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What are combined audiences in Google Ads?

Audiences are integral to successful digital marketing. They allow us to target the right people at the right time, boosting conversion rates and limiting wasted spend. However, if you’ve ever run a PPC campaign within Google Ads, you’ll know that there’s an enormous variety of audiences to choose from. Affinities, in-markets, detailed demographics, website visitors, similar audiences… the list goes on. Many of these are defined by Google and split into subcategories, making them very specific (looking at you, ‘in-market for car Transmission Repair’). This of course makes them comprehensive and powerful, but often overwhelming in number. They are also fairly inflexible by virtue of being defined by Google. If only there were a way to simplify your audience strategy whilst also gaining more control over who exactly you want to target.

Well, combined audiences allow you to do precisely that. This Google Ads feature means you can put various audiences together in one customised ‘bucket’ of consumers, then apply that one combined audience to your campaigns. The benefits are clear: ease of management by cutting down on long lists of audiences; more impactful reporting to clients and stakeholders by simplifying the audience structure; and the ability to align your audience strategy with that of the wider business, speaking to specific personas that represent your target market.

How do I use Google Ads combined audiences?

Combined audiences are remarkably easy to create:

  1. Navigate to the audiences tab within Google Ads, then create a new audience.
  2. Choose a campaign or ad group (don’t worry, you can apply the new audience elsewhere once it’s been created).
  3. Navigate to the browse tab, click ‘Combined audiences’ and then ‘New Combined Audience’Combined audiences screenshot


  4. From here you can start to assemble your combination out of the building blocks of Google Ads audiences. You can choose from in-markets, detailed demographics, affinities, and remarketing lists:Creating a new combined audience


  5. Choose your conditions. (OR) means someone must fit into at least one of the audiences. Narrow your audience with (AND), meaning someone must fit into all the constituent audiences. Exclude audiences with (NOT), meaning if someone falls into that audience they won’t be included within the combined audience.
  6. Hit ‘create’ and then ‘save’ and, voila, you’ve made and applied your first combined audience.


The power of combined audiences

Combined audiences can be used in different ways to achieve a myriad of marketing goals.

First, and most obviously, they can be used to clean up your audience lists. Instead of having a long and confusing list of dozens or even hundreds of individual audiences applied to each campaign or ad group, you can create a few simple and meaningful groupings, the performance of which can then be understood and acted upon by adjusting their bid modifier.

They can also help you align with wider business objectives. If your business has an idea of the target market they are going for, combined audiences can be used to build personas which represent that target market with a level of precision pre-defined audiences cannot. You can create a few of these ‘personas’ and then apply them to specific campaigns to target different sets of consumers. You can even use this to adjust your messaging depending on the persona, helping you develop a mature targeting strategy while retaining ease of management.

Finally, combined audiences can be used to create bespoke groupings which include certain consumers whilst excluding others. For instance, you could create an Engaged Non-Converters list by including a few in-markets and website visitors, but excluding users who have converted on-site. This is another way to create manageable yet powerful groupings using combined audiences.


Potential pitfalls

Combined audiences are not without their downsides, and it’s important to think carefully about whether they’re right for your Google Ads campaign.

First, if you’re overzealous with the ‘AND’ combinations and exclusions, they can quickly become too specific. For instance, an audience for highly educated cat owners (Cat Lovers AND has an Advanced Degree AND excludes Dog Lovers) is likely to contain too few people to be worthwhile, unless your product is very specific and you’re OK with lower volumes. It’s also important to note here that Google-defined audiences are not perfect, so be careful with excluding too many groups.

Another key hurdle is that there is currently no way to break down or view the combined audience into its constituent parts. You can’t even view them. This means that you will never be quite sure which element within a combined audience is driving strong performance, and which ones are potentially holding it back. Thus, if your audience strategy is constantly evolving and you’re looking to regularly swap in and out different audiences, or if you are interested in the minutiae of individual audience performance, then combined audiences are probably not for you.


Why should you use Google Ads combined audiences?

As discussed, combined audiences are not for everyone. However, for smaller campaigns they offer a powerful mix of flexibility and simplicity. Group up your audiences into personas according to business objectives, apply them to your campaigns, and watch them gather performance data in a form that is easily digestible and actionable.

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