15 ways to ride the audience wave
If you aren’t riding the wave of targeting options that revolve around audiences, you’re both wasting budget and missing out on what might be your most profitable targeting strategy. This article will bring you up to speed by walking you through 15 audience targeting levers that you should be experimenting with.
Beginning with Google
While Bing and other search engines provide audience targeting for users of their paid advertising platforms, Google — with about 65 percent of search market share — is probably your main concern, so let’s start there. (Besides, Google has released a lot of targeting options recently, and many of these are not truly appreciated or understood.)
Because so many of you SEM practitioners are managing everything you have access to through the AdWords interface, I’ll cover audience targeting choices even if they’re typically used for video/YouTube and the GDN (Google Display Network).
All of the audience targeting choices listed below are powerful when used alone, but when used in combination, they become even more so. Fair warning, though: You can go too far in targeting at a granular level, making the audience size so small that it’s not worth it. (If you’ve advertised on Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re familiar with how the available audience size shrinks as you add targeting filters.)
The “shrinking audience” phenomenon is particularly evident in pure paid search, because paid search relies on the consumer or prospect engaging in a search, an event which may be far less frequent against your keyword set than video consumption or exposure to display advertising/contextual advertising.
Choosing your best audience targeting tool
Audience answers the “who” question in some cases even better than search alone does. That’s what makes it so powerful. So, here we go: 15 ways you should be riding the “audience wave.” These tools are presented in no particular order, not all are available as search placements, and some are exclusively available via search. They are all powerful tools in your targeting toolbox.
- YouTube subscribers: Link your YouTube account to your AdWords account to enable targeting against viewers of your own YouTube channel.
- Remarketing lists: You can create these for an AdWords tag or with Google Analytics. If you have an Android app, you can also create an audience around your app users.
- RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads): There are many ways to combine targeting and RLSA for improved relevance and ROI. But you’ll need to pay close attention to the specific bid options Google provides to precisely control your campaign’s reach. Google explains the layers of the different bid options here: “When you add multiple targeting methods to the same ad group and set these to ‘Target and bid,’ you’re telling AdWords to restrict or narrow the reach of your ads. When you add additional targeting methods and set them to ‘Bid only,’ you’re telling AdWords not to restrict where your ads show but to increase or decrease its chances of showing depending on the bid you choose.”
- “Target and bid:” The key here is the AND. To trigger an ad, both your keywords AND remarketing list must be triggered (a pure RLSA campaign). This narrows the focus and the audience. So this is a restrictive bid option.
- “Bid only:” Poorly named in my opinion — this is the inclusive bid option.
- Negative audiences: Selling something once, then you’re done? Exclude those who reach your “thank you” page from being exposed to future targeting/ads.
- Affinity interest categories: In some industries and product or service categories, affinities or interests predict a willingness to respond to your messaging. So why not take advantage of this targeting option, alone or in combination with others?
- In-market: Those who’ve engaged in behavior that makes them “in-market” (or “intenders”). While this is a fuzzy definition, it can be useful. The challenge lies in both the way the in-market signal was determined and how recently the behavior of a consumer reinforced that designation. For example, not everyone visiting the Lamborghini section of a car site is in-market for a high-performance sports car. Similarly, two people looking at floral arrangements online might have very different in-market realities; one is making the purchase today for a birthday; the other is looking to plan a wedding six months from now.
- Gender: Seems obvious, but sometimes response to the same keyword differs by gender (on average).
- Age: Same as gender; narrow your audience and get a higher Quality Score.
- Parental status: Same as gender.
- Household income: Make sure they can afford your product or service.
- Websites (placements): This tool can work really well with retargeting (provided you’re placing ads on a sufficiently high-traffic site). You can proactively pick retargeting sites that resonate with the message and the searcher’s needs.
- YouTube videos (placements) and channels (placements): When combined with retargeting, results can be very powerful.
- Apps (placements): The apps that people use tell you a lot about them.
- App categories: 140 currently, within placements.
- Topics: This is similar to “in-market” but is about the context of the page your target audience is on.
Audience targeting is the wave of the future
I predict continued advancements and refinements to audience targeting will be launched throughout the advertising ecosystem in the near future.
Consider allocating some meaningful budget to audience targeting, but remember — when testing combinations of targeting and audiences, it’s important to know both your risk tolerance and the value you place on your time (given that combining these tools correctly takes some skill, and evaluating their results correctly may also entail the application of some serious mental bandwidth).