PPC

The Complete AdWords Audit Part 15: Audiences

I’m thinking more “audiences” and less “keywords” than ever before.Melissa Mackey

According to many PPC experts, audience targeting was the most important trend in 2016. Which was nice after having 5 consecutive years of mobile.

And looking forward to 2017, audiences will continue to grow in importance and scale. As Melissa’s quote above indicates, thinking ‘keywords only’ really is a thing of the past. It’s the combination of intent (keyword or voice search), device, time, location and audience that we need to think about.

Most AdWords advertisers however, are familiar with remarketing audiences only. But actually this is just one of the 10 main ways you can target (or exclude) audiences in AdWords:


In the illustration above you can see which audiences can be targeted on which network(s).

And for those who like a historical perspective, see the timeline below for the years when different audiences were released in AdWords. Betas were often already available a year earlier.


So the question arises: how many of these audiences are you currently targeting in your AdWords account(s)?

I hope that after reading this article, you’ll be inspired and well equipped to target all audiences that make sense to you and you’ll also be able to think creatively about how to mix and match them to create the perfect targeting opportunities for your business.

This post won’t go into contextual targeting on the Google Display Network or best practices for creating banner ads. That will the subject of the next part of this series.

Nor will I go into best practices for advertising on YouTube, for promoting your mobile app or for re-engaging users with your app. These are also topics for future posts.

Today’s post is all about the available audiences in AdWords and how to best target them and will cover the following topics:

  • Targeting settings: ‘target and bid’ vs ‘bid only’
  • First-party audiences
    - Remarketing
    * Tagging your website
    * Membership duration and list sizes
    * Segmenting your remarketing audiences
    * Display remarketing best practices
    * Search remarketing (RLSA) best practices
    - Customer match
    - Video remarketing
  • Audience Insights
  • Third-party (Google) audiences
    - Similar audiences
    - In-market audiences
    - Custom affinity audiences
    - Affinity audiences
    - Demographics
  • Excluding and combining audiences
  • Your audit checklist
 
Targeting settings: ‘target and bid’ vs ‘bid only’

For every audience you use as targeting you’ll get to choose between 2 settings: ‘target and bid’ or ‘bid only’.

One of the classic mistakes you can make in AdWords is to accidentally select the wrong targeting setting, which has quite an impact on the reach and accompanying costs. So make sure to doublecheck this setting every time you use it.

The concept is rather simple though: select ‘target and bid’ if you only want to show ads for users that match (all) the selected audience(s).

Use ‘bid only’ if the audience is used as a layer upon another targeting method (such as keywords) to enable you to bid differently when users also match the selected ‘bid only’ audience.

For more explanation and examples for this setting, read Google’s targeting settings on the Display Network guide. These settings also apply on the Search Network for remarketing, customer match and video remarketing.

 

First-party audiences

A useful way to differentiate between audiences is whether they’re based on first-party or third-party data:

  • First-party = data you collect about your audience. These are your website visitors (web analytics data), your customers and leads (CRM and email marketing data), your mobile app users, viewers of your YouTube videos, etc.
  • Third-party = data someone else collected and is made available to advertisers. The third party for the audiences covered today is obviously Google, but there are many other third parties out there.
And if you’re wondering what second-party data is: that’s someone else’s first-party data. If you can trade your first-party data with someone else’s (because you both have the same target audience, but aren’t competitors), you both have second-party data. But this is outside the scope of AdWords audiences.

Let’s start with going through the first-party audiences you can target within AdWords:

  • Remarketing: people that visited your website (or used your mobile app).
  • Customer Match: email addresses you collected from customers and leads.
  • Video remarketing: people that have seen your YouTube videos.
Remarketing

Or ‘retargeting’ as the rest of the world calls it. But within AdWords and Bing Ads it’s called ‘remarketing’, which actually makes it easy to differentiate between targeting previous site visitors with AdWords or Bing and using other display platforms such as AdRoll, Criteo, myThings, Perfect Audience, ReTargeter and Simpli.fi.

For most advertisers, using AdWords, Facebook and Twitter directly for display retargeting is a great way to start.

