How Facebook knows the right ads to show you and what you can do about it

by | Jul 26, 2016

Over 1.5 billion people use Facebook everyday to connect with friends.

Facebook is free to use by 99.99% of its users, but in order to make its money, it exposes you to advertising from over 3 million businesses


Suggested Read: How your business can use Facebook to effectively reach your Audience.


I don’t know anybody that visits Facebook just because they want to see ads, yet, we get targeted with advertising one way on the other. So, you are not alone if you have ever wondered why you see those ads in your news feed marked “sponsored” or  those sidebar advertising messages on Facebook.

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These are samples of some of the adverts on Facebook:


In fact, you might have noticed that you see some adverts on your Facebook timeline that look like they are targeted specifically towards you. For example, someone wrote about how he created a Facebook Ad experiment specifically for his roommate.


Suggested ReadHow to effectively get Angels, VCs and the media to notice your new Startup.


So, the question is “how does Facebook (and the advertisers) know so much about you to send the right adverts to you?

1. Your user profile

Firstly, it is important to note that Facebook must make money in order to keep the service free for 99% of its users. Their model is very simple – they use your data to display the right advertising to you.

For example, when you sign up for a Facebook account, some information about you is collected to make your experience better. This includes the information you added to your “about section” like life events, relationship status, family connections, interests. Others include hashtag usage, check-ins, etc. All these help Facebook to improve your personal experience; at the same time, this information is also used to target you with advertisement.

For example, it is  actually fascinating to know that the advertising you see might change when you add certain life events. Females who have just become engaged see a startling amount of wedding-related adverts and newlyweds can naturally expect a barrage of baby-related advertising.

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2. Interest based targeting and data from partner websites

Facebook works with third-party partners to track your online behaviour outside Facebook. This is done mostly via cookies that track your online activities on sites that you visit. So, the more Facebook and its partners see you, the better they can categorise you for the advertisers. In essence, the advertising you see will be more tailored for you.

This is why you might have noticed that when you browsed an eCommerce shop, the adverts of the products you viewed will start “following you” when you log on to Facebook. This type of ad is called retargeting and it is a powerful way for advertisers to get you back to their websites after your initial visit.

Facebook also makes its API and social graph available to third party apps and games. Some of them require access to your Facebook profile before you use them. Take a game like cooltest.me or nametest.com or a game like CandyCrush, these apps harvest your data to target you with relevant advertising (of course, if your value your privacy, you want to know what they are doing with your data)

Digging deep: How Facebook shows you the adverts you just saw

In this article, Facebook gave an official explanation of how their ad platform works. So, next time that you see an ad in your timeline, take notice of the tiny little arrow next to the ‘Like Page’ button and when you click on it, you’ll see this pop-up box. Click on ‘Why am I seeing this?’ tab.

The good news is that you have control over the ads you see by setting up your Ad preferences. If you then decide you don’t want to see that particular type of ad in the future, you can tell Facebook to stop showing or you can even block the advertiser completely. For example, for a particular advert, I noticed that I was targeted because of my location, my age and my previous interaction with the OptinMonk website.

To opt out of what made me part of the demography that received the ad, I can simply set up my ad preferences in my account settings.

It is your turn now

Go and start hunting why Facebook keeps showing you ads the next time you are on the site. In case you don’t want Facebook to bother you with ads, you can remove yourself from each of the ad groups by deleting them or consider installing AdBlockers.

What is the reason you have been targeted with an ad on Facebook recently? You can share in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: adpowers via Compfight cc

Oluwole Ogunlade
Oluwole Ogunlade

Wole Ogunlade is a business growth strategist for early-stage startups and consultants in Nigeria. As co-founder of Probityfarms.com, he is passionate about agTech platforms in Nigeria. You can download his free ebook + email course, “11 Secrets of Startup Growth” for free on his personal blog, Hackgrowth.ng

On January 22, 2022, be part of the largest gathering of innovators, startup founders, thinkers, programmers, policymakers, and investors in West Africa. Register free.

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