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How to Get the Most Out of Audience Targeting in Education Paid Search

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Over the past few years, audiences have become an increasingly integral part of effective campaign management in paid search. For educational institutions running sizable campaigns on Google Ads, audiences should be viewed as a critical component for maintaining a competitive edge and boosting profitability, especially for student acquisition campaigns.

Layering audiences onto your search campaigns allows you to identify how membership in a particular audience group may influence the likelihood of conversion. Once you gather this information, you can then make wiser decisions about how to allocate your budget between each audience.

If your team is not yet using audiences in your paid search efforts, the good news is that it’s easy as well as risk-free. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the kinds of audiences that are available to you, and how you might consider using each one.

Types of Audiences

Before adding audiences, you must first understand what each audience on Google Search actually represents. Note that there are some differences between the audience types available on Search, Display and YouTube.

The audiences you can currently use on Google search are:

  • Affinity: Reach users based on what they’re passionate about, i.e. their hobbies and interests.
  • Detailed Demographics: Reach users based on long-term life facts.
  • In-market: Reach users based on their recent purchase intent.
  • Remarketing: Reach users that have interacted with your business in different ways.
  • Customer Match: Reach your existing customers based on your CRM data.
  • Similar audiences: Reach new users with similar interests to your website visitors or existing customers.

Note that while Google does offer the ability to create customized audiences (Custom Intent or Custom Affinity), these are not currently available on Google Search and can only be utilized on Display and YouTube.

Audience Strategies

We mentioned earlier that getting started with audiences doesn’t pose any sort of risk. This is because you can choose to add an audience layer to your existing search campaigns as a means of gathering data on how each audience performs within your current search traffic.

From the audience interface on Google Ads, you do this by adding the audiences with the “Observation” setting active. From there, simply select the audiences that you wish to add to your campaign (or adgroup, if you wish to test on a more granular level):

There’s really no limit to the number of audiences that you can add to your campaigns. They won’t interfere with each other, and at this point, you’re really only looking to gather information about each audience’s performance. So, feel free to add any audiences that you think might have an influence on the likelihood of conversion. You must also understand that your assumptions may prove to be incorrect. Again, since there’s no risk in doing so, don’t feel like you need to hold back with audience additions.

Acting on Audience Performance Data

Once your campaigns have been running for a while with active audiences, it’s time to go back and assess how these audiences impacted your campaign performance. For some audiences, you will find that there is little overlap between your existing traffic and the audiences in question. These audiences should probably be dropped from your campaigns for the sake of simplicity.

For other audiences, you may begin to notice differences between how some of them perform compared to the rest of your account traffic. Membership in some audiences may increase chances of conversion, while membership in others might indicate a lower chance of conversion. You can account for these differences in performance by applying a positive or negative bid modifier in Google Ads at the audience level. This capability is designed to bring your audience cost per conversion as close as possible to your campaign average. These modifiers will need to be adjusted over time along with the ebbs and flows of your account performance.

If you are using a Google Smart Bidding strategy, note that these bid adjustments will be handled for you automatically once you have added the audiences to the campaign. No further action will be required on your part beyond that point.


If you take the time to implement an audience strategy within your paid search campaigns, it will effectively shift your account spend towards groups of individuals who are more likely to resonate with your message and convert once they reach your website. That can give you a key advantage in attracting prospective students with the highest likelihood of enrolling as students. Since the education space is getting more competitive every year, we guarantee that you can’t afford to not have a well-thought-out audience strategy in place.

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