If you’ve found your way to this blog post, you’re likely like me in the sense that you’re curious about Google’s audiences and how they’re created. The exact algorithm which Google uses to create audience lists is a heavily guarded secret, much like the recipe of Coca-Cola and Colonel Sander’s Original KFC recipe.
Personally, I’m fascinated by the fact that Google can take audience lists, like custom match lists, for example, and use those to create “similar to” audience lists, allowing us advertisers to reach potential customers who may have never interacted with our brand before.
While I may not be able to provide you with an exact answer as to how Google determines audiences, I hope to provide you with some insights into Google audiences, as well as some actionable takeaways on how to use the audience lists Google provides you.
What is a Google Audience and Where Do You Find Them?
Where to Find Them
Before digging into the ‘behind the scenes’ audience stuff, allow me to take a moment to touch on the different types of Google audiences and where you’ll find them.
In order to effectively use audiences, you need to be aware of how to find them. You’ll find all of your audiences in the Audience Manager in your shared library. In there, even if it’s your first time there, you’ll find your audiences (Google automatically creates some basic remarketing lists for you), as well as the type of audience it is.
Furthermore, you’ll be able to see the size of each list based on which network that list is compatible with. As of now, there are four networks Google allows us to use audiences in. Those networks are Search, Display, YouTube, and Gmail. Not every audience list is compatible with each network, so be sure to check which lists are compatible with which network before you start building out your strategy!
What is an Audience
An audience is just one of the many ways Google allows us to better target our potential customers and our target markets. According to Google, “Audiences are groups of people with specific interests, intents, and demographics, as estimated by Google. You can select from a wide range of categories – such as fans of sport and travel, people shopping for cars, or specific people that have visited your site.”
Audiences are truly a powerful and valuable part of any paid search marketer’s arsenal, allowing us to better navigate the massive Search, Display, YouTube, and Gmail markets.
Types of Audiences
Now, I’ll list the types of audiences that exist, as well as a brief description of each. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most commonly used list types.
- Affinity Audiences: Audiences to reach potential customers at scale and make them aware of your business.
- Custom Affinity: Like an affinity audience but can be specifically tailored to better fit your brand.
- In-Market: Designed for advertisers focused on getting conversions from likely buyers. Reach consumers close to completing a purchase.
- Life Events: Reach people around important life milestones, such as marriage, graduation, buying a new home, etc. Only compatible with YouTube and Gmail.
- Custom Intent: Define your own audience, using keywords, URLs and/or apps related to products and services your ideal customer may be researching.
- Remarketing: Reach people who have previously engaged with your products/services.
- Website Visitors: A list of those who have previously visited your site. Specific criteria can, like visitors of a certain page, can be used.
- YouTube Users: Users who view your video ads can be added to YouTube lists.
- App Users: Users that have installed your app on their device.
- Customer List: These lists are generated based on user contact info (like email and zip codes) that you may have collected over time. You must manually input this info into Google Ads before they can become an eligible list.
- Custom Combination: Manually combine two or more existing remarketing lists.
- Similar Audiences: Google looks at your existing lists and provided there are at least 1,000 people in that list, creates a brand-new list of people that are similar to that list. This is a personal favorite list to find potential new customers. For example, you could use a customer list audience of previous purchasers emails in order to re-engage them and then use the similar audience created by Google to reach brand new customers.
It’s important to understand that not all audiences are created equal. Some require a lot of work on the front end to put together, like a custom match list. Some require you to have Google Ads remarketing tags placed on your site. Some audiences are not compatible with Search campaigns, while others are. Whichever audiences you have/are planning on creating, be sure to understand the pros and cons of each.
How Does Google Determine Audiences?
Without further ado, I present to you what I believe to be the algorithm which Google uses to determine audiences. Drumroll, please.
Y = (mx+b)
Just kidding, that’s the linear equation for a slope, if my memory serves. My apologies for being such a tease.
All jokes aside, now that we have a foundational understanding of Google’s audiences and the different types there are, I’ll share what I believe Google looks at when building out these audience lists (at least, the lists that we don’t create ourselves). I want to preface this by saying that this is nothing more than speculation on my part, after doing research to satisfy my own curiosity.
I’ll start by stating that Google uses machine learning to analyze what is likely a quadrillion (because a trillion isn’t big enough, probably) different signals and then turns those signals into insights. Those insights could be anything from a user’s purchase intent, user locations, average session duration, past search history, or anything else like that. Honestly, with a quadrillion different signals, this list of potential insights could go on forever. The point is, Google sifts through so much more data than we could ever hope to comprehend on our own, in order to build these audience lists.
I’m not sure about you all but knowing that there’s that many different signals being fed into the audiences makes me feel confident that the people included in those lists are all relevant.
As I mentioned earlier, the algorithm Google uses in order to analyze all of these different signals is a secret, not that I could comprehend the algorithm even if I saw it. So, I’m sorry to say that I cannot give you the algorithm, or anything even close to it, but I do hope that I have at least provided you with a better understanding of Google audiences, how they’re created, and maybe even a new idea or two on how to use them to your advantage. Happy PPC’ing!