Google Ads Audience Targeting & Best Practices

Audiences are integral to any high performing Google Ads account and yet we regularly audit prospective accounts where audiences are hugely underutilised. Not only are they a great way to directly target potential customers, they also give us another layer of data to optimise to and report on, allowing us to have a deep understanding of who an accounts customers really are. This in turn allows us to better target potential customers with more tailored creative and messaging which inevitably leads to better results.

There are many different types of audience targeting options, each with their own key benefits. We’ve categorised them by intent to convert based on where they are within the conversion funnel.

Bottom of Funnel (BOF) Audiences


Remarketing lists are used to target users who have already interacted with your website. This could be as broad as gathering site visitor lists, or as specific as a visitor who has got to the last stage of checkout but not yet purchased. These types of audiences have the highest intent and can be very lucrative, especially as they are already familiar with your brand and products.

Google automatically creates some remarketing audiences, including site visitors and converters, however it’s important to think about the steps a person takes during their user journey and ensuring any key steps that are worthwhile segmenting into an audience are covered here.

Audience strategies differ depending on account KPI’s but typically all site visitors and basket abandoner audiences should be applied to generic search campaigns with a positive bid modifier as these users have prior exposure to your brand and are therefore more likely to convert. If your KPI is new customer acquisition, you may want to exclude previous converter audiences to ensure spend is focused solely on those who are yet to convert.

There are multiple audience sources that can be used to collect remarketing audience data with the Google Ads tag and Google Analytics tags being the most used, however if you have an App or YouTube account these sources can also generate valuable remarketing data. If you have an app you can build audiences based on users who have recently interacted with or downloaded your app and by linking your YouTube account you can build audiences based on those who have viewed your video content or subscribed to your channel.

Customer Match

Customer match allows you to upload data that customers have previously shared with you to match this with users Google accounts. These audience lists can then be used to re-engage previous customers or to create similar audiences. There’s a handy template in audience manager that can be used to upload the data or various integrations available which ensure lists are automatically kept up to date as you get more audience data in your CRM. Best practice here is to upload as much information as possible to allow multiple data points for Google to match to.

Middle of Funnel (MOF) Audiences

Similar Audiences

Once you have 1000 matches in an existing customer match or remarketing audience, Google will automatically create a list of users who are similar to that list. This is very similar to the lookalike audiences we create on Facebook and can be a really effective way of finding new users similar to those that have already converted.

In-Market Audiences

In-Market audiences are based on signals that show what a user is actively searching for or planning to buy. These are great to apply as observation over search and shopping campaigns, and to target in display and video campaigns to find users who have already shown strong engagement or purchase intent. There’s an insightful feature within audience manager which indexes how many times more likely people within the audience you are viewing are likely to be in the in-market audience.

We’d recommend applying the top 5 indexed audiences when viewing your conversion audience:

Custom Audiences

Custom audiences, previously known as Custom intent and Custom affinity, were updated early last year to create a cleaner and simpler way of creating audiences. These are a very powerful audience type due to the ability to build ideal audiences based on defined keywords, urls or apps that are related to your product or service, and can be used on both video and display campaigns.

The main two audience building options are:

  • Purchase intention: by entering keywords that accurately describe your products or services, or interests that your target customer would be searching for
  • Specific search terms people have used on Google: by entering specific search terms that a user would use to find your business.
    A simple, yet effective method of doing this is to input your top performing search terms and allow the algorithm to build an audience based on this.

The audiences can then also be expanded by the following methods:

  • People who browse websites similar to: you can input a specific list of websites users that will be interested in your business are visiting. A great starting point for this is to input a list of competitor or similar business URLs.
  • People who use apps similar to: you can search the Google Play store directly and input apps that you think your ideal customer may be using. Your audience will then contain people who have downloaded or use apps similar to those that have been entered. Again, a great way to get started here is to build a list of competitor apps to target users already showing intent in the market.
  • People who have visited these places: here you can define the types of places where your ideal customer may spend time. These options can be as broad as Clothing shops to as specific as Marinas or Rental car agencies. This targeting is particularly useful if your business falls into a category where a potential customer is identifiable by physical places they visit.

Top of Funnel (TOF) Audiences

Detailed Demographics

Detailed demographics allow you to target users based on how Google categorises them into 5 main demographic types:

  • Parental Status: Parent categories split by ages of children
  • Marital Status: Whether a user is single, in a relationship or married
  • Education level: Whether a user is currently at university or their highest level of educational attainment
  • Home-Ownership status: Whether a user is a homeowner or renting
  • Employment: Target based on company size or industry

These audiences are in their nature more specific but can be really useful if your product or service is targeted to a particular demographic, or if you want to build more data on who your converters are by applying as observation to campaigns to be able to report on their performance.


Affinity audiences are based on a users interests and habits and are a broader targeting option to target users with more general interests in specific topics. Again, these are great audiences to apply as observations over search campaigns, and to then use this data to inform the best performing audiences to be targeted in broader display and video campaigns.

Similarly to In-Markets, Google Ads indexes these audiences against the audience you’re viewing. We’d recommend applying the top 5 indexed audiences when viewing your conversion audience:

Audience Best Practices

1) Prioritise the most relevant audiences first

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising to see how many accounts go straight for super broad topic & interest targeting on display and video campaigns first, rather than making use of the most relevant audiences that have already shown strong performance on search. We’d recommend prioritising targeting your highest performing audiences first, whether this is a particular in-market audience, a similar audience list or an affinity audience, as well as creating a custom audience containing your highest performing keywords and closely related URLs before broadening out targeting to increase campaign reach.

2) Regularly check in on audience performance & audience insights

The timeframe you should be checking in on audience performance will differ from account to account depending on how much data you have, but audience performance isn’t static and will change over time and by campaign type. Modifiers may need to be changed (if you’re using a manual bidding strategy) or audiences may need to be excluded based on their performance.

In-market & Affinity audiences in particular are regularly updated and expanded upon by Google so we often find the top 5 indexed audiences in any account can change to include newer audiences and should therefore be reviewed frequently to ensure the most relevant and highest indexed are applied.

3) Use audience segmented ad groups when using targeting

When applying audiences you can either select the “Targeting” or “Observation” setting. Targeting will narrow the reach of your campaign to only target the applied audiences, whereas Observation will not narrow the reach of your campaign, but will allow you to view the performance of an audience and apply positive or negative bid modifiers to it.

When using targeting rather than observation (typically in a display or video campaign), make sure you use audience segmented ad groups. This will allow you to clearly identify which audience is performing better or worse and optimise accordingly.

It’s also important to note that if you layer audiences of different types (e.g affinity & in-market) when using the targeting setting, the reach of the audience will be smaller as a user will need to be in both audiences to be targeted. When layering audiences of the same type e.g two in-market audiences, the reach will be greater as your audience pool will contain users in audience one or audience two.

4) Remember that people have complex interests

It can sometimes seem strange when Google shows a high indexed in market or affinity audience that you wouldn’t necessarily think was related to an interest in your product or service. However, it’s important to keep an open mind and remember that users have complex interests and will show interest in a multitude of different topics. The index data is based on how likely a user in that audience is to convert, so it’s worth adding the audience as observation and keeping a close eye on performance before making any judgements on whether the audience is specifically relevant to your product.

5) Refresh your customer match lists

Make sure you regularly refresh your customer match lists to ensure you’re giving Google the most up-to-date and relevant data to be able to find similar high value customers to target. Hint: automate this process!


So, are you making full use of audiences on your account?