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googleGoogle announced this week that they will be discontinuing interest category marketing (ICM) targeting from the Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube in favor of affinity, custom affinity, and in-market audiences.  Starting January 15th, 2015 the “Other interests” (ICM) targeting option will no longer be an available option for new and existing audience campaigns. Current campaigns that target “Other interests” will continue to run until June 2015, at which point they will be automatically changed to affinity or in market audiences.

So why is Google eliminating ICM?

The elimination of ICM represents a fundamental shift in how the GDN targets audiences. Working across more than 2,000 categories, ICM audiences assign users based off of the topics of the sites that a user has recently visited. Google created ICM five years ago when the internet advertising world was much simpler.  Since ICM just targets users who have visited sites on specific topics, it neither focuses on reach (audience size) for brand marketing nor conversions (conversion rate) for direct-response marketing.

In moving marketers away from ICM, Google is pushing three alternatives: affinity audiences, custom affinity audiences, and in-market audiences. The first two are designed for brand-awareness volume; the third is a direct-response play for which we’ve already seen good results. Here’s how they break down:

Affinity Audiences

Affinity audiences are designed for brand advertisers and to target TV-like audiences.  Affinity audiences are based on lifestyles and have roughly 2-3x more volume than similar ICM categories. Users in these audiences are enthusiasts who have shown long-term interest in the affinity topics.  Google creates affinity audience lists by analyzing user behavior such as frequency and recency of interactions within a topic and normalizes the behavior against other topics they may visit to find a higher-level category for the user.

For instance, if you are advertising for a company that sells trendy women’s shoes, you should consider targeting the “Beauty Mavens” or “Fashionistas” audiences with female demographic set to target and bid.  This audience is specific enough to target desired users but large enough to drive significant volume to your website.

Custom Affinity Audiences

If there is not an affinity audience that aligns with your target demographic, or you would like to create a more specific audience that aligns with your brand, you can create a custom affinity audience.  Custom affinity audiences can be created in the AdWords UI; you can enter a combination of at least 10 interests and URLs of websites that your target audience would visit into the audience builder. From there, AdWords creates an audience list from the defined values and provides impressions, top interests and, demographic estimates.

In-Market Audiences

In-Market Audiences target users who are actively researching and intending to buy specific products.  These audiences are for e-commerce and direct-response campaigns that target users who are ready to make a purchase.  These audiences are based off of user search behavior, web browsing content, and recency and frequency of these interactions.  There are in-market audiences for over 400 product types such as “Air Travel”, “Athletic Shoes” and “Home Theater Systems”.  If one of these audiences aligns with your product, I strongly suggest testing it out to see if you can drive strong performance.  Google states that on average, in-market audiences drive 10% more conversions per dollar than ICM, and we’ve seen promising performance across campaigns so far.

What’s next?

If you haven’t already, you should start testing affinity, custom affinity, and in-market audiences against your ICM campaigns now so that you have time to reach performance parity before ICM is retired.  I think that affinity audiences and in-market segments will ultimately drive better performance than just ICM because they leverage more data and serve specific performance goals.  It may take some time to figure out which audiences resonate best with your products, so my recommendation is to start testing now so that you are ready come June. Good luck!