A Guide to Google Ads Audiences

KLIK Staff

July 7, 2021

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What they are, how they’re made, and how to use them in your account.

Audiences in Google Ads are a targeting parameter like keywords, locations, or devices. Like other kinds of targeting, audience lists can be used for data segmentation, data collection, narrowing reach, or exclusion. Audiences can be applied in conjunction with other kinds of targets or by themselves.

Audience Targeting With or Without Other Targeting Parameters

The 5 Types of Audiences in Google Ads

There is an infinite number of different audience lists you might use in your Google Ads account, but these lists can be categorized into five audience types:

  1. Google’s Standard Audience: Created using algorithms and data that Google collects about all users.
  2. Remarketing Audiences: List of users who have visited your website.
  3. Customer Match: List of customers supplied to Google by you.
  4. Similar Audiences: Uses your remarketing list supplemented with Google’s user data to find users that are similar to your website visitors.
  5. Custom Audiences: Made up of any combination of search keywords, websites visited, and apps used (for non-search campaigns).

Let’s dive into each audience type to learn more about how each kind of list is assembled and how you might leverage them in your account.

Google’s Standard Audiences

Google’s standard audiences are found in every Google Ads account and are assembled entirely from Google’s user data without additional input from your business. Google collects data on all of its users’ email, YouTube, app downloads, and browser activities to pinpoint different types of audiences and to categorize users.

There are several kinds of categorization within the standard audiences. These include:

  1. Affinity Audiences: These audiences are based on users’ habits, interests, hobbies, and passions. Examples include gardening, basketball, photography, travel buffs, and fashionistas.
  2. Demographics: These audiences group users by demographic characteristics such as socioeconomic status, education, employment/industry, family details, and relationship status.
  3. Life Events: These audiences are made up of users undergoing an important life transition such as starting a new job, graduating, buying a home, renovating, retiring, getting married, starting a business, or adopting a pet.
  4. In-market Audiences: “In-market” here refers to users being “in the market for [some product]”. That is, they are actively looking to make a specific purchase such as a car, computer, software tool, new clothes, skincare products, a stroller, etc.
  5. Installed App Categories: These audiences are assembled based on the apps that users have installed on their devices. For example, the Puzzle Games audience is made up of users with puzzle apps installed on their phones, while the Finance audience contains users with finance-related apps installed.

The important thing to keep in mind when using Google’s standard audiences in your ads account is that most of these audiences are rough estimates based on user activity and Google’s predictive algorithms. Based on these factors, Google is able to guess that a user is an avid gardener or preparing to graduate college, but the guesses are not the same as hard data (EG – user self-identification) and are subject to inaccuracy.

If you want to get a good look at how accurate these standard audiences are, check out which audiences Google has placed you in. You can do this by following these steps:

  1. Navigate to your Google account page: https://myaccount.google.com/
  2. Select the settings menu for Data & Personalization https://myaccount.google.com/data-and-personalization
  3. Scroll down to Ad Settings and click on Ad Personalization
  4. On this page, you will see a section called “How your ads are personalized.” Here you will find a list of audiences that Google has guessed that you are a part of.

Remarketing Audiences

Remarketing audiences are made up of users who have visited your business’s website in the past. Generally, you will specify a time frame in which users have visited the site. This type of audience list is dynamic – users are removed after a certain period of time has elapsed since their web visit and new users are added once they visit your site.

Unlike Google’s standard audience lists, remarketing lists take a bit of leg work from you to set up before they can be used in the account. You’ll need to specify the website or app that you would like to collect users from for remarketing. This is done by adding a Google Tag to your website or using an SDK in your app. Google has instructions on how to do this on their support site.

Remarketing lists are highly customizable and can be tailored to include specific kinds of users while excluding others using rules. You are also able to create multiple remarketing lists from one website. That means you can create one list of users who made a purchase (IE – reached the Purchase Confirmation page) and another list of users who only visited a Sales page.

A strategy taken by some advertisers is to target the list of users who browsed products while excluding the list of users who completed a purchase. This way you are able to specifically reach customers who have fallen off the sales pipeline and avoid nagging customers who followed the pipeline through already.

