Your Facebook Ads are Not Performing? Here’s Why

Your Facebook Ads are Not Performing? Here’s Why
Your Facebook Ads are Not Performing? Here’s Why

Your Facebook Ads are Not Performing? Here’s Why

An audience member taking a picture with their camera phone at a crowded event.

Looking for a diverse online ad platform that will put your marketing campaigns in front of tons of people? Facebook Ads is the way to go.

With an almost endless amount of detailed targeting options and features, you can reach virtually any Facebook user with an ad. Combine those targeting options with the functionality of Meta Business Suite; and you’re ready to dominate the platform.

But the sheer number of targeting options also presents big problems for the average Facebook advertiser. The platform is almost so complex that it can leave inexperienced users overwhelmed.

Case in point, most people create custom audience targeting on Facebook but have no idea how to optimize it. That’s a problem, given that there are more advertisers on Facebook than ever before. Competition is rife, which means businesses must make full use of the opportunities available to them.

If your Facebook ads are not working, it could be a problem with your custom audiences. Facebook custom audiences are the bread and butter of Facebook’s ad platform. It’s why it’s so popular in the first place. So when users don’t find success, they quickly give up, claiming that Facebook Ads don’t work. Or believing that Facebook isn’t meant for advertising.

But that’s not true. And thankfully, there are several ways you can fix your custom audiences to perform better.

Here’s why your Facebook custom audiences are failing and how you can fix them ASAP to improve your Facebook ad effectiveness.

Don’t Only Target Demographic Data

One of the biggest reasons your Facebook custom audience is not working is because you are using basic demographic data.

A standard marketing playbook will tell you to create simple buyer personas or customer profiles that describe your typical customers. These are a great tool when you are finding your target audience.

They usually look something like this:

Create buyer personas for custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Buyer personas are a summary of basic information, including a name, age range, gender, and job title.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Buyer personas are amazing. I use them on a daily basis to drive sales and traffic to my businesses. But when it comes to Facebook Ads, buyer personas aren’t sufficient. They aren’t nearly detailed enough to find scalable growth and profit.

But I’ve seen a lot of marketers take data from buyer personas and use it to create a new custom audience.

For example, if you head to the Meta Business Suite (formerly Facebook Business Manager) and create a new audience, do you create something fairly basic like this?

Basic way to create a target audience on Meta Business Suite.

Saved audiences on Facebook are great. But not when you limit yourself to demographic-based targeting. Simple metrics like age and gender aren’t going to get you qualified buyers.

Just take a look at how diverse and large this audience is:

Only using demographic-based targeting on Facebook may be one reason why you're custom audience targeting is not working.

Trying to target 33 million people with a single ad set and a niche product isn’t going to get you very far. Why? Because if 33 million people were interested in your product, you wouldn’t need Facebook to advertise.

You simply can’t appeal to everyone. And that’s fine! If anything, it’s a good thing. Larger audience sizes on Facebook often perform poorly because the targeting isn’t specific enough. You could be wasting tons of money on clicks and impressions without ever seeing a dime in return.

Part of this is Facebook’s fault. It asks you to create an audience when you create a new ad.

The reason why your custom audience targeting is not working on Facebook is because Facebook only provides demographic data as its main options.

And the main options are demographic data.

On top of that, if you navigate to your audience insights within the Meta Business Manager, you also see a range of demographic data:

You can see demographic data if you navigate to audience insights within the Meta Business Manager.

Facebook constantly promotes the use of basic demographic data in its analytics and audience options. It’s the most visible, widely-used form of targeting they offer. But it’s not sufficient.

So, if you see your Facebook custom audience isn’t working, it’s probably because you are relying only on demographic data. Creating a custom audience that is not custom enough is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when managing Facebook ads.

Luckily, there are literally a dozen different ways you can create a custom audience that doesn’t focus on demographic data. These include:

  • Website data using a Facebook pixel
  • The activity of users on your app
  • A list of your customers
  • Offline data you collect in-person
  • People who watch your Facebook videos
  • People who have interacted with your Instagram account
  • People who clicked on your Facebook or Instagram shopping experiences

I’ll touch on some of these in more detail below, but why not give them all a try?

