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A handy guide: PPC ad targeting options

One of the main benefits of PPC marketing is the advanced targeting tools offered by search engines. Using ad platforms such as Google Ads and Bing Ads, we’re able to target users based on their online behaviour, interests and demographics.

Having an all-round understanding of your targeting options will help you to reach out to your most valuable audience and achieve your digital marketing goals faster. We’ve created this guide to take you through some of the major methods for search, display and remarketing PPC campaigns. 

Search Targeting

 It comes as no surprise that search targeting is the most common method in PPC. Search campaigns allow you to reach out to users who are actively searching for something relevant to your brand.

If your ad matches their search – you could appear as an answer to their query and potentially gain a new customer. So, how do you make sure your ad is appearing for the right Google searches? 


 Your keywords are the terms or phrases that you use to inform Google which queries you want to trigger your ads. For example, if somebody searches for “Digital Marketing Agency”, Google will scan their advertisers accounts for the most relevant terms. If you’re eligible – you have a chance of showing up.

Of course, you can’t guarantee that you will appear for every query you want to. Google will consider a combination of things such as quality score, keyword match types, negative keywords and bids. Remember, Google wants to provide its users with the most valuable, helpful and high-quality sites. You can find out more on PPC keywords here

Dynamic Search Ads

Dynamic search ads (DSA) campaigns are a newer form of PPC targeting. It works by providing search engines with your website so that the platform can match user queries based on your content. 

You can control whether Google scans the whole of your site or specific pages. DSA’s are ideal for expanding the reach of your existing search campaigns. They’re designed to match any potential queries that are not being bid on but might still be relevant to user searches. 

Display Targeting

With display ads, you can reach out to people during different stages of the buying journey. This works by targeting specific users with PPC ads before they actively search for your product or service. You can also display ads after they’ve made a sale – or if they came close but didn’t complete a purchase. We will explain more about retargeting later on. 

On the Google Display Network (GDN), your ads will appear depending on the targeting you use. The two main targeting categories focus on either the type of content or the viewer, for example:

  • Context / Content – You can approach you’re targeting in this way if you want it to focus on the content of a website. When using contextual targeting, you are telling Google that you only want your ads to show on sites containing content relevant to your brand. 
  •  Audience / People – In this case, you’re telling Google that you want your ads to appear based on the viewer. This means it’s not the content or site that matters, but who is viewing it and whether they match your customer profile.

You’ll find different types of targeting within these two categories. We’ve listed these below, starting with contextual methods:

Contextual Targeting

  • Placement Targeting – You will provide Google with a list of websites that you would like your ad to appear on. The sites you choose need to be opted into AdSense to be eligible.
  • Keyword Targeting – Keywords function differently on GDN to search. With GDN, they don’t use match types. Instead, Google finds content that matches your keywords and will show your ad to users who have visited those sites. There is slightly less control here in the sense that Google might display your ads based on a loose match. 
  • Topics – Out of all of the contextual targeting options – topic targeting will probably have the widest reach. It allows you to choose topics from a list created by Google. Google creates the lists based on different industries and categories, which could be anything from medicine, to digital marketing, to fitness. You’ll also find subcategories to help you narrow down the exact type of content you want your ad to appear alongside.  

Audience Targeting

  • In-Market – Target groups who are actively searching for a specific product or service – meaning they are in the market and therefore could be interested in your ad. You can browse a list of In-Market audiences in the same way you can with Topics. 
  •  Life Events – Google allows you to target users if they are experiencing or approaching major life changes. Up until 2020, you could only target users who were searching for graduation, marriage or moving. Since January, you can now target four new life events; retirement, buying a home, creating a business and changing job.
  • Custom Intent – Custom Intent Audiences allows you to use keywords and URLs (sites) to create an audience list. The list will be based on the products and services your target customers are actively trying to purchase. If a user is making a purchase decision related to your brand, then you can target them with an ad. Google also offer auto-created audiences which you can test during a campaign. 
  •  Custom Affinity – Affinity audiences are ideal for driving awareness within groups that will likely have an interest in your product. You select your audience by choosing from a list, which will include categories such as “sports fans” and “luxury travellers.” Once you select your categories, Google can target users who are ‘enthusiasts’ in your industry.
  •  Similar Audiences – Similar Audience targeting is a powerful yet simple tool that lets you reach out to users who share similarities with your existing customers. With a combination of your audience data, Google’s data and Google’s look-alike modelling algorithm – you’ll be able to generate a list of like-minded users who may click on your ads and convert.


Remarketing (or retargeting) is the easiest way to reconnect with people who have already interacted with your site or app. You can display your ads in front of these specific audiences while they browse Google or its partner sites. It is essentially a way of reminding or encouraging a user to convert. There are some different remarketing methods, for example: 

  • Dynamic remarketing – Place an ad with a specific product or service in front of a user who has previously viewed them on your site or app. 
  • Remarketing lists for search ads – Display an ad to past customers as they do follow-up searches for what they need on Google on Google’s partner sites.  
  • Video remarketing – Target users who have previously watched or interacted with your videos or YouTube channel. You can display ads while they browse YouTube or other Display Network videos and sites. 
  • Customer match – Using contact information that your customers have provided; you can upload lists and target them with personalised ads when they sign into their Google accounts. 

For more information on remarketing, click here. 

Get in Touch 

 If you have any question about audience targeting or how to maximise the results of your PPC ads – please contact us.

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