Is Keyword or Audience Targeting Better For Finding Your Ideal Audience?
Back in the day, keywords were the primary ammo in a digital marketer's arsenal. Google AdWords, Bing Ads and other platforms were built on the simple premise of matching ads with interested consumers. Campaigns lived and died on their keyword lists.
Now, there's audience targeting. Unlike keywords, audience targeting matches consumers with advertisements based on demographics, interests and behavioral data. Google and Facebook offer their advertisers hundreds of options for shaping their audiences. In AdWords, audience targeting was mainly a feature of Google's Display Network, but recently Google introduced behavioral targeting options for Search Network advertisers.
In other words, audience targeting is on the rise.
But is audience targeting more effective than good-old-fashioned keyword targeting? This question is widely debated in marketing circles. A closer look reveals that each targeting method is profoundly different, and keywords arguably hold the edge for generating leads and sales. Read on, and we'll review the differences between keywords and audience targeting and how to find your target in today's ever-changing landscape.
The Depth of Audience Targeting
Imagine you own a shoe store, and you're creating a Facebook ad campaign for a new model of men's trail shoes. How can audience targeting help you meet your objectives?
Using Facebook's custom audience settings, you can literally target a specific age group of men who share relevant interests such as running, trail running and hiking. You can target men who show interest in specific shoe brands. You can target men whose households meet certain income requirements. You can even target men whose online behavior indicates they're on the verge of buying new running shoes.
You can tighten the screws even further by requiring audiences to meet multiple conditions. For example, you can set your ad to be shown only to people who've shown interest in running and hiking, or running shoes and trail shoes. Just like with keyword targeting, you can also exclude certain audiences from seeing your ads. A good example here would be excluding low-income buyers from seeing ads for your most expensive trail shoes - they're probably less likely to convert.
Audience targeting makes it easy to get your ad in front of millions of interested eyeballs. And it's effective on multiple ad platforms. That said, despite the obvious advancements in audience targeting, there's still one thing that keywords do better.
And it's a big thing.
Keywords Capture Intent
Once more, imagine that you're marketing a new model of trail running shoes. Your biggest goal is to drive sales. That means you're looking for people who are ready to buy. Preferably now.
In this case, keywords are king.
Only keywords can lock in on a user's in-the-moment intent. Use keywords such as "buy trail running shoes" or "buy Nike trail shoes," and you'll target users with exactly those needs. You can virtually exclude people who aren't likely to make purchases by putting terms like "cheap," "discount" or "compare" on your negative keyword list.
Keywords also let you get extremely granular. Are you advertising the Brooks Cascadia 11 trail shoe?
Plug that into your keyword list along with buyer-oriented terms like "buy," "deals" or "best price," and you'll cut straight to the heart of your target audience. You can't do that with audience targeting.
Now you know the biggest difference between audience and keyword targeting. As you can see, keyword targeting is far from obsolete. In fact, you might be wondering why even bother with audience targeting if keywords are better for driving sales?
Audience vs. Keyword Targeting: Different Tools for Different Tasks
Keywords are better for generating leads and sales because they grab consumers in those moments they're ready to buy. These consumers have already decided they need new running shoes. They've already researched brands, or they might have go-to favorites. They're aware of new models, and they might have searched for best prices. They're far along in their sales journeys and ready to get on with it.
Audience targeting can reach shoppers who are just taking their first steps. Again, think of those trail shoes. With audience targeting, you can introduce those shoes to folks who have affinities for running and other outdoor activities. Rather than push sales, you can design ads that build awareness of your brand, your store and your best products. Pique interests by advertising what makes those new trail shoes remarkable. Encourage trail runners to put those shoes on their shopping lists.
Don't get me wrong - the point of marketing is always to generate profit. And the most direct way to boost profit is to drive leads and sales. That said, you'll have an easier time driving sales once you've made that connection with customers, and that's where audience targeting really shines.
Yes, you can do brand marketing with keywords, but audience targeting does it better.
Keyword targeting is arguably still the king of the mountain in search engine marketing. This is especially true for small business owners who are often more concerned with driving sales than building their brands. After all, small businesses can often build their brands through local sales, social media and community involvement.
Keep an eye on audience targeting though. Don't be afraid to split test with different custom audience settings. Even when leaning on keywords, skillful audience targeting can weed out users who are less likely to become paying customers. Also, keep an eye on Google AdWords. Just recently, Google incorporated in-market audience settings with Search Network advertising campaigns, letting advertisers target consumers who appear ready to make purchases. Eventually, Google will incorporate even more audience targeting with its Search Network advertising platform.
Audience targeting is on the rise, but keyword targeting is still the savvy marketer's weapon of choice.
Want more Google AdWords tips? Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate Google AdWords Checklist.
Related story: 4 SEO Best Practices of the Past That No Longer Apply
Phil is Founder and COO of Main Street ROI. Phil leads the company’s operations and is primary creator of Main Street ROI’s marketing training programs. He is an expert in search engine marketing, website analytics, and sales funnel optimization. Phil’s marketing thought leadership has been published on Forbes.com, Inc.com, MSN.com, and many other major business media outlets.
Phil earned his Master of Engineering Management degree from Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business and his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from Dartmouth College. While attending Dartmouth, Phil started every game on the varsity football team as the defensive safety.