Use Interests and Exclusions

You should also focus on interests and exclusions when managing Facebook ads.

As I’ve already explained, you can’t use simple demographic data and expect stellar results. But people often glance over the Detailed Targeting option of interests and exclusions:

Use interests and exclusions within Meta Business Manager when creating a custom target audience on Facebook.

If you like to target by demographic data, but don’t use Detailed Targeting, then it’s no wonder your Facebook custom audience is not working.

Interests and exclusions let you narrow down your audience from 33 million to a few hundred thousand. This gives you a much better shot at targeting qualified buyers.

Interests and exclusions let you target anything from income to spending habits and job positions. You can get hyper-specific with your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

For example, let’s say that I run an SEO agency that works with Fortune 500 companies. I can specifically target them using the interests section:

Use detailed descriptions when creating a custom audience audience targeting strategy on Facebook.

But even then, we’re not specific enough. My audience size is still in the millions. So let’s take a moment to think more about my ad. I can ask myself the following questions:

  • Do I sell to specific segments or industries?
  • Are there customer types that make up the majority of my sales?
  • What job positions do they hold?

Answering these questions can narrow down your audience even further. In this example, let’s say that I only find myself closing deals with chief marketing officers.

I’d select the following:

Include specific job titles like "Chief Marketing Officer" when diving into custom audience targeting on Facebook.

That gets us a little closer, but we still have a ways to go. Because even within this level of specificity, there will still be some segments of this audience that aren’t interested in my product.

For example, let’s say sales managers don’t show a lot of interest in my agency. So, I’d want to exclude them from targeting:

Include specific job titles involves "sales" when diving into custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Narrowing down your custom audience with interests and exclusions will help you refine your custom audience to a sensible size.

For example, I’ve narrowed my audience down to just over 700,000 thanks to those three inclusions and exclusions.

The audience size on Meta Business Manager indicates a potential reach of 730,000 people for a potential ad campaign.

Keep tailoring these groups as much as you can. Don’t limit your Facebook ad effectiveness because you haven’t been as specific as possible.

Make Sure Your Recency Window Isn’t Too Short

Most people use custom audiences when they run simple remarketing ads on Facebook. That’s because you can quickly set up a new website-visit-based remarketing campaign and audience within Meta Business Manager.

But custom audiences for remarketing often fail for one very specific reason: the default 30-day cookie window isn’t effective.

Here’s what it looks like when you create a new custom audience based on website visits:

Adjust your recency window beyond 30 days during your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Facebook defaults to custom audiences from the last 30 days.

This is the number of days you want people to remain in your audience after meeting the traffic criteria or goal. In plain English, this means that when someone visits your website, they will only remain in that audience for 30 days after that visit.

But that’s problematic when you look at the typical sales funnel:

Think about the typical sales funnel when you develop custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Most customers won’t make a purchase the first time they see your product. They’ll need to transition through the various stages of the buying process first.

In the awareness stage, customers are still trying to figure out what their problem is and how they can solve it. They are only just beginning their research. In the interest stage, they start to explore various products or services to fix their problem. They have still not committed to a purchase, and they are considering your competitors.

Next, they decide which business they think will help them the most. They still haven’t made a purchase at this stage. It’s only when they finally take action that you see a return on your investment and a full completion of the sales cycle. And that conversion cycle can last much longer than 30 days in many cases. In fact, research shows that almost three-quarters of B2B sales to new customers take at least four months to close.

If you’re lucky enough to convert prospects to sales in fewer than 30 days, you’re probably fine with Meta Business Manager’s default settings.

But if you are like most of us who aren’t able to convert a non-brand-aware user to a customer in under one month, you should be using a much longer window for your audience.

BigCommerce first noticed this mistake when they were running ads for clients and found that the conversion windows were heavily delayed:

Some of BigCommerce's Facebook ads were not working because their conversion windows were too short.

Tons of the sales for their client weren’t coming in until 12-30+ days. So a 30-day window wasn’t the most efficient option.

So if your retargeting Facebook ad is not working, use a longer window like 30-90 days, instead.

Use a 60 day window when developing custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Experiment with this number by creating two custom audiences with different cookie windows to see which performs best over the period of two months.

