A Primer Guide to Why Audience Targeting Should Be Part of Your PPC Efforts

By Brad


Google Ads Insights

Audience targeting has long been associated with social advertising, and even before that, it was a tactic that you could use across display networks (before Google even rolled out these options).

However, audience targeting is part of paid search – and if you’re not using audience targeting, you’re being left behind in your paid search efforts.

Conceptually, audience targeting is grouping users together based upon a common interest or behavior and then using those groups to adjust your marketing efforts.

For instance, the most common type of audience targeting is remarketing. Remarketing allows you to show ads to a user based upon their website behavior, such as abandoning a form fill.

Consider this stat: Consumers visit websites at least 6 times, on average, in the purchase process.

Source: Google/Nielsen Study: Mobile Path to Purchase: Five Key Findings, November 2013

Where to Start with Audience Targeting?

When we think of audience targeting, there’s a few main considerations:

Users that have a relationship with you.

These users might have been on your site, used your app, or met you at a trade show. They know your brand and your overall goal is to continue the relationship.

These types of users can be broken down in many ways, such as:

  • Haven’t converted yet
    • Example: abandoned shopping cart. Goal: get them to purchase.
  • Have converted once. It’s time for upsells, secondary purchases, etc.
    • Example: Bought valentine’s day flowers from you last year, and this year you want them to buy again from you
  • Lifetime users (loyalty program members, repeat buyers, etc). These users you want to show preferential treatment, remind them of benefits, sell into other products, etc
    • Examples: You’re an insurance company who offers car and home insurance. If a user has only bought car insurance with you, the goal is to get them in a bundled package that includes home insurance.
    • Example: You’re a SAAS company with multiple products. A user subscribes to your primary product, but has not yet subscribed to other integrated products. Your goal is to upsell the users into additional products.
    • Example: You’re an airline company. Business travelers who buy 2-3 tickets a month are more valuable than families who are also members but only travel twice a year. In both cases, the goal is to sell additional tickets, but the marketing and CPCs for each group would be very different.


These types of examples can all be accomplished with three types of audience targeting:

  • RLSA (remarketing for search)
  • Customer match (use your CRM data (emails) to reach users)
  • Display remarketing (dynamic & static)

Start Expanding Your Audience Targeting

In the first set of examples, you already have a relationship with the user. These users are finite as you need to first start a relationship before you can continue one.

There’s a few ways to expand your audience targeting.

The first, and one you’re already doing, is just by marketing and getting new users to your site, app, or CRM system. As users come to your site and meet certain criteria, then you can place them into various audience buckets.

The other method is to use similar audiences. Similar audience targeting examines your current audiences and then finds users with similar behaviors or characteristics. As these users don’t yet have a relationship with you, the CPAs for these audiences versus your first party relationships will be a bit higher and the conversion rates lower. However, it’s a great way to expand your marketing efforts.

In AdWords, you have two types of similar lists:

  • Similar lists for remarketing
  • Similar lists for emails (customer match)


It’s impossible to say which is better as the way a user was grouped into your list can vary tremendously. For instance, you could have these lists:

  • Gave us a business card at a tradeshow
  • Abandoned the shopping cart
  • Have bought 50x times in 10 years from your company
  • Visited your website at least once
  • Shared your blog posts
  • Bought once in the last 30 days
  • Sales reps have successfully completed a product demo

If you are in B2B sales, someone who conducted a product demo with a sales rep is much more likely to convert than someone who gave you a business card at a tradeshow. Therefore, the similar lists will also vary in their effectiveness based upon what the list is similar to in the first place.

Continue Expanding Audience Targeting

When you want to continue to expand your audience targeting, there are two more great options:

  • In-Market audiences
  • Custom affinity

These two options allow you to build audiences (custom affinity) that have certain characteristics or find users currently in the market for a specific service or product (in-market audiences).


Audience Modifiers & Filters

With audience targeting, you can usually do one of these options:

  • Target only the users of that audience
  • Target everyone, but bid differently if a user is in an audience
  • Target everyone, but show a different ad to a user in an audience


These types of options (as with all audiences) can be combined with other filtering me

For search, the most common tactic is to change the bids based upon the audience characteristic.

For display, the most common tactic is to only show ads to a user in that audience.

However, there are additional modifiers you can apply to your audiences:

  • age
  • gender
  • parental status


For instance, if you sell baby supplies, you might want to increase your bid for females (as they buy most of the baby supplies) and for parents (non-parents do buy baby supplies, often as gifts) and use those modifiers on top of your audience targeting.

Audience Targeting Should Be Part of Your PPC Efforts

Audience targeting is not new on the web. However, its efforts within paid search have been fairly quiet overall. Remarketing across the display network is a tactic that’s very common. However, using remarketing for search, customer match, and other audience targeting features have seen slow adoption.

In the past, audience targeting meant large display buys or social advertising.

It is now part of search, and it doesn’t require huge amounts of traffic.

You can start using audience targeting across display with only 100 visitors (in 6 months). You do need at least 1000 users (or emails for customer match) before you can use audience targeting across search networks.

While the numbers aren’t large, companies with large user bases should be thinking about how they segment their lists and target each group individually. Those with less traffic just need to start with some custom ads and bid modifiers.

Audience targeting is now part of PPC. If it’s not in your lexicon, it’s time to learn more about audience targeting so you can tailor your ads, bids, and marketing to individual groups of people to further increase your PPC profits.

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