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Launched in late 2017, Custom Intent audience targeting was Google’s latest effort to allow advertisers to reach potential customers based on their interests and browsing history. Similar to In-Market and Affinity audience segments, Custom Intent targeting uses browsing history and other signals to identify users who are actively searching for products or services to your business.

Where Custom Intent differs from other forms of audience targeting is the ability to customize, which empowers advertisers to go beyond pre-defined segments and connect with users as they are making a purchase decision. In the year since it’s been introduced, we’ve seen a lot of success with it; in this post, we’ll explain how and detail some best practices.

Before you get started, it is important to note the distinct differences in the functionality and setup of Custom Intent audiences for GDN and YouTube. While both audience types are designed to predictively identify users interested in themes related to your business, the inputs for defining these audiences are not the same. GDN audiences are based on user activity on both Web browsing and mobile Apps, and the available inputs are keywords, domains, and apps. Custom Intent audiences for YouTube are based solely around keywords and only include users’ actual search history. Although the YouTube variation can still be an effective targeting method, Custom Intent for GDN is a more robust offering.

Audience Creation

Google offers two options when creating Custom Intent audiences — either choose from a list of auto-generated options or take a build-your-own approach. While the auto-generated method may sound like it defeats the purpose of the customization aspect of Custom Intent, the audience segments are tailored to insights directly from your account. For example, if users who have visited a health food website also frequently researched protein powder supplements, Google may create an auto-generated Custom Intent audience dedicated to “best protein powders.” These audiences continually refresh and may become more refined over time with more performance data.

Although the auto-generated option may be the right fit for a newer advertiser who’s just starting out, expert-level Digital Marketers will prefer the additional control offered by the build-your-own / a-la-carte approach. Loading relevant keywords, URLs, and apps into these custom segments enables you to reach users who are actively searching for products or services related to your business. Google’s best practice for audience creation dictates that advertisers add around 15 inputs for each audience for an optimal balance of control and reach. The estimated potential reach of your audience segment will be available upon creation.

Best Practices

Narrow your targeting for optimal control. As all savvy marketers know, the tighter the audience segment, the more control you’ll have optimizing toward your goals. Start with tightly segmented, highly specific audiences at first. Once you’ve established how those perform, you can consider testing more broad or general Custom Intent segments.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. You have a wealth of effective keywords in your search campaigns that probably have years of performance data. You know which keywords users are searching to find your business. Your top search keywords are a great starting place for your Custom Intent audiences.

Test competitor-targeted audience segments. It’s likely that users interested in your direct competitors will also be interested in your products or services as well. Consider testing audience segments focused on domains and keywords related to your competitors, creating a distinct audience for each competitor. For example: If you’re Nike, build separate Custom Intent audiences for Adidas, Reebok, and Under Armour.

Next Steps

As with any audience segment, be sure to continuously monitor performance and optimize toward your conversion and efficiency goals. You won’t be able to make adjustments to the audiences themselves after creation (such as changing the inputs), so you’ll need to build new audiences if changes are required. Build separate ad groups (or even separate campaigns) for each audience segment in order to control bidding and budgets allocated to each audience.

Whether you’re looking to drive traffic from either the GDN or YouTube, Custom Intent audiences offer a nice balance of granularity and reach to achieve great results. Choose from either the auto-generated or customized options and test a wide variety of audience themes to identify what will work best for your business objectives.

Example Execution

Scenario: A regional bank wants to utilize Custom Intent audiences to target prospective customers on the GDN.

Methodology: In order to reach customers who are interested in the bank’s various service offerings, the bank may opt to create several different audiences related to each Line of Business. Keywords, URLs, and apps related to checking accounts, savings, credit cards, and mortgage loans would be used as inputs for audiences devoted to each offering.

Once the audiences are created, a campaign would be built with separate ad groups for each respective audience with creative and landing pages relevant to those services.

The bank may also wish to build Custom Intent audiences around some of their top direct competitors in order to persuade customers to switch banks or to target users in the process of choosing a bank. In this scenario, the bank would create separate audiences for each competitor using keywords, domains, and apps relevant to each. These audiences would be implemented in a campaign with each audience broken out into its own ad group.