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Google Ads Audience Targeting: How it Works & Best Tactics to Maximize ROAS

What is an Audience?

An audience is just one of the many ways Google allows us to better target our potential customers and our target markets. According to Google, “Audiences are groups of people with specific interests, intents, and demographics, as estimated by Google. You can select from a wide range of categories – such as fans of sport and travel, people shopping for cars, or specific people that have visited your site.”

Audiences are truly a powerful and valuable part of any paid search marketer’s arsenal, allowing us to better navigate the massive Search, Display, YouTube, and Gmail markets.

Where to Find Them

In order to effectively use audiences, you need to be aware of how to find them. You’ll find all of your audiences in the Audience Manager in your shared library. In there, even if it’s your first time there, you’ll find your audiences (Google automatically creates some basic remarketing lists for you), as well as the type of audience it is.

Types of Audiences

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most commonly used list types.

  • Affinity Audiences: Audiences to reach potential customers at scale and make them aware of your business.
  • Custom Affinity: Like an affinity audience but can be specifically tailored to better fit your brand.
  • In-Market: Designed for advertisers focused on getting conversions from likely buyers. Reach consumers close to completing a purchase.
  • Life Events: Reach people around important life milestones, such as marriage, graduation, buying a new home, etc. Only compatible with YouTube and Gmail.
  • Custom Intent: Define your own audience, using keywords, URLs and/or apps related to products and services your ideal customer may be researching.
  • Remarketing: Reach people who have previously engaged with your products/services.
  • Website Visitors: A list of those who have previously visited your site. Specific criteria can, like visitors of a certain page, can be used.
  • YouTube Users: Users who view your video ads can be added to YouTube lists.
  • App Users: Users that have installed your app on their device.
  • Customer List: These lists are generated based on user contact info (like email and zip codes) that you may have collected over time. You must manually input this info into Google Ads before they can become an eligible list.
  • Custom Combination: Manually combine two or more existing remarketing lists.
  • Similar Audiences: Google looks at your existing lists and provided there are at least 1,000 people in that list, creates a brand-new list of people that are similar to that list. This is a personal favorite list to find potential new customers. For example, you could use a customer list audience of previous purchasers emails in order to re-engage them and then use the similar audience created by Google to reach brand new customers.

It’s important to understand that not all audiences are created equal. Some require a lot of work on the front end to put together, like a custom match list. Some require you to have Google Ads remarketing tags placed on your site. Some audiences are not compatible with Search campaigns, while others are. Whichever audiences you have/are planning on creating, be sure to understand the pros and cons of each.

I will outline four advanced audience targeting tactics that will allow you to refine your PPC targeting to leverage budget and maximize return on ad spend (ROAS).

  1. Smarter Use of Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)

Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSAs) allows you to customize your search ad campaigns based on the user behavior of previous website visitors, and tailor your bids/targeting options around these users when they’re searching on Google.

Example: Target People Who Spend over Your Average Order Value When Searching for Competitor Brands

This tactic will allow you to target and display ads to users that have generated a high conversion value for you historically whenever they are searching for one of your competitors on Google search, which could help you avoid losing customers to your paid competitors!

For example, an online grocery retailer could identify shoppers who spend over their average order value each week.

In this scenario, the advertiser could set up a separate campaign to target and bid on competitor terms but use RLSAs so that ads are only served whenever users within the list are searching.

This is a great way of ensuring your budget is only spent on retaining profitable customers.

If you’d like to apply this tactic to your account, you’ll first need to find the average order value being reported in your Google Analytics account by navigating to Conversions > E-commerce > Overview:

Once you’ve found the average order value figure you’ll be able to create an audience list using the audience builder via Admin > Audience Definitions > Audiences in Google Analytics:

This tactic is particularly effective in industries where consumers aren’t loyal and may often flick between different retailers for the best deal (e.g., in grocery retail).

By applying this list you could tailor your ad copy and advertise loyalty discounts to these customers to prevent them from deserting your brand for a competitor:

  1. Combining Social Audiences with RLSAs

With more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, Facebook has no rival when it comes to the enormity of its audience.

The main benefit Facebook offers lies in the potential granularity with which you can target Facebook’s users.

Unlike AdWords, Facebook has information on what users actually “Like” or follow, and in-depth data from users’ personal profiles.

The benefits of using social ads alongside search campaigns can be huge.

