All the Ways Smart Google Advertisers Target Audiences, Not Keywords [Infographic]

how advertisers use google audiences for targeting

“Good morning, Benton Gazette.”

“Hi, I’d like to place an ad in the paper. I want a quarter page spread every weekday. I’m selling luxury vacations to Hawaii and I want to reach lots of people.”

“No problem… uh, I’m happy to place the ad for you, but are you sure that your audience is really in Benton?”

“Why not? They might be. I’m putting ads wherever I can. I just want to reach lots of people.”

“Uh… okay, Up to you.”


Even when it comes to print ads, targeting your audience is super important. Placing ads in random publications is going to be a waste of time or money.

All the more so on the internet, where Google searchers and website visitors can and do come from all over the planet and all walks of life.

PPC and display advertising need to be targeted to be effective. Thankfully, targeting options have increased as the years have gone by. Let’s take a look at the changes and the options you have today.


Google Adwords, which launched in 2000, offered advertisers a self-serve way to buy ad appearances for specific keyword phrases. As Google explained in their press release, “The result is a highly targeted ad that appears only if a user enters the same keywords or phrase that an advertiser has purchased, ensuring advertisers will be delivered a prequalified visitor and will not pay for “off target” impressions.”

The Google Display Network and Adsense had their beginnings in 2003. Targeting was very much in the hands of Google and where Google thought your ad fit the context of the website best.

Targeting in the display network did evolve to let the advertiser choose specific websites or website visitor demographics that he wanted to target.

Still, targeting was much more about what the audience was searching for or reading at the moment of the ad being shown, and not about the individuals themselves – their demographics, interests and behavior outside of the current interaction.

That’s changed.


What is Google audience targeting?

Google audience targeting is the ability to show your Adwords Search or Display ads to people based on their demographics (age, gender, household income, parental status), life events or proven interest in learning about or buying what you have to offer (gleaned by Google from browsing history). You can also target your customers or subscribers based on their email addresses, as well as people who have visited or performed a particular action on your website.

On Search

Demographic targeting

Google enabled demographic targeting for search in 2016. While Search ads are targeted based on intent (someone is obviously interested in wool sweaters if she has searched for “wool sweater”), it may not be with the exact intent for what you offer (if you’re advertising men’s wool sweaters and your searcher is a female searching for herself, your ad is not going to end up in a purchase).

For search ads, you can currently target based on:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Household income – only in USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand

You can target certain demographics, exclude other ones, or increase your bid for a certain demographic audience if they are worth more to you. See some great examples and case studies where demographic targeting made ads more effective and increased conversion.

Location, language, device

People’s devices can give clues about them to Google – clues that are helpful to you as an advertiser in knowing whether they’d be a relevant marketing audience for your product or service.

Demographic targeting based on device includes:

  • Type of device (duh)
  • Language and location – takes into account the language your search terms are in, the language your browser is set to, which geo-version of Google you use (.com,, .ca), and your IP address, among other factors

Interest Targeting

Limiting the showing of your ads to audiences that have shown interest in your niche and what you have to offer can limit clicks from people who aren’t your ideal audience and result in better ROI.

Search now has several options for interest targeting:

In-market audiences: people likely to be interested in buying what you have to offer.

Google assembles these audiences by using machine learning to analyze people’s searches, which websites they visit and how often. Based on this behavior, Google can identify which people are likely to be in the market for a given product or service.

Here Wordstream gives a great overview of in-market audiences and how to use them to best effect.

Remarketing audiences: people who have already visited/performed an action on your website.

You know when you visit a website one time and then their ads follow you around everywhere you go on the Internet? Yeah, that’s creepy.

But remarketing when done wisely can give you a much lower cost per conversion. And remarketing when done on the Google Search Network (also known as RLSA – Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) has all the benefits while completely eliminating the chances of being seen as “creepy,” because the searcher searched for your keywords. They’re actively looking, and you’re showing them a super-relevant ad that will remind them of your website and what you offer. Win? Win.

Customer match audiences: people who have done business with you in the past and whose email address you have.

If you’ve had a prior exchange with a customer or potential customer who directly gave you her email address (to make a purchase, sign up for your email list or sign up for a loyalty program), you can use that email address to target ads to her. Similar to remarketing (but even stronger, because they’ve actively expressed interest in a business relationship with you), customer match can increase conversions at lower cost to you.

If you have your customer email list ready, here’s a step-by-step guide to setting it up.

On Display

The Display Network has traditionally been ahead of Search when it comes to targeting options, and that still holds true. Display has all the targeting options listed above, plus a few more. We’ll explain any option that wasn’t yet discussed, or has a special application when it comes to Display.

Demographic targeting

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Household income – in USA, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand
  • Parental status – for your display ads, you can target “parents” or “no parents.” The ramifications when it comes to child-related products or services is obvious.
  • Type of device
  • Language
  • Location

Interest targeting

In-market audiences: people likely to interested in buying what you have to offer.

Affinity audiences/custom affinity audiences: people likely to be interested in learning about what you have to offer.

Affinity audiences hit a higher part of the funnel than in-market audiences. Affinity audiences are groupings based on Google’s observations of people’s interests (websites they visit to read articles, for example). Just because you frequent gardening websites doesn’t mean you’re in the market for gardening tools, but it does mean you’ll probably be interested in at least hearing about the newest gadgets for your garden.

Custom affinity audience give you more control over the categories used to create the affinity audiences.  Here are 3 strategies for using custom affinity audiences to get great campaign results.

Life events: people just before or after a major life event such as graduation, marriage or moving.

When are people most likely to be interested in professional help with a resume? If you’re about to graduate, that’s a prime time. How about a sofa? Maybe if you’re about to get married and furnish an apartment?

Whether you offer professional resume help, sofas or any other offering for which a life event is a likely motivator to buy, you can now reach those audiences on YouTube and Gmail. (Not the rest of the Display Network – yet.)

Remarketing audiences: people who have already visited/performed an action on your website.

It’s good to know that despite the “creepy remarketing” memes going around the internet, data proves that even display remarketing ads are more effective than standard display ads. Apparently creepiness is overrated.

Customer match audiences: people who have done business with you in the past and whose email address you have.

On Display, customer match is only available for YouTube, Gmail and Shopping ads.

That’s a lot of targeting options! Here’s an infographic to sum them all up:

this is an infographic explaining google audience targeting for advertisers

Progress Makes Perfect

Targeting options have changed immeasurably in the past 17 years. Let’s hope they keep changing for the better – giving audiences more relevant ads, and businesses more relevant customers!

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