Want to attract more of your top customers? With lookalike audiences, you can.
Here, you’ll find:
- What lookalike audiences are
- Lookalike audiences vs. retargeting
- Benefits of lookalike audiences
- How to create lookalike audiences on social media
- Common challenges (and how to overcome them)
- Strategies for effective lookalike audience targeting
- Case studies: Real-life success stories
Connecting with your target audience is an everyday hustle for modern businesses. Thanks to the internet, you have more opportunities than ever to make it happen — and so do your competitors.
By targeting lookalike audiences, you can weed out the proverbial tire kickers and focus on people who match the profiles of your top customers.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are lookalike audiences?
A lookalike audience is an audience of users who look like other users. Advertisers create lookalike audiences from a source, such as a customer list in your CRM, website traffic tracked using a Meta pixel, or video views.
What does “look like” mean, exactly? For social media platforms, it means finding users with similar interests and online behaviors to deliver ads to. The purpose is to help businesses reach a target audience that’s most likely to engage and convert.
7 types of lookalike audiences
There are multiple ways to build these audiences. Here are seven types of lookalike audiences.
1. Custom audience
A custom audience is a list of users advertisers create based on their own data, such as website visitors, app activity, or email subscribers. By creating a custom audience, advertisers can target users who showed interest in its brand or engaged with its content.
Example: A clothing retailer can create a custom audience of users who visited its website in the past 30 days. They can then target this audience with ads featuring its latest collection to encourage a purchase.
2. Seed audience
A seed audience is a specific group of users provided by the advertiser that serves as the basis for creating a lookalike audience. The platform analyzes the characteristics and behaviors of the seed audience to identify similar users.
Example: A travel agency lists its most loyal customers as a seed audience. The platform then creates a lookalike audience of users with commonalities like demographics, interests, and travel preferences. This allows the agency to target a bigger audience that’s likely to be interested in its travel packages.
3. Current customer list
This type of lookalike audience stems from the advertiser’s existing customer list. The platform analyzes the data of current customers to identify similar users.
Example: An online bookstore creates a lookalike audience based on its current customer list. The platform identifies users with similar reading preferences and purchasing behaviors, allowing the bookstore to target this audience with personalized book recommendations and promotions.
4. App users
This lookalike audience comes from data collected from the advertiser’s mobile app. The platform analyzes the behavior of app users to identify similar users who are likely to be interested in the advertiser’s offerings.
Example: A fitness app creates a lookalike audience of users who consistently use the app to track their workouts and nutrition. The platform identifies users with similar fitness goals and interests, allowing the app to target this audience with personalized workout plans and nutrition tips.
5. Email list subscribers
This type of lookalike audience comes from the advertiser’s email subscriber list. The platform analyzes the data of the email subscribers to identify similar users likely to buy the advertiser’s products or services.
Example: An online beauty retailer creates a lookalike audience based on its email subscriber list. The platform identifies users with similar beauty preferences and purchasing behaviors, allowing the retailer to target this audience with personalized product recommendations and exclusive discounts.
6. Single-source audiences
Some social media platforms allow advertisers to create lookalike audiences based on a single source, such as website visitors or app users. The platform analyzes the data from that single source to identify similar users.
Example: A software company creates a lookalike audience based on its website visitors. The platform identifies users with similar browsing behaviors and interests, allowing the company to target a new audience with ads highlighting the features and benefits of its software.
7. Interest-based lookalike audience
Some social media platforms allow advertisers to create lookalike audiences based on specific interests or topics. The platform identifies users who showed interest in those topics and creates a lookalike audience of users who share similar interests.
Example: A gaming company creates a lookalike audience based on its visitors’ interest in specific game genres. The platform identifies users with similar interests, allowing the company to target this audience with ads featuring game recommendations.
By leveraging these lookalike audiences, advertisers can reach a larger pool of potential customers who are more likely to convert.
Lookalike audiences vs. retargeting: What’s the difference?
Two popular strategies for targeting audiences are lookalike audiences and retargeting. They may seem similar, but there are key differences between the two.
Let’s break it down.
- Lookalike audiences are created based on the characteristics and behaviors of your existing audience or a seed audience.
- The platform analyzes the data and finds users with similar traits to your target audience.
