Written by Saphia Lanier on Jan 5 , 2023

Ready to stop wasting ad spend on irrelevant clicks? Use in-market audience segments.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What in-market audiences are
  • How they compare to other audiences
  • How to build your first in-market audience campaign using Google Ads
  • Best practices for using in-market audience targeting options

Designing a product or service you know people will love is one thing.

Getting them to pull out their hard-earned dollars is another.

That’s why connecting your offers with the right audience at the right time is so imperative to your marketing success. While ads do an amazing job of increasing the visibility of your brand, not all platforms are created equal.

Unlike traditional advertising, digital ads give you greater control over who sees them. Google offers various options for slimming down your audiences to pinpoint customers most likely to buy.

Here, we’ll focus on in-market audiences.

in market audience google ads

What are Google in-market audiences?

In-market audiences are a group of online users Google analyzes and determines are looking to buy a specific product or service. The search engine giant uses a mix of data points to determine this, including:

  • What keywords the users searched for lately
  • Which websites the users visited
  • What content the users engaged with

All of these signals tell Google which users are in the research stage of making a purchase. By setting up your Google search ads using in-market audiences, you can target people actively browsing websites and content for products or services similar to yours.

Access to data is what makes Google Ads supreme for in-audience targeting. Not only can Google see what you search for on its engine, it also sees which YouTube videos you watched.

For example, if you’re selling winter boots, Google can identify people who searched for winter boots, visited sites featuring winter fashion, and watched videos reviewing winter shoes. These are green flags showing these individuals may find your ad helpful and will click and potentially make a purchase.

Google will categorize these users under “Apparel and Accessories.” When you set up your display campaigns or other Google ad types, you’ll place it under this category (take it a step further by targeting gender).

Current list of in-market audience options (most have sub-categories as well):

  • Apparel & Accessories
  • Autos & Vehicles
  • Baby & Children’s Products
  • Beauty Products & Services
  • Business Services
  • Computers & Peripherals
  • Consumer Electronics
  • Consumer Software
  • Dating Services
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Financial Services
  • Gifts & Occasions
  • Home & Garden
  • Real Estate
  • Sports & Fitness
  • TelecomTravel

In-market audience campaigns can appear across various networks, including:

  • Google paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC)
  • Google Display Network
  • YouTube
  • Gmail
  • Discovery ads

In-market audiences vs. affinity audience targeting: Which is better?

Google Ads (formerly Adwords) has different types of audiences you can target in your campaigns. Affinity audience targeting is another option to improve your ad performance. But what sets it apart from in-market audiences?

Custom affinity audience targeting uses data to identify users with a general interest in a product or service. Google looks at the user’s browsing history, time spent on certain websites, and past purchases to identify patterns of interest.

For example, if you’re selling baby clothes, Google can target display ads to people who’ve purchased baby dresses or visited websites related to babies in the past (doesn’t have to be recent).

In-market audience targeting focuses more on recent history and is based on what users are currently searching for and engaging with.

“Affinity audiences are essentially interest-based audiences. You can target people based on things and topics they’re interested in,” says Rachel Corak, Lead Strategist at HawkSEM. “In-market audiences target people actively looking to buy. The biggest difference between the two is which stage of the funnel people are within their journey.”

Affinity should be seen as more of an awareness and upper funnel audience, whereas in-market would be considered a bit deeper. In-market audiences have problem and solution awareness, but may not have brand awareness.

Why you should use in-market audiences in Google Ads

The real question is why shouldn’t you use in-market audiences in your Google Ad campaigns? Never before was it possible for an advertiser to “read” the minds behaviors of your target customers at the level we can today.

This is as close as we’ll ever get to peering over the shoulders of prospects to understand their place in the buyer’s journey. And whether they’re on the journey in the first place.

