The Comprehensive Guide to Facebook’s New Requirements for Housing Ads

Post last updated: 9/16/2019

Executive Summary

Facebook has changed the way it allows businesses to use its platform to advertise real estate services. Changes are rolling out in the summer of 2019 and will be required and enforced starting in August. These changes are designed to prevent discrimination in the housing sector and will have a wide ranging impact on anyone looking to run paid ads on the platform, in terms of performance and potential liability. This post should give you all that you need to know to be ready.

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Table of Contents

Timeline

On March 19, 2019 Facebook announced policy changes in response to a discrimination lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, National Fair Housing Alliance and other parties. As part of the settlement arrangement, they announced sweeping changes to prevent abuse including restricted targeting options for ads pertaining to housing, employment and credit topics.

Since then they’ve provided more details on how these changes will be rolled out. We will continue to update this post with the latest information.

  • August 26, 2019 – Enforcement of new rules begins for all new and edited ad campaigns created within Ads Manager
  • September 16, 2019 – Availability of buying all surface types 100% rolled out including ads created from the API
  • December 4, 2019 – Enforcement for all new and edited campaigns begins, regardless of how they were created
  • Early 2020 – Ability to retroactively apply restrictions to existing campaigns rolled out and enforcement begins on all campaigns

About HomeSpotter

HomeSpotter is an advertising partner for Facebook’s Real Estate division and has been involved in direct discussion throughout Facebook’s planned rollout of HEC guidelines. Boost by HomeSpotter, our ad automation product for real estate, creates Facebook campaigns for listings and agents at enterprise scale and runs more than 20,000 ads per month. We have have been immersed in real estate for the last 10 years and do business with each of the top 4 real estate brokerages in America.

Learn more about Boost ad automation at homespotter.com/boost

Special Ad Categories

Facebook’s Special Ad Categories cover content related to housing, employment and credit, collectively known as HEC. This post will consider housing ads in particular.

The policy requires anyone running an HEC ad to self-identify their ad as relating to a special category during campaign creation. This can be done through the API or directly in Ads Manager.

What makes an ad a housing ad? Facebook has conveyed to us that the label will be applied broadly, especially as they begin enforcement. Beyond listing ads, it’s likely that any ad related to real estate related services or from brands dedicated to the real estate industry will be considered within a Special Ad Category. For example an agent promoting a real estate seminar for first time buyers could be considered a housing ad, even though no specific home or community is being featured.

Let’s take a look at the restrictions that are placed on ads identified as within the housing Special Ad Category.

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Targeting

Demographics

According to Fair Housing laws advertisers must not discriminate against candidates for housing on the basis of age, race, gender and other protected segments. That has been in place since the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Now, Facebook is taking more steps to prevent this kind of discrimination on its platform by removing targeting selections available for housing ads.

Ads in a Special Ad Category may no longer include targeting based on age or gender and many other targeting selections have also been removed.

Impact: There are no exceptions for this rule, even if you’re advertising a senior community that’s only eligible to consumers over the age of 55. Facebook’s algorithm will attempt to find the people within your target audience that are most likely to take your defined result, e.g. click. If you have a property or other message that’s only applicable to a portion of your list, make sure to put relevant information in the ad itself so users can self-select.

Ads in a Special Ad Category may not include targeting based on age or gender.

Geographic targeting

Real estate agents have long used geographic targeting to match buyers and sellers and to do farming for their brand. This too will change under the new HEC guidelines, with targeting now required to be a contiguous circle of at least 15 miles in radius. This is a significant change for agents that are used to reaching specific sides of town or neighborhoods separated by mere blocks.

Moving forward the smallest geographic area that you can designate for targeting will be a 15 mile radius around a pinpoint.

Creating a minimum targeting area prevents housing discrimination caused by using granular targeting as a proxy for protected categories. If certain parts of a metropolitan area contain a higher concentration of individuals with a certain nationality or religious affiliation, using zip code targeting could potentially be used to discriminate.

Impact: Real estate businesses promoting listings on Facebook should know that their ads will be shown to a large geographic area. For this reason, using the Traffic campaign objective can be more efficient than Awareness in narrowing your focus. Give users enough information in the ad to know where the listing is located so they can take action if it’s relevant or ignore if it’s not. Your Traffic campaign will become more efficient as Facebook learns which users are clicking on your locally-focused ad.

