Why and How to Use Google Ads Affinity Audiences for Top-of-Funnel Marketing

Illustrated arrows hitting bullseye

Every activity involved in managing a campaign — from creative development to bid strategizing to demographic targeting — relates in some way to addressing three main goals: crafting the right message, targeting the right people, and delivering the message to those people at the right time.

Google provides a handful of tools designed to help you achieve each of these goals, and today we’re going to focus on a tool designed to optimize goal number two: targeting the right people. This bucket can seem like the most overwhelming when you’re new to Google Ads (the Google Display Network reaches an estimated 90% of internet users, after all. The audience you’re winnowing down starts in the billions). As such, Google arms you with several powerful features designed to help you find the audience that’s right for you, including the one we’re going to take a look at today. It’s called Affinity.

Affinity gives you the power to segment the people who see your ads into Affinity Audiences (and Custom Affinity Audiences). These are groups of users that are selected based on certain characteristics that make them attractive to marketers — their interests, shopping behavior, lifestyle, and consumption habits.

By targeting your audience based on these criteria, you can ensure your ads are shown to the right kind of people, and tailor your campaigns to achieve several important goals:

  • Generating brand awareness
  • Expanding the reach of your ads
  • Addressing your top-of-funnel marketing needs

What are Affinity Audiences?

An “affinity” is defined in the dictionary as a “liking” of something. If you like ice cream, for instance, you have an affinity for it, simple as that. It can also be defined with a little more complexity, as an “attractive force that draws one entity towards another.”

These two definitions do a good job of summing up Google Affinity Audiences. They group consumers by what they like — their interests and hobbies — and what attracts their attention — the places they visit on the web and the amounts of time they spend at these places. In compiling Affinity Audiences, Google patches together little bits of acquirable information like this on each user. They track what sites they visit frequently, what topics they seek out, how much time they spend with different types of content, and what their search patterns look like.

Affinity Audiences also identify ways that a person’s passions manifest as consumer behavior. Does an individual frequently shop, dine out, visit salons, or attend live events? That’s the type of person that acts on their affinities by spending money — an attractive qualify if you’re a marketer.

You choose the Affinity Audiences you would like to target when you’re initially setting up your Google Ads campaign. They were originally only available for Video and Display ads, but have been expanded in recent years to include Search, Gmail, Discovery, and Shopping campaigns as well.

The group of people that comprise an Affinity Audience is a relatively broad, predefined collection of users. In fact, they’re all listed in an official spreadsheet. They tend to be divided into very general interest groups that are also broken into more specialized subsets. For instance, if your business manufactures and sells rejuvenating avocado-based moisturizer called Mean Green Face Cream direct to consumers, you could create a Google Ads display campaign that targets the following Affinity Audiences:

  • Beauty and Wellness
  • Beauty and Wellness/Beauty Mavens (which features influencers and aficionados)
  • Beauty and Wellness/Frequently Visits Salons

The decision as to which of these groups you should target depends on which segment of the marketing funnel you’re focusing on. If you’re in the early stages — maybe your avocados are still being grown — and you’re trying to establish brand awareness, you may want to target a more general audience with Beauty and Wellness. If you’re trying to get your product in the hands of influencers to pitch to their instagram followers, Beauty and Wellness/Beauty Mavens might be the audience for you. If you’ve just sent a case of Mean Green to choice salons in major cities, you might want to target Beauty and Wellness/Frequently Visits Salons.

While it’s hard to measure things like brand awareness in clicks and conversions, each of these tactics contributes to revenue by promoting your top-of-funnel marketing goals.

Using Affinity Audiences for top-of-funnel marketing

PPC marketing is a data- and results-driven industry, in which program managers frequently feel pressure from clients to produce rapid, easy-to-measure returns on investment. As such, campaigns are often viewed in a bottom-of-the-funnel context, tending to be evaluated by and geared toward their direct influence in driving sales.

Since generating revenue is the ultimate goal of any marketing effort, these types of last-touch marketing tactics are essential components of any PPC marketer’s tool kit. At the same time, it’s easy to lose sight of the rest of the funnel, especially in a world where transaction volume and ROAS are front and center. Brands that neglect the awareness and consideration segments run the risk of stagnating and losing market share.

Luckily, along with traditional means of top-of-funnel marketing, Google Ads campaigns can be geared toward reaching new people, building brand awareness, and developing a presence at the beginning of the customer journey. Affinity Audiences are a powerful tool that enables you to do just that by targeting audiences based on what they’re passionate about.