With in-market audiences, you gain more control over the outcome of your ad campaign. Here’s a look at the benefits:

  • Get your ads in front of people with high purchase intent for your product or service
  • Increase the odds of converting clicks into sales by targeting people who are actively looking for your product or service
  • Improve campaign performance by driving more clicks and conversions per campaign
  • Set up your in-marketing audience ads within minutes

Also, it’s the perfect alternative if you’re an avid user of similar audiences (aka lookalikes), which will sunset this year.

“This is a bummer if you’re actively using lookalikes successfully in existing campaigns since your targeting options are being removed,” says Rachel. “This change isn’t totally alarming as tech companies are continuously shifting away from 3rd party cookie tracking methods and favoring user privacy.”

But not to worry — in-market audience campaigns are helpful in various ways.

What are the benefits of in-market audiences?

The one pet peeve of running digital advertisements is wasting money on irrelevant clicks. When your campaigns are too broad or target the wrong group, it eats up your ad budget with little to no conversions to show for it.

With in-market audiences, you can eliminate this issue. It uses Google’s data to target people most likely to buy your product or service today.

This means you can save money on irrelevant clicks, while also increasing the chances of conversions. Plus, it’s a great way to reach potential customers who may not know your brand yet.

It’s an excellent way to maximize your overall return on investment (ROI).

Pro Tip: In-market audiences are great for building sharpshooter campaigns that target a specific group of people. But this doesn’t mean you have to choose one over the other. Include other audiences (e.g., demographics, location, interests) to fine-tune your campaigns for higher conversions.

What are the downsides of in-market audiences?

The benefits of in-market audiences are impressive. But there’s a caveat — since this is growing in popularity, more brands are jumping on the bandwagon, which means more competition (and higher costs) for you.

The cost per click (CPC) and cost per thousand impressions (CPM) will grow, which means a higher cost to acquire leads and customers. You’ll also fight for attention from your audience as more competitors enter the scene.

However, there are ways to overcome these roadblocks:

  • Use other audiences with in-market audiences to laser in on groups your competitors are overlooking. For example, you can include groups from specific locations, demographics, remarketing lists (e.g., your website visitors), and custom intent audiences.
  • Make a better offer than your competitors to drive more clicks. For example, you can offer discounts, free shipping, or other incentives to entice customers to buy.
  • Design a landing page that’s optimized for people and search engines. For example, include keywords from your ad campaign and use copywriting best practices to drive sales (e.g., placing multiple CTAs, including testimonials, and highlighting benefits over features).
  • Perform customer research to learn more about their concerns, questions, and desires. Then use this information to create ads and landing pages that are highly relevant and engaging to that group.

Pro tip: Keep tabs on impressions, clicks, and conversions to determine if you need to make changes to outdo competitors.

Do in-market audience campaigns work?

The simple answer: yes. In-market audiences are the bee’s knees for digital advertisers because it improves the outcomes of campaigns. It even works on other ad platforms, such as Microsoft Ads, which states campaigns that used this audience type saw up to a 28% higher click-through rate (CTR) and 48% higher conversion rate than those not using it.

It’s a no-brainer why they work so well. When you’re on the market for a product and see an ad in search (which looks like a regular link) that speaks to you, you’re likely to click on it. It’s almost like someone Google was in your brain search history and knew exactly what you wanted at that moment.

And we’re seeing great success using this audience type with our client accounts. One we’re managing now is showing a 41% CTR, 19% conversion rate, and $1.56 CPA over the past 30 days. 

Compare this to our affinity audiences in the same account, and we see a much lower CTR of 16% and way higher CPA of $3.93 — a 60% lower CPA for the in-market audiences. 

“Both audience types have a strong and healthy conversion rate thanks to thoughtful targeting and ad creatives,” says Rachel. “They play an important role in growing the business for our client. But based on CTR and CPA alone, in-market audiences are highly engaged and likely to produce a lower CPA due to audience intent.” 

