Affinity audiences are a Google Ads audience type categorized by an audience’s interest in (or affinity to) a topic or subject. Learn how to prospect the right audience and generate more ROI in this comprehensive guide.

Here, you’ll find:

  1. What affinity audiences are
  2. Affinity audiences vs. other audience types
  3. How to create custom affinity audiences on Google Ads
  4. When to use affinity audiences
  5. Affinity audiences FAQs

Your top priority as a marketer? Reaching and converting your target audience. But what if you missed out on a bunch of potential customers? Enter affinity audiences: a Google Ads audience type that captures people with interests related to your products in one way or another.

Are we talking potential for more sales and conversions? Those are the strongest benefits of affinity audiences, along with greater brand awareness and authority.

We caught up with Rachel Corak, Associate SEM Director at HawkSEM and an audience-obsessed search engine marketer for every PPC channel out there.

Below, she gives us the lowdown on affinity audiences, how they differ from other audience types, how to reach them, and why you need them in your Google Ads strategy.

Banknotes and colored board with text AFFINITY MARKERTING on colored background.

(Image: Adobe Stock)

 What are affinity audiences?

Affinity audiences put your ads in front of people with genuine desire in your product or service based on their specific interests. 

There are affinity audiences for each niche interest. But how does Google Ads know which groups of people are interested in each distinct category? The search engine giant analyzes web behavior and history across these four areas:

  • URLs: Which websites you visit the most
  • Interests: General topics that frequently come up
  • Places: Your location or history of travel
  • Apps: Your app downloads

That’s right — Google really is watching our search behavior all the time. But that’s a good thing for brands like yours that want to connect with audiences most interested in your offerings.

Affinity audience examples and resources

Let’s say a suburban parent frequently browses House & Garden’s website for cooking tips or frequently searches for new recipes on various food blogs. 

Google analyzes the URLs that get the most air time on their devices. Then it uses them to group the parent into one or several relevant affinity audiences. 

In this case, they’d likely get plugged into a few of these examples:

  • Food & Dining
  • Food & Dining » Coffee Shop Regulars
  • Technology » Technophiles » Home Automation Enthusiasts
  • Food & Dining » Cooking Enthusiasts
  • Food & Dining » Cooking Enthusiasts » Aspiring Chefs

Pro Tip: Google lists a diverse assortment of affinity audiences across endless niches — from lifestyle and wellness to sports fans and tech whizzes. You can explore the full spectrum on Google’s webpage.

Now, imagine you’re a niche kitchen accessory ecommerce brand that wants to harness relevant affinity audiences on Google. 

That suburban parent might have never seen your website before, yet their interest in Home & Garden and all those food blogs align perfectly with your brand. In that case, your PPC ads would likely show up on their radar now.

Do these same rules apply to their Facebook and LinkedIn feeds, too? Keep reading to find out. 

 Affinity audiences vs. other audience types on Google Ads and other channels

So, what makes an affinity audience different from your regular PPC ad target audience? 

For starters, not all affinity audiences will even see your ad if you don’t try to reach them. Your target audience, on the other hand, includes everybody who sees your ads, even if they’re not particularly interested in your product or just serial browsers.

If an affinity audience shows interest in a niche related to your product in some way, wouldn’t that be the same as a “similar” audience type? Not quite

Corak shares that similar audiences have since been deprecated from Google Ads (now known as lookalike audiences, and also a targeting option on LinkedIn). 

Lookalike audiences aren’t determined based on Google search or browsing history. They’re identified based on shared locations, demographics, or purchase history with your existing customers.

Still, affinity audiences feel similar to custom segments used for remarketing tactics. Corak says the two are still technically distinct:

“Custom segments are audiences that are based on first-party data like email subscriber lists, or cookie data like website visitors.”

Don’t get us wrong; lookalike audiences and custom audience segments are great audience types to harness on Google Ads. But affinity audiences reveal new leads that are still qualified and likely to convert down the line. 