- The goal is to expand your reach and target new users that want or need your products or services.
Example: Let’s say you have a successful online clothing store. You can create a lookalike audience based on your existing customers. The platform will then find users with similar demographics, interests, and purchase behaviors, allowing you to target a larger audience with high conversion potential.
- Retargeting focuses on reaching users who interacted with your brand in some way.
- It allows you to show ads to users who visited your website, engaged with your app, or interacted with your social media content.
- The goal is to remind them of your brand and encourage them to take action, such as purchasing or signing up for a newsletter.
Example: Imagine a user visits your online store and adds items to their cart, but doesn’t complete the purchase. With retargeting, you can show them ads featuring the products they left behind, enticing them to return and complete their purchase.
While both strategies are effective in their own ways, the main difference lies in their target audience. Lookalike audiences help you expand your reach and find new potential customers, while retargeting focuses on re-engaging with users who have already shown interest.
Benefits of lookalike audiences
Using lookalike audiences offers several advantages compared to traditional targeting methods.
According to Nicole Goodnough, senior paid social manager at HawkSEM, “Lookalike audiences can be really beneficial for growing your business because it relies on finding users similar to people you already know want your products or services, rather than developing a persona for your target audience.”
While it’s important to have customer personas to develop ad messaging and creatives, lookalike audiences go one step further and target behaviors.
A popular example: King Charles and Ozzy Osbourne are extremely similar demographically, but their behavior and pain points would be drastically different.
“If advertisers solely rely on building audiences based on demographics or other attributes, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to reach potential customers,” explains Goodnough. “By leveraging lookalike audiences, we can introduce brands to people who otherwise may never have heard of them.”
Also, lookalike audiences tend to perform better — but it’s always important to test — since they’re created based on current customers or people engaging with your brand.
Let’s review some of the other benefits of using lookalike audiences in your ad campaigns.
Increasing the reach of your marketing campaigns
Lookalike audiences allow advertisers to extend their reach beyond their existing customer base. By targeting users with similar characteristics and behaviors to their current audience, advertisers can tap into a larger pool of potential customers. This expands their reach and increases brand exposure.
Improving ad targeting and relevancy
Lookalike audiences are based on the characteristics and behaviors of your best customers. So users within the lookalike audience are more likely to be interested in the advertiser’s products or services. By targeting a more relevant audience, advertisers can increase the chances of generating engagement, conversions, and sales.
Enhancing engagement and conversion rates
Since lookalike audiences share similar attributes with the advertiser’s existing audience, they’re more likely to be genuinely interested in the products or services you offer. This increases the likelihood of a lead or sale, resulting in higher conversion rates and a better return on investment (ROI) for advertisers.
Maximizing return on ad spend (ROAS)
Traditional targeting methods often rely on broad demographic or interest-based targeting, resulting in wasting ad spend on reaching disinterested users. Lookalike audiences, on the other hand, appear to relevant users, which optimizes ad spend and reduces waste.
Building brand awareness and loyalty
The audiences you target will see your ads. And whether or not they click, they’ll begin to recognize your logo and brand, boosting awareness. This increases brand awareness and makes the advertiser’s products or services more familiar to users.
Improving ad performance
Targeting a more relevant audience can lead to improved ad performance metrics. Users within the lookalike audience are likelier to engage with the ads, resulting in higher click-through rates (CTRs), lower bounce rates, and longer session durations. This can ultimately lead to better ad performance and campaign success.
Allowing data-driven decision making
Lookalike audiences are created using data analysis and algorithms. This data-driven approach ensures audience targeting is based on objective criteria rather than subjective assumptions. Advertisers can leverage the platform’s data and algorithms to identify users with the highest potential for conversion, resulting in more effective targeting.
Scaling campaigns as needed
You can scale lookalike audiences up or down based on the desired similarity percentage. Advertisers can choose to target a smaller, more closely matched audience or a larger, broader audience. This flexibility allows advertisers to adjust their targeting strategy based on their campaign goals and budget.
How to create lookalike audiences on social media
Social media advertising works better when your targeting is precise. With lookalike audiences, you can pinpoint those soon-to-be customers and convert them.
But which platforms you use will determine how effective your campaigns will be. The top platforms used today include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, TikTok, and LinkedIn. Note that you’ll need business accounts on these platforms to create lookalike audiences.