How to build your first in-market audience Google Ads campaign

It’s time to start your first in-market audience campaign. But before you begin, here are a few tips:

  • Research your audience: Before launching a campaign, research your target audience. Understand their needs, wants, and interests so you can create ads that speak directly to them.
  • Set goals: Establish clear goals for your campaign. This will help you measure success and make adjustments as needed.
  • Choose the right platform: Select the right platform for your in-market audience campaign. Google Ads is a great option, but there are other platforms you can test, like Microsoft Ads and Yahoo Ads.
  • Craft compelling ads: Create ads that stand out from the competition and grab attention. Use visuals, copywriting best practices, and other tactics to make your ads stand out.
  • Monitor performance: Track your campaign performance using tools like Google Analytics and adjust as needed. This will optimize campaigns for better results.

Here’s the list of steps to create your in-market audience in Google Ads:

  1. Log into your Google Ads account and select “Audiences” in the menu on the left side.
  2. Click the edit “audience segments” option on the top right section of the audience table.
  3. Click “Select an ad group” then choose a campaign and ad group.
  4. Choose between “Targeting” or “Observation.”
  5. Select the “Browse” tab and choose the “What they are actively researching or planning (In-market)” option.
  6. Choose the audiences you want to target from the list of categories (e.g., Apparel, beauty products and services, etc.).
  7. Pick one or more subcategories.
  8. Click “Save.”

google ads in-market audiences

Now, let’s rewind it a bit. 

When choosing categories for your campaign, you want to limit how many you select. Adding too many may broaden the audience too much and make it difficult to pinpoint who’s converting the best.

browse audiences in google ads

So it’s better to create multiple ad groups for each category and/or sub-category to test the best performers.

At step four, you may wonder about the difference between “Targeting” and “Observation.” 

google ads tagging vs observation

So let’s explore the two options further.

Targeting vs. observation: Which should you choose?

When you start your in-marketing audience campaign (or any other ad campaign on Google), you’ll have two options: targeting and observation.

Let’s review the differences and examples of when to use them.

What is targeting in Google Ads?

Targeting in Google Ads campaigns is the option to create an ad campaign that’s highly targeted. Your ads only appear for those in the target group you select. You can use this in various ad groups, including affinity audiences, remarketing, and placements.

When you choose targeting, you’re narrowing the reach of your ad campaigns. But this isn’t a bad idea if you know exactly who you want to display your ads to.

For example, you can target in-market audiences with specific interests, as well as other criteria, such as:

  • Topics
  • Keywords
  • Placements
  • Demographics
  • Location
  • Devices
  • Ad schedule

But when should you use targeting ad campaigns for your in-market audience campaigns? Let’s say you conducted in-depth research for your target customers. You know where they live, keywords they use, and where they shop (e.g., YouTube, so you know to restrict ad placements for that platform).

So restricting the targeting of your campaigns to reach this specific group of users is plausible to increase conversions.

What is observation in Google Ads?

Observation in Google Ads campaigns is the option to broaden your audience reach so more people see it. Unlike targeting, it doesn’t appear for a specific group of people. Instead, it allows you to monitor how people engage with your ads, so you can identify a group you can target in future campaigns.

By selecting observation, you’re trading control for a bird’s-eye view of your audience. You’re like a scientist, observing test subjects, and you’ll even receive a performance report.

Based on the information you gather, you can list various audiences to target that’ll likely convert into customers.

This option is ideal if you’re new to digital ads or are a startup that’s yet to learn who your best customers are and how to reach them. You can set your observation campaign to last for a month or two. But don’t just use this to find who to target — it’s also an opportunity to determine who to exclude from your campaigns.

For example, groups that click on your ads often, but rarely (if ever) convert.

Unlike targeting, observation campaigns come with fewer criteria options to target. For instance, you can create ad groups that target users based on:

  • Audiences
  • Topics
  • Placements

For instance, maybe you think your audience is avid YouTube users, but you know little else. You can use observation to determine if you’re right and gain insights like the keywords, locations, demographics, and devices of users in your highest-performing campaigns.

