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How to maintain targeting capabilities without Google Ads similar audiences

Similar audiences have been a valuable tool for expanding prospecting efforts and improving the scale and quality of Google Ads campaigns – and it’s going away starting Aug. 1. 

The good news is that the impact will likely be surmountable. 

Here are alternatives and new strategies to maintain your PPC targeting capabilities. 

Providing high-quality data and signals to Google Ads is key to maintaining effective audience targeting even without similar audiences. 

This ensures that the various automation, machine learning, and algorithmic processes at play have enough of the right information to steer in the direction you want.  

For search + shopping campaigns

Level up how you leverage smart bidding by providing high-quality first-party data. 

You can do this through customer match lists, which can be uploaded directly to Google Ads in the audience manager. 

Smart bidding strategies will automatically utilize this first-party data to proactively seek valuable customers and would-be customers using Google’s automation. 

For display, discovery and video campaigns (Google Ads + Display and Video 360)

Suppose you have similar audiences applied to these campaign types as of Aug. 1. In that case, you will be automatically opted into using optimized targeting, which makes it no surprise that Google’s rec is to roll with it. 

Optimized targeting is a broader strategy than similar audiences. Rather than building personas off of advertiser-provided seed lists, it uses real-time conversion data to construct personas of people deemed more likely to convert. 

Optimized targeting will use your data (content targeting, selected audience segments, etc.) as a jumping-off point. It will also expand its search for qualified users beyond these boundaries. 

Advertisers using optimized targeting across their display and Video 360 campaigns see a 55% improvement toward their specified campaign objectives when using first-party data and a 25% improvement when using Google audiences, according to Google.

For video campaigns (reach or consideration)

On Aug. 1, any video campaigns that fall into this bucket will automatically opt into audience expansion. This strategy probably resembles similar audiences the most in how it works. 

Google will take the selected audience segments you apply and will expand your targeting to include segments across various types (e.g., custom segments, in-market segments) that look like the ones you’ve specifically chosen. 

Think similar audiences that don’t use first-party data as the seed list. 

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What else can I do outside of what Google recommends? 

Beyond Google’s recommendations, here are strategies you can test to ensure you’re not missing out on any traffic volume or targeting opportunity come Aug. 1. 

Adding and testing custom segments in your accounts

I’ve seen this strategy used in a couple of different ways that could be useful in this situation. 

Option 1: Create keyword-based custom segment targeting containing your account’s top-performing search queries: one for brand and separate for relevant non-brand categories. 

Gather this data by:

  • Performing a search query analysis across your existing search campaigns.
  • Compiling keyword lists of the terms with the:
    • Highest conversion volume.
    • Most efficient cost per acquisition.
    • Highest conversion value.
    • And/or any other key performance indicator that’s important to you. 

Once these lists are created, you can apply them across your campaign types to capture users who:

  • Search the included terms and similar terms.
  • Show interest or purchase intent related to them. 

Option 2: Create URL-based custom segment targeting using your competitors’ websites. 

Collaborate with your client, internal team, etc., to identify your closest competitors and create a custom segment using the “people who browse websites similar to” option. 

This will tell Google that you want to reach people like those browsing your competitors’ sites. 

Talk about feeding two birds with one scone. You get pseudo-similar audience targeting and visibility to your competitors’ potential customers. 

Smart bidding and its machine learning capabilities 

These can be extremely powerful tools when used strategically. 

I’ve seen success here primarily through adding conversion values and using offline conversion importing.  

Adding conversion values to the existing conversion actions in your Google Ads accounts can assist in expanding targeting to include higher-value users. 

When you add values to your conversion actions, you effectively tell the smart bidding automation, “This is the priority I place on each of these types of actions.”

When you add these values and use a “Maximize conversion value” smart bidding strategy, the automation will use real-time conversion data to seek new users who are most likely to convert on your highest value (highest priority) conversion actions.

Basically, it uses the same logic that similar audiences are, which is “find me more people who exhibit behavior similar to these traits.” 

But in this case, the defined traits are conversion actions rather than advertiser-defined first-party seed lists. 

Testing offfline conversion importing is a worthwhile strategy. 

Offline conversion importing, simply put, is taking the data the business gets after a PPC conversion action and sharing it back into Google Ads via some feedback loop. 

This allows advertisers deeper visibility into which targeting tactics are actually driving bottom-line performance rather than just top-line conversions.

It has the added benefit of providing the highest-quality signal to the smart bidding algorithm/machine learning. 

To make the most of offline conversion importing as it relates to the sunsetting of similar audiences, you should employ it alongside smart bidding strategies as a primary conversion action. 

This will train the system to seek and optimize for these high-quality offline conversion actions, ultimately finding new users who exhibit behavior most like your existing customers. 

Providing high-quality signals to Google

Google’s move to sunset similar audiences is consistent with its goal to focus more on user privacy. 

Will it change the way we can seek new users? Yes. 

Can we still provide high-quality signals and targeting guidance to Google Ads to maintain and continue to improve results for our businesses and clients? Absolutely.  

While we’re seeing plenty of Google Ads features go, that doesn’t mean we are out of tools. It just means we need to find new or different ways to use the ones we’ve got.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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