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Google Ads Targeting: Reach The Right Audiences For Less

Evan Oliver
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You know that feeling when you launch a Google ad campaign with spot-on messaging and creatives—but no one interacts with your ads? Maybe the impressions aren’t bad. But the click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate, and return on ad spend (ROAS) are terrible.

It’s a targeting problem.

If you don’t reach the right group of people, you can’t expect your ad campaigns to work. You’ll end up wasting ad spend with nothing to show but low conversion rates, or worse—unqualified leads.

So how do you make sure you’re connecting with the right audience? In this article, we’ll cover the essentials of Google Ads targeting to help you improve your campaigns and optimize your results.

How does Google Ads targeting work?

Google Ads provides several content and audience targeting tools to narrow down who sees your campaigns. You can connect with people based on where they live, what they like, what they’re shopping for, which sites they visit, and other factors.

Google Ads doesn’t limit you to one type of targeting. Instead, you can build your ideal audience by layering different targeting options at the campaign or ad group level.

In most cases, the only limitation is the type of campaign you create. You can access some opportunities across Google ad networks. However, others are available only for search or display ads.

Google display targeting

Display ads typically work best on people who match your customer persona or users who have an interest in your brand, products, or services. When you advertise on the Google Display Network (GDN), you can choose from these ad targeting options:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Topic
  • Placement
  • Keyword
  • Affinity audiences
  • Custom audiences
  • Optimized

Google search targeting

In contrast, search ads generally work best on potential customers who are actively looking for what your brand offers or users who have interacted with your business before. When you advertise on the Google Search Network, you can pick from these targeting parameters:

  • Location
  • Keyword
  • In-market audiences
  • Remarketing lists
  • Custom audiences
  • Location targeting

Google Ads defaults to targeting people with a presence or interest in the country where your account is based. If you want to expand location targeting, choose a broader region, such as multiple countries or the entire globe. Narrow your targeting instead if your business serves a local audience or if you’ve found that people in a certain area tend to become better customers. You can enter any state, county, city, or town. Google Ads also supports designated market area (DMA) and other types of location targeting.

Google Ads location targeting
Google Ads lets you include or exclude unlimited locations

Do you want to avoid reaching people in certain areas? When entering locations, select Exclude rather than Target to make a list of demographic exclusions.

Demographics targeting

Google Ads demographic targeting
You can choose any combination of demographic targeting

Google Ads provides demographic filters that let you target people who match your customer persona. Display ads can help you expand your audience by reaching customers who fit these demographics:

  • Age groups between 18 and 65+ years
  • Gender
  • Parental status
  • Household income

Topic targeting

Google Ads topic targeting
Topic targeting helps you reach audiences in certain contexts

Topic targeting determines where your display ads appear and ensures that your ads only show alongside content that’s relevant to your audience. With this type of contextual targeting, you can choose websites, apps, and videos that align with topics that resonate with your audience or relate to your business.

Placement targeting

With placement targeting, you can get even more specific about where your display ads go. You can select the web pages, apps, and videos where you want your ads to display.

Keyword targeting

Both search and display campaigns support keyword targeting, but this option works differently on the two networks. For display campaigns, you can enter terms related to your brand, products, and services to help Google Ads find relevant sites to place your campaigns. You can use Google Keyword Planner to brainstorm ideas.

While keyword targeting is optional for display campaigns, it’s essential for search campaigns. The keywords you choose tell Google Ads which search terms to bid on and when to display your winning ad on the search engine results page. Take care to use the right keyword match types and a list of negative keywords to optimize each ad group.

Audience targeting

Would you rather target users based on their interests and behaviors? Google Ads also offers several types of pre- and custom-built user segments known as audiences.

Affinity audiences

Google ads affinity audiences
Affinity audiences offer interest-based targeting

Advertisers can choose from about 80 pre-built audience segments that target users based on their likes and hobbies. You can reach users who have an interest in what your business offers or pastimes that match your customer persona. Users can adjust these interests for accuracy by changing their Google Ads settings.

In-market audiences

In-market audiences
In-market audiences provide behavior-based targeting

To reach users who are actively searching for what you offer, use in-market audiences. These segments are behavior-based audiences of people who are shopping for the products and services your business sells.

Custom audiences

Google Ads custom audiences
You can build new custom segments during campaign creation

As an advertiser, you aren’t limited to pre-built Google Ads audiences. Instead, you can create custom affinity audiences that provide a better match or more narrow targeting.

To create a custom intent audience, enter a keyword, website, or app as the source. Then Google Ads can build a group of users with relevant interests or purchase intentions.

Alternatively, you can build a custom audience based on people who have searched for certain terms on Google. That means you can add a level of search retargeting to display campaigns that appear on Google properties like YouTube.

Remarketing audiences

Why focus on reaching new audiences when you can leverage existing ones instead? With Google Ads, you can create remarketing lists to target people who have already visited your site or app, interacted with your ads, or signed up for your list. You can also use these segments to find similar audiences who may be just as interested in your business.

To create remarketing lists, click on Tools & Settings in your Google Ads account and select Audience Manager. Then create a new audience based on website visitors, app users or YouTube users. You can also use your own customer list as a seed audience.

remarketing lists
Google Ads gives you granular control over remarketing lists

You can also import remarketing audiences from Google Analytics. Link your Google Ads account to Google Analytics and select which lists to add.

Optimized targeting

Google Ads uses optimized targeting to drive more conversions based on your landing pages and creative assets. Once you add any of the manual options above, you can turn off this additional targeting. If you want Google to expand your targeting automatically, however, you can leave this option switched on.

Put your targeting knowledge to work

Whether you want to target certain people, contexts, or search terms, Google Ads has the right option for your business. With so many data segments and custom combinations at your fingertips, your campaigns can reach almost any type of user.

After mastering Google Ads targeting, you’ll be ready to focus on other aspects of display and search ads. Find out how Google Ads works so you can build and run more effective campaigns.

Chapter 1:
Google Ads Fundamentals

What You’ll Learn: Dive deep into what’s possible, the best way to set things up, ensure tracking is correct, and everything else needed to have a strong foundation.

Chapter 2:
Google Search Ads

What You’ll Learn: Learn about keywords, match types, search terms, and quality scores so you can dominate search in no time.

Chapter 3:
Google Display Ads

What You’ll Learn: Take advantage of cheaper clicks with unknown strategies many people don’t use when it comes to the Google Ads Display Network.