If headlines were any indication, 2017 was a tough year for YouTube. The platform grappled with multiple boycotts from some of the world’s biggest advertisers, including P&G, Verizon, and Adidas, after they discovered their ads running next to objectionable content. YouTube took drastic steps to crack down on content not friendly to advertisers, deleting or demonetizing videos, and rolling out stricter monetization policies.

Though YouTube’s PR and relationships with content creators were strained, the new measures served their purpose. Many brands were back on the platform within a few months. In truth, the boycott had little effect on revenue. With users watching over 1 billion hours of video every day, there is too much at stake to stop advertising on YouTube for long.

If you’re just tapping (or re-tapping) into YouTube now, you might be overwhelmed by the targeting options available. So before sending out your ads, make sure you have a thorough understanding of both who your audience is and where you want your ads to show up. With enough development, you can even use targeting tools to eliminate any lingering fear that your ads will run on objectionable videos.

YouTube targeting has two main buckets: you can target the people you’re trying to reach (Audience Targeting), or you can target the content you’d like to show up on (Placement Targeting)…or combine the two. Let’s break it down.

Audience Targeting Options

Demographic: Choose to include only certain gender, age, parental status, or household income groups.

Interests: Target a wide selection of Google’s predefined affinity audiences. These categories include everything from “Beauty Mavens” to “Avid Investors”. You can also set up custom affinity audiences using a combination of URLs and keywords; this is useful for defining niche interests not available by default.

If you want to maximize your ROI, you can leverage in-market audiences to reach users who are actively researching a relevant product or service and are most likely to convert.

Finally, you can also target users during specific life events – though at the moment, these are limited to college graduation, marriage, and moving.

Video Remarketing: Target users based on any number of custom remarketing lists. You can build a list from interactions users make with specific videos and channels. You can also apply a customer email list or ‘similar to’ list for a more targeted approach.

Placement Targeting Options

Keywords: Target viewers based on specific keywords related to your product. Use keywords to ensure ads only show up for viewers searching for related terms.

Topics: Target any of Google’s predefined topics. Choose broad levels, like “Autos & Vehicles”, or drill down to subtopics like “Bike Frames”.

Even at this level, topics targeting will cast a wide net, forcing you to relinquish control over placements.

Placements: Target specific channels and videos on YouTube. If you have the time and knowledge necessary to set up placements targeting, this gives you complete control over where your ads play. Managing placements at a granular level is feasible for brands targeting specific communities. For example, a surf brand might include the surfing-related channels below in their placements.


Combining Audiences and Placements

A robust targeting strategy should layer multiple interests, demographics, and placements to reach a specific customer. For example, the same surf brand might want to expand their placements to include channels with general action sports content (think GoPro and Red Bull), but they worry this will include too many viewers who are not interested in surf products. The solution is to combine those placements with surfing-related keywords or a custom affinity audience for surf enthusiasts. Layering in demographics as well, the targeting will be narrowed.

Interest layering ensures that your ads will show to the right people in the right place. Keep an eye on estimated reach, as layering too many interests and placements will limit the size of your audience. Executed properly, though, you won’t show up on objectionable or irrelevant content, and you won’t pay to target viewers that aren’t interested. With so many combinations of targeting options available, you should pursue a variety of layered strategies to test which perform best for your goals.

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Casper Messmann
Casper joined 3Q in September 2017 after graduating from NYU’s Stern School of Business with a degree in Marketing and Finance. He hosted a radio show in college and enjoys rock climbing, surfing, and playing guitar in his free time.