However, if you feel you’ve maxed out on the Google Display Network or want to manage all your display retargeting in one dedicated interface, using one of the mentioned platforms above would be a logical next step.

Just make sure that you don’t run multiple overlapping display retargeting programs simultaneously, as this will make conversion attribution harder and increase chances you’ll annoy your site visitors by targeting them too often.

Tagging your website

If you use Google Analytics, I can be short about this one: simply enable remarketing and advertising reporting features in Analytics and use it to create and edit remarketing audiences, including the pretty cool smart lists.

Another benefit of using Google Analytics to create audiences, is that you can save yourself the time of creating 30+ remarketing audiences by simply importing great pre-made audience definition sets from the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery, such as the Engagement, Ecommerce and Channels pack.

But if you’ve been using remarketing in AdWords for a while, especially if you’ve been using RLSA before June 2015, you’re probably still remarketing based on the AdWords tag.

If this is the case and you have Google Analytics running on your website, I would still advise to switch to Google Analytics to create remarketing lists. This will give you additional options such as smart lists and lists based on visitor behavior, source and engagement beyond page visits.

To make this switch, simply enable the remarketing features in Analytics, create or import the audiences you want to use and wait for the lists to have at least as many users as your current AdWords lists. Once they do, replace them with the new Analytics lists. And once you’ve successfully done this, you can remove the AdWords remarketing tag from your website.

If you don’t have Google Analytics running on your site, then you’ll obviously need to place the AdWords remarketing tag on your website.
If you do use Google Tag Manager, then use that to set up standard or dynamic remarketing and otherwise follow these instructions to place the AdWords tag directly on your site and possibly even use custom parameters for building more advanced lists.

Membership duration and list sizes

For each remarketing list you’ll create you’ll need to set the amount of days visitors will be part of your remarketing list without visiting your site again, an ‘expiration date’ so to speak. The default is 30 days, but can be set anywhere between 1 and 540(!) days.

In the ideal scenario, the membership duration is as long as the corresponding ads are relevant for the user you’re targeting.

So if the sales cycle for your product or service is short, so should be the membership duration. And if you’re selling high-end products or services, then you should probably pick a longer duration.

A good place to get this data is the Time Lag report in Google Analytics (Conversions -> Multi-Channel Funnels -> Time Lag). I’d recommend to set the lookback window in this report to 90 days to include all impressions and clicks of the last 90 days.


Based on this report you can set the membership duration to the number of days that includes 90% of your sales cycle.

There are a couple of other things to take into consideration when deciding on membership duration:

  • If you’ll target the list on the Display Network, it’s probably best not to exceed 60 days. People will get tired of seeing the same ads for such a long time (banner fatigue).
    So if your product or service has a long sales cycle, try to break your remarketing sequence up into shorter lead-nurturing steps. A typical B2B example would be:

- After ‘engaged visit’: show ‘watch free webinar’ ads for 30 days
- After ‘watched webinar’: show ‘download free eBook’ ads for 30 days
- After ‘downloaded eBook’: show ‘final conversion’ ads for 30 days (e.g. call us, request demo, start free trial, make an appointment, etc.)

  • If you’ll target the list on the Search Network, you can use a much longer timeframe than you would on Display, as you’ll only show ads after users search for one of your keywords.
  • The traffic on your website. You’ll want most of your remarketing lists to be anywhere between 1,000 and 100,000 users to have a significant impact on your campaign results, without being too broad.
    So if your website only has 500 visitors a month, you’d have to increase the membership duration to at least 60 days to reach a 1,000 users. Also keep this in mind when segmenting your remarketing lists, don’t go too narrow as you’ll always want at least 1,000 users matching your criteria.
A 1,000 users is also the required minimum amount of users to target your list on Google search, while the minimum is just 100 users on the GDN.


