One of the most powerful forms of digital advertising lies in the realm of search.
The debate between SEO and SEM isn’t nearly has heated today as it was back in 2014. That’s a good thing. We’ve all learned that successful digital campaigns need both marketing channels for sustainable success. Still, I’ve always been a proponent of SEM for a couple of important reasons.
First, SEM can, with enough budget, puts your ad / website at the top of any search. As foolish as that campaign goal might be, it does work for a short time. Another main strength of SEM is the quality of the data that it provides. Together, the ability to place your message on a search result and gather data from those searches result in SEM being a valuable tool in most digital marketers’ toolkit.
The key to success with SEM is targeting. We often talk about targeting by keyword but my experience is that audience targeting is even more important than the list of keywords a campaign pursues. This article shares my three favorite ways to build audiences for your search engine marketing campaigns on Google. Best of all, you can use these methods to generate audiences on other digital channels like Facebook and LinkedIn. And an added bonus: building search marketing campaigns from an audience perspective rather than from a keywords / content perspective let’s you keep the campaign objective central to the strategy.
Unlike SEO campaigns which can devolve to focus only on SERP rankings regardless of the actual impact on the business, audience-driven SEM campaigns can always be evaluated against any Key Performance Indicator (KPI).
The Basics of Audience Targeting
While some SEM campaigns can achieve KPI success by targeting via keywords there is an inherent risk that the keywords are not right. Unlike SEO, SEM campaigns can force ads to display even if the keywords aren’t worthwhile for the campaign. This leads to waste. Just search for any competitive business solutions and you’ll see examples of this flaw.
For example, search for “pest control.” In my market, I see 3 ads – one for mice/rodents, one for termites, and one for mosquitoes (yup, we still have mosquitoes in Dallas in October …). From previous engagements, I know that that these top-ranking ads are spending over $5.00/click to have this placement. Depending on what the searcher wants, two out of three ads are wasted and an erroneous click just cost the advertiser $5.00 for a useless visit.
Audience targeting has been a part of search marketing for years. Until a few years ago, campaign targeting was limited to location, device and time. Research indicates that 46% of all search activity is local search. You can immediately improve performance by simply including the location attribute to define your audience.
Use the location modifier to include AND exclude searchers based on their location. Even in the example of pest control, simply including location targeting would minimize the chances of someone seeing an ad in area the business doesn’t service.
You can apply this same basic audience targeting to both device (will someone searching on a specific device be more likely to be a customer?) and time (does the business benefit from site traffic or audience engagement at specific times or days of the week?)
The success of these basic demographics led to the addition of age, gender, and parental status in 2017. These basic data points may be all you need for a successful campaign and many traditional media planners would kill for just these six but Google was just getting started.
Here are my three favorite advanced audience targeting options on AdWords …
1. Affinity Audience Targeting
As Google has expanded its PPC offering to include display and pre-roll video on YouTube, it has added extensive targeting technology that competes with any other programmatic offering. Google now claims that advertisers can “reach people based on who they are, their interests and habits, what they’re actively researching, or how they have interacted with your business.”
Audience targeting can be performed on Google for Display, Search, and Video campaign types.
All of these campaign types can be targeted by “affinity.” Affinity audiences are comprised of Google identified users that have shown an interest or passion in specific content. Currently, there are 779 defined affinity audiences and they range from Apparel & Accessories to Vacation Packages.
Not all audiences can be targeted in every campaign type, so be sure to review the current list of audiences as you’re defining your search campaign. Today, there are even 33 pre-defined affinity audiences for business to business marketers.
To target your advertising to an affinity audience, build your display, search, or video campaign as you normally would. Then, go to the Audiences tab for the campaign you want to edit, select the Audiences function, and search, browse and/or review the affinity audiences recommended for the campaign.
ProTip: You can look at Affinity Audience Ideas to see how Google is interpreting your campaign, ad, or campaign’s performance. If Google’s ideas are close to to who you want to target, then your campaign is well constructed. If not, look to edit your ads, keywords (including exclusions) and placements to better target your audience.
Affinity audiences are generated based on a user’s online behavior, as tracked by Google, and can provide advertisers an efficient way to introduce a new product, service or brand to prospects that have already demonstrated an interest in similar solutions. Best of all, unlike traditional demographic profiles, affinity audiences overcome stereotype and assumptions.
2. Custom Audience Targeting
As the name implies, targeting with a Custom Audience allows a search advertiser to create a unique audience profile. This is an Affinity Audience just for you. Simply navigate in an ad campaign to the Audience Manager tab. Add a new custom audience and then begin to describe your ideal prospect’s interests, URLS that your audience may visit and/or apps that your target audience might use.
Google will begin to show estimates on impressions and a demographic profile as you build the audience. When you get the campaign tailored to your specific advertising goal, save the audience. The campaign will target people with any of the defined interests or who have searched for any of the defined terms. Custom audiences, like Affinity Audiences, are not available for all campaign types.
ProTip: Take the time to build custom audiences with an eye to future efforts. You can reuse these audiences in other ad groups and campaigns. This will help with persona development for other content and search activities.
Some audience targeting has been impacted by changes in access and privacy laws. As a result, campaigns are obligated to comply with Google’s Personalized advertising policy standards which can limit how much targeting and how much data collection a campaign can implement.
3. Targeting Through Remarketing
The last major audience targeting method for display, search and video ad campaigns on Google is through a remarketing audience list. As the name implies, a remarketing audience list contains visitor information from your digital assets. These site visitors are then targeted for the campaign’s ads.
Unlike the previously mentioned targeting methods, remarketing requires that you set up an audience source. This is done by adding a small snippet of code to your web site or landing page.
There are mulitple snippets including event snippets (for visitors who perform certain tasks) and global site tags. As part of the tag setup, you can select the data you want to collect. Though it seems challenging, setting up a site for remarketing is similar to setting up Google Analytics.
As soon as your digital assets are tagged for remarketing, your ads can be selectively shown in search, display and video campaigns. Benefits of remarketing include:
- Interact with people that have interacted with the website
- Audiences can be shown ads tailored to their behavior
- Remarketing on display can follow your audience across over 2 million Google network websites
ProTip: Remarketing targeting is powerful and can get complex very quickly. Start with ad campaigns that have broad filtering and refine as data is generated and you become more familiar with the technology.
Creating remarketing campaigns is very useful for targeting audiences that have already expressed interest in an advertiser’s products or services.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
An axiom of digital marketing, Garbage In, Garbage Out is important to remember when considering audience targeting on your search campaigns. Search engines are at cross- purposes with search advertising. While they want EVERY advertising dollar they can collect, they also have to show users content that matches the user’s needs.
There are times when these competing purposes conflict and that leads to audience targeting being far from perfect. Be sure to build time, budget, and effort into all SEM campaigns so you can test, test, and test again. Combine your testing with your audience targeting and you’ll create a recipe for success.
If the idea of creating and/or executing on a search advertising strategy seems overwhelming, know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services