An important thing to keep in mind when using remarketing lists is that these lists need a minimum number of users in order to be functional. If your list contains users who visit one specific product page and only 14 users have visited this page so far, the list cannot be used. The minimum number of users in a remarketing list varies by campaign type as outlined below.

Customer Match Lists

Customer match lists allow you to target users that already exist in your business’s CRM data. This type of list is a good supplement or alternative to remarketing lists if you have a source of CRM data that is not your sales site. To form these audience lists, you will need to upload your customer data (first name, last name, email address, country, zip code) to Google Ads. Google can use this information to identify the Google accounts that belong to your customers and serve your ads to these users.

An advantage of using customer match audiences (and remarketing audiences too) is that you can create ads tailored to customers whom you know have an interest in your product. You don’t need to use up space in your ads explaining who you are or what you offer.

Furthermore, when using customer match or remarketing audiences in Search campaigns, you can include more vague keywords or keywords with double meanings. The likelihood that customer match and remarketing audiences are using these terms in relation to your product is relatively high. For example, let’s suppose that your company is called River Software. When most Google users search the word “river” they are probably not interested in buying software. However, when you limit your pool to only include users who have visited RiverSoftware.com or to those who have submitted their contact information to your sales team, it is more likely that a search for “river” is related to your product.

Similar Audiences

Similar audiences are formed by combining existing data sources to expand your reach toward new users who are likely to be interested customers. To start a similar audience list you just need to pick an existing remarketing or customer match list to be your “seed list”. Google analyzes the characteristics of the users in the seed list and finds users with similar characteristics to include in the similar list.

As we discussed above, the characteristics that Google assigns to users are not always accurate. Since similar audience lists are created using guesses about the users in the seed list and guesses about other users, there is extra room for inaccuracy. Take these audiences with a grain of salt.

How Google Creates a Similar Audiences from a Seed List

Custom Audiences

Custom audiences are blank slates for you, the advertiser, to build out using any combination of keywords, websites, and apps. Campaigns that target custom audiences serve your ads to users who have searched for the specified keywords, visited the specified websites, or installed the specified apps.

For example, you might create your own custom Pet Owners audience by including keywords like “dog food” and “vet near me”, websites like PetSmart.com and apps like Wag.

These audiences can be especially useful when Google doesn’t offer a standard audience for a group you want to target.

Note that, though custom audiences can include keywords, they are not eligible to be used with search campaigns.

Implementing Google Ads Audiences

You can implement Google ads audiences by adding them to campaigns or ad groups. You can create as many audience lists as you like in your account but, until you choose ad groups or campaigns to use your lists, they will have no effect. You can add the same audiences to all campaigns or use different audiences for every campaign or take some combination of these approaches. You can add one or many audiences to a campaign or ad group.

Audiences can be added to or removed from ad groups or campaigns at any time, but do consider how these changes will impact your pool of users. Generally, adding a new list for targeting will narrow your user pool (and potentially decrease spend), while removing a list expands the pool of users who see the ad (and potentially increase spend). Just like other kinds of targets, audiences can also be used for exclusion and bid modification.

Note that some types of audience lists are not compatible with all campaign types. At the bottom of this page, we’ve laid out a matrix detailing which audiences can be used with which campaigns.

Observation Mode vs. Targeting Mode

If you’re new to using Google Ads audiences it’s a good idea to try using audiences in observation mode before using them for targeting. Applying an audience to a campaign or ad group in observation mode allows you to collect data without having any impact on performance or strategy. If you gather enough data to see that an audience performs very well compared to the general pool of users, you may choose to use this audience for targeting (by changing its setting to Targeting mode). This will exclude any users that are not part of the targeted audience.

Google ads audiences offer an easy way to target certain kinds of users and narrow your marketing pool. The vast number of lists available, variety of list types, and options for customization allow you to be creative in how you use audiences in your account. Find audience lists in the Google Ads platform on the left-side menu or in Google Ads Editor under Keywords and Targeting.

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