Limited geographic targeting is another great reason for brands to use their existing first party data to improve their listing ad performance. They can use a tracking pixel to reach recent visitors to their real estate website and segment by users that search for homes in a certain area. Agents and brands can also upload lists of contacts from their CRM that they know will be interested in a certain listing or part of town. These forms of custom audiences can be used in combination with the 15 mile radius to ensure prospects are qualified while remaining in compliance.

Interests

During campaign creation, advertisers can choose to target or exclude audience members based on their interests. These interests are determined by Facebook according to user profiles, interactions and group membership.

Ads in the Housing special ad category have a smaller subset of options for targeting to limit the potential for discrimination. Any interest related to gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. have been removed while large interest categories related to real estate remain such as “real estate”, “apartment”, “house”, “renting”, and “job interview”.

The option to exclude audience members based on their interests has been removed entirely.

Impact: The remaining interest target categories are very broad with membership in the tens of millions and won’t narrow your audiences much. That doesn’t mean that Facebook is going to show your ads to unqualified prospects. Once you set your campaign objective, Facebook will attempt to find users that are most likely to complete that action. Make sure that you are specific as possible when designating your objective and take steps to provide Facebook with as much feedback as possible on who is converting. By installing a Facebook pixel on your site or uploading offline conversion events, you can help Facebook learn what kinds of people are converting beyond their platform so they can go find more.

Lookalikes

Once you have an audience, Facebook can find users with similar attributes that may behave the same way. Because these groups can be deemed similar according to gender, age or locations, Lookalikes are not allowed to be used with housing ads.

Instead, Facebook offers Special Ad Audiences which behave in the same way as Lookalikes, but without comparing sensitive categories. Special Ad Audiences do not consider gender, age, religious views, zip codes, Facebook Group membership, or other similar categories.

Existing Lookalike audiences will remain in advertisers’ accounts but are not available to select for campaigns identified as pertaining to housing. Special Ad Audiences can’t be created by converting Lookalike audiences or in bulk; they have to be rebuilt one at a time in Ads Manager.

Impact: It’s worth testing Special Ad Audiences to see if they can be as effective for your brand as Lookalike audiences. However it’s reasonable to expect that Facebook will have a harder time finding prospects for your campaigns when they aren’t considering key attributes. If you find that your Special Ad Audience isn’t performing, look to shift to other targeting strategies that offer more control, especially custom audiences from a list.

Custom audiences

Custom audiences can be created from people that have taken actions on Facebook, from website traffic or app users through the Facebook pixel, and from lists provided by advertisers. These options have not changed as part of Special Ad Categories and can be used for both inclusion and exclusion.

Impact: Housing advertisers can exercise the most control on targeting through custom audiences. They should consider using the exclusive data sources they have access to, especially lists of warm leads from other sources or their sphere of influence files, to match to Facebook user accounts using Custom Audiences.

See also: how to incorporate first party data into listing ad campaigns

Existing Restrictions for Housing Ads

While these restrictions related to housing ads are not new, they can easily hinder a campaign’s performance. It’s also possible that moderation may become more aggressive with Facebook’s new stance on safeguarding against discrimination. Consider these tips to ensure your ads remain in compliance.

False flags

Facebook employs automation in its ad approval process and can easily get tripped up by housing ads, especially when they include public listing remarks. Political themes are closely scrutinized and street and community names can create false flags.

Making assumptions about a user’s characteristics is not allowed. Ad copy that poses a question or mentions income can flag the ad. This can be a problem when promoting homes that can potentially be used as income-producing rental properties.

Promoting alcoholic beverages is closely regulated on Facebook too. Because ads in a Special Ad Category can’t be targeted by age, all ads will be potentially shown to underage users. Luxury listings that feature a wine cellar or wet bar in the description can get flagged by the automated system.

Facebook can reject ads related to alcohol, including a mention of a home’s wine cellar.

Impact: Even bad grammar can be cause for an ad rejection. Ads that are created from MLS data should be reviewed with Facebook’s moderation in mind before publishing. Automated ad publishing should have filters in place to catch potentially problematic phrases to avoid ad rejections and delay. If your ads are rejected, work with your Facebook advertising representative to expedite reviewals if you have one. Otherwise use Ads Manager to add your review request to the moderation queue.

Fair Housing

Just because your ads have been created in Ads Manager using the new HEC restrictions doesn’t mean they’re ready to publish. As in other ad formats, social media ad copy must not discriminate against protected classes. Even well-meaning phrases designed to bring out the value of a property like ‘bring your kids’ or ‘ideal for young singles’ are not allowed. This hasn’t changed for HEC ads but housing ad copy is expected to come under increased scrutiny, including fair housing considerations.

