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Understanding “Recently In” Facebook Ad Location Targeting

Location targeting on Facebook can be a powerful feature. However, there are definitely some challenges with understanding exactly how Facebook uses available information to determine location.

I’ve written in detail about location targeting before. However, as with many topics, there is always room for more exploration. The “Recently In” target feature is one such area that deserves a bit more attention.

The “Recently In” Target Feature

As of this writing, Facebook has four primary location targets available. Facebook’s Help Article defines them as follows:

  • Everyone in this location (default): This option allows you to reach people whose home or most recent location is within the selected area. You might want to advertise large fairs or high-profile sporting events, for example, to everyone in a location.
  • People who live in this location: This includes people whose home is within the selected area. You might want to advertise a local retail store, for example, to people who live in a location.
  • People recently in this location: With this option, you are reaching people whose most recent location is within the selected area. You might want to advertise time-sensitive sales, for example, to people recently in the location you choose.
  • People traveling in this location: This includes people traveling in the selected area as determined by the device and connection information that Facebook collects who are more than 125 miles from their home location. You might want to advertise rental cars, for example, to people traveling in a location.

The option for “People recently in this location” seems fairly straightforward. We target people who had this as their most recent location – ok, got it.

Facebook Ads Recently In Location

However, there are several questions around this. Specifically….

How is Location Determined?

When I wrote the Detailed Guide article on location targeting, Facebook had a dedicated help page that had additional info on location targeting. Unfortunately, it appears the help page has changed its structure, and it no longer has the reference. Thankfully, I had captured that info in the article. Here’s what we had:

  • Everyone in this location: People whose current city on their Facebook profile is that location, as well as anyone determined to be in that location via mobile device.
  • People who live in this location: People whose current city from their Facebook profile is within that location. This is also validated by IP address and their Facebook friends’ stated locations.
  • Recently in this location: People whose most recent location is the selected area, as determined only via mobile device. This includes people who live there or who may be traveling there.
  • People traveling in this location: People whose most recent location is the selected area, as determined via mobile deviceand are greater than 100 miles from their stated home location from their Facebook profiles.

Other articles across the web had captured this information as well. I’m not sure why Facebook removed this detail, but we have some other interesting info to look at as well.

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Facebook Blueprint’s Training Module on Location: Confusion

The original help page I had pulled the device targeting info from now redirects to a variety of general ad targeting resources. One of these is a Blueprint Training Module on Core Audience Targeting.

To add to confusion, this module has a specific section on Location-Based Audiences. That section seems to almost restructure the definitions of the targeting options:

Facebook Location Options - Blueprint Training Module

Huh? This is very confusing. According to the way this is worded, it seems that we are to interpret the “People recently in this location” to equate to New Residents. That is, the “People recently in this location” is more about people who have recently arrived to a location, which is differentiated from “People who Live in this Location” based on recency alone.

One potential explanation? This is simply a mistake in the training. The main reason I think this: This definition is not reflected anywhere else in Facebook’s documentation on the topic.

As we saw earlier in this article, the main help page dedicated to Location Targeting defines it as “People whose most recent location was in the area.” This does not imply anything about newly arrived residents. This seems like a mistake in Blueprint. If you’re reading this, Facebook, we’d love an updated Blueprint training that has more detail on this topic!

How Might “Recently In” Work in Reality?

I believe we can most easily think through the various targeting options by looking at some scenarios.

Scenario 1: Resident is traveling on vacation.

Let’s say we have someone (I’ll call them Cassandra) who normally resides in New York City, and is currently traveling in Miami.

Which targets would include Cassandra?

  • Everyone in this location: New York City
  • Everyone in this location: Miami
  • People who live in this location: New York City
  • People recently in this location: Miami
  • People traveling in this location: Miami

The somewhat murky area is for “Recently in.” The way I’m interpreting Facebook’s documentation on this, if Facebook can determine that Cassandra’s current location is Miami (based on her mobile device), then she would NOT be targeted with ads associated with “People recently in this location: New York City.”

That said, I can think of one scenario where it could be possible that she would still be included.

As an example, maybe Cassandra last opened the Facebook app on her phone in NYC. She has location services enabled for the app, but only when the app is open. She arrives to Miami, but doesn’t open Facebook on her phone. Instead, she arrives to her hotel, and opens Facebook on her laptop.

In this situation, at least theoretically, ads that are targeting People Recently in New York City could appear on her desktop, as the documentation that we’ve seen in the past indicated that Facebook relies on mobile device location only for the Recently In target. Since Facebook would not have her current location, it would think she was most recently in NYC.

However, in reality, these types of scenarios are likely not the norm. Let’s cover how your campaigns might be impacted by the location target functionalities.

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Implications on Ad Campaigns: “Recently In” Target Option

This potentially has significant implications on how people might otherwise think this target functionality works. Based on the way I’ve seen people discuss the Recently In target feature, it seems they are using it almost as a physical retargeting capability.

As an example, you might have someone attend an event in Atlanta, and you want to later retarget everyone who was recently in Atlanta – hoping to capture people who were at the event. Since Facebook would be constantly updating people’s “recently in” location based on whatever the most current mobile device data is, we really would mostly be reaching people who are currently in Atlanta.

This means the “Recently In” location target actually should NOT be used for physical retargeting.

This may beg the question: Why does the “Recently In” target even exist?

To answer this, we can think back to the very first breakdown of definitions at the beginning of this article (in The “Recently In” Target Feature section). As we saw there, the default “Everyone in this Location” target is going to include both people who live in that location AND people whose most recent location was in the area. Since this is including people who live there (but who may be traveling), that could mean we actually have people who are not even in the location seeing the ad.

This thinking aligns with the potential scenario that Facebook mentioned that the “Recently In” target may be applied to. As they state: You might want to advertise time-sensitive sales, for example, to people recently in the location you choose. Knowing that using “Recently In” is the closest alignment we have for people currently in a location, this makes sense.

What To Expect When You Use the “Recently In” Target

To attempt to provide some clarity to a not-totally-clear situation, we can break campaign planning implications into a few different groups when you are using the “Recently In” target:

Situation 1) Ads appearing on the mobile app. In this scenario, you should mostly just expect to reach people who are currently in that location you list. If they are on their mobile app, Facebook will continuously update their location based on the latest data. The latest data should reflect their current location.

Situation 2) Ads appearing on desktop. You should expect to reach people based on where they last were when using their mobile device.

Given the different ways that mobile app usage can impact the way ads are targeted, it may be cleanest to only focus on using mobile app placements for any campaigns that are using the Recently In target. However, you are welcome to experiment and see what you find out!

Where This Leaves Us: “Recently In” Targeting

That was a fun ride down the targeting rabbit hole!

Here’s the short version:

  • “Recently In” can most easily be interpreted as Currently in a location, based on mobile device data.
  • The “Recently In” option should not be considered an effective way to “physically retarget”people based on where they were in the past.
  • Different location targeting options use different data to determine location information.
  • Facebook’s Blueprint module on Location Targeting appears to potentially have a mistake.

Source: jonloomer

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