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Audience Signals in Google Ads Explained



Blog Banner for Google Audience Signals blog that is written comprehensively by referring various websites online and some direct conversations with the people in real.

Targeting the right audience with your ad is not an easy task. Multiple factors are involved in making your audience engage with your ad to improve your ad campaign performance. This blog will demystify the art of targeting the right audience using Google audience signals for better reach, and improved ad campaign performance.

The blog tries to explain the below

  • What are Google’s audience signals
  • Types of Google Audience Signals
  • How to set up audience signals in Google Ads
  • How you can optimize your ad campaigns using the right audience signals
  • Leveraging the Google Ads audience signals for your ad campaign’s performance

So, first things first, let’s start with 

Understanding Google Audience Signals

Google audience signals are those intricate cues that help the machine learning algorithm learn better about your target audience. Google audience signals is an important feature that allows users to input traits of the target audience such as interests, intentions, demographics, and behavior to help the algorithm target the users the right ad asset.

Further Google also says “the algorithm uses audience signals to deeply understand your audience’s intent, preferences & context to widen its reach to new audiences”.

If the ad platform finds an audience beyond these signals who exhibit traits of converting into the customer, they will also be targeted.

Therefore, although machine learning & automation are driven by audience signals, other parameters guide the ad platform to expand your ad reach to achieve the required goal.

Audience signals primarily come from your first-party data among all other sources.

The ad platform uses these audience signals & the data to learn about the kind of audiences that are more likely to convert. The ad platform also analyzes the users’ search history and website activity to gather more audience signals. It will then target the right audience using various factors like age, gender, location, and interests.

Screenshot showing what are Audience Signals. Screenshot is captured from Google Ads help from the page where it explained how to build an asset group. It also talks about how Performance Max shows ads to relevant audiences outside of your signals.
Image source: Google Ads Help

Types of Google Audience Signals

The ad platform’s algorithm uses the below audience signals to target the right audience:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Interface Language
  • Income
  • Affinity audiences
  • In-market audiences
  • Custom intent audiences
  • Purchase intention of the user
  • Device
  • Browser
  • Operating System
  • Actual query by the user
  • Ad creative
  • The interest of the user
  • Time of the day or day of the week
  • Your data (remarketing audience – website/app visitors)
  • RLSA
  • Customer Match List
  • Similar audience (Similar audience feature is no more available from May 1, 2023)
  • Search network partner
  • App ratings & reviews
Infographic showing Types of Google Audience Signals grouped in a broader aspect like Demographic Signals, Interest signals, Remarketing Signals, and Behavior Signals.

Your data, i.e., the first-party data provides most of the above audience signals. Some of them are device ID, browser ID, OS, location, search query made on your website, user behavior & actions like on which product the user has shown interest, if the user has browsed multiple products, or added any products to the cart, and many more.

The above audience signals are sent through ‘your data’.  Apart from the first-party data, there are several other segments through which Google gets audience signals.

There are 7 kinds of audiences in Google Ads 

  1. Your data segment (earlier remarketing list)
  2. Affinity segment (earlier affinity audience)
  3. In-market segment (earlier in-market audience)
  4. Similar segment (earlier similar audiences)
  5. Detailed demographic segment (earlier Detailed demographics (audience))
  6. Custom segment (earlier custom audience)
  7. Life-event segment (earlier life-event audience)

Leveraging Google Audience Signals for Targeting the Right Audience

Google audience signals provide huge information about the target audience to Google Ads. With the right expertise and understanding, tweak & train the ad algorithm, to benefit from the audience signals.

With manual bidding, it is possible to leverage only individual audience signals.

Screenshot showing what happens when audience signals work together. It is from a PDF launched by Google Ads titled Setting Smarter Search Bids Inside automated bidding with Google Ads that talks about audience signals.
Image Source: Report from Google Ads on Smarter Search Bids

With limited signals, the ad platform is directed only to a certain extent. The ability to expand the reach to more audiences is also limited. If an attempt is made to increase the ad reach for more conversions with manual bidding, the result is decreased ROI.

Screenshot of Google's automation blog which shows how to reach new audiences. It shows if you input manually targeted audiences, then you might be missing out on expanding the net to other valuable converting online consumers and therefore your ROI is very less and Cost spent is high on Google Ads

This is because the ad campaigns have hit the point of diminishing returns. That means even when there is an increase in the budgets, the ad campaigns do not scale. This is due to lack of proper signals and data. All this will lead to higher costs and lesser conversions.

Automated bidding strategies combined with the right first-party data strategies will help the ad platform analyze numerous real-time signals such as user’s intent, preferences, context, and various other cross-signal effects.

