When the best of machine learning and display combine into new features for search, that’s what you call a game-changer.
This year, that change was in-market audiences, with both Google and Bing rolling out in-market audiences for their search platforms after being available to on the Google Display Network since 2014.
In-market audiences cover audiences that are in the market for products and services in industries ranging from apparel to travel, and Google and Bing are expected to release more audiences steadily over time.
They seem to be the ideal targeting option if you’re aiming for conversions, right? But before blindly applying them to all your campaigns, you need to consider the good and the bad.
What Are In-Market Audiences?
In-market audiences use machine learning to analyze trillions of search queries and browsing activity to predict purchase intent.
This means that you can actually target people based not only on their present search activity but also on recent browsing history. As a result, you can be sure to display ads that are relevant to audiences at the right time.
Past browsing behaviors show the kinds of products and services that users are actively interested in, allowing you to reach people who have displayed high purchase intent signals.
You, therefore, have access to audiences who are likely to be incredibly valuable to businesses, as they are precisely curated to be in the market for specific products and services, and so are expected to have a higher likelihood of converting compared to other audiences.
For example, if a user is reading camera review websites and watching camera comparison videos, Google may deem them to be keen to purchase a camera and put them in the relevant in-market audience.
Without needing keyword targeting or targeting based on interaction with the brand, advertisers can target users who demonstrate these kinds of signals.
It’s an amazing illustration of what machine learning can do, and only a glimpse into what the future holds for search.
In-Market Audiences vs. Other Audience Targeting Options: What’s the Difference?
In-market audiences may not sound too different from all the other audience targeting options offered by Google, but they represent a group of users who are truly low down in the purchase funnel.
The difference between in-market audiences and affinity/custom affinity is that the former is tied to more temporary behavior whereas the latter type is for getting to audiences based on their general interests and behavior.
Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) audiences and similar audiences also show some indication of being close to conversion, but unlike those, in-market audiences may be entirely unfamiliar with your brand name and site – and they’re better for acquisition.
They all have different advantages, so using different kinds of targeting is best for greater coverage.
You can layer in-market audiences with other audiences, and get even more granular with other demographic targeting options like gender and age.
You can set in-market audiences to targeting or observation mode (“target and bid” and “bid only” in Bing) at the campaign level. Usually, with few exceptions, you would set audiences to observation mode.
This allows you to observe how the audiences are performing, and then set appropriate bid modifiers once you’re sure you’ve chosen the right audience.
Targeting mode will reduce your reach so should only be used if you really only want to target the people in the in-market audience.
To Use or Not to Use?
However, as much of an advocate I am of AI and automation, some caution is necessary when using in-market audiences.
Upon the release of in-market audiences, they were celebrated for showing strong potential to improve campaign performance at no additional cost to advertisers.
Although the audiences are overall smaller in size, the users are theoretically more likely to click through and convert, and so are more valuable for conversion-focused marketing goals.
And it’s true that they can show very impressive results – but it’s not as simple as just applying them across the board.
Generally speaking, using in-market audiences can lead to great improvements to performance.
We’ve done some initial tests with clients in the retail sector, and an aggregated view showed that in-market audiences made up 15 percent of ad clicks and were, unsurprisingly, more likely to convert at a lower CPM.
In great cases like these, you can keep seeing great results simply by raising bids and expand coverage.
But some individual campaigns have seen a decline in performance, and even rises in cost.
If you think about it, it makes sense: if everyone uses the same in-market audiences, they may not be quite as effective anymore.
Your competition will be trying to appear in front of the exact same favorable audiences – audiences that might even be based on their engagement with direct competitors.
This should be less of an issue as more audiences become available, because competition is less dense the more specific you get.
But niche audiences will be more valuable to businesses, and so may become more expensive as competitors raise their bids on them.
It goes without saying that it’s super important to keep the quality of ads and landing pages as high as ever.
And it’s absolutely crucial to carefully monitor performance and make sure to differentiate between campaigns, choosing audiences as specifically as possible will avoid wasting budget on users who are less likely to convert.
Yes, I definitely recommend trying out in-market audiences as part of your overall strategy. Hopefully, it will become even more effective over time as Google continues to optimize this feature.
As with any campaign strategy, continuous testing and reporting are an essential part of in-market audiences best practice.
The key, as always, is to look at your campaign strategy on a granular level, A/B test just about everything, and keep revising your best practice while keeping an eye on what Google is up to next.
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Featured Image: Created by author, October 2018