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PPC Audience Strategy: Targeting vs. Observation



PPC Audience Strategy: Targeting vs. Observation

There are two key components to setting any audience strategy in PPC: Targeting and Observation.

For any PPC practitioner, these two settings can either make or break your performance.

It seems that just when you get used to a setting or feature in these platforms, the interface changes – or worse – options change.

This guide walks through the key differences in Targeting and Observation settings, and where to find them in the Google Ads and Microsoft Ads interfaces.

Targeting vs. Observation: What’s The Difference?

What exactly is the targeting setting and why does it matter?

Using the targeting-only setting means that of the audience you specified, you will only show your ads to those users.

This setting is available for all Search, Display, and YouTube campaigns when utilizing audiences.

On the other hand, what does observation mean and why does it matter?

Using the observation setting means that the reach of your campaigns is not affected. If you add audiences to your PPC campaigns, Google simply gathers data on how that audience group performs.

You will be able to compare audience performance on key KPIs against users who are not categorized into that audience.

When To Use Each Setting

The targeting and observation settings are vastly different. Each one can provide benefits to your PPC campaigns if you use them the right way.

When To Use Targeting Setting

When you want to restrict your targeting to only the audience of your choice.

Examples of Targeting-only Strategies

  • Creating a Remarketing campaign. Using targeting is essential in this example.
  • When you want to message specific audiences differently.
  • Creating a Search campaign with Broad-match keywords. This is common in B2B niche companies where they struggle to find volume. By utilizing a Broad match + targeted audience strategy, you can end up with more qualified visitors.
  • Creating any type of video campaign (you don’t want the whole world seeing your content, do you?).
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When To Use Observation Setting

  • When you want to monitor the performance of a certain audience, without narrowing campaign reach.

Examples Of Observation-only Strategies

  • Adding a remarketing list to a Search campaign and increasing the bid on that audience
  • When you want to monitor new In-Market audiences for a Search campaign. Once you get enough data on performance, then you can start shifting your strategies to pull other levers.

As a general rule of thumb, I typically do not recommend Observation on any Display or YouTube campaign. This is because those campaigns are more awareness-focused, and targeting a proper audience is key.

There are many other use cases for using one setting or another, but this gives a good starting point if you’re just getting started.

Where To Find This Setting

In the Google Ads interface, navigate to the Audiences tab on the left-hand side.

Note – you’ll want to decide if your PPC campaigns will have a campaign-wide audience target, or ad group-wide audience target.

Screenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

From there, click on Edit Audience Segments to the right:

How To Find Audience Segments in Google AdsScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

At the top, this is where you’ll have the option to choose between Targeting and Observation:

Choosing Between Targeting and ObservationScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

In this example, I chose to use Targeting (not the recommended Observation setting) due to the overall low search volume of keywords.

We utilized pure Broad Match targeting and layered on a qualified audience for this B2B company.

Where To Find In Microsoft Ads

Let’s not forget about Microsoft (Bing) ads. Microsoft has the same feature capability as Google.

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In the Microsoft Ads interface, navigate to the Audiences tab on the left-hand side. (similar to Google).

From there, click Create Association.

microsoft ads audience filterScreenshot from Microsoft Ads, December 2021

Once you’re in, you will scroll down to see the options. Microsoft does use different language than Google with these features, but they accomplish the same thing.

Microsoft options are Bid Only (compared to Observation in Google) and Target and Bid (compared to Targeting in Google).

Target and Bid setting in Bing AdsScreenshot from Microsoft Ads, December 2021

Once you’ve set your desired target, there is the option to increase or decrease bids on your chosen audience(s).

Performance Examples

Now that you’re familiar with these targeting settings, let’s take a look at real-life examples of how these were implemented.

In the picture below, a client wanted to first understand how certain industries and company sizes performed compared to the general user.

In this case, the audiences were set at Observation Only to begin with. This is typically recommended if you’re testing a new audience, instead of going all-in without data.

The performance after one month was clear: the users in these chosen audience pools were much more qualified than the general user.

The click-through rate was 230x higher than users not in those audiences!

campaign performance after 1 monthScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

It is important to note that the overall reach was substantially lower than the general user, which is to be expected.

How did this change the strategy of this Search campaign?