Again, Facebook has automated moderation in place to block discriminatory phrases in ad copy that can also ensnare legitimate ads. Ads that include a description involving the characteristics of the neighborhood or the facilities on site can sometimes get flagged, even if they are describing building attributes.

According to the Fair Housing Institute, phrases that include certain words like ‘exclusive’, ‘restricted’ and ‘limited’ are associated with discrimination and should be avoided.

Impact: It’s always good practice to describe the property rather than the people that could be a candidate for housing. Take care when describing the proximity of the home to local landmarks, especially if the points of interest involve religious organizations or if they cater to a certain age or gender. Also consider avoiding or rewording phrases that could be misconstrued by non-human moderators.

Campaign landing pages

Another common reason for housing ads to be held up in moderation is the campaign’s landing page. Landing pages must have a working URL and must not attempt to capture user information through the use of a popup on page load in order for an ad to be approved.

Pages should load quickly and should deliver on the information promised in the ad. If a specific listing ad links to a page with real estate services that’s too general, Facebook may reject the ad for being misleading. Providing mortgage information on landing page must be especially clear.

Good landing pages also have action steps for users that want to engage further such as emailing an agent, using a mortgage calculator and scheduling a showing. Make sure to install Facebook’s tracking pixel on your pages and configure it to track all of your page’s action steps. The more you can share with Facebook about how the traffic is performing after it leaves their platform, the more effective they’ll be at delivering qualified users.

Use Facebook’s tracking pixel to note conversion events on your landing pages and optimize your campaigns for those results.

To avoid wasting ad spend, make sure to end any ongoing campaigns if a property ever moves to a sold status or is removed from the market.

Impact: With fewer targeting tools available to housing advertisers within Ads Manager, it’s more important to have great landing pages and to send feedback on user actions back to Facebook during the campaign.

Non-Compliance

Facebook will be making every effort to educate advertisers so they can have success on the platform but they’ve also promised not to tolerate abuse. Consequences for running ads to don’t adhere to the new guidelines range from annoying to severe.

The most common consequences for housing ads that have an issue are reduced delivery or no delivery. Depending on the severity, Facebook will either put your campaign on hold and prompt you to make changes or they will let the ads run with limited impressions. Ads that run with reduced delivery have much lower performance.

Facebook offers statuses in Ads Manager as well as email notifications outside of the tool to let you know when an issue arises. The messaging is often general and leaves you to figure out exactly what is causing the issue with your ad. Your options are to edit the ad and republish, appeal the judgement using the tool or reach out to your Facebook advertising rep.

Repeated violations of user policy can lead to account suspension or removal from their platform. From their published policy on advertising guidelines:

“In order to keep Facebook safe for people, we review advertising content. In some cases we disable accounts that don’t follow our Ad Policies.”

Best Practices

Targeting options have now changed for housing ads. With fewer audience segmentation options available in Ads Manager, you should seek to leverage your first party data whenever possible. Use data from your CRM or website pixel to create Custom Audiences and Special Ad Audiences.

Facebook’s algorithms will also seek to deliver results based on the objective of your campaign, even if you can’t tell exactly which factors they’re taking into consideration. Focus on identifying the right objective at the outset of your campaign and plan on reaching back to hand-raisers with remarketing campaigns.

Housing ads should be crafted to include the info that users need to self-select while still holding back enough to encourage click through rate. Use a landing page dedicated to the content of the ad that loads quickly, especially for mobile devices, and that delivers on the information promised in the ad. Good landing pages also have clear calls to action for users that want to take further action and should be tracked with an advertising pixel.

Facebook’s Head of Industry for Real Estate recommends working with a partner to ensure ads remain in compliance. He recently appeared in Inman News to explain the benefits of finding a marketing partner that can focus on Facebook’s rapidly changing platform.

“You hire experts in every other area of your business why should this be any different? Working with a marketing partner not only streamlines the process, it sets you up for success.”

Keith Watts, Head of Industry for Real Estate at Facebook

Compliance Cheat Sheet

Use this quick reference guide to make sure you’re ready to launch a successful housing-related ad on Facebook.

More Information

For more on Facebook’s Special Ad Categories, talk to your advertising rep or visit Facebook’s guide to execution and enforcement.

If you have questions on strategy and how to adjust your campaigns to be as effective as possible, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you!

For more on Boost ad automation for real estate, please visit homespotter.com/boost for a product overview and to schedule a demo for your brand.

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