Are affinity audiences exclusive to Google display campaigns, or are they available on other ad platforms too? According to Corak, that’s like comparing apples to oranges:

“For Meta advertising, you can target interest-based audiences, which would be similar, but their algorithms and audience pools aren’t going to be 1:1,” says Corak. “The affinity audience on Google would not change regardless of industry unless you were layering additional targeting into your campaign.”

Next up: a play-by-play on how to enable affinity audiences in your PPC campaigns.

 How to create custom affinity audiences on Google Ads

The Google Display Network (GDN) has a simple process to enable affinity audiences in your audience targeting strategy. Here are the steps to make it happen: 

  1. Log into your Google Ads Account: All your campaigns will show up here, along with any affinity audiences. Time to add a few.
  2. Find the Audience Manager: You’ll find it on the drop-down menu, under “Tools and Settings,” then “Shared Library.”
google accounts manager screenshot

(Image: Google Ads)

  1. Create an affinity audience: Choose between specific audiences with certain interests (i.e., cooking, childcare, interior design), or ones that have searched for certain queries. You can also expand this to specific URLs and app downloads.
google ads screenshot

(Image: Google Ads)

google ads screnshot

(Image: Google Ads)

  1. Save your custom audiences on Google: Give your new affinity audience a name. Then decide whether to start using your Google Ads campaigns to target that group or keep them in observation mode.

The catch?  Affinity audience targeting isn’t free, which is why Corak recommends observing affinity audiences before targeting them:

“It is best to gather data on broad audiences before making targeting decisions.”

Still unclear about when you’d use affinity audiences? Let’s explore some scenarios for optimal results.

 When to use affinity audiences: 4 scenarios

Audience targeting on Google Ads and other paid social platforms present endless options. 

I mean, the goal is to capture your audience in the sea of the 4.3 billion people who use Google. Naturally, it’s hard to decide when and where to use affinity audiences when every targeting option has something to offer. 

We’ll take the guesswork out of the process with these marketing scenarios that benefit from this audience strategy.

1. When you have high web traffic but low conversions

Let’s say you’ve got your lead generation down but struggle to seal the deal.What gives? Chances are, your PPC ads aren’t operating at full optimization. 

One potential reason is they don’t attract sales-qualified leads (SQLs) to your landing pages and website. In that case, something could be off with your keyword research or perhaps your audience targeting is too broad.

Of course, a HawkSEM SEO and PPC audit would identify potential issues like missing negative keywords, wrong location targets, or chunky web elements that could hinder your ad visibility or conversions.

But overall? High clicks and low conversions mean your display ads aren’t reaching the right audience. Instead, they attract people with basic interest that will forever be mere browsers. 

A carefully tailored affinity audience puts your ads in front of people with a more profound interest in your products, which can boost conversion rates and make the most out of your web traffic. 

Another perk? You’ll notice a higher ROI. If your marketing dollars are spent on display ads that reach audiences with custom intent aligned with your offerings, you’ll spend less money overall to secure a conversion.

2. When you want to learn more about your audience

How long did it take you to craft your latest audience persona? Talk about research. Demographics, web activity, social media comments, and purchase history takes a ton of time to analyze and interpret into audience personas you can actually target.

Then you need to account for the evolving behavior and needs of your target audience. If your audience personas are from three years ago, it’s time to refresh with new audience research. Corak swears by affinity audiences to do so:

“Affinity audiences can be useful in observation mode if you are trying to better understand your users.”

Note the magic word: observation mode. Meaning? You can’t jump the gun on affinity targeting until you know your audience inside and out. 

P.S. Need more tips to get to know your audience better? We’ve got you.

Once you’re cozier with your audience, you can take the training wheels off on your affinity audiences.

3. When you want to build brand awareness and capture new leads  

When used correctly, affinity audiences help you hone in on incredibly qualified leads before they even hear of your product. Wild, right? What kind of crystal ball gives you that insight? 