The client ended up broadening out their match types to Broad, and set the audiences to Targeting Only. This resulted in:

  • Higher CTR.
  • Lower CPC.
  • Higher Conversion Rate.
  • Lower CPA.
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The Audience Expansion Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

If you’re a seasoned PPC marketer, it probably comes as no surprise that Google will sometimes hide automated features they don’t want you to find.

One feature in particular that can be difficult to locate is something called Audience Expansion.

This feature is located in Google Display campaigns (not Search).

Take this Remarketing campaign, for example. Before we were able to find this ‘hidden’ feature from Google, you’ll notice a stark difference in performance.

  • The Remarketing audience only accounted for 45,000 impressions
  • The Display automatic targeting accounted for over 1.8 million impressions!
  • While there were some conversions, they came at a significant cost.
total display audience expansionScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

In the case of Remarketing, this setting should almost always be turned off. Why?

The whole point of Remarketing is to re-engage users who are aware of you! If you’ve got specific messaging towards this group of people, you don’t want anyone else to see it.

If you’re building an awareness campaign, you may find this setting more useful. However, always be cautious.

Where To Find And Turn Off The Setting

In a Display campaign, you’ll need to be in the specific ad group. So, if you have multiple ad groups, you’ll need to turn this off for each one.

Navigate to Ad Group > Settings > Edit Ad Group Targeting.

Navigating settings in Google AdsScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021

From there, you’ll see this box with an option to move the lever. By default, it’s moved to the first point on the right.

Targeting settings in Google AdsScreenshot from Google Ads, December 2021


As with any PPC campaign, there is no “one size fits all” strategy, especially when it comes to audience targeting.

By understanding these key differences of Targeting and Observation, you can improve your PPC strategy to a model that makes the most sense for your goals.

Featured Image: Visual Generation/Shutterstock

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Why Does Google Not Recognize My Competitor’s Links As Manipulated?



Why Does Google Not Recognize My Competitor's Links As Manipulated?

This week’s Ask An SEO question comes from Arvin from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote:

“One of our competitors has gotten tons of backlinks from unrelated posts including forums like that of (and many other .edu sites, too). Even after updates like Penguin, why are they considered relevant backlinks by Google?”

Let me begin by saying, Arvin, that we are a sports-loving family.

I currently have four kids on seven teams.

I love the lessons that sports teach my kids.

And one of the big lessons I work to instill in my kids is never to blame the referees for a loss.

I’ve never seen any sporting event where, if one of the teams did something better, the referee’s call would never factor into the outcome.

This lesson translates well to SEO.

If you know how to play the SEO game, what your competitor – or even Google and Bing – does should never be your main concern.

Focusing on your competitor’s SEO instead of improving your own is a frustrating waste of time.

But, as an SEO, it is important to understand the factors that are affecting the rankings of each keyword.

Like Anyone Could Ever Know

Unless you work at Google, you can never be certain about why one site is ranking over another.

We can speculate.

We can run sophisticated mathematical models to try to understand the algorithm.

But the bottom line is we can’t ever know for sure.

In fact, I’m not even sure the folks that work at Google could unequivocally tell you why one site ranks over another.

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The algorithm is so complex that no one person could ever decipher it completely.

How Do You Know The Links Are Relevant?

There is no way to know if the links that your competitor has built are being counted by Google.

Google knows a lot more than our tools tell us it knows.

None of the many backlink analysis tools available on the market today can tell you if Google is counting a link or isn’t.

These tools use data gleaned from their own analysis to determine if a link is relevant or if it is toxic.

Your competitor could be spinning their wheels and wasting a ton of money buying links that do absolutely nothing for their SEO.

Meanwhile, one piece of content or simple link from a strategic site could be boosting the site’s rankings.

Concentrate On Your Competitor’s Strengths

When you look at the “bad” things your competitors are doing, you may miss a tactic that could put you over the top for that keyword you just can’t get to rank.

Instead of looking at all the things you think they are getting away with, look at what they are doing that is legitimate that you aren’t doing.

Frequently, when a prospect comes to me screaming about the travesty of an “inferior” company is ranking above them, the real reason for the ranking usually has nothing to do with the perceived injustice.

But usually when we find the real reason – or at least what I think is the real reason – we uncover a technique that this prospect should double down on.