For example, a 2014 study from Kenshoo showed that paid search audiences which were already exposed to Facebook advertising generated 30 percent more return on ad spend, and a 7 percent uplift in CTR.

Despite this, I still encounter tons of brands whose approach to advertising on both Facebook and Google is unaligned and therefore they fail to share insights gained from one platform to another to maximize success.

Example: Use Facebook to uncover new potential buyers and then target these people on search to increase the likelihood of them converting

Facebook is one of the best platforms for expanding your reach and identifying new users who aren’t actively looking for your products or services right now.

By tagging the ads you run on Facebook targeting these new audience segments you will later be able to target ads at these users when they search Google using top of the funnel keywords, increasing the likelihood of those Facebook clicks turning into new customers!

To do this, you would first need to create a new campaign on Facebook designed to target new potential customers you aren’t already targeting with your search ads (exclude existing website visitors and mailing list members):

By tagging the resulting Facebook campaign with UTM tags, any clicks from this audience will be recorded in Google Analytics under the campaign name you have set.

You’ll then be able to create an audience list in Google Analytics which consists of traffic from this particular Facebook campaign:

Remember, like any audience list you create, the list must contain at least 1,000 members before being eligible for use on Google search.

Once you’ve populated your audience list with enough traffic from Facebook, create a search campaign on AdWords which includes only top of the funnel keywords such as informational queries related to the product/service you offer (they need to be top of the funnel because this audience isn’t specifically searching for your product/service).

Finally, apply the remarketing list to the ad groups created in your search campaign, choosing the target and bid setting, so that the search ads only show to users who are from your list of new potential customers uncovered on Facebook.

I strongly recommend this tactic if you feel like you have exhausted current demand on Google search in your industry, as it allows you to effectively create search demand by reaching new users and promoting consideration of your product or service.

  1. Utilizing Custom Affinity Audiences

Google launched custom affinity audiences to give advertisers granular control over audience targeting options on the display network.

This tackles the issue with regular Google AdWords affinity audiences in that there isn’t a predefined affinity audience suitable for every business.

Custom affinity audience targeting can be set-up by navigating to a Display campaign in AdWords, clicking Targeting > Interests & Remarketing  > Custom Affinity Audiences > New Custom Affinity Audience.

Here you can create your own specific audience using free form interests entered as keywords and/or using URLs as a proxy for interest bundles:

In this example, the custom affinity targeting has built an audience of “Garden Enthusiasts” using interests (keywords entered) and URL targeting:

While custom affinity audience targeting allows for more control on the GDN, I think it’s best used for brand building.

You can take an even more granular approach to GDN targeting by layering custom affinity audiences with other forms of targeting to increase campaign efficiency.

  1. Combining In-Market Segments with Remarketing

In-market audiences allow you to set up your campaigns to reach people who are further down the funnel and ready to make a purchase.

Google accurately categorizes users so you can target those most interested in their offerings.

Google says that you can distinguish interest from purchaser’s intent by leveraging real-time data and a powerful classification system based on demonstrated in-market behavior.

In-market audiences can help drive incremental conversions, helping you to connect with consumers as the last step before they make a purchase decision.

Google will be rolling out a few more in-market segments throughout 2018, increasing the availability of this feature to more advertisers.

 

To target an in-market audience segment you would need to navigate to Targeting > Interests and Remarketing > In-market Audiences.

Here you will see a list of almost 500 available in-market audiences (and Google is constantly expanding this list):

The real impact on conversions comes when using in-market segments in conjunction with website remarketing lists.

You can layer the in-market segments on top of your remarketing lists to increase reach while maintaining a high degree of relevancy with the aim of bolstering overall conversions.

Conclusion

Paid search is becoming increasingly expensive. There’s a ton of competition on almost every possible advertising SERP.

As a result, many advertisers are shifting huge chunks of the budget over to Facebook and other paid social platforms, largely due to superior audience targeting options (not searcher intent) and reduced CPCs.

With this in mind, I’d expect the rollout of new targeting options such as more affinity audiences, expanded in-market segments and custom intent audiences to continue as Google attempt to retain and recapture a larger share of advertising spend.

The audience targeting options available to advertisers are only set to increase across both Google and Facebook, so make sure you keep on top of the latest features as well as testing some of the tips outlined above to see whether they can deliver improved paid media results for your business.

Dunia Mommandi

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