Bigger Net, More Fish: How Facebook's Special Ad Category Restrictions Can Work In Your Favor


Heat Level: Hot: These tips are meant for marketing experts.

Bottom Line: Facebook's "special ad category" restrictions on housing ads have been in play for almost a year. Many agents are wondering how the new rules will impact their lead quality and quantity.

Do This: You might be surprised by what we have to say about the new Facebook rules. You might even be inspired to turn your Facebook ads back on.

facebook login on smartphoneIn May 2019, Facebook was slapped with a lawsuit for allowing discriminatory advertising practices on their platform. By September, Facebook ruled out strict new rules for advertisers in the housing, banking, and employment arenas. 

Many real estate advertisers viewed this as a bad thing - I was one of them. I had gotten used to being intensely micro-targeted with my ads. It seemed like a good idea to use the strict demographic target features like "likely to move" or "renter" or "income $100k." Zeroing in on the house's zip code seemed like a no-brainer. Not because I was intending to discriminate, but because I figured that precise, narrow targeting would produce better results.

So the new restrictions felt like an insurmountable challenge at first. A 15-mile radius felt huge! Losing so many demographic and interest targets was devastating! Woe was me.

Ten months later, here's a surprising turn of events. I'm actually happier with my results now than I was before.

Here's why: casting a bigger net catches more fish. Before, I was spearfishing, laser-focused on tiny targets. If I missed my target, I was out of luck.

By making my clients' real estate ads more general, I experienced four things:

  • My ads were less likely to get stuck in the "learning" phase or have too small of an audience.
  • They had more impressions and greater reach.
  • They had a lower cost per click.
  • They had greater engagement.

At first I was stunned, because the results were counterintuitive to my marketing brain. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. 

Facebook requires a certain amount of wiggle room and forgiveness in order to give your ads visibility. When your target is too narrow or your audience is too small, Facebook tenses up and limits your ads' delivery. Making your audience larger gives Facebook the freedom it needs to serve the ad and find the right audience for you.

Broadening your ads means they need to be relevant to more people. More people seeing your ads means more people clicking and engaging with them. That increases the quality rating of your ad, which in turn decreases the cost per click (or cost per result) of your ads. It's a positive feedback loop!

Bottom Line

If Facebook's new rules made you discouraged, don't be. Take a step back and rethink your strategy. Trust me - it is possible to make lemonade out of these lemons. (Or sushi out of these fish, if we're continuing the fishing metaphor.)

Kate Rekrut self-portrait on Mount Washington
Kate Rekrut is the Director of Marketing and Product Development at Joyce, Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA.
Kate's current work with ListingManager bridges the gap between her advertising agency experience and a lifelong passion for HGTV. When she's not skimming the web for new marketing stats, Kate enjoys cooking, crossfit, and dance classes.

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