Targeting competitors is a time-honored tradition in PPC marketing. Getting your ads in front of a competitors’ audience can build awareness and generate sales. Google and Bing allow us to do this by running ads against a competitor’s brand and product-related keywords, but what about a social media site like Facebook? There are no keywords, so what do you target?

The first thought that often comes to mind is to target the fans of your competitor’s Facebook page. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s not something you’re allowed to do. Facebook doesn’t give you the option to directly target the fans of any specific page, but that doesn’t mean you can’t target a competitor. You just can’t do it directly by targeting fans of their page, but you can still target those fans through other means. Queue the power of interest-based targeting.

How It Works

Interest-based targeting works because you can use your competitor as the interest being targeted. If you type in a competitor name, Facebook is going to populate it with an audience that has expressed an interest in or liked pages related to that competitor. It’s very likely that part of what Facebook looks at is people who have directly liked the page of that competitor. It’s not as direct as targeting the fans of a page, but it’s the closest Facebook allows.

So what does creating this type of targeting look like in the interface?

First, you’ll want to go to the settings menu at the ad set level. This is where you can create your interest-based targeting.


Here you’ll play with keyword combinations that would represent your competitor to see what Facebook populates. Start with the website address and see where that gets you. If Facebook has data, it will populate and present you with an estimate on the audience size.

If the web address doesn’t show up, you’ll have to type in single keywords or phrases that would represent your competitor or their products. However, be careful that what you type doesn’t have multiple meanings that wouldn’t be related.

If you’ve exhausted all options and Facebook isn’t returning an audience for the web address or keywords you type, then it’s likely there isn’t much of an audience for that competitor on Facebook and you won’t be able to target it. Now let’s look at a specific example.

Say I’m in the airline business and I want to target fans of Alaska Airlines. I’d go into the settings at the ad set level and start working through options to see what Facebook will allow me to target.

I’d start with the web address of the competitor first. In this case, the web address didn’t return any results. As a second option, I type in “Alaska Airlines” as an interest. I would be careful about typing in just Alaska as it has multiple meanings and I would likely target all sorts of people unrelated to my actual competitor.

The first screenshot below is “Alaska Airlines” as an Interest while the second screenshot is “Alaska Airlines” using Employer targeting. In some cases, you may even want to consider excluding the segment of the audience that is employed by your competitor to minimize the exposure of your ads to them.

Alaska Airlines interest targeting on Facebook Ads*Alaska Airlines interest targeting.

  Alaska Airlines Employer targeting on Facebook Ads*Alaska Airlines employer targeting

Once you’ve got your options selected, simply save your progress and you’re targeting your competitor in Facebook.

Now that we have the mechanics of this process out of the way, let’s look into how close this strategy comes to targeting the fans on Alaska Airline’s Facebook page. 

Does This Strategy Really Target A Competitor’s Facebook Fans?

Facebook describes an interest as “People who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to”  whatever specific interest you typed in.

This is why targeting your competitor through an interest-based audience isn’t an exact formula. So how do we see how close interest-based competitor targeting is to the number of fans who have liked their page, the ultimate aim of a competitor campaign in Facebook?

One way is to enter the competitor’s information into the audience tab, see how many people are in that audience, and then go to that competitor’s Facebook page and look at how many likes they have on their page.

As an example, let’s use Alaska Airlines again. Below is a screenshot of their Facebook page and its likes (i.e. fans).

Alaska Airlines Facebook Fans

Next is a screenshot of the number of their Instagram fans that is also a platform owned by Facebook.

Alaska Airlines Instagram profile

Comparing the total of the two with the audience size we saw before we see that the audience numbers are not exactly the same. We need to remember that Facebook owns other platforms such as Whatsapp and technologies like Facebook Pixel and it aggregates all the data collected by these sources in its advertising audience information.

So while there may be some other factors causing the difference in audience numbers, it looks like a good bit of the targeted audience is likely to be people who have liked the Alaska Airlines Facebook page.


Targeting competitors isn’t quite as clear-cut in Facebook as it is in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads, but it can be a useful strategy to test. Just remember to be very careful in what you type in as your target and monitor any performance to see whether it works for you.

For more advanced Facebook strategies, check out these posts:

How To Increase Facebook Traffic Without Sacrificing Revenue

4 Tips For Facebook Catalog Sales Campaigns Efficiency

An Intro To Custom Reporting in Facebook Ads


Original publish date: 01/22/2016