Episode 23: Utilising audiences in the Google Display Network with Eva Wilkes

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In this episode we will be continuing the build up towards SearchNorwich 8 with a recording of Eva Wilkes giving her talk "Awesome Audiences". Eva gives a really great overview of the Google Display Network and its numerous features. It's a tricky network to use correctly, Eva goes over how to use the different audiences to ensure desired results as well as teaching how to create and utilise custom affinity audiences.

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AK: Hello and welcome to Episode 23 of the Search with Candour podcast, it is Thursday the 15th of August, so let’s learn a bit more about Search.

SearchNorwich 8 is now on the horizon, exactly two weeks away from today and I am excited to hear from two veterans of the industry. So continuing on the build up, we’re going to be listening in on Eva Wilkes’ talk from SearchNorwich 5 this year. Eva gives a great talk about the Google Display Network, introducing it and giving a really objective view of its pros and cons and when to use it effectively. She also expands on Display Audiences and all the types Google identifies and which you should be engaging with, as well as how remarketing exactly works and how to utilise such a powerful tool.

I learnt a lot about the Display Network from Eva’s talk and I really learnt some great tactics to use in my Display Campaigns, and how to try and prevent wasted spend, which she says is Google’s friend. So without further ado, here’s Eva:

EW: Hi! It's really great to be here, I've been allowed out for the evening. As Mark mentioned I'm Fountain’s brand manager, my PPC experience has mostly been centred on Display and my account management experience is in the higher education sector.

Fountain, they've had a lot have had a lot of local press recently - most recently for the culture shock event last week which, if anyone attended, I hope you really enjoyed talking about flat structured organisations and the benefits they bring, it’s like a big deal to us right now, and if anyone has any doubts about the authenticity of the sentiment from the directors downwards as to how great it is to be in a flat structured organisation. These are people who employ someone who will sit at a desk and talk to clients on the phone dressed in snorkelling gear. So, I've burdened them with my presence for four and a half years now and I hope this sets the tone because I'm about to talk about display audiences and the Google Display Network, and that to most people is the antithesis of fun.

So, what are the great things about the Google Display Network? It's freaking huge! Google say that you can access 90% of Internet users, and yes that is Google saying that - so they would! But the practicalities of it are is that when you go in and you build audiences, you do see how big they are and that is both a blessing and a curse. Because it means that you can get from where you are to where your goals are really quickly and really effectively; except if something goes wrong it goes really wrong because of the size of the audience.

So, why am I starting by talking about audiences, when most people think about Display they think “oh great creative, creative ads, how do they look, what's the best you graphics to use, the best calls to action, the best imagery…” Wait, because audiences are basically such a fundamental starting point, if you have creative that meets like the basic best practice requirements, then it's really the audience side of things that are worth focusing on first and there are some amazing options out there for targeting. Like I say, a lot of these audiences are huge and that's where I say that, especially on Google, being vigilant for nuanced settings designed to increase campaign reach - whether it's relevant to your goals or not is really important because of the scale. So, one of my favourite phrases is “wasted spend is Google's friend.”

I'm going to skip straight past that but it's true, I mean their goals are a huge monopoly. It's so different from the goals of a small business on the ground floor trying to raise their bottom line, Google come in and they think “hey guys we've got these amazing new features, it's really going to increase your reach - you're going to get to these new audiences, it's going to be amazing you're going to grow” and you're like “okay, great! How?” Because some of those audiences and a lot of those features need tightening up and the audiences I'm going to talk about are the tight ones. The slightly more controllable ones, where you either know that the information you're putting in is very relevant to you or you're in the safe waters of say remarketing. So, let's get started!

There are audiences for every part of the funnel and if we flip the funnel on its head and look at it as a scale. So, awareness, goals through to kind of, interest goals and conversion goals.

EW: This first audience is- I've put an asterisk next to it because it's worth knowing about. If you work for an agency and you've got a client who gets a certain amount of traffic you might find this pop up in your analytics. It stands for “Google defined likely converters” and it's worth looking out for because it's basically like unicorn poo. Google defined likely converters are amazing, they are the users that are in your ‘all users’ list for your website that Google has layered up some signals that to Google suggest they are the most likely to convert. So, they are worth just putting into our RLSA campaigns, I'll try not to touch on Search, but look out for these guys because they are definitely worth remarketing to if you have clients that are of the scale where this gets auto populated into analytics. I tried to speak to Google about it and said, “hey I've got one client that's got this, why don't the others?” Their response was really vague and wishy-washy, so I've been unable to get more information about those and googling it doesn't help really, but I've put them in there because if you get them, they're great to keep an eye out for.

