Google's custom audiences could be the answer to the digital marketer's prayers

Reaching your ideal customers

Julien Renaud, account manager at comtogether


Wouldn’t it be great if you could reliably reach the people interested in your products or services with little to no error margin or waste of funds? Google Ads’ custom audiences now makes this possible. Whether you are a large company or a modest start up with a limited budget; whether you are solidly implanted in your field, up and coming in an established market, or looking to carve out a new market altogether; the tools are there to ensure your content reaches the right eyes at the right time. All you need is the know-how and ingenuity to make it happen. As a quick thought experiment, imagine your ideal customer. Where does he or she go on the web? What websites does he or she visit, what pages? How much time does he or she spend there? Do you have good, data-driven answers to these questions? If yes, good. If not, then now you know what you have to do. In both cases, read on. This article will provide some in-roads on how to approach and make the most of Google’s new custom audiences.

Google Ads’ new custom audiences

As you may know, Google Ads continues to evolve and adapt the way it allows advertisers to target audiences for ad campaigns. As of September 2020, the custom intent and custom affinity audience functions have now been rolled into one under the “custom audiences” banner.
Custom Audience New Interface
Custom affinity allowed you to target users based on their interest profiles, while custom intent audiences allowed you to target users based on specific purchasing intent according to recent search history and behavior. To put it simply, this is the same difference between targeting someone who is into photography, versus targeting someone who is looking to buy a new digital SLR camera. Despite the merge of these two products, their distinct functionalities have been preserved and the possibilities for campaigns have been streamlined and improved. For example, you can now create a custom intent audience for a YouTube campaign using only URLs. Input the variables to hone in on your ideal customer profile, and Google will suggest segments from its database to help you build your custom audience, taking into account your campaign goals and bidding strategy as it does so.

Harnessing the power of custom audiences

The potential of building custom audiences around URLs, apps, and locations visited—in addition to keywords—is tremendous, but you have to think creatively about how to operationalise them. Here are just a few ideas to get you going.
  • You can target competitor websites, or their most relevant pages, and gain access to their viewers or customers. You can do this discretely as there is no external trace of which URLs you use to build an audience.
  • Up until now, re-targeting was based solely on traffic going through your own website. You now can gain access to third-party audiences for re-targeting purposes. Trying to break into an established market? With custom audiences, you can gain direct access to market leaders’ customer base.
  • You can use display ads to reach key audiences by targeting highly-ranked websites on the first page of Google searches for specific keywords which you aren’t able to rank for organically.
  • You can use custom audiences to build your own SEO ranking. You might do this, for example, by targeting specific segments with ads that link to highly relevant pages on your own website. Note that viewing time is an important contributing factor to SEO ranking.
  • If you are a B2B company operating in an account-based marketing environment, you can use these tools to identify potential clients, partners, and contacts. You might, for example, target URLs from a prospect’s website that are destined for its own employees.
  • The power of custom audiences can also help you to further narrow your targeting on LinkedIn and Facebook’s advertising platforms.

Creating the right custom audiences

Building custom audiences and deploying nimble marketing campaigns is likely to help you significantly grow your business. But how do you even build a custom audience in the first place, you might ask? There is no single answer to this question, but one thing to keep in mind is that it’s best to steer clear of guesswork where you can. It’s great to follow an intuition and go with your gut, but it could be costly if it turns out to be a dead-end. So if you are going to test, set out the right parameters and quickly validate whether results match your hypothesis or not. We live in a world of abundant data and there’s no reason not to ground your decisions in fact. One way we like to do this at comtogether is to address our clients’ needs in a workshop setting. These workshops lead to thorough research on what we can find out about their ideal customers. The outcome is a list of customer profiles, or personae, that include details on purchasing habits, online behaviour, as well as “must have”and “latent” needs.
Example of audience workshop outcomes

Before this can take place, of course, it’s important that our clients have a good idea of who their desired customers are. If this is an open question, that’s not a problem. It just means adding an extra step that involves interviews to establish ideal customer personae. Once these are established, we can truly begin to tap into the power of custom audiences.

If we want to be truly thorough, we can go further and organise upwards of five face-to-face interviews with representative individuals from the targeted audiences. These in-depth exchanges will identify what kinds of stories they are telling themselves, their worries, their goals, as well as their personal and professional interests, all of which are valuable insights for your campaign strategy.

A brief case-study

To give a concrete example, we recently ran a custom audience responsive display and YouTube campaign for a financial company targeting high-net-worth individuals in Switzerland. We identified the principal locations these personae were most likely to live in or visit, which venues they were likely to frequent, and which websites they viewed. We then worked with our client to compile a list of all these websites categorised either by city or by interest.

For the custom audiences that targeted cities, we included all the websites of the physical locations—such as hotels, high-end restaurants, Polo and Golf clubs, etc.—that are routinely visited by high-net-worth individuals. Alongside these, we also targeted specific interests, such as luxury sport, luxury travel, luxury property, and so on.

You may decide you want to run your own workshop to really hone in and identify the interests and behaviours of your target audiences. Google Ads’ custom audiences will help you reach your goals, but the output will be relative to the effort you put in. The more in-depth you can go, the better.

Remember that it’s not all about the tools, it’s how you put these tools to good use. Want to learn more about building audiences around third-party website traffic? Need help coordinating the research around your ideal customers? Maybe you could use some support in putting these insights about customer audiences into practice? Don’t hesitate to get in touch! We at comtogether would be happy to help.

About the author

Having run two agencies over ten years, Julien brings his business development background to the team. He is highly respected by both his colleagues and clients for having reached Zen Master Level 10.

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