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Custom Affinity vs Custom Intent Audiences


Google Ads is a hugely powerful tool for any business when trying to reach potential customers; however targeting and reaching the right audience isn’t always as straightforward as it may appear. In this edition of T-Time with Tillison, Mark explains Custom Affinity Audiences vs Custom Intent Audiences, when you should and shouldn’t use either and also how they compare to In-Market Audiences.

Custom Affinity Audiences vs Custom Intent Audiences: T-Time With Tillison

The Key Differences Between Custom Affinity vs Custom Intent Audiences

(0:48) Mark begins by defining Custom Affinity Audiences as more like a TV-style audience. They are much broader than Custom Intent Audiences. Custom Affinity will target a larger and wider audience group where as Custom Intent is much more specific.

With both Custom Affinity and Custom Intent you are asking Google to target people through using a list of keywords or URL’s you yourself have chosen.

The significant difference between the two is that with Custom Affinity you are telling Google I want to reach an audience who have searched for keywords like “these” or visiting URLs like “these”. With Custom Intent Audiences you are asking Google to target people who have Specifically searched for these keywords or Specifically visited these URLs.

If you are familiar with remarketing or retargeting from your own business than you will be aware that you can create an entire list of audiences based on people who have previously visited your own website or you can target audiences who have just visited a specific URL. Custom Intent follows a similar principle.

(2:25) In an example Mark likens this process of owning a doughnut making machine business. With Custom Intent Audiences you would be specifically targeting an audience who have visited your competitors’ websites and/or viewed articles around doughnut making machines. With Custom Intent, you will be targeting an audience actively researching this topic.

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What is a Custom Affinity Audience?

With Custom Affinity you would be targeting an audience who have visited pages similar to those pages rather than specifically those pages, so much broader. With Custom Affinity you will have much less control about which web pages these people have visited. Google won’t inform you of this but it will work it out itself and include those people on this audience list.

What is a Custom Intent Audience?

On the contrary, with Custom Intent you will have more control to tell Google the audience must have visited “x” website, or searched for a certain phrase during their search history – users are demonstrating “intent” around your target topic through website visits and/or search behaviour.

Custom Affinity vs Custom Intent vs In-Market Audiences

What is a Custom Intent Audience?

(3:35) You could argue that an In-Market Audience is Google’s own automatically created Custom Intent Audience. So with this, Mark compares it to someone who is looking to buy furniture. A user may end up within the In-Market Audience for furniture sellers if they are actively searching for furniture for sale. Google will automatically recognise this interest and apply them to this category. Bear in mind that Google will be using their search history and URL’s visited to support and better place them within the right audience group.

As with Custom Intent, a user is demonstrating intent through their search and/or browsing behaviour.

It’s important to remember a customer can end up both in this In-Market Audience as well as your Custom Affinity Audience if you were to set up this Affinity Audience with 5 or 6 furniture related URLs or keywords. On top of this it’s also possible that they could end up in your Custom Intent Audience however for this to happen as well they would have had to specifically searched for the keywords and/or URLs you have listed.

(4:52) So to summarise, you will have a bit less control over the In-Market Audience as lists are created by Google itself. Another thing to always bear in mind is that Google may not always have an In-Market Audience specific to what you sell. Customer Affinity is much broader and Google will expand your keywords listed to reach this wider audience while Custom Intent Audiences will only target users who have specifically searched your keywords and URL’s listed.

How to Use Affinity, In Market and Custom Intent Audiences

Audience Targeting vs Observation Audiences

Custom Intent, Affinity and In-Market Audiences can be added to Search campaigns, Shopping campaigns, or to Display campaigns.

In all cases, you should take care to choose the appropriate targeting option depending on your advertising goals:

  1. Target: when you choose to use an audience as a “target” audience, this combines with other targeting options you may have chosen – keywords, for example. This means that only users matching your keywords and who are members of the audience would see your ads.
  2. Observation: using the same example, adding an observation audience means that you would target everyone matching your keywords, but also get specific performance data about the audience you added – Impressions, CTR, CPC, conversion rate, CPA, ROAS etc.