Bidding options for in-market audiences

How you bid on your campaigns depends on your business goals. Here are some of the bidding options on Google Ads:

  • Target CPA (cost per acquisition): Optimizes campaigns to increase conversions at the lowest cost possible.
  • Maximize clicks: Google automates campaigns to get more visibility and clicks — ideal if you’re getting lots of conversions already and want to expand.
  • Maximize conversions: Optimizes display, video, and search campaigns to target users most likely to convert into a lead or sale.
  • Automated bidding: Google uses machine learning to determine the best keywords and ad groups based on what performs best.
  • Target ROAS (return on ad spend): Optimizes bids to get the highest return on ad spend.

Best practices to optimize in-market audience campaigns

Once you set up your in-market audience ads, you may find you’re not getting the results you expected. Does this mean you should quit? Not at all. 

Pro tip: Software tools that simplify campaign monitoring are also at your disposal. For example, ConversionIQ is HawkSEM’s proprietary software that analyzes ad campaigns and pinpoints the best keywords to drive traffic and conversions from your best customers.

Here are several best practices to optimize your campaigns for success:

  • Narrow your audience: Tighten up your ad groups by only targeting those who convert the most.
  • Use exclusion lists: See clickers who aren’t converting? Weed out Google ads audiences by excluding their keywords or other criteria, so they never appear for them.
  • Monitor campaign results: Ads aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it project. Continue to analyze results and optimize based on your findings. Also, run regular PPC campaign audits to find gaps and opportunities for growth.
  • Test various bidding strategies: Started with Target ROAS, but not seeing results? Then try other bidding options to see what performs best.
  • Make bid adjustments: If you’re seeing success with certain audiences, increase your bids to get more visibility. Or if you know Mondays have lackluster results, decrease bids on that day. 
  • Evaluate your ad audiences: Identify if the people you’re targeting are the same people finding and clicking on your ads. If not, it’s time to switch things up with a new audience.
  • Build customer profiles: It’s easier to ensure a customer matches an ad campaign when you know exactly who your ideal customers are. So include as many details as possible (e.g., demographics, firmographics, pet peeves, roadblocks, challenges, desires).
  • Perform SEO research: Understanding the intent behind keywords will ensure you’re using terms that’ll attract your ideal audience. 
  • Determine campaign performance metrics: Know upfront which metrics matter most for your campaign, so you don’t waste time on the wrong bidding strategies. 
  • Leverage your sales and support teams: No one knows your customers like those talking to them day in and day out. Use their expertise to guide your ad and landing page copy.
  • Use campaign automation: If you have limited resources and time, then use this to learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Run A/B tests on campaigns: Experiment with different offers, headlines, and ad copy to see what works best for each ad group. Even after you’ve found something that works, continue making adjustments to improve results. 

The takeaway

As final words of advice from Rachel:

“Focus on the unique value proposition (UVP) in the ad copy and landing page messaging. These people are already in-market — they know what the problem is, what kind of solution they’re looking for, and about your competition. This is your opportunity to position yourself as the BEST solution. Convince them why your product is the only one that can serve their needs.”

Pay-per-click campaigns are an excellent way to drive fast traffic to your website. But they only work if you get the right people to click on your ads. Mixing in-market audiences with the right bidding strategies can ensure your ads zone in on prospective shoppers who are ready to buy. 

To prepare for the future, anticipate future changes and limitations to audience targeting. This will likely be something we see more of over the coming years. So consider new targeting methods to remain agile, have backup plans, and continue to expand your reach. Focus on building remarketing audience lists and lean into first-party data collection methods. Hawk has many ideas on how to help people do this.

On that note — if you’d like expert guidance or a complete done-for-you PPC service, then reach out to us today. 

Saphia Lanier

Saphia Lanier

Saphia Lanier is a content writer and strategist with 16+ years' experience working with B2B SaaS companies and marketing agencies. She uses an engaging journalistic style to craft thought leadership and educational content about digital marketing, technology, and entrepreneurship.

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