Now with automation, data, and audience signals the ad platform will bid to reach the goal. The goal can be to maximize conversions or maximize conversion value or achieve maximum clicks or tCPA or tROAS. 

It is evident how the automation combines more than two signals for better cross-context signals. This process is followed for every single auction. With time, the ad platform has better audience signals and more data. Slowly it also understands the combination of signals that give more conversions (or reach the goal required) at an optimized cost.

The image shows all the individual signals available and how the algorithm uses multiple signals combined to bid for the most optimal value.

When trying to optimize the cost, Google also tries to reach new audiences. Using automation, Google ads will be able to cast a wider net to expand and reach new audiences. In this process, it ensures to give a better return on ad spend by maintaining higher conversions at an optimal cost.

Image shows how the audience net is widened using the signals to reach out to other consumers using the converting customers and driving in more conversions. The image is a screenshot from the animation of Google in their how automation works to reach new audiences blog.

Where do you set up the Audience Signals on Google Ads?

Audience signals are set up in performance max campaigns, display ad campaigns, video campaigns, and discovery campaigns. In addition to this, Google Ads’ algorithm uses audience signals in all automated bidding strategies even if you do not give them specifically under the audience signals option.

Layering the audience signals and narrowing down things for the algorithm is a recommended approach. It is like going broad at the top & narrowing it down.

Targeting Website Visitors

Website visitors are a huge treasure that offers high-quality audience signals. Collect all the website visitor data and sync it with Google Ads. Now Google will retarget those audiences using the audience signals you have provided.

Google’s internal experiments have proved that ‘website visitors are the most valuable users’. Therefore target those website visitors to get the most out of them.

The image is a screenshot from Google's internal data survey and was published in a PDF which shows that Website visitors are the most valuable users and drive 3X times higher CTR and then again from those clicks a 3X times higher Conversion Rate.
Image source: ThinkWithGoogle – Make the most out of Search using Audience Signals

Caution: Lack of proper understanding of your website visitors ends up spending a huge amount of money on your Google Ads without many conversions. Therefore, segment your audience properly using either a CDP or Google Analytics. Understand and then sync that data with Google Ads to send the correct signals.

How to set up Audience Signals in PMax Campaign in Google Ads

When setting up a performance max campaign, finish with the bid strategy selection, and campaign settings. After that move on to the asset group. Give the URLs, ad creatives (both images & videos), logos, headlines, your business name, call to actions, prices, etc., to the ad platform. After you submit all the ad assets, you will find the audience signals at the end.

Click Create an audience signal in the performance max campaign. You will find the below screen.

Screenshot of Google Ads that shows where to add Audience Signals in the performance max campaign.

Enter the audience name (be as simple and clear as possible)

Using ‘your data’

This set of audiences was earlier termed ‘remarketing’. This is your website visitor data that you already possess. Create these audiences using the audience manager in order to use them here at the audience signal in PMax Campaign.

Types of ‘your data’ that are available to create a segment:

  • Customer list
  • Lead form segment
  • YouTube users
  • App users
  • Website visitors

Here comes the major part of using your data effectively to provide those ‘right’ signals to the ad platform.

Collect your website visitor data, segment them ‘properly’, and then use them in the audience signals option while setting up the campaign to give those ‘right audience signals’.

Customers that are already aware of the brand are the high-intent audience. Adding customer data as audience signals will help the algorithm understand the traits of your purchasers and reach out to similar audiences. 

The customer data can be segmented as below before you send it to Google Ads

  • Added to cart but not purchased
  • Added to wishlist
  • Users with an average order value greater than $250
  • Users with a lifetime value of more than $5000

Audience segmentation can be done based on your strategies. You can either go broad or narrow down your target.

Create custom segments 

Click on +New Segment.

Next, out of the two options available choose one. Either go by people searching for relevant keywords or give the algorithm the interest of the ideal audience or purchase intents. 

Choose the prompts for keywords / interests / purchase intentions that Google Ads gives after you type in relevant words. It shows the insights of the segment on the right. For example, we tried typing in red party wear dress and women’s fashion to select various prompts. Find the below screenshot to understand better.

Image shows the screenshot of Google Ads dashboard in Performance Max Campaign showing how to add custom segment by adding relevant and related keywords.

Hint the algorithm by providing URLs that your target audience is most likely to visit. To do so, use this option, and expand the segment to choose people who browse a certain type of website.

Tip: For an eCommerce company that is selling women’s fashion clothes, URLs of cosmetic companies like L’Oréal, footwear, and costly women’s accessories like Gucci, Prada, etc., are relevant. Providing these URLs lets the algorithm help it understand which audience is highly interested in your products.