Examples of Audience Targeting in Search Campaigns

If you are an Independent School using Google Ads, you may consider Search campaigns like these:

  1. High intent, specific keywords in Campaign 1, with no audiences added. In here, you might create Ad Groups targeting keywords like “independent school [location]”, “independent schools”, “private schools”, “private boys school” etc. These are high intent keywords, where users are specifically searching for the service you provide.
  2. Broader keywords in Campaign 2, “schools in [location]”, “boys schools”, “girls schools” etc. However, that will match a lot of users searching for state schools, which won’t convert anywhere near as well as the search terms in the first campaign above.
    • We can narrow the audience using a Custom Affinity Audience, choosing affinities with other independent or private schools and with other premium or luxury brands or activities your customers might have an affinity with.
    • Remember, in this instance, you should choose “target”, rather than observation. This should then exclude the majority of the audience you don’t want to see or click on your ads.
    • You could also add an “In Market” audience to this campaign, targeting users in the market for a private or independent school

Examples of Audience Targeting in Shopping Campaigns

For eCommerce stores using Google Shopping campaigns, you may consider using audiences like these examples.

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Let’s assume that your eCommerce store sells fast fashion dresses, rather than high-ticket, luxury items. You might create a Shopping campaign, segmenting categories in your “Dresses” Product Type.

  1. Affinity audiences can be added to this campaign as Targets. You should pick other fast fashion brands, whether those are specifically for dresses or not, but ideally fast fashion for women. Remember, when you “target” an audience, users need to be in that Affinity audience and be using search terms which match your products. This should exclude most of the audience which has an affinity for more expensive dresses and therefore increase CTR, conversion rate and ROAS.
  2. You might also consider adding Affinity audiences as observation instead, then monitoring the performance of those audiences and making decisions to include or exclude them based on the performance data.
  3. You could create the same Dresses campaign, but either add an in-market audience as a target, which could significantly limit the audience size, or you could add an in-market audience as observation and monitor the performance. With the observation audience performance data, you could choose to exclude that audience if it performs poorly, or make manual bid adjustments, or enable the machine learning to make adjustments for you when using Automated Bidding strategies.
  4. Finally, you could create a Dresses campaign and add Custom Intent Audiences, created with the web addresses and keywords used by your direct competitors. As before, these could be added either as observation (everyone, but with extra data about this audience), or as a target (only people in this audience and whose searches match your products).

Examples of Audience Targeting in Display Campaigns

Finally, considering Display Campaign targeting options, these audiences could be used in the example of a high-end Insurance Broker marketing campaign, with the objectives of building brand trust, or awareness of offers on luxury car insurance.

  1. Create a Display Campaign targeting an Affinity audience, with affinity with luxury car brands. This audience is fairly broad and would be fairly large. We would recommend considering a combination of this option with Topic targeting to limit reach and spend.
    • Remember, you can add multiple Affinity audiences and monitor the performance of each (better data), rather than adding all brands to one audience.
    • Equally, you could create ads specific to each affinity audience – an Ad Group with ads for Mercedes, targeting the Mercedes affinity audience.
  2. Create a Display Campaign targeting Custom Intent audiences.
    • One ad group using an audience targeting “mercedes” searches and Mercedes websites and using Mercedes ads and a landing page for Mercedes insurance.
    • A second ad group using an audience targeting “bentley” searches and Bentley websites and using Bentley ads and a landing page for Bentley insurance.
  3. Create a Display Campaign targeting an In Market audience
    • Here, we’re most likely limited to a in market audience for “car insurance”, which might be too broad to be effective. However, you could combine this audience with Topic targeting to only show ads on sites related to Mercedes, using the example above.

There are lots of options to choose from. As always, you should choose which you feel gives you the best chance of success, and test and measure performance and optimise the targeting, your bids and your ads to improve performance.

Best Practices for Using Custom Intent, Custom Affinity and In-Market Audiences

The three different categories can be described as being layered in terms of your own control over who it targets as well as the size of the potential audience. Now with this, some problems may arise in where you are focusing your campaign.

You will not be able to use the same Custom Intent Audience created for a Display campaign as you would for a YouTube campaign for example. This is because as it stands Google doesn’t allow you to factor in visited URLs when campaigning via YouTube. It will however, do this through the use of “search terms”.

(6:25) While they are both Custom Intent Audiences they will end up differing between Display or YouTube campaign ads. Mark goes on to explain you’d really want to test each of these in order to see which ones work best for you and your particular campaign. It’s also strongly recommended that if you are doing Display campaigns or YouTube campaigns you overlay this targeting; as well as perhaps testing each audience group to see which is performing the best in terms of response and conversion rates.

It’s always advisable to overlay any or all campaigns with topic targeting. We will know that the audience are researching your topic, or In-market, however you really don’t want the ads to appear alongside content that just isn’t even closely related to the market that they are in. An example Mark uses is ensuring that an ad targeted at someone in the market for dining furniture would not best be suited alongside content related to Peppa Pig.

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