How to set up Affinity Audiences

Affinity Audiences are useful for all ad types, but Google suggests there’s particular value in using them for Display and Video campaigns designed to address the awareness segment of the marketing funnel.

  1. Setting up an Affinity Audience is easy. Start by creating a new campaign. Log in to your Google Ads account and select Campaigns from the menu on the left of the screen. Then click the plus button to start a new campaign. Google-Affinity-Audience-step-1
  2. Choose the goal of your campaign and the type of ad you want to create (Display, Search, etc.). Select a campaign subtype, then click Continue. Google-Affinity-Audience-step-2
  3. Give your campaign a name and set up Location, Languages, Bidding, and Budget. Next you’ll create your ad group.
  4. Give your ad group a name and scroll down to the Audiences section. This is where Affinity Audiences lives. Use the three tabs — Search, Ideas, and Browse — to choose your Affinity Audience. Choose your audience from the list. Google-Affinity-Audience-step-4
  5. If you’d like, you can drill down to select a subtype. Google-Affinity-Audience-step-5

What are Custom Affinity Audiences?

Custom Affinity Audiences allow marketers to create their own Affinity Audiences that are highly tailored to their specific needs and goals, based on users most recent activities. To create these you define your audience by simply inputting keywords, URLs, and apps that you think would appeal to the people you’re trying to reach. Your ads will then show to users who are likely to be interested in these keywords on the pages they visit, or likely to be interested in the URLs or apps you’ve provided.

For some businesses, particularly those that are smaller or work in niche markets, the standard Affinity Audiences offered by Google are too broad. The people in charge of managing Google Ads campaigns for these businesses often find their net is cast too wide — which waters down the impact of their ad dollar. Custom Affinity Audiences provide a useful way to get more bang for your buck.

The benefits of Custom Affinity Audiences

Along with allowing you to tailor your audience to more specifically suit your needs, Custom Affinity Audiences offer a handful of valuable benefits to savvy search marketers.

  • Custom Affinity Audiences allow you to be more imaginative in your targeting efforts. Due to the open-ended nature of Custom Affinity Audiences, you’ve got an endless array of configurations at your figure tips. By drawing on your experience and using your brain , you can find the ideal combination of keywords and URLs to generate the best audience for your campaign.
  • You can use the URLs of your competitors. By entering the web addresses of your competitors, you can target your ideal customer — and theirs. This tactic makes a lot of sense from a targeting perspective —the people interested in your competitors will likely be interested in you — and from a business perspective — with a compelling ad message, you can pick off customers from your rivals.
  • Custom Affinity Audiences help you get lower into the funnel. Custom groups narrow your audience and, when wielded thoughtfully, can get your message in front of people who are closer to a conversion action. For instance, if your business sells avocado-based organic face cream, you could show adds to the “Beauty and Wellness Affinity Audience” to get broad exposure. But, if you also target people who visit ecommerce sites where beauty goods are sold, as well as forums that discuss beauty products, you can get your ads in front of people closer to the time they want to make a purchase, and perhaps encourage them to promote your product to others.
  • They help you target live events. A popular Affinity Audience called “Lifestyles & Hobbies/Frequently Attends Live Events” includes people who, you guessed it, frequently attend live events. However, there’s no indication that these folks have an intent to attend one soon — just that they’re more likely to do so than the average bear. By inputting URLs related to upcoming concerts, conferences, square dances, rodeos, hodowns, hootenannies, and any other event using Custom Affinity Audiences, you can target people who have are not only likely to go to events — but intend to do so soon.

How to set up Custom Affinity Audiences

There are several ways to incorporate a Custom Affinity Audience into your Google Ads campaign, but first you’ve got to create it.

  1. To start, log in to Google Ads and go to the Tools and Settings toolbar in the top right corner. Select Audience Manager. Custom-Affinity-Audience-step-1 (You can also access the Audience Manager during the campaign creation process. Find the link that says “Audience Manager” in the top right corner of the “ad groups” box when you get to the step where you choose an audience.)
  2. Select the Custom Audiences tab at the top of the screen and click the plus button to create a new custom audience.
  3. Name the audience and then input interests or purchase intents, URLs, apps, and places that are relevant to the audience you’d like to target. Click Save Audience at the bottom right. Custom-Affinity-Audience-step-2 Congratulations! You’ve created a Custom Affinity Audience. When you create your next campaign, follow the steps in the “How to set up Affinity Audiences” section above.
  4. When you get to the ad groups section, click the Browse tab and choose Your custom audiences. Any audiences you’ve created will be listed for you to choose from. Custom-affinity-audience-step-4