So, the next audience right down at the conversion end of the funnel - “remarketing”, the classic ‘all users’ list mostly associated with E-commerce, because you go on a shoe site you look at some shoes and then they follow you around for weeks and weeks and weeks, that is such an unimaginative use of remarketing. There are so many ways, like the ‘all users’ list for example can be used. There are more engaging, a bit more creative and a bit more strategic methods; so that is the popular association with remarketing - it’s being followed around by products, but I will get onto other ways of using that all users list. Because it's a safe space to operate in, you're not getting uncontrollable audience expansion when you focus on the ‘all users’ list, providing that you don't miss a few key settings. Throughout this presentation there are traps - I will talk about those when they come up.

So the next audience is ‘intent and in-market’, so this is where Google looks at signals that suggest someone's in a buying frame of mind and you go into Google Ads, and you could say “well I've got these products I want to sell them to a certain niche audience” but you still can't see how Google is defining this niche audience.

Similar audiences. So, if you've got remarketing lists on your site for certain pages and you've got over a certain traffic volume, Google will automatically populate analytics with audiences similar to ones that you've defined yourself which is really handy.

Finally, affinity audiences. So, affinity audiences are like ‘intent and in-market’, it's where Google has kind of said “okay well these people really like this based on multiple signals” including search behaviour, even what videos they've watched on YouTube that kind of thing. But within ‘intent and in-market’ and ‘affinity’ you've got the option of building custom audiences and I'll come on to those later. So, alongside the audiences you've got your usual other targeting techniques that you can layer into your campaign to bring the sizes of those audiences down. Because if you obviously only go for the audience definitions themselves, they're going to be like that like when you populate it, and it tells you how many impressions you'll get, like 10 billion or something crazy like that. So, then you start to also narrow down within the campaign settings other factors.

So, awesome audience 1. The remarketing ‘all users’ list it's safe waters in terms of preventing unwanted expansion and it’s an opportunity to get creative in terms of how you keep people in your sales funnel. I've put here that 1% of articles generates 75% of social shares which is a recently released study from backlinko that I enjoyed perusing, thought this is quite interesting because it basically said that like Black Swan articles and content just hoover up all of the social shares.

So why am I talking about sharing? Well think of the amount of time you put into sharing amazing content that you've made, you'll have a fantastic article on the site that you've invested time in, and social sharing will only expand to your following. Unless you boost, boosts are quite expensive, cost-per-click in boost is really expensive. On the Google Display Network that reaches such vast quantities of people. impressions are free, it's free advertising and you only pay if someone clicks and with the ‘all users’ list those clicks tend to be really cheap - generally less than a pound.

So, when you think about how much time am I spending promoting organically versus how I could be targeting with paid, it is worth weighing up whether you're actually spending more through time and you know time is money. As to whether it's worth really pushing that or you could just push it out to the Google Display Network. So, another great thing about remarketing is that it’s scalable according to budget, you can have a budget of £5/£50/£500 a day but you'll still get benefits from it whatever end of the budget scale you're on. It's a really good way of increasing high converting return traffic. You know they're already interested in you; they've already been to your site. Increasing the lifetime value of existing customers by staying in front of mind and getting your best content seen. So, I call this the ‘smorgasbord’ because I really believe in giving users the choice of how they re-enter your content funnel.

So let's say you've got six articles and each article you've created a set of ads (or even just a few ads), the most popular sizes on the Google Display Network for example and you've created an ad group for each article and you've created a page audience in analytics for each article. So, what happens is that a user will then, if you load this into a remarketing campaign, a user will see all of those ads and they get to choose how they re-enter your site. It's not just a generic brand ad that you have to limit because you don't want to bore them to death, they're getting the full spectrum of your services and what you can offer that user.

You can obviously make it more complex than that, this is quite a simplified example. You can see if someone's been to this page, they get this set of ads, someone's been to that page they get that set of ads and you can dial it down and make it as complex as you want. But at the most simplistic level you can still do it with very little effort, so article + ad + page audience, so you widen your appeal because user interest dictates the entry point. You increase impressions with more ad groups and you also don't bore people at the same time because they're not just seeing the same brand ads over and over again.

