads:

  • People who have visited your website but didn’t become customers in the past 10 days
  • People who have added products to cart but didn’t purchase in the last 30 days (eCommerce only)
  • Past customers to whom you can show new products or just say “thank you”
  • People who visited a specific product or service page to whom you want to show a specific ad about that product or service on Instagram
Instagram ad targeting
Instagram Ad Example

Instagram ad targeting hack #3: leverage engagement custom audiences

One of the best audience you can target on Instagram are the people who engaged with your Instagram page. You can choose which action they took as well as the timeframe in which they last interacted.

It can also be a smart strategy to make sure your entire audience sees your post. Another cool thing about this is that you might not need to create an Instagram ad, you could simply create an Instagram promotion.

If you want to learn more about Instagram promotions, I recommend our article “How To Run An Instagram Promotion & What Can I Expect?

Instagram ad targeting
Instagram Promotion

What’s more? You could also target the people who like your Facebook page or the friends of those people. It’s quite simple when you are creating an ad, you should see connections at the bottom of your targeting choices where you’ll see the option to do so.

Instagram ad targeting hack #4: exclude the right audiences

If you are running a promotion for new customers, you might not want your past customers to see your Instagram ad. It’s important to leverage the exclude feature when it comes to Instagram ad targeting.

You should also exclude audiences because you don’t want to do what we call the audience overlap. Audience overlap is when multiple of your Instagram ad sets target the same people which makes you compete with yourself for bidding.

A good practice is to always exclude the custom audiences you are already targeting with your Instagram ads. If you are retargeting your website visitors in the past 30 days, make sure you exclude them when targeting cold Instagram audiences.

Instagram ad targeting exclude audience
Instagram ads exclude audience

It’s a great practice to always keep your exclusions active because your retargeting audiences might be small. If you don’t exclude them elsewhere, you might end up having to spend a lot more money then you need to in order to reach them.

Instagram ad targeting hack #5: personalized advertising

This hack is best explained by using an example. Imagine you craft an ad made for the people who added a product to their cart bud didn’t purchase. You might say something along the lines of “Get 10% off if you finish your purchase in the next 24 hours”. In that scenario, you might not want the Instagram ad to show to other people than those it was intended to.

It’s important to craft relevant ads that match the exact audience you are targeting. The more contextual and relevant your ads, the better your results will be. It’s why it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your customers when crafting your Instagram ads.

The more precise your ads are, the more people will stop and know exactly why they have been targeting by this ad. It’s not for no reason that Facebook had something before called “relevance score”. It would allow yourself to know if an ad you created was relevant to the audience you were targeting. The more relevant your Instagram ad is, the cheaper you’ll pay to reach the people inside.

Looking for an Instagram ads agency?

If you need help with your Instagram ads, don’t hesitate to visit our Instagram agency page and contact us. We have been running Instagram ads since their inception and have had amazing results for apps, real estate, eCommerce, retail and festivals.

We’d love to help you reach your goals with Instagram ads faster thanks to our expertise and experience.

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