Note: Additionally, input the Apps that you think your similar audience might be interested in.

Check the insights on the right and save to continue to go back to the screen of audience signals.

Interests & detailed demographics

The interests & detailed demographics help you personalize your ad to the user. With this audience signal the algorithm understands that users with the interests you have provided are high-intent users.

The below screenshot shows the available ways you can provide information such as detailed demographic information, in-market audience segments, affinity audience segments, and life events.

The image shows the screenshot of adding a New audience signals in Performance Max Campaign of Google Ads that shows you can add audience signals based on interests & detailed demographics

Based on the demographics such as age, gender & income, the algorithm understands who is the ideal audience for your ad campaign.

The Life event option allows you to target the audience by special events like birthday, marriage day, etc. This audience signal in PMax helps when the product is personalized to users based on their special days. 

For example, a user with their birthday in December can be targeted with an ad showing ‘Get a special dress for your birthday’ to grab their attention and get more conversions. To do this, life event audience signals help.

In the interests & demographics, in-market & affinity audience options are available. Google Ads uses the information provided in the form of affinity audience & in-market audience to target the right audience.

The below screenshot from Google Ads shows how each and every in-market audience or affinity audience details are shown as soon as you hover over the audience segment.

The screenshot is from Google Ads Performance Max campaign set up where audience signals are given in detail and how it shows the insights for the both in-market & affinity audiences among others.

Giving detailed demographic information such as age, gender, parental status & income helps you target the right audience.

Using Google Analytics to Leverage Audience Signals

GA4 helps understand the audience using the data such as demographic patterns, user behavior, interests, language, demographic information such as age, & gender, device, conversion events, most performing landing pages, products purchased, and many more.

Using the data and patterns, analyze your audience behavior and conversions to know the audience better. This data helps you understand the audience and leverage the same to push the relevant, best-possible audience signals to the algorithm.

Benefits of Audience Signals in Google Ads

Google Ads considers the audience signals as the most valuable directions that the user is giving. Below are some of the benefits of audience signals in Google Ads

  • Ad Platform understands which audience are most likely to engage with the ads i.e., high-intent audience.
  • When you input the right Google audience signals for the right ad creatives you can hyper-personalize the experience for the users.
  • Increase the probability of the user to interact with your ads 
  • All these will lead to the better performance of your ad campaign.

How all this actually works in the background is based on how well you understand your audience.

Understanding the audiences gives you insights and the pain points of the users.

Tweaking the algorithm based on this data with the right audience signals will get you higher conversions easily at a less cost.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

Based on your data and audience signals, the algorithm will build itself and enhance your ad campaign performance to stay ahead of the curve.

To conclude, it is evident why audience signals are important for the ad platform algorithm and why you as a digital marketer should know about them.

When you correctly leverage the full potential of the audience signals, you can 

  1. Target the high-intent audience
  2. Personalize the ad experience
  3. Optimize your ad campaigns
  4. Increase conversion rate
  5. Enhance return on ad spend (ROAS).
Collect & Harness the Power of First-party data

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Signals in the context of audiences in Google Ads are the traits of audiences or the context of the user, for suppose from which device they are viewing, what is their geographical location, or the search topic & terms they have searched, their behavior in the website etc. Signal is used by Google Ads algorithm to find the right audience to increase your ad conversion rate or reach the required goal.
First-party data is one example of Google Audience Signal. Geographical location is another example of a google signal. All the user behaviors, traits and ad personalization preferences of the user stored anonymously on Google Ads are the examples of Google Signal.
When it comes to audience signals in Google's Performance Max Campaign, they are basically categorized into Demographic, Interest-based, Behavioral & Remarketing Signals. In Performance Max, there are seven types of audiences. They are Your data segment (earlier remarketing list), Affinity segment (earlier affinity audience), In-market segment (earlier in-market audience), Similar segment (earlier similar audiences), Detailed demographic segment (earlier Detailed demographics (audience)), Custom segment (earlier custom audience), and Life-event segment (earlier life-event audience).
In-market audience signals help the algorithm identify the target audience who exhibit high intention to buy. You can view the insights of the in-market audience segment you select in the Performance Max campaign while setting up.

Marketing enthusiast who enjoys writing articles on a wide range of topics including Marketing, SaaS, Technology, Construction, Life lessons, Public Policy Nature, and Sustainability. Good at Public Policy analysis with a deeper understanding of societal issues and potential solutions. Also loves to volunteer & contribute to society in every possible way.

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