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PPC Audiences: What Are They and How Does Google Determine Them?



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.

audience manager

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! If you are ready to begin creating an audience, select the plus sign to get started!

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. You’ll be able to boost your campaign’s performance by reaching specific audiences that are outlined below.


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 based on a holistic picture of their lifestyles, passions, and habits.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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 Match: 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.
  • Detailed Demographics: Allows you to reach certain segments of the population that share common traits, such as college students, homeowners, or new parents.

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. Ready to start creating audiences?  Check out this blog on how to create a killer custom affinity audience.

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 an equation of a line, 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!



Article updated by Brittany Sager (prior post date 9/12/18)


How to Leverage Visual Search for e-Commerce Growth



How to Leverage Visual Search for e-Commerce Growth

Online shopping is booming as people become more comfortable buying online as opposed to in-store. It’s easy, comfortable, and convenient, with the possibility of finding a wider range of products at better prices.

As with everything in the digital space, online shopping is evolving, and visual search is the latest opportunity to increase sales, boost revenue, and grow your customer base. So let’s learn more about visual search and how to optimize content to maximize profits.

What is Visual Search?

Visual search is appropriately named as it involves users searching with an image, as opposed to a keyword.

The reasons why someone would do this come down to the following benefits:

  • Visual search makes it easier when you don’t know what you are looking for
  • It can help to match a particular style
  • Your search query may be long and complicated, so an image simplifies things

Consider visual search as a targeted and user-friendly method that involves pointing a camera at something to find an exact match or something similar.

The Differences Between Image and Visual Search

They sound similar but are incredibly different. Image search requires you to type in a query in the search box, with image results returned based on your keyword; a method that people are very familiar with. 

On the other hand, visual search requires an image or your Google Lens camera to search and return images that match or are similar. Voice, visual, and conversational search are improvements on typing search, all with the goal of making life easier for us all.

The Popular Visual Search Options

The Pinterest lens was the first social media platform to use visual search. In the Pinterest app, a new or existing photo can be used to complete the search. This has been extended to hybrid search, which uses the aesthetic of an existing pin to find similar items, and the “complete the look” feature, which can generate case-based recommendations to match an outfit or room layout and style.


Google Photos lets you use an existing image for a visual search with the ability to identify over 1 billion items. You can also scan your environment to search for things in reality or have Google identify and recommend items on a menu. Other popular features include the ability to translate text from print directly onto your phone, identify animals and plants, and historical facts about your location.

Snapchat camera allows you to search for products on Amazon by pointing it at a physical product or barcode. If recognized, an Amazon card will appear on-screen with a link to buy on Amazon.

Visual Search Issues

Before we dive into optimizing your store for visual search, it is important to be aware that this new innovation still needs some improvements. Lenses commonly auto-select the wrong focal point, categorize a person instead of a product, or display items that are out of stock.

It is vital to be aware of these pitfalls as they may cause you to lose some sales along with the trust of your customers. Optimizing your images correctly can help lower the risk of this, however.

How to Optimize for Visual Search

Optimization of all kinds is important, as emphasized in this e-commerce SEO case study. Visual search success comes down to optimizing your images. By doing this, you will hopefully avoid the visual search mistakes mentioned above. To optimize your images and truly leverage the benefits of visual search, do the following:

  • Submit image sitemap to Google

Ensuring your images are indexed is the first step, and you do this by submitting image sitemaps. With basic product data from the shopping feed, visual search technology will be able to understand your content.

Sync from your site with the Google merchant center and Pinterest catalogs to keep product info updated, allow people to search by brand, and avoid penalties from Google.

Put your USPs in the product description (especially free shipping), as this can help you get the much sought-after click. With a relevant schema for all images and rich pins to your site, you reduce friction and potential frustration by eliminating out-of-stock items from the user’s feed.

  • Standard image optimization

We know about optimizing site images for site speed and user experience, but they also help with visual search. One of the most important elements is image size. Keeping your image sizes under control helps your website load faster, which reduces user frustration, and much like personalized content which helps users understand the information they’re seeing is specific to their needs, it can be the defining factor when it comes to making or losing the sale.

Use appropriate, targeted, and descriptive file names for all of your images along with alt-tags, which means an alternative tag, a name that appears in place of an image if it fails to load. The alt-tag text is also read by search engines to help them understand the purpose of the picture. Be sure to use the most relevant alt-tag for the image, as this can impact your rankings and boost sales. An SEO booster can help with all of this!


While all of this sets your digital assets on the right path, we also recommend looking into having a local presence in the real world to reach customers in cities outside of your local area. By allowing them to call you when they have an issue (which you can do by providing a local phone number), you can increase customer satisfaction!

Making the Most of Your E-commerce Opportunities

As an e-commerce store owner or digital marketer, it is always important to be aware of the opportunities that arise in the digital space, like visual search. Utilize the emotions of your audience via social media and adapt your content to be attractive and relevant to improve discovery, engagement, and above all, sales.

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