Segmenting your remarketing audiences

If you’ve imported the mentioned Engagement, Ecommerce and Channels pack from the pre-made audience definition sets in the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery, you’ll already have all these lists ready to use:


Dynamic Remarketing

If your business matches any of the types below, you should seriously consider setting up dynamic remarketing if you haven’t already.
This enables you to automatically show previous visitors ads that contain the products or services they viewed on your site. According to Google, dynamic remarketing ads get up to a 450% higher CTR than standard remarketing.
That’s a bold claim that may not apply to your campaigns, but on average, you should see performance significantly improve when moving from standard to dynamic remarketing. 

  • Education
  • Flights
  • Hotels and rentals
  • Jobs
  • Local deals
  • Real estate
  • Retail (with a Merchant Center account)
  • Travel
  • And there’s also a custom option for other verticals
See Google’s Dynamic remarketing set-up guide for all the steps involved in making this work.

And next to all the lists above, you can also create custom combinations to make your targeting even more powerful, especially when making combinations with previous customers:

  • Non-converted visitors. This list is a must for any advertiser. Please exclude people that already converted from all lists that are targeted to non-customers on the GDN. It’s annoying and a waste of money to show users what they already bought.
    When targeting the search network you could include converted users (as they’re still showing intent), depending on the keyword.
  • Shopping cart abandoners. Another obvious one, a friendly reminder (with an extra incentive to buy) could just be what they need to finish the purchase. But as always: don’t overdo it.
  • Engaged visitors. Especially if you have a lot of traffic on your website, you could restrict targeting to people that viewed multiple pages only, so you won’t target ‘bounced’ visitors. This is the ‘Page depth >1’ audience from the Engagement pack mentioned above.
  • Repeat purchases. If you sell products or services people need to ‘refill’ or renew after a certain amount of time, you can target previous customers but exclude people that have bought in the last xx days (where xx is average refill/renew timeframe).
  • Upsell or cross-sell offers. If you know what customers bought, you can show them ads for complementary products or services. Don’t do this right after their purchase though, it’s probably best to wait a couple of weeks.
  • Seasonal offers. The classic example here is the flower shop that shows Mother’s Day offers to all customers that bought flowers on Valentine’s Day. But anytime you have relevant seasonal offers for past customers is a great opportunity to do some targeted remarketing. In a sense, this is just a customized variation of the repeat purchases strategy.
Be sure to watch Brad Geddes’ SLCSEM keynote talk about audience targeting for more great list segmentation examples and targeting sequence flowcharts.

 

Display remarketing best practices

Creating great lists as described above is the first step for successful display remarketing. Now it’s just a matter of showing the right ads to the right users and to setting bids that maximize your results.

  • Tailor your ads to the users in the list. If you thought well about which lists you want to target, you’ll probably already know what you want to communicate to them.
    And if you need some inspiration to get you started, these are examples from Google Best Practices:


  • Use the most popular display ad sizes and formats. As mentioned earlier, I’ll go deeper into banner ad design in the next part of this series, but for now it’s important to know you’ll want to have at least the following ad formats in your display campaigns:

- 300×250
- 728×90
- 160×600
- 336×280
- For mobile: 320×50 and 320×100
- And don’t forget to add the relatively new responsive ads next to the
formats above (note: starting January 31, you’ll no longer be able to
create and edit text ads on the Display Network, so use responsive ads
instead in all your Display campaigns).

  • Keep your ads fresh. Especially if you target users longer than 30 days, you’ll want to avoid banner fatigue. So please use multiple variations of your ads and regularly replace them with new ads.
  • Many products? Use Dynamic Remarketing. A must for retailers, but you can make it work for almost any vertical by following the steps in Google’s Dynamic Remarketing set-up guide.
  • Exclude site categories you don’t want your ads to show. There may be categories of content you don’t want to associate with your brand, such as ‘Death and tragedy’ or ‘Profanity and rough language’. Read all about these categories and how to exclude them. And don’t forget to exclude the adsenseformobileapps.com placement to prevent showing your ads in mobile apps, as you’ll get a lot of accidental ‘clicks’ on your ads from these free apps.
  • Set a frequency cap (if you don’t use smart bidding). You don’t want to irritate users by showing them your ads 10 times a day, so be sure to set a frequency cap in your display campaigns. A daily cap of 3 to 5 is often used.
    However, Mark Irvine from WordStream shows how ads are almost never served to their full impression cap and that relative conversion rate rises with the number of times a user has seen your ad (up to 6 times). So you could set your cap a bit higher if you feel comfortable doing so.
    If you use automated bidding there’s no need to set this, as Google’s algorithms will optimize frequency caps for you.
  • Use Smart Bidding once you have enough monthly conversions. The more conversions you have, the better smart bidding works. You could start trying target CPA with 30 monthly conversions and should definitely try target CPA or target ROAS once you have 50 or more conversions a month from your display remarketing campaign(s). It works especially well if you’re using Dynamic Remarketing.
    I can highly recommend reading Google’s Display Automated Bidding Guide to learn more about how Smart Bidding works on the GDN.  
 
