When you think of Google Ads targeting, you probably think of keywords. What you probably don’t think of right away is audiences: showing ads to people based on who they are rather than what they’re searching for.
Audiences are one of the most powerful and underutilized targeting strategies in Google Ads, and you can target audiences in Search, Display, Discovery, Video, and Shopping campaigns. (Performance Max campaigns use “audience signals,” which is for another post!)
In this post, I’m going to cover all of the Google Ads audience targeting options you have so you can determine which is right for your next campaign.
The easiest way to understand Google’s audience targeting capabilities is to divide them into four categories:
Google has four categories of “pre-packaged” audiences, which all advertisers have access to. This is the fastest, easiest way to get your feet wet with audiences.
This type of audience targeting goes beyond the basic age/gender/parental status information to provide deeper targeting options based on life and career stages.
This refers to reaching people who have similar interests, hobbies, and habits. Generally, these are stable over time, and great for awareness marketing.
In-market segments are people who are getting ready to purchase specific products or services. People are moved into and out of these categories based on their current shopping behavior, making them great for high-intent prospecting campaigns.
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As you can expect, this is to target people who are currently going through a significant life transition, such as graduating, getting married, or moving.
Google has moved away from using the term “remarketing” and renamed this section “your data.” The euphemism is still accurate. Google remarketing (also known as retargeting) is when you show your Google ads to people who already have a relationship with your business.
This is one of the most common and generally most profitable paid ads tactics.
There are four types of remarketing audiences available in Google Ads:
For more help in this realm, Navah Hopkins provides some great remarketing campaign tips here.
Also known as lookalikes or similar audiences, these are lists of users that exhibit similar online behavior to those on your remarketing lists.
For example, the users on a Similar segment generated from your Most Profitable Customers list would be people who are new to your business, and exhibit similar behavior and habits to your best customers, therefore are more likely to be interested in becoming your customers.
Google Ads will automatically generate similar segments in your account when there is enough data on your remarketing list(s) to do so. This is a very powerful customer acquisition tactic.
Google offers a third kind of unique audience targeting called custom segments. This is a really fascinating intersection between Google’s data and your business that most people don’t think about. It lets you take other pieces of information that Google knows about people, but slices and dice sit in a way that’s unique to your business.
Within Google Ads custom audience targeting, you have three different options for audience creation:
Note that you can’t add custom segments to your Search or Shopping campaigns, but they are a great audience targeting option for Display, Discovery, and Video campaigns.
For example, when I launched my Google Ads course, I created a custom segment of people who have searched for queries like google ads course, learn google ads, and google ads certification.
Then, I created a second custom segment of people who have apps like Google Ads or Meta Ads on their phone. I added both custom segments to a Video campaign, to reach new audiences who are likely to be interested in Google Ads training.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to Google’s audience segments, your data segments, and custom segments, you have even more audience targeting capabilities in Google Ads.
Google Ads combined segments lets you put together an audience of people who match multiple audience targeting requirements. Plus, a combined segment can contain a custom segment. The possibilities are endless!
For example, you can create a combined segment of people who are:
Finally, optimized targeting is how you can leverage Google’s machine learning to find new audiences who are likely to help you meet your business goals.
When you create a Discovery, Display, or YouTube campaign, you will automatically be opted into optimized targeting at the ad group level. The purpose of optimized targeting is to let the algorithms do what they do best, and find pockets of opportunity to get you a better CPA, ROAS, or whatever metric your bid strategy is optimized for (ergo, optimized targeting).
Note that optimized targeting is used in Display, Discovery and conversion-focused Video campaigns, while its “cousin,” audience expansion, is used in reach-focused Video campaigns.
And that’s it! Here is a summary of all of the Google Ads audience targeting options we covered in this post.
Google’s audience segments
Your data segments
Use these customer segmentation models to help improve your audience targeting!
Jyll Saskin Gales is a digital marketing consultant, coach and teacher. She worked at Google for 6 years, and is now a Marketing Mentor at The DMZ and Elevate, a Digital Marketing Instructor at Jelly Academy and her own Google Ads course, and a corporate trainer for businesses across industries and sizes. You can find her on TikTok @the_google_pro and Twitter @jyllsaskingales.
See other posts by Jyll Saskin Gales
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