Showcase expertise across multiple capabilities once a hundred users per audience is reached, users stop seeing ads for content they've already viewed. That's where the page audience comes in, because what you can do is you can then exclude the page audience, you basically set up exclusion. Basically if you have one ad and you exclude an audience for other ads, then you can stop people seeing one they've already viewed and stopped them getting sort of bored and seeing the same one and if you're loading them in regularly, all it looks like is that you're all over the internet with your fantastic content. So, it's really worthwhile because what if a really hot prospect has landed on your site and there might be a couple of articles on there and (this really is relevant to b2b space) there's a couple of great articles on there that maybe might have swayed them into considering you more deeply had they seen them.

Why take that chance? Why not just kind of start to occupy the internet with your content for free? Because impressions are free, but you know that because it's the ‘all users’ list any clicks that come from that campaign are going to be super relevant so they're worth the 90p or whatever it is you're spending. So, important considerations: exclude games under content exclusions, does anyone know why I've included this? They usually get lots of attention from babies and toddlers - this is to get rid of the babies and toddlers. Basically a few months ago Google announced that they were disabling Adsense for mobile apps and any account manager who's dealt with a Display campaign will have gone “no! because that's bad. Adsense for mobile apps is where you get to get rid of baby clicks, where Google thinks “we've targeted your target audience, we're on their phone” and they don't realize that their target audience has handed their phone to their children. That is a really big problem and that that's where you get rid of them, so I take a blanket approach because, this is subjective to me, but I think if I'm playing a game I don't want an ad in there and I don't want to be that brand that's going “hey click me, click me” I just don't like it.

So, I will always go in and exclude games on the continent exclusions.

So, set to rotate indefinitely. Why? Because you don't actually want to optimise this campaign, you don't want Google to be able to say, “hey this ad is performing really well because ten people have clicked it, we're going to show it more often.” Because the whole purpose of the campaign is to rotate those ads evenly, so that you know at some point someone will see something relevant to them.

Time your content well and get monster CTRs. This time last year we were running a small version of this kind of smorgasbord approach and we had an ad about GDPR are this ad got a 16% click-through rate which is just nuts for a display remarketing campaign and it was just because of the timing. So, that's another way that you can really use this, again I'm going to completely reinforce free impressions, cheap clicks - what are you waiting for?

Oh, yeah, it's a trap! Not what everything I've just been talking about but this specific thing - recommended settings. Google thinks that it’s being really friendly and helpful here, it's not. So, this one is about automated targeting. So, during the campaign setup you'll encounter this. I've put ‘hit retain control’ over here, targeting in disable audience expansion when creating remarketing campaigns: this is a recommended setting so if you skip this, you don't expand that box and you skip it by accident you'll find that you're not targeting your ‘all users’ list. You're targeting your ‘all users’ list plus people that think that Google thinks is appropriate, and you don't get to define who those are so don't bother. Always disable it in a remarketing campaign.

eCPC, so this is an automated bid strategy which optimises your campaign which lets you take a hands-off approach but, in this context, where you want the ‘rotate indefinitely’ setting on, using eCPC will override it so just turn it off.

So, we're going to ride straight back up the funnel and talk about awareness. So, approaching those massive audiences where there's a little bit more risk and I'm going to talk about custom affinity because I freaking love them. So, this is for when Google's own definitions don't quite cut it, so when you go into normal affinity audiences. So, normal affinity audiences - let's take education for example but that’s because where most of my experiences are. Well I want people interested in higher ed and I'll look at the settings and I will find that they don't go niche enough, so even with the extra targeting options of keywords the audiences are still too big they're not niche enough because if I'm looking for like higher ed students after maths degrees, I'll still get online courses included in that and things that just aren't relevant enough.

Another thing about custom affinity is that it's really relevant for when you're an agency and you've got a client who comes to you and says “hey we've spent thousands of pounds on the consultancy to tell us who our target market is and we've developed these amazing amazingly expensive personas and we want you to find us these people.” My first question when they do this is “so what? You told me that this guy is interested in, he's really picky about his drones” it’s too separate from the actual targeting capabilities that are within the platform, where does a persona intersect with platform targeting abilities and this is where custom affinity comes in really useful and it is the hard bit because the platform is going to push back and be like “no use our black boxes where you can't quite see how it's defined” and we're like “no we need these people” so this is where we fight back.

So when the platform wins that's where wasted spend happens, so this is how we basically take control off Google and stop the black box happening and it's great for accountability because it's brilliant to be able to say to your client “hey this is the platform, these were the limitations and these are your goals, this is how we found a way around it, this is the impact on your bottom line so it's really useful.”