Search remarketing (RLSA) best practices

While display remarketing can feel a bit creepy, search remarketing doesn’t have this problem: you only show ads to previous site visitors after they’ve searched on a relevant keyword. They’ll probably not even notice they’re being targeted differently.

No wonder this unique combination of intent and audience, without the creepiness factor of banners following you around, has made RLSA one of the most popular and successful AdWords features since its public release in 2013.

In essence, there are 2 kinds of RLSA and you should use both: target and bid and bid only:

Google Best Practices

Bid only RLSA

In most cases, you’ll simply want to bid higher for all the people that have visited your site before, as these are much more likely to convert.
How much higher? Google says: “Don’t be shy about bid adjustments. For these strong leads, set an aggressive bid modification. Target positions one and two on the search engine results page to give your ads the best chance of being seen. Start by adding a bid modifier of +100%, then adjust up or down to compete for the top ad slots and optimize from there.”

Google Best Practices


But I understand if you don’t feel like blindly doubling your bids just because Google says so. Although conversion rates of your remarketing lists will often justify it later on.

The more cautious approach would be to simply add audiences without a bid modifier to gather conversion data first (‘reporting mode’) and adjust bids later on accordingly. This may take a while though.

Personally, I do agree with Google that you should ensure a top position when showing search ads to your site visitors (with a few exceptions), so I’d set an aggressive bid modifier (50% – 150%) in ad groups or campaigns with a low (> 3) average position and a modest (10% – 50%) bid modifier if the average position is already in the top 3.

Again, automated bidding can calculate and set these bid adjustments for you, as it does take remarketing lists into account. But you’ll still have to add the remarketing lists to all your search ad groups or campaigns to make this work.


Target and Bid only RLSA

With this setting you only show search ads to previous site visitors, giving you 2 options:

1.Advertise on the same keywords, but show different ads to previous site visitors.
2. Advertise on different keywords for site visitors only, expanding your reach for them.

Concerning option 1, I’d only do this for (very) high volume keywords in combination with large remarketing lists, as this should be worth the time you’ll spend doing the following:

  • Duplicate the ad group(s) and/or campaign(s).
  • Exclude the remarketing list(s) you’re targeting from the original ad group(s) and/or campaign(s).
  • Write different ads for your remarketing audience(s).
You don’t want to go through all this trouble just to show different ads that generate very few clicks. So this option usually isn’t worth it for smaller advertisers.

Option 2 is always worth it and this is where you can do the stuff you may normally never do, such as:

  • Targeting very generic (1 word) keywords.
  • Using regular broad match keywords.
  • Advertise on keywords that are mostly B2C while you’re B2B.
  • Advertising on competitors’ brand names.
  • Run an aggressive Remarketing Dynamic Search Ads (RDSA) campaign. Although I believe you should also have DSA campaign targeting all users. But combining it with target and bid remarketing is a safe way to start with DSA.

Customer Match

Customer Match may be one of the least used features in AdWords, but every advertiser that has an email list of 2,000+ people on it should definitely give it a try. The same goes for the CRM / email retargeting options from Facebook and Twitter too by the way.

Customer match is a remarketing list based on email addresses instead of site visitors, so there’s no expiration date and they don’t have to have visited your website.
You can target these users on Google Search (including Shopping), YouTube and Gmail, but not on the GDN unfortunately.