Target by Specific Page Visits and User Flow

One of my favorite ways to create better custom audiences and fix Facebook ads that are not delivering is to get even more specific by targeting users who visit specific pages and take certain actions.

We know that demographics don’t cut it. Even adding in interests and exclusions might not be enough.

When all else fails, you need to jumpstart your campaign with visitors who are highly likely to buy from you. And thankfully, with custom audience targeting on Facebook, you can target users taking incredibly specific actions from your website.

Let me give you an example before we dive in. Check out this advertisement I ran for a webinar that I hosted:

Neil Patel Facebook ad using custom audience targeting.

Notice how specific it is? It’s not a basic, awareness-style ad aimed at grabbing the attention of millions. It’s directly relevant to the webinar that I was hosting at the time. And these ads were only targeted to a custom audience that showed a deep interest in my webinar.

I ran these because I knew that people would convert if they had shown prior interest by visiting my webinar landing page. So instead of remarketing to all my website visitors, I targeted specific page visits and URLs where leads showed an interest.

This isn’t the only way you can use site behavior to optimize your custom audience. You can also target:

  • High average order customers by creating a conversion event when a purchase is 20% or more above your site average.
  • The users who spend the most time on your site by targeting the top 25% of active users
  • Users who haven’t visited your site in a while.

Here’s how you can implement the same strategy to improve Facebook ad effectiveness.

Open up your Meta Business Manager and go to the audiences tab:

Go to the "audiences" tab in Meta Business Manager to create custom audience targeting on Facebook.

From here, create a new custom audience:

Click the "Create a Custom Audience" button within Meta Business Manager to create custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Select “Website Traffic” from the list of options:

Click the "Website Traffic" button within Meta Business Manager to create custom audience targeting on Facebook.

But now, instead of selecting the basic remarketing option of targeting all website visitors, select “People who visited specific web pages”:

Retarget ads to people who visited specific web pages as a part of your custom audience targeting strategy on Facebook.

Next, you can outline specific buyer behavior patterns.

For example, do you notice that people are viewing multiple pages before they buy? Are they visiting your pricing page after a specific blog post?

What is the common user path?

If you don’t know, head over to Google Analytics and open up the “Behavior Flow” report:

Learn the common user path of people who go on your website by opening up "Behavior Flow" within Google Analytics.

This will show you how people are moving through and interacting with your site before they convert:

The Behavior Flow within Google Analytics will show how your website visitors are navigating your website.

Start to analyze the most popular entry points and typical viewing paths customers take on your website. If you start to notice trends and common sequences, you can take advantage of them to create a specific custom audience.

For example, a common user flow on my site looks like this:

About page -> blog post -> consulting page conversion

I’ve noticed that the majority of people who convert on my site follow that same route.

Once you’ve figured out a great behavioral pattern, head back to the Business Manager and input those links:

Input specific links into Meta Business Manager to help your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

This is the path I mentioned earlier, which will add visitors to a new custom audience when they land on these three pages over the course of 60 days.

This is a hyper-specific audience based on specific page visits that I’ve seen convert well. I’ve even received ads on my own Facebook page that I can tell are using this strategy.

For example, check out this ad from Hootsuite that I got after visiting their product page:

A Hootsuite ad on Neil Patel's Facebook page that demonstrates custom audience targeting.

They didn’t target this ad to everyone on their remarketing list or everybody who visited their website once. They only targeted visitors who visited a specific landing page.

Custom audiences tend to fail due to a lack of creativity and detailed targeting. If your Facebook ads are not delivering, try to create a custom audience based on site visits and behavior flow to drive more sales.

Make Sure to Target by Frequency

Another great way to fix a failing custom audience is to simply add another parameter: Frequency.

In theory, the more someone has visited your site, the higher the chance that they’ll buy from you.

First-time visitors aren’t likely to convert.

In fact, 92% will not purchase from you on the first visit. So if you don’t sort by frequency, you continue to risk targeting too large of an audience.

As we discussed, the sales funnel is complex. Especially when it comes to Facebook. Here’s an example of just how complex a sales funnel can be when using Facebook Ads.

The complexity of the sales funnel when using Facebook Ads.

