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3 Tips for Effective Paid Search Audience Management

Audience targeting is one of the most powerful levers paid search marketers have at their disposal. With limited budgets, complicated service/product offerings, and aggressive goals, harnessing the power to hone in on subsets of searchers is a must for a successful program. The challenge with audience targeting is that paid search advertisers can fall prey to pitfalls such as over-complication: too many segments can quickly become hard to manage and make remarketing efforts messy.

By following a few guidelines, you can avoid common pitfalls and set your program up for success.

1) Ensure there is a business reason behind each specific audience you're targeting.

There are two main reasons to isolate audiences from the rest of your traffic: to serve a unique experience or to bid differently based on performance.

If your use case doesn't fall into one of these two scenarios, consider that it may be more work to tactically break out the subset of people than it is worth in reward. However, there are exceptions. For instance, you may need the ability to report on an audience separately using metrics not available in the user interface (i.e. 3rd party conversions). But if that's not the case, plan carefully so you don't inadvertently overcomplicate your account.

2) Prioritize audiences based on client objective.

In most cases, it's possible for searchers to meet the criteria of multiple AdWords remarketing and Customer Match audiences. Because users can fit criteria for multiple lists, it's important to develop an audience hierarchy to prioritize them. For example, if shopping cart abandoners of high value products are worth more to an advertiser than page visitors of those high value products, the more important audience should be prioritized and trump other audiences.

An audience hierarchy can be enforced either via audience negatives (if using AdWords' Target & Bid setting for audiences) or by bid strategy (if using the Bid Only setting). In the example below, if using the Target & Bid setting, campaigns targeting the “Cart Abandoners: High Value Product” audience wouldn’t have any negative audiences. This ensures that any searcher falling into that audience (regardless of what other audiences he/she falls into) is served the experience for the highest value product. For campaigns targeting the lowest priority audience, (“Page Visitors: Low Value Product” in this example), add all higher priority audiences as negatives to the lower priority campaigns. If using the Bid Only setting, simply bid most aggressively for top priority audiences and less for lower priority audiences, as search engines respect the audience with the highest modifier.

Be methodical about which buckets searchers can fall into and ensure you're using audience negatives, which prevent ads from showing to members of a particular audience, to properly shepherd traffic to the correct audience. Keep in mind that if you are targeting Customer Match & remarketing audiences separately, overlap must be taken care of at the campaign or ad group negative list level but cannot be addressed within custom combination lists.

Keep up with this! Negative audiences should be evaluated and possibly updated every time you update your lists, add new lists or update targeting in campaigns and ad groups. Do yourself a favor and save a running document to keep track of changes. It's difficult to audit and clean up later if you aren't diligent, so keep current and make this an ongoing effort. If you let it slip, you could jeopardize the efficacy of your program!

3) Always keep your focus on the areas of greatest return.

It's easy to get bogged down by all of the possible segments! Keep your focus on what moves the needle for your account and don't let the tiny audience that doesn't perform cause distractions.

Prioritize testing based on audience size and performance: launching experience tests across 50 audiences at once might sound like a good idea, but can quickly become cumbersome to manage, report, and keep a client updated on. Gradual testing plans that work in a phased approach often produce bigger impacts and happier clients, as it's easier to manage, identify what is working, apply learnings, and keep the client informed.

Remember, audience targeting is powerful, but only when used correctly! These three tips will ensure your audience targeting and larger remarketing program are effective and organized.