So many of the remarketing best practices above also apply to customer match:

  • You’ll want at least a 1,000 active users on each of your customer match lists (in most cases). As match rates are around 50% (but up to 90% for Gmail addresses), this means at least 2,000 email addresses for each list you’ll create.
  • If your email list is large enough and you have the right information available, you should segment it into separate lists before uploading them into AdWords, such as:
    - Recent customers / leads
    - Loyal customers
    - Dormant customers (haven’t bought in last x months)
    - Bought product x (so you can upsell or cross-sell product y)
    - Newsletter readers only
    - Met at trade show (or other offline event)
    - Attended webinar (or other online event)
    - Etc.
  • Set an (aggressive) bid only modifier for your customer match lists in all search campaigns or ad groups.
  • Create separate target and bid campaigns where you can target more generic and broad match keywords.

Video remarketing

If you have a YouTube channel and if you’ve linked it to your AdWords account, you can target viewers and visitors of your channel on the Search and Display Network and on YouTube.

Again, this is just another first-party data source, so most of the remarketing and customer match best practices above also apply to video remarketing.

Learn more about video remarketing and how to set it up by reading Use remarketing lists for video campaigns and About remarketing to YouTube viewers.

 

Audience Insights

The audience insights report is one of my favorite reports in AdWords and the perfect bridge between the first-party audiences above and the third-party ones below.

For every audience you have in your AdWords Shared library, you can discover the corresponding demographics, locations, devices, in-market audiences and affinity audiences.


You can also get the interest-based data from Google Analytics Audience Insights (Audience -> Interests).

You can take action on this data by targeting the in-market and affinity audiences you find in these insights. Or by customizing your ads to make them more appealing to the demographics and interests of your audience.

 

Third-party (Google) data


Similar Audiences

For all the first-party audiences described above, Google automatically creates additional ‘Similar to {first-party list}’ audiences you can target on the GDN for (video) remarketing lists and on YouTube and Gmail for similar audiences based on Customer Match lists.

If you want to know all about how these audiences are created, be sure to read reach people similar to your existing audiences.

This feature has been around since 2012 and has greatly improved since then. In the early days Similar Audiences often didn’t live up to the expectations, and some of you may have given up on them because of disappointing results in the past.

If that’s the case, or if you never tried Similar Audiences before, you may want to try them again, as they can deliver up to 40% additional conversions (compared to remarketing alone) for a comparable CPA. But even a bit higher CPA would be justified, as you’re reaching a new audience.

Google Best Practices


The remaining audiences aren’t based on your data and are available to all advertisers on the Google Display Network (including Gmail) and YouTube:

  • In-market audiences
  • Custom affinity audiences
  • Affinity audiences
  • Demographics (also available on the search network)
Of these audiences, in-market audiences are the closest to a purchase, while (custom) affinity audiences are more suitable to reach users in the awareness and consideration phases:

Inside Adwords


In-market audiences

With nearly 500 pre-defined in-market audiences, there should be a few out there that contain potential customers looking for your products or services.

Use the search field on top to quickly find matching audiences and click on the details link next to an audience to see the demographics of that audience.


Custom affinity audiences

If you can’t find the in-market audience that perfectly matches your product or service, or want to go a bit broader, create one or more custom affinity audiences by entering their interests through keywords and URLs:


Once the results look good to you, save the custom affinity audience and try it out as an audience to target.

Affinity audiences

This is the broadest option within audience targeting and meant to match TV campaigns by targeting audiences at scale based on their lifestyles and long-term interests.

You currently have more than 100 affinity audiences to choose from to drive brand awareness:


Demographics

As Google mentions on their about demographic targeting support page: “Keep in mind that demographic targeting is an option to narrow your targeting. In other words, it helps prevent people outside of the your chosen demographics from seeing your ads.”