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s recap the customer journey and where affinity audiences fit into it.

The customer journey is usually separated into three parts: upper funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom-funnel. 

  • Upper-funnel audiences are in the awareness stage and are just hearing of your brand for the first time. These are new leads (affinity audiences) that are just beginning to blossom into what could be a loyal customer. 
  • Mid-funnel audiences are in the consideration stage, diving deeper into your brand’s online presence and offerings, and even comparing it to the competition. 
  • Bottom-funnel audiences are ready to convert. They just need an enticing nudge, like a limited-time offer or ultra-compelling remarketing campaign.

But how do you know if it’s worth capturing affinity audiences that are only in the awareness stage? 

After all, you can’t know for certain that they’ll end up converting. This is the prime difference between a brand that knows its audience intimately versus one that doesn’t. 

Corak sees affinity audiences as a great tool to build brand awareness in qualified upper-funnel audiences that you know have a solid chance of converting because you know your audience.

4. When metrics indicate ROI

Remember when Corak highlighted data collection as a vital precursor to targeting affinity audiences? Keep that same commitment to data as you monitor campaign performance on your newly targeted affinity audiences:

“If you can see within your audience insights that a particular affinity audience drives more conversions while producing a lower cost per acquisition (CPA) or a higher return on ad spend (ROAS), then yes, it would make sense to bid more on that audience,” says Corak.

Here’s a quick recap on those metrics:

  • CPA: How much it costs on average to acquire a new customer
  • ROAS: The percentage of revenue you get compared to your ad spend

So if it’s costing you less to acquire new customers and you’re getting more of a return on your ad spend? 

That seems like a lucrative affinity audience to keep bidding for! At least, that was the case for our happy finance client New Century Financial. A deep dive into their audience personas and sales funnel gave us the insights needed to adjust bid adjustments for affinity audiences and garner epic results like:

  • 5X increase in monthly lead volume
  • 80% cut down of CPA
  • 6X increase in conversion rate 

Our expertise with affinity audiences helped us do exactly what Corak says is a successful strategy, measured by a lower CPA and more conversions.

The takeaway

Affinity audiences give your marketing strategy valuable air time on the SERP for people truly interested in your product. Whether you see potential in targeting tennis enthusiasts or beauty mavens, affinity audiences narrow down your targeting to higher-value audiences that are more likely to convert. 

But how do you know which affinity audience targeting options are worth it? 

Audience research and A/B testing will give you a solid foundation. The downside? We’ve seen tons of marketers blow through their budgets with affinity audience targeting that looked good on paper but not so much on the balance sheet.

That’s why Corak and the rest of HawkSEM’s PPC experts meticulously leverage experience, expertise, and real-time data insights from our proprietary tech ConversionIQ to back every affinity audience target with data:

“We don’t use cookie-cutter approaches when it comes to audience targeting,” says Corak. “With all things Google Ads, we make data-informed decisions, so we would cater our approaches to targeting based on results.”

Your audience has an affinity for your product. And as a top-3% digital marketing agency, we have an affinity for revenue. Your revenue. Match made in heaven, right? 

Let’s unite reach and revenue to crush your marketing goals together.

 FAQs about affinity audiences

1. What is the difference between affinity audiences and custom segments?

Affinity audiences are different groups of people you can target based on Google’s assessment of their website behavior and demographics, which the search engine interprets into categories of interest.

Custom segments are usually based on first-party data like customer purchase lists and email subscriptions.

2. Which brands should use affinity audiences?

Brands that want to learn more about their target audience, capture more qualified leads, and create more brand recognition at the top of the sales funnel should use affinity audiences. 

3.Which brands shouldn’t use affinity audiences?

Brands without a clear picture of their audience personas should not spend their marketing dollars to target affinity audience’s unless they use it only in observation mode.

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