Let’s explore how you create lookalike audiences on each platform.
If you’re a B2B company, then LinkedIn should be on your radar. Here’s a walkthrough for setting up lookalike audiences on this platform:
1. Navigate to Audiences on the left navigation bar (under “Plan” in Campaign Manager).
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Instagram use Meta’s ad platform. So you can create campaigns to run on both social media networks.
To create a lookalike Instagram or Facebook campaign, log into your Facebook Ads account or Instagram business account and follow these steps:
- Go to the Audiences section in Facebook Ads Manager.
- Click on the “Create audience” option and choose Lookalike audience.
- Choose the group of people you want to use as a reference. This can be your best customers based on different factors like how much they’ve bought from you or how engaged they are.
- Select the country or countries where you want to find similar Instagram or Facebook users.
- Decide how big you want your audience to be by using the slide.
- Click on “Create audience.”
After you finish these steps, it takes time to create your Instagram or Facebook lookalike audience, usually between 6 to 24 hours. Your audience will update every 3 to 7 days, but you can use it immediately without waiting for updates.
Pro tip: It’s advised to use a group of 1,000 to 50,000 of your best customers based on lifetime value, transaction value, total order size, or engagement. Here are other factors to consider before building your first lookalike campaign.
To build a lookalike audience on TikTok, follow these steps:
- Go to the Audiences section in the Assets tab of your TikTok account.
- Click on “Create Audience” and choose the option for “Lookalike Audience”.
- Click on “Source” in the drop-down menu. You can select a previously uploaded Custom Audience from the list.
- Click on “Create a Custom Audience.” Remember, you need to create a Custom Audience first before creating a Lookalike Audience.
- Under “Contain Source,” choose either “Omit” or “Contain.” (“Omit” means your Lookalike Audience will exclude the Custom Audience you’re basing it on. “Contain” means your Lookalike Audience will include the Custom Audience you’re basing it on.)
- Choose one of the System options: “All,” “Android,” or “iOS.”
- Select the Placement option. Currently, TikTok, BuzzVideo, and Helo are supported. We suggest selecting the same placement as the Custom Audience source you used for creating the Lookalike Audience.
- Choose the location where you want to find a similar group of people. It’s advisable to select the same location as the Custom Audience source you used for creating the Lookalike Audience.
- Under Audience Size, pick either “Narrow,” “Balanced,” or “Broad.” Keep in mind that the narrower the audience size, the more similar it will be to your Custom Audience source.
- Give your audience a name and click “Confirm” to create your Lookalike Audience.
It usually takes around 24-48 hours for the Lookalike Audience to be created. Before it’s created, it’ll show as “Unavailable.” Once the Lookalike Audience is applied to a running ad group, it’ll be automatically refreshed twice a week.
Pro tip: It’s recommended that you have at least 10,000 people in your source audience. Learn more about lookalike audience options on TikTok.
X (FKA Twitter)
Twitter allows you to create lookalike audiences based on your followers. Here are the steps to build your lookalike audience on Twitter:
- Start by navigating to the “Targeting” section of your campaign setup form on Twitter.
- Look for the “All” option and click on it to expand the targeting options.
- Among the expanded options, select “Follower look-alikes.”
- Now, you can enter the @handle of an X account. This will provide you with an estimate of the people who are similar to the followers of that account. Please note that these numbers do not consider factors like geo location, gender, age, or device targeting.
- Once you find the username you’d like to target, click on “Add.”
- To confirm that you’ve successfully added follower look-alike targeting, you should see the @handle displayed in green.
Pro tip: Choose interests that directly align with your campaign’s posts and creatives, and limit each campaign to no more than 10 sub-topic interests to focus your targeting efforts. Learn more about Twitter lookalike audiences.
Common challenges (and how to overcome them)
Social media platforms host much of the world’s population. So it makes sense to use them to reach your target audience. Unfortunately, it’s not always simple to achieve.
“Some limitations with using lookalike audiences vary by industry and organization,” says Goodnough.
“Advertisers running campaigns in Special Ad Categories (credit, employment, housing) can no longer create or use lookalike audiences on Meta as a safety measure against discriminatory practices. Businesses with products or services geared toward minors are also more limited with targeting options and reporting.”