This is important to realize and is probably different from how you would use demographics with advertising on Facebook. On Facebook, you could target your ads only to women between 25 and 44. In AdWords, you probably don’t want to do that (by excluding all other demographics), because a significant part of your intended audience will be in the “Unknown” category.
So it’s usually best to not exclude the “Unknown” demographic category and only work with the ‘known’ ones.
We’ll simply have to accept that we’ll show ads to the ‘wrong’ demographics in AdWords some of the time. But as Google says “consumer intent is more powerful than demographics”. Besides, the actual demographics of your audience could be very different from what you’d expect, as this statistic demonstrates:


Although counterintuitive at first, it makes sense when you think about it. So as a marketer selling baby products, it would be mistake to exclude all users with parental status ‘Not a parent’. Just as it would be a mistake to exclude all women or men older than 34 when selling video games.

The most common way to use demographic data in AdWords is to thoughtfully exclude unwanted (known) demographics or to customize bids for certain demographics.

Be sure to check the demographic data in your Google Analytics account (if available) to guide you in adjusting your AdWords campaigns based on this data.

And don’t forget that you can now also use demographics in your search campaigns!

Excluding and combining audiences

I just mentioned excluding unwanted known demographics as a way to improve your targeting, but there’s an infinite amount of ways you can refine your targeting by excluding or combining audiences in AdWords.

A few examples to inspire you for your own campaigns:

  • Exclude remarketing and/or customer match lists from your branded search campaign(s). You probably don’t want to pay again (and again) every time your customers or recent visitors just want to navigate to your website.
  • Combine Customer Match with RLSA. If both lists are large enough, this combination would create a ‘super-hot’ list to target (or exclude): you have their email address AND they’ve recently visited your website.
  • Create totally new audiences. By creatively combining affinity, in-market, demographic and contextual targeting, you can create totally new audiences that perfectly match the potential customers you’re looking for.
    You’ll find great examples on slide 21 and 22 of Susan Waldes’ SMX presentation Forget Context, Think Audience, Layer & Win GDN:


And this finally brings us to the end of this post. With almost 5,000 words (including the checklist below) and around 50 links, I hope I’ve provided you with all the information you need to get the most out of audience targeting in your AdWords account!


Audiences – Your Audit Checklist:

Tagging, list segmentation and insights


  • If you have Google Analytics running on your website: do you create and manage your remarketing lists with Google Analytics?
  • Do you take your sales cycle into account when setting the membership duration of your remarketing lists?
  • Have you created or imported multiple remarketing lists (with at least 1,000 users each) to target the most important visitor segments?
  • If you have an extensive email list with the right (CRM) information: have you segmented it into multiple customer match lists (with at least 2,000 email addresses each) that represent your most important customer segments?
  • Do you use the Audience Insights report?

Display, Gmail and YouTube:

  • If you sell many products (retailers especially): do you use Dynamic Remarketing?
  • Do you match the remarketing ads and landing pages with the lists you’re targeting?
  • Do you use the most popular banner sizes and responsive ads?
  • Have you set a frequency cap in your campaign(s)?
  • Have you excluded unwanted site categories and placements (such as adsenseformobileapps.com) from your campaign(s)?
  • Do you avoid banner fatigue with frequently updated banners and a remarketing sequence for longer sales cycles?
  • Do you use Smart Bidding in campaigns with 50+ monthly conversions?
  • Do you target your Customer Match list(s) on Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you target Similar Audiences on the GDN, Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you target relevant In-market audiences on the GDN, Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you target relevant Custom Affinity audiences on the GDN, Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you target relevant Affinity audiences on the GDN, Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you use demographic targeting on the GDN, Gmail and YouTube?
  • Do you combine targeting options to create new audiences?

Search and Shopping:

  • Have you added relevant first-party audiences (remarketing, customer match and video remarketing) and demographics to all your search (and shopping) campaigns or ad groups (even if it’s without a bid modifier)?
  • Have you set an aggressive positive bid modifier for the right audiences, in ad groups or campaigns with a low average position?
  • Do you have (a) campaign(s) using the ‘target and bid’ setting to target more keywords for your first-party audiences only?
  • Do you exclude customers and/or visitors from your branded campaign(s)?


This is a guest post by Wijnand Meijer, Sr. PPC Strategist at iProspect Netherlands, and is published on http://certifiedknowledge.org/blog/the-complete-adwords-audit-part-15-audiences/#