Top 5 Tips for a Search Audience Strategy in 2021

One of the most common mistakes seen across search accounts whilst conducting audits is that a large portion of accounts that have a low number of audiences applied to their campaigns, often only applying high-performance audiences. Frequently the logic behind this is that search is intent-driven rather than audience-driven, so audiences aren’t given the attention they require.

Before digging into our top tips, it may be best to clarify a couple of points; within audiences, Google allows customers to add audiences on ‘targeting’ or ‘observation’. Targeting means that you will only bid for users who are in a defined audience, allowing you to target a specific group of users. Observation means that you are only looking at audiences for performance, and changing bids based on their performance data.

The metric that is judged when auditing is audience depth; defined as the percentage of traffic coming through observational audiences against the total volume of traffic on the account/campaign. As a rule of thumb, I tend to aim for 75-80% audience depth within campaigns to maximize data learnings. 

1- Audience Data Is Food For Your Bid Strategy.

With the complete shift to automated bidding over the last few years, search marketers have become increasingly reliant on the power of a bid strategy. Whilst a bid strategy will take care of a lot of the grunt work for you, managing bids and interpreting data signals, when it comes to audiences, it is the responsibility of the account manager to give first-party audience data to the bid strategy. Audience data is food for your bid strategy. The more insightful data that you can provide (with a greater audience depth) to your bid strategy, the more educated the decision-making of a bid strategy will be – increasing your overall performance. Third-Party audience segments will be interpreted by the bid strategy 

2- Don’t Just Apply Every Available Audience.

An interesting way I have seen businesses approach search audiences is to apply every single available audience from Google – meaning they have nearly 100% audience depth. Whilst this satisfies checks for Audience depth, a rigorous search auditor would also be looking for data segmentation within audience depth. If an account has 1000/1000 clicks flowing through observational audiences, but this is segmented over 500 different audience groupings, the learnings taken from these audiences are going to be very limited (if there can be any takeaway at all!). Data needs to be collated in order for conclusions to be drawn on their performance. Whilst aiming for a high audience depth, it is important to be doing this within the lowest number of audiences possible in order to avoid data segmentation. 

3- Make Sure You Include Poor Performing Audiences Too.

One of the ways many businesses think about audiences is from a cross-channel perspective – only including those audiences that convert well on their impression-based channels (Display & Facebook). What this leads to on search, is a bid strategy that does not get a holistic view of audience performance. We know from average search conversion rates that the majority of users don’t convert – so it’s important to be including low converting audiences into our strategy so that the strategy decreases bids for these audiences. The goal here is to feed your bid strategy as many signals as possible to ensure it is increasing bids for users likely to convert, and decreasing on those unlikely to do so. 

4- Use 1st Party Data As Frequently As Possible.

With the end of cookies nigh, the future of audience targeting on Google is uncertain – but the world of digital marketing will always adapt and change as the ecosystem evolves. One of the best pieces of advice for search accounts to prepare for the upcoming changes will be to use first-party data as frequently as possible. First-party data can be used in many ways – to target/exclude existing customers (dependent on their business model and whether users convert more than once) and to build out “similar to” audiences (also called lookalike audiences) in order to add to your search audience strategy. Google also allows you to take a cross-section of your first-party audience list and gives you Google In-market/affinities which indexes highly within your converters – effectively giving you which audiences your converters are likely to be in. The more reliant you are on your first-party data, the less likely it is that you will be impacted by changes to the ecosystem around you.

5- Draw Insights Across Channels.

A search audience strategy is undoubtedly different because it is an intent-driven channel, but a good place to start would be to draw insights from other channels you are running. There are two types of audiences to consider when looking cross channel;  those audiences that convert well, and those that attract a large volume of users. This will give you a good starting point to find high converting audiences as well as some audiences which will move you towards the goal of increasing audience depth with the minimum number of audience groupings. 

Closing Thoughts 

Search Marketers should pay more attention to their first-party audience depth and not rely so heavily on their bid strategies to do all of the work for them – you now have the top 5 tips to assist you in organizing a comprehensive audience strategy for your search campaigns!


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