Sometimes it takes upwards of five ads to convert a customer.

And it’s the same way with your website. If you can’t expect first-time visitors to buy, you shouldn’t waste ad spend on anyone who hasn’t visited your site more than once. That’s why you need to enable frequency targeting when managing Facebook ads.

Enable frequency tracking by clicking “Further refine by” when creating a custom audience.

Click "further refine by" when you are creating a custom target audience on Facebook.

Next, select a frequency from the menu.

Now you can add an extra buffer layer to your custom audience to give you an even better shot at converting users with less money and fewer ads:

Here’s what your entire custom audience will look like:

Custom audience targeting on Facebook.

In the above example, a user will get added to your custom audience if they visit your specified URL two or more times within 60 days. This is one of the easiest fixes when your Facebook custom audience is not working.

Simply up the frequency, and you’ll narrow your audience to users who’ve shown strong engagement levels on your site.

Create a 1% Lookalike Audience

Lookalike audiences are pretty simple. You create a custom audience from your email list, and Facebook replicates that audience with new people.

Facebook does this by taking your existing customer list, matching those emails to accounts, and then finding other users with similar data that would also be interested in your products.

And it works.

It’s great for creating fast custom audiences without doing the legwork of interests, exclusions, or detailed remarketing optimization.

Lookalike audiences give you the option of choosing what percentage of the population you want to target:

Choose between 1% and 10% audience size when creating a lookalike audience.

The range is from 1 to 10%, with 10% producing the largest audience size and 1% producing the most specific and smallest audience size. 10% will net you 10% of the total population in the countries you choose, with those selected more closely resembling your other audiences and customers.

Given that Facebook’s user base totals 2.9 billion people, you might think that a 10% lookalike audience sounds like a good idea. A bigger custom audience will generate better results, right?

Actually, the exact opposite is true.

AdEspresso proved this by spending $1500 on a lookalike custom audience experiment in 2017. They wanted to test the three most common levels of lookalike audiences: 1, 5, and 10%. So they conducted a study over a period of 14 days, using the same ad for each audience.

AdEspresso's range of lookalike audiences ranging from 1,5, and 10% audience size.

These were lead-based ads that meant to capture emails via lead magnets. They offered deals to customers who had shown interest in their blog posts or services but weren’t ready to convert just yet. So when someone clicked on the ad, they had to enter information to receive the free e-books.

AdEspresso using lead-based ads to capture emails in order for those who clicked on their Facebook ad to receive their free guides.

Next, they created a new campaign and used Facebook’s A/B testing functionality to test their audiences against each other.

AdEspresso used split testing as a part of their custom audience targeting on Facebook.

With Facebook, you can split-test multiple audiences, which is what AdEspresso used to simultaneously evaluate those three audience levels. Their timeline was 14 days with a budget of $1,500, which gave them $35 a day to spend:

AdEspresso spent $35/day for 14 days as a part of their custom audience targeting on Facebook.

They set up their three targeting percentages:

AdEspresso setting up 3 audience percentages as a part of their custom audience targeting on Facebook.

The results showed some significant data as to why many marketers were not finding success with this custom audience type. Here’s some of the most important information and concluding data that they found:

The results of AdEspresso split testing their lookalike audiences demonstrating Facebook ad effectiveness.

You can see the results of the study in the image above. The far left column is the 1% audience, the middle image is the 5% audience, and the far-right image is the 10% audience.

The 1% lookalike audience had a cost per lead of $3.748. The 5% lookalike audience had a cost per lead of $4.162, and the 10% lookalike audience had a cost per lead of $6.364.

One key factor stood out that proved how effective smaller audiences are on Facebook:

The 10%-based lookalike audience was found to have a 70% higher cost per lead than the 1% audience. That could be a game-changer for improving Facebook ad effectiveness.

So, what’s the reason behind the results? Larger custom audiences just aren’t specific enough to drive great results.

10% audiences sound great in theory because they give you the option to corral tons of users, but they just don’t deliver specific enough results. Targeting a large audience usually works, but on Facebook, more users mean less targeting accuracy.

Creating a 1% lookalike audience of your own is easy. Simply navigate to your audiences section under your Meta Business Suite and select Lookalike Audience.