So, these are all the things that you can put into a custom affinity audience to define it. We've got competitor URLs, competitor keywords, interest keywords, interest URLs, and action URLs. There are probably some more I’ve forgotten but they're the main ones I’d use. So, you take those, and you make a spreadsheet and you need you need more than 15. I tend to use 30 because then I know that my first audience will have like 10 of each and I can work from there upwards. So this is where we tell the platform what definitions they should use for the audience and this is just visual breadcrumbs on how to get to where you put that information within Google Ads which you can look at on the video later.

So, why test these audiences? Why not just let them run once you've defined them? Well continuous optimisation equals continual improvement. Don't really need to expand on that. You can't tell what signals are taking precedence unless you engineer comparison. This is where client accountability comes into it, if they go to you and say, “why is this working?” you give them the information. Efficiency - it's faster to implement than testing creative when you can't edit in-house.

I don't know if anyone else has been in that classic scenario where you've gone “right we need to work on some campaign improvements, what should we do?” Someone has gone “we will change the call-to-action button from blue to green.” A week later a committee has formed, someone else has gotten involved and gone “while we're there, I didn't really like that background image so let's try a few more variants, and also maybe actually we've had a complete change of messaging.” Two weeks later, all you wanted was some optimisation goals and you're basically drowning in bureaucracy. Because this is an in-platform thing and how in-house needs to know because it's just part of your routine optimisation. It's a great opportunity to bring marginal gains into a campaign without having to involve committees basically.

So, what do you get once you've defined your first audience? You've got your ad groups - let's say you've got three sets of creative; you've got audience 1 that looks like this and maybe it's like competitor URLs, a few interest keywords and some interest URLs. Then you create others that are variants of it and what you get eventually is a whole bunch of combinations. Once a month you look at behavioural metrics on the analytics because this is an outreach campaign, so you're interested in how many pages people are viewing per session, what the bounce rate is and the click-through rates within Google Ads itself and you just kill off the bottom performing 50% and start the process all over again.

So important considerations. Customer affinity requires three weeks to complete a learning phase where the algorithm goes “thanks for that info, I now need to do some homework” so adding an assessing audience should be a monthly task. Don't just look at click-through rates to analyse performance, look at it alongside behaviour, log audience definitions in a spreadsheet. This caught me out the first time I did this alongside results, so you can spot trends in what signals work best for that client and sector to inform future campaigns. If you can go to a client or even after some experience with this, you can go to a future client and say “I really need this information from you about your competitors or more information about what you think your customers’ interests are because we found previously that this type of information works really well for your specific sector in your specific situation.”

These audiences give you IP that you can then use in other contexts. This type of testing will always result in campaigns being limited by spend and that's okay because you're working with huge numbers. I would recommend sticking with manual CPC for a clicks/goal campaign but test other bid strategies via experiments if you use this for conversion goals.

So, the methods I'm talking about are really relevant for businesses with really long buying cycles because it's really top of the funnel and you can use the same audience testing strategy lower down. But I would use the actual campaign experiments feature in Google Ads to test other things like bid strategies.

Another trap, users from India who like the Queen and/or Manchester United. Avoid the recommended setting. It's another one, (thanks Google) people in or interested in your target location, anyone been caught out by this? It's another one of those dropdowns, or if you don't spot it and you think “I'm targeting the UK, what's going on here?” You look at your location report and find that 90% of your users are coming in from India. It's because they've probably clicked on an article about what Meghan Markle has been wearing that day that's on some Indian news website and expressed an interest in the UK.

But Google thinks they're being really helpful by letting us expand our reach, so always I would recommend that if you wanted to target multiple geographical campaigns they should be all separated out as they shouldn't be the same campaign and that lets you control other settings as well, so avoid this one.

So, quick recap - content remarketing using the all users known quantities more likely to convert. Take advantage of cheap clicks to get your knowledge seen and stay front of mind with potential converters. Custom affinity lets you retain control, eliminate that black box over how audiences are defined. It lets you incrementally improve campaign performance and be aware of traps in campaign setup. Google thinks it's helping you reach more users but what you want to focus your media spend is more better users. Thank you very much!

AK: And that was Eva Wilkes at SearchNorwich 5 giving her talk “Awesome Audiences”, I hope you enjoyed it and took something away from it. We’re hosting SearchNorwich 8 on the 29th of August and we have two top speakers attending. Chris Green from StrategiQ will be teaching us some technical SEO and Lexi Mills will be talking about some much loved content and PR SEO. There will also be free pizza and beer so be sure to come.

You can see further details at and I will link to this and any other resources in the shownotes at

I hope you all have a fantastic week, and I’ll catch you in the next episode!

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