Google’s Custom Intent Audiences: A Welcome Step Forward in Audience Targeting

by Brian Swift | Mar 22, 2018 | PPC

I’m reluctantly making the compulsory switch to the new AdWords interface.

I’ve resisted the change up to now, primarily because I hate anything being forced on me.

A perfect example of this came in January this year when Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP ads) could no longer be created from the old interface. Shortly after this, we experienced a noticeable dip in performance in our old GSP campaigns.

Last week, another exciting — and equally unwanted — announcement dropped in my inbox (see below).

For anyone who didn’t get the memo, here’s what this change means:

Now, if you are anything like me, then you too might’ve resisted the new interface up to now.

But as much as I love a good rant, that’s not why I’m talking to you today. I’m writing this because I now believe that Google has found the feature that will actually make marketers want to move to the new interface…

Enter Custom Intent Audiences.

What are Custom Intent Audiences?

Before I explain things in a bit more depth, it’s important to note that the new custom intent audiences are only available in the new UI. So, if you are still clinging to the old interface, it may be time to finally make that switch.

In a nutshell, custom intent audiences are a more granular form of targeting that allows you to target people who are in the market for the specific products and services you are offering. Custom intent audiences are available on the display network only.

Here’s how Google describes this new feature:

“Custom intent audiences help you define and reach the ideal audience for your business. Built with performance advertisers in mind, custom intent audiences allow you to go beyond pre–defined audience categories and reach people as they’re making a purchase decision.”

I like to think of custom audiences as the tool that bridges the gap between in–market audiences and custom affinity audiences.

In–market audiences usually require a higher (and therefore unsustainable) CPC to get any traction; whereas custom affinity audiences usually bring in lots of volume, but I’ve often found the quality lacking.

There are two types of custom intent audiences:

1. The machine–learning, auto-generated method (great for newbies, or those in a hurry).

2. The create your own (DIY) method: Mash keywords and URLs that are related to your free report or product together. This is exactly the same way you would create a custom affinity audience.

How to Create a Custom Intent Audience

Creating custom intent audiences is fairly straightforward. Below is a step–by–step walkthrough to help you make the most of this feature:

  1. Select a display campaign in the new AdWords interface (or create a new campaign) then select the Audiences tab
  2. Once you’re in Audiences, and you’ve selected an ad group, select the edit/target button and choose “Intent.” It should be nestled between the “Affinity” and “Remarketing” tabs.

3. You’ll then be given the choice of either using Google’s auto-generated intent audiences or creating your own. In this walkthrough, we’re going to create our own custom intent audience (just because I know you’re a bit more advanced than most marketers).


5. Enter your chosen keywords and URLs and select “create”.

Note: It goes without saying that you should choose keywords and URLs that are clearly connected by a similar topic.

AIM Tip: In deciding what URLs and keywords to use, think of the sites and keywords that your prospects are already using to find your content. A good place to start is with your top placements on the Display Network and your highest trafficked keywords/ search terms.

For anyone who wants to use Google’s auto-generated audiences, if you hover over the name of the audience you can identify the key characteristics of your audience, including:

  • What it’s based on.
  • Associated keywords from your account.
  • Common keywords and URLs related to products and services that the audience is actively researching.

After you launch your campaign, remember to check the Audience tab to see which audiences are getting conversions, and where you can optimize your campaign further.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) knows more about our prospective customer’s behavior than we as marketers could ever wish to know. While intent and predictive audiences still lack the laser-focused precision of Search, Custom Intent Audiences are an exciting new feature that gives us the ability to target specific cohorts of people, that are highly relevant to our business, at the right time.

With limited impressions so far, we are already seeing some positive results with this new targeting tool.

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