The Ever-Expanding Audience Targeting Options

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In this latest article, Dr Dave Chaffey delves into the different solutions for audience targeting presented by Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. 

The Ever-Expanding Audience Targeting Options

In my last article, updating on Google's latest innovations I highlighted the growing popularity of audience targeting. According to Merkle in Q2 2018, 37% of Google search ad clicks were impacted
by Google’s specific audience targeting products. This rate was up from 21% of clicks a year earlier.

Given the importance of this trend, and the opportunity to increase reach and ROI, in this article, I'll explore in more depth the options in Google and also briefly look at equivalents in other advertising platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Google's Audience Targeting Solutions

It's likely that you're aware of Google's re-marketing lists, which are a way to reach a specific audience, in this case typically people who have interacted with your brand before, for example through a website visit. The reason I think it's worth taking another look at audience targeting is that there are now so many options to reduce ad wastage through closer targeting.

As Google explains, audience targeting simply allows you to be more accurate when choosing who sees your ads. In Google Ads Editor, you can download, view and assign existing audiences, including re-marketing lists, custom combination lists, life events, interest categories, affinity audiences and custom-intent audiences.

So, let's look at these options:

1. Re-marketing lists

These are created by setting rules about when follow-up ads will be displayed. It's common to re-market to visitors who have shown intent by viewing a product or checkout page for example.

When re-marketing was first introduced it was fairly simple in that you could target broad groups of visitors, but it was time-consuming to create more relevant ads. These days, Google Ads is much more sophisticated, so for example, for different classes of business like Education, Flights, Hotels and rentals, Jobs, Retail, Property and Travel it automatically create lists for individual products to show more relevant creative to increase response. Mobile app users can also be re-targeted using re-marketing.

2. Re-marketing lists for search ads (RLSA)

I find when training that RLSA are less well-known amongst marketers who generally know about the concept of re-marketing. RLSA are neat since they use the same re-marketing lists for ads that are served on the display network, but enable businesses to target more people while searching for related terms, thus expanding their reach. As Google explains there are two basic strategies for using re-marketing lists with search ads:

  • 1. You can optimise bids for your existing keywords for visitors on your re-marketing lists. For example, you can increase your bid by 25% for those who previously visited your website in the last 30 days. Or, you could show a different ad to site visitors who have placed items in a shopping cart but have not purchased them.
  • 2. You can bid on keywords that you don't normally bid on (for example because they are too expensive) just for people who have recently visited your site, or have converted on your site in the past. This can help you increase your sales. For example, you could bid on more broad keywords only for people who have previously purchased from your site.

This video series explains the RLSA approach and best practices in more detail:

RSLA example

Demographic targeting

The level of insight available about your visitors has also increased, so for example, an outdoor clothing company might find the characteristics of their audience via the Google Ads audience insights report for their "All Converters" re-marketing list. They might discover that the people who typically convert on their website are: women, ages 25 to 44, outdoor enthusiasts, mostly use mobile devices and currently in the market for shoes. They could then decide to invest in a campaign with ads that target this audience profile, which should increase their ROI.

To learn more, read this article on demographic targeting from Wordstream. It explains how the new demographic targeting options can be found at the ad group level of Google Ads search campaigns.

From the “Audiences” tab, a new subtab named “Demographics” is available and shows the performance data of how different ages and genders perform in that ad group. Advertisers can use this data to either create bid adjustments for different demographics or can exclude certain aged users or genders from seeing their ads on the SERP. The article gives more examples of this targeting.

Similar Audiences

This follows a similar thinking to the outdoor company example of re-targeting. It helps you expand the reach of your best-performing ads and lists by targeting new users with similar characteristics to your site visitors. These are powered by machine learning, so you don't need to manually set up demographic targeting.

How does this work? Well, Google Ads look at browsing activity on Display Network sites over the last 30 days, and use this in addition to the content that the user is viewing to understand the shared interests and characteristics of the people in your re-marketing list. 

Customer Match

This long-standing approach available since 2015 is simpler in one sense, but can be harder to implement and keep synced compared to using Similar audiences, which can work in a similar way by analysing people in your "converters" list. Here the idea is that when users are signed in to their Google account, they see your ads as they use Google Search, YouTube and Gmail.

With Customer match you upload a data file or programmatically transfer customer contact data via an API to Google's servers. based on either email addresses, phone numbers or house addresses. Clearly security of this process is important to protect privacy and some companies may decide to not use this approach or limit it to less sensitive information like zip codes or post codes. Similar audiences is clearly less high risk.

Audience targeting on other ad platforms

Hopefully you can see the power of these techniques to reduce wastage on advertising and improve ROI by targeting people who have a better affinity with your products. If so, consider options to use these techniques on other platforms.

Facebook and Instagram offer re-targeting (re-marketing is a Google-specific term) via installing the Facebook pixel on your site. Visitors can then be re-targeted in a similar way.

Twitter have a similar solution they call re-marketing with tailored audiences.

Facebook's solution for automatically re-targeting product browsers or abandoners are Dynamic ads.

Finally, LinkedIn has relatively recently launched re-targeting after some false-starts over the years. Website re-targeting from LinkedIn uses the LinkedIn Insight tag for re-targeting. It's also worth knowing about since it enables a feature called website demographics, where you can gain insight about the characteristics of LinkedIn users visiting your site (or specific site sections). This was introduced mid 2017, so is still relatively new. 

If you'd like to discover more about the different, evolving ways in which you can target your audiences, get in touch with our Digital Paid Media team today.

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