But these issues may not pertain to your business. Here are several others you may run into along the way (and what to do about them):
Insufficient seed audience size
Having a small seed audience can limit the accuracy and effectiveness of your lookalike audience.
What to do: Increase the size of your seed audience by leveraging various data sources, such as website visitors, customer email lists, or social media engagement. This will provide a larger pool of data to generate more accurate lookalike audiences.
Lack of data quality
Using inaccurate or outdated data for your seed audience can lead to targeting the wrong people.
What to do: Regularly audit and clean your customer data to remove duplicates, incorrect entries, or outdated information. Consider implementing data validation processes to ensure the accuracy and quality of your seed audience data.
Limited audience segmentation
Creating a single lookalike audience may not effectively target specific segments of your audience.
What to do: Segment your seed audience based on demographics, interests, or behaviors. This will result in more precise targeting and improved campaign performance.
Multiple lookalike audiences may reach the same people, leading to ad fatigue and inefficient ad spend.
What to do: Use advanced audience exclusions and custom audience combinations to exclude individuals who are already part of another lookalike audience or have seen your ads recently. This will help prevent overlap and ensure your ads reach new and relevant prospects.
Lack of testing and optimization
Failing to test and optimize your lookalike audiences can result in suboptimal performance.
What to do: Conduct A/B testing with different seed audiences, audience sizes, or targeting parameters to identify the most effective combinations. Continuously monitor the performance metrics and make data-driven adjustments to optimize your lookalike audiences for better results.
Inadequate monitoring and analysis
Not monitoring and analyzing the performance of your lookalike audiences can hinder the campaign effectiveness.
What to do: Set up regular reporting and analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs), such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and return on ad spend (ROAS). Identify trends, patterns, and underperforming segments to make informed decisions and optimize your lookalike audiences accordingly.
Ignoring platform-specific guidelines
Each social media platform has its own guidelines for creating lookalike audiences.
What to do: Familiarize yourself with the platform-specific guidelines and best practices for lookalike audience creation. Pay attention to data size recommendations, audience creation rules, and any platform-specific targeting options that can enhance the performance of your campaigns.
By addressing these challenges and following the provided tips, you can optimize the creation and performance of your lookalike audiences across social media platforms.
Strategies for effective lookalike audience targeting
Tips and tricks are all over the web for lookalike audience targeting. But which should you listen to? It all comes down to your campaign goals and industry.
“One of the biggest things to consider when using a lookalike audience is the goal of the campaign,” says Goodnough. “This will determine the source you use to build the audience.”
She adds that, if your goal is to drive more engagement on your ads as an awareness tactic, using an engagement source may be better than using site traffic. But if your goal is to make more sales, she suggests creating a lookalike from past sales.
Another helpful tip is to follow the data. Review placement performance for every campaign. You may learn things like Instagram Stories outdo Facebook reels.
Also, test bid strategies on all the platforms to improve performance. Create multiple ad sets with different bid strategies, such as manual bidding or automated bidding, and monitor their performance metrics like cost per click (CPC), conversion rate, and return on ad spend (ROAS).
Analyze the results to identify the most effective bid strategy for your lookalike audience and optimize your campaigns accordingly.
Lastly, don’t overlook your ad creatives and landing page experience. Both require alignment with each other and the audience’s needs.
“If a video that discusses customer pain points has more conversions than an image touting a case study, follow the data and develop more messaging and content that is resonating with your lookalike audience,” explains Goodnough.
Case studies: Real-life success stories
Do lookalike audiences actually work? Well, there’s a reason so many businesses continue to use them today.
One of our education clients ran a lead generation campaign on Meta. We tested a lookalike audience vs. broad targeting (age only, no other demographic or location targeting).
So far, the lookalike audience has far outperformed the broad audience. We’ve turned off the broad ad set and are now focusing on other optimizations to drive even stronger results from the lookalike ad set.
Here’s a look at the results:
|Audience||Conversion Rate||Click-Through Rate|
In the end, lookalike audiences can help businesses target people that match their ideal customers and drive better results. But this requires ongoing testing and a growing understanding of the target audience and the social media platforms (which are evolving daily).
Need help building a marketing strategy using similar audience targeting to grow your business? We’d love to help.