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Gmail Targeting: What's Changed & What Should You Do?

Whether you’re a seasoned Gmail advertiser or looking to try out the channel for the first time, take note; times are changing! Google’s updates to its privacy settings mean that Gmail targeting no longer looks at the contents of a user’s inbox, which has been welcomed by much of the security-conscious public. However, this has wider implications about the use of the Gmail platform for advertising purposes. Here we discuss the changes, and what you can be doing as an advertiser to bring your Gmail advertising campaigns into the new era.

As an agency, over the last year we’ve seen interest in Gmail advertising grow significantly. Initially, the main intrigue and draw to Gmail centred around the targeting options. Google’s ability to “scan” a user’s inbox meant that advertisers could target audiences specifically based on who they received promotional emails from, making it a ripe environment for competitor targeting. Other targeting options, such as Keyword targeting, allowed advertisers to align with the content of a user’s inbox to reach niche target audiences. These days, privacy is at the forefront of users’ minds, and with increasing public opinion to change their targeting, Google have answered the call. However, this was met with some concern from advertisers, given the potential knock-on effects to audience targeting.

What's gone?

  • Topic Targeting

The Google-created topic audiences that were based on the themes of a user’s inbox, created through the identification of keywords in email, has gone from Gmail. This option is still available across Display campaigns, where website content is scanned.

What's changed?

  • Keyword Targeting

Keyword or Domain targeting, as it was frequently used for, has been altered to accommodate the new privacy settings in Gmail. Rather than scanning a user’s inbox for keywords, Google uses keywords that appear on a user’s search, YouTube and browser history. Although not completely eradicated, it’s certainly a significant move away from the Contextual Keyword targeting that we’ve used before.

What's new?

With the removal of two major targeting methods, it was a certainty that Google would release some exciting new features to fill that targeting shaped void.

  • Custom Intent

This allows Google to create a custom audience for you, based on what you already know about your target audience. They’ll determine that a user’s recent online activity (web searches, browser history and more) indicates that they are who you want to be targeting. Input URLs and keywords that you know your desired audience will be interested in and Google will do the rest.

  • Life Event Targeting

This is great for reaching users who are in the midst of a major milestone in their life. Although currently limited to just three main categories: moving house, getting married or graduating, this proves to be a really useful tool for capturing an audience as they undergo a huge life event.

  • Remarketing

The moment we’ve all been waiting for, we can now use Gmail as a remarketing feature. Just like with search and display remarketing, you can use Gmail to target those who have already interacted with your website. This is really helping to bridge the gap between prospecting and direct response activity that has been missing across display campaigns for a while. Of the Remarketing campaigns we’ve been trialling so far, we’ve certainly seen an increase in direct response across the board, which is a great sign of what’s ahead.

  • Gmail-Specific Campaign Types

With the arrival of AdWords Next, we’ve witnessed the creation of Gmail specific campaigns, so we no longer have to use Gmail as a Display campaign placement, something that makes managing the campaigns, reporting and optimisation infinitely better.

“But I was previously only using topic and keyword targeting, what do I do know?”

Although you may be concerned that two of the most frequently used Gmail targeting methods have been either altered or removed, this provides brilliant opportunity to begin testing all of the exciting new features. Although Life Event targeting may only prove beneficial to certain advertisers, it’s almost a guarantee that both Remarketing and Custom Intent are going to be useful for anyone who runs Gmail activity. Not only this, but we’re still able to use Affinity, Customer Match and Demographic based audiences, so there’s no need to be worried at all!

What have we seen so far?

As a whole, the changes have been really welcomed and we’ve found as an the agency that it definitely leaves users more open to the idea of Gmail promotional advertising with the knowledge that their inbox hasn’t been scanned. Although these changes have meant that a number of advertisers have had to overhaul their strategy, they bring Gmail more in line with other channels in incorporating prospecting and remarketing, and results are already looking promising.

There are definitely some tweaks still to be made, (life event targeting could do with broadening), but the alterations are certainly a positive step and indicate that Gmail is now being treated with the same attention as Search and Display. If there’s ever a time to start Gmail advertising, it’s now.