Create a lookalike audience in Meta Busines Manager as a part of your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Next, you need to choose the source for your lookalike audience.

Choose the source of your lookalike audience within Meta Business Manager.

The source could be anything from a custom audience to an email list to a specific page or profile. Once you’ve selected it, make sure you select 1% as your audience size.

Choose 1% for "audience size" when selecting a source for your lookalike audience for custom targeting.

If you want to perform your own A/B test like AdEspresso, click on Show Advanced Options.

Click "show advanced options" if you want to A/B test your lookalike audience as a part of your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Then, select the number of audiences and the sizes you want to create.

Click "show advanced options" if you want to A/B test your lookalike audience as a part of your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Try creating an audience at 1%, 5% and 10%, just like AdEspresso did. Once you’ve done this, head to your Ads Manager to create a new lead magnet ad.

Create a lead magnet ad as a part of your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Before continuing, make sure to select the split-testing feature to compare your audiences with the same ad.

Click the "Create Split Test" feature when creating an A/B test for lookalike audiences.

Now that you have enabled the split-test feature, scroll down to the variables section.

Choose which variables you want to test  when doing custom audience targeting on Facebook.

This is where you can choose what variables you want to test.

You have three options here. For this custom audience test, you want to select the Audience option:

Select the audience option for this custom audience test on Facebook.

You’ll notice two different ad sets to begin with. But thankfully, Facebook allows you to test more than two ad sets at a time.

Hit “Test Another Ad Set” to add a third to your list.

Test multiple ad sets to enhance Facebook ad effectiveness.

If you created four or even five lookalike audience versions, feel free to add the corresponding amount of ad sets to make this split test accurate.

Next, click “Edit” on each ad set to select your corresponding lookalike audiences.

Edit each ad set to split test multiple lookalike audiences as a apart of your custom audience targeting on Facebook.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to push your new ads live and see which audience produces the most conversions at the lowest costs.

Remember, Facebook custom audiences are all about specificity. Don’t make the cardinal sin of trying to cast too wide of a net. The more specific your audience, the better your conversion rate.

Custom Audience Targeting on Facebook FAQs

What is a #2654 error?

A #2654 is a failure to create a custom audience. It occurs when Facebook does not have permission to create a custom audience from one or more of your event sources.

What happens if your audience is too broad when you set up a Facebook ad?

If your Facebook ad audience is too broad it won’t be very effective. Targeting too many people will result in high CPCs and low conversion rates. That’s why it’s important to use a custom audience to narrow down your target audience as much as possible.

How long do Facebook custom audiences last?

The maximum time people can stay in your custom audience is 180 days. After that time, users will be removed unless they trigger an action that includes them in the audience again.

How small can a Facebook custom audience be?

The minimum number of people you can have in a custom audience is 100. That being said, you should be creating larger audiences if you want to have success with Facebook ads.


Meta’s advertising platform is one of the best ways to reach new customers. With boost posts and ever-powerful remarketing, you can reach almost anyone. On top of that, custom audiences are a gold mine when it comes to detailed targeting.

But with so many options to choose from, they can often cause problems for marketers. Having tons of features is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming. Targeting is the main reason your Facebook ad is not working.

If you target the wrong audience with the wrong offer, you won’t get a single sale. But if you target the right audience with a stellar offer, you can skyrocket sales almost instantly.

One of the biggest mistakes is targeting only demographic data. Most people don’t target interests and exclusions, either. Those are both huge mistakes when using custom audience targeting on Facebook.

On top of that, people target too narrow of a recency window, limiting their sales potential. Instead, try creating custom audiences using your Google Analytics data. This will allow you to target users who have shown proven interest with specific offers.

Try targeting by frequency, too. This will help you appeal to people further down the sales funnel who are more primed to buy. Lastly, create a 1% lookalike audience to find the best results.

Facebook custom audiences that are properly optimized are a solid way to amp up your return on investment, so make sure to get them set up to work for you.

What are some of your best custom audience hacks to generate better results?

Maggi Pier

Maggi Pier

Avid gardener, artist, writer, web designer, video creator, and Google my Business local marketing pro!