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It could be that your competitor has more robust content around a specific subject.

It could be that your competitor is utilizing technical SEO techniques better than you are.

It could be a thousand things.

Bottom line – when doing competitive analysis, concentrate on discovering things your competitors are doing better than you are.

Look for techniques you can modify for your own use rather than concentrating on how your client is cheating.

Especially if you don’t plan to cheat yourself.

And I recommend you don’t.

More resources: 

Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

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5 Key On-Page Optimizations For Local SEO



5 Key On-Page Optimizations For Local SEO

When most people think of local SEO, they tend to default to their Google Business Profile, local citations, and backlinks.

When trying to capture those “near me” results, these are definitely beneficial.

However on-page optimization also plays a significant factor in the signals that are sent to the search engines to influence your local rankings.

On-page SEO helps you rank higher in organic results and in MapPack results, as well.

Here are five on-page optimization tips to help boost your local visibility in search.

1. Make Sure Your NAP Is Consistent

NAP is an acronym for Name, Address, and Phone Number.

These three simple pieces of information can make or break your local SEO strategy.

Make sure you have these bits of information displayed prominently on your site. A footer is a great place to house your NAP since it will appear on every page.

Linking it to your Google Map is even better.

You can also display your NAP on service area pages and on your contact page in the body.

Consistency matters. It’s important that this key business information is the same anywhere potential customers find you online – and anywhere Google may be using it for comparison to ensure its accuracy.

This helps crawlers and bots to connect the dots between your Google Business Profile, website, and other local citations through the web.

Don’t get lost in minute details such as abbreviations over spelling out street names. It doesn’t really matter as long as you choose one and stick with it.

2. Spruce Up Your On-page Content

Your site content is an opportunity to show both your customers and the search engines that you are the authority in your area for the service you provide.

Include specific details such as landmarks and street names, in addition to the services you provide in this area. Make it clear why the customer would need your service in that specific area.

The more you sound like you belong there, the better the user experience for your customer.

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Think as your customer thinks.

If you were looking for your service near you, what terms would you use?

Would you include your local metro, city, or even neighborhood?

The answers to these questions will help you determine the type of content you need and which keywords to include in this content.

These keywords will help you target both combination searches [dentist in Chicago] and GPS-based searches [dentist] while sitting in Chicago.

This is where the “near me” searches come into play.

Google matches the location of the user (using IP or geolocation) with sites that service the area near the user to provide these search results.

You can optimize these keywords on overall service pages or on targeted pages created specifically for the service and the targeted service area.

Using the dentist example, let’s say you offer teeth whitening services throughout the Chicago and Southern Wisconsin areas.

In addition to your main teeth whitening page, you may have individual pages for teeth whitening in Chicago, Evanston, Milwaukee, and Racine.

Each of those pages should be hyper-targeted and optimized for that specific location.

Don’t be shy here; this may be the landing page for many of those location-based searches.

Really tell your customer why they should trust you enough to click on either the next page or your CTA.

Don’t forget to do your research.

Customers who live in an area will know the common jargon and things that are native to the area.

If you come in with half-baked information, they won’t trust that you are authentic and truly care about their local area.

3. Optimize Header Tags

We know that header tags are important when it comes to SEO.

If you haven’t explored this subject yet, be sure to check out this resource on best practices in using header tags.

By creating local-based service pages, you have just created additional real estate to create highly targeted header tags including local-based keywords + your services.

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Having great header tags gives both the visitors to your site and the crawlers a basic idea of the overall structure of the page and what to expect as they read through the content.

Be careful not to just stuff keywords into the header tags as this will be unnatural to both your visitors and the crawlers.

Keep it relevant.

4. Internal Linking

Use the power of internal linking throughout the site to educate both your customer and the search engines that you are available to serve customers in that local area.

As you are adding city names to your on-page content, you can use them as an anchor link to the service area pages.

You can also get a bit creative and create widgets, lists, and blocks that house multiple links to your service areas on top-level pages for a bit of SEO boosts.

This could be in the form of a “metro areas we service” block that includes the name of the metro, an image of the area, and a short excerpt.

The text would then link to the location page.

Screenshot of by author, January 2022.

5. Local Business Schema

Schema markup can help give the search engines a better understanding of your site.

