March 17, 2020 AdGurus

Google Ads: How to use audiences in search campaigns to improve your conversion rate

TL;DR: Audiences when used as a targeting layer for your Google Ads Search Campaigns can be a powerful tool to match the correct user intent and improve your conversion rate. This is an advanced technique once you have set up you Campaigns / AdGroups/ Keywords correctly and you’re looking for an extra edge to optimize even more.  I’ll discuss 2 + 1 categories of audiences and how they can be utilized to improve your campaigns:

1. Remarketing lists

This is the most obvious use of audiences in Search Campaigns and Google calls them RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads).

As you will know from the documentation, audiences can be used in two modes: Observation (default) and Targeting. The difference between these two is that in observation mode you can use the audience for bid adjustments and to collect analytics, while in targeting mode for the keyword to trigger an ad the user must also exist in the audience. Here are two best practices:

Remarketing lists in observation mode

Users that have visited your site and especially users that have previously converted are more likely to convert in the future, especially in an e-commerce setting. So you can use this method to add a positive bid adjustment (100-200% increase) to make sure you get a good position for that particular search. If you’re in the subscription or SaaS business then it might make sense to do the exact opposite and perform a negative bid adjustment (-100%) since you have nothing else to sell, you don’t want to pay for that user to visit your site. These are just examples and you can use your common sense depending on the type of service.

Remarketing lists in targeting mode

Here the technique that I’ve found to be the most effective is the ability to use less exact keyword targeting but limit them to your past users or converters. This can be good for cross selling in e-commerce. For example if you’re a retailer with multiple categories you can use the top category keywords which might not have a positive ROAS and limit them to past users or even past converters.

2. In Market and Affinity Audiences

The obvious and first method is to go to the audiences section and start searching with various keywords and just browse the categories. Then to dig deeper:

    1. Set up your main remarketing lists in Google Analytics, using 1 day, 7 day, 30 day and 540 days as well as any other remarketing lists that make sense to your business model such as abandoned carters, converters etc.
    2. Once your lists have ~1000 cookies you can check the audience report in Google Analytics > Audience > Audiences as well as the Audience insights in Google Ads > Tools > Audience Manager > Audience Insights.

  1. Take note of all the audiences that make sense to target based on your (or your client’s) vertical. Especially in Google Analytics, you might want to download to a spreadsheet and do some filtering not only on conversion but based on bounce rate and session time. Avoid using the very general categories. Through this exercise I’ve found the “Cloud Services Power Users” audience which works well with SaaS clients, several luxury audiences (Luxury Shoppers, Luxury Watches etc.) or audiences related to travel (Beachbound Travelers, Family Vacationers etc.).
  2. Add the audiences that make sense in observation mode and start collecting data. If things go well then you’ll start seeing that most of your conversions happen within one or more of these audiences and that your cost per conversion is better than the campaign average.

Depending on the results you get you can:

  1. If the audiences account for some and not most you can add bid adjustments depending on the cost per conversion
  2. If the audiences account for most of the conversions you can change the targeting from observation to targeting only
  3. If inconclusive results, repeat process to find more audiences and also have a look at the next section

In the end your campaign should have multiple lists that are collecting data so that you can optimize further:

3. Combined Audiences to create user personas (new)

Now that we’ve covered the basic scenarios here is a really powerful and relatively new technique to graft the ideal user persona for you search ad: Combined Audiences. Google launched these at the end of 2019 and it allows you to combine audiences to create really specific user personas. They’re accessible here:

You can combine any audience criteria with Combined audiences, such as detailed demographics, life events and remarketing lists. For example see below the combination of Luxury Travellers to Greece with Kids. If you’re selling holidays, this is a customer segment that has a larger than average value than say young couples. Combined with the right keywords you’re better set up to get good value and ROAS:

We’re seeing improvements up to 20% in performance when using the correct combinations. As always, don’t assume, but test multiple scenarios and move based on your data.

Need help with your campaigns? Whether you’re an Agency or a Client, I can help you get to the next level with your Google Ads Campaigns.

Email me at hello [at]

Yannis Giovanos

Yannis Giovanos is the founder of and has been running Google Ads since 2009.


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