The local business schema type includes important and relevant information such as addresses, reviews, hours of operation, social media accounts, service area geo-shapes, and departments in your code that may not necessarily live in your on-page content.

This tells the bots and crawlers all about who you are, what you do, where you do it, and why others trust you without cramming it all on a page.

This also gives you a bit more control of the information you are putting out there instead of relying on the search engines to figure out different resources around the internet.

How Will I Know If This Is Working?

Once you have everything optimized and ready to go, you will want to know if this is really having an impact on your local SEO strategy.

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There are many tools out there however we will take a quick look at a few.

Local Search Results Tools

There is nothing like looking at the SERPs directly unless you can look at the SERPs in a simulated environment that mimics the local area that you are targeting.

That is exactly what you can do with local search result tools like Local Falcon, Merkle, and BrightLocal.

With these tools, you even have the option to view Google Maps, select options such as desktop and mobile, and get as granular as the zip code level.

Local falcon GIF showing GMB resultsScreenshot from Local Falcon, January 2022

Geo-Grid Local Ranking Tools

Geo-grid local ranking tools like Local Falcon and Local Viking are a bit more visual and monitor the map results within a selected area.

These tools are great because you can actually schedule periodic scans that will capture a snapshot of your results and keep a history of how well your site has performed locally on the maps throughout time.

Since these scans are also keyword-based, it’s also an effective way to monitor optimizations within your content and title tags.

Google Business Profile Analytics

There’s nothing like getting information directly from the horse’s mouth.

When making optimizations, if successful, you should see a boost in your Google Business Profile metrics, whether those are click-throughs to your site, calls, or requests for driving directions.

As your visibility increases, you should naturally see an increase in traffic.

Remember when optimizing for on-page local SEO, keep it simple and relevant to your business.

Once customers see that you are providing what they are looking for in the location that they desire, the rest is natural.

It is your job to make sure that you are providing them with the right information.

Even with the rapid changes within the local SEO space, a solid on-page strategy is a winner for both you and your customers.

More resources:

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Google’s Core Web Vitals Badge Likely Won’t Happen



Google's Core Web Vitals Badge Likely Won't Happen

Google says there are no plans for a Core Web Vitals badge in search results after proposing the idea when the metrics were first introduced.

This is stated by Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on January 21.

A question was submitted asking for an update on the Core Web Vitals badge and whether it’s something that will be rolled out in the future.

It was never 100% confirmed there would be a Core Web Vitals badge in SERPs, but it was an idea Google mentioned on numerous occasions.

Now it sounds like Google won’t be following through on its idea.

Read Mueller’s full response in the section below.

No Plans For A Core Web Vitals Badge In Search Results

Mueller says he can’t promise a CWV badge will never happen, but chances aren’t good.

Since the badge hasn’t rolled out yet, and the idea was first proposed over a year ago, the feeling is that it won’t happen.

“I can’t promise on what will happen in the future, unfortunately. And since we haven’t done this badge so far, and it’s been like over a year, my feeling is probably it will not happen.

I don’t know for certain, and it might be that somewhere a team at Google is making this badge happen and will get upset when I say it, but at least so far I haven’t seen anything happening with regards to a badge like this.

And my feeling is, if we wanted to show a badge in the search results for Core Web Vitals or Page Experience, then probably we would have done that already.”

Muller brings up the fact that Core Web Vitals and Page Experience are always evolving.

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The Core Web Vitals metrics, as they are defined today, may include different measurements in the future. It depends what users care about.

“That said, everything around Core Web Vitals and Page Experience is constantly being worked on. And we’re trying to find ways to improve those metrics to include other aspects that might be critical for websites or for users that they care about.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if any of this changes. And it might be that, at some point, we have metrics that are really useful for users, and which make sense to show more to users, and maybe at that point we’ll have something more visible the search results, or within Chrome, or I don’t know. It’s really hard to say there.”

My interpretation of Mueller’s response is that a Core Web Vitals badge in search results isn’t an ideal solution, considering the criteria for earning the badge may change from one year to another.

If the Core Web Vitals were a set of metrics that would remain the same from year to year then a badge might make more sense, but that’s not the case.

Hear Mueller’s response in the video below:

 Featured Image: Screenshot from, January 2022. 

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