hanging out in the park
Google introduced Demographic Targeting to AdWords last fall, and it looks as if it's about to introduce new capabilities soon PHOTO: Skitterphoto

Paid search has traditionally focused on matching ads to search queries, but the ascendance of programmatic advertising, social media and mobile devices has dramatically changed that equation for today’s marketing strategists. 

In response to these trends, Google added Demographic Targeting to AdWords last fall. This filtering feature allows AdWords users to target audiences by age, gender or even parental status on each of the AdWords networks — Search, Display or Video. 

Demographic Targeting Using Google Profiles

The Demographic Targeting feature can be accessed via the Audiences tab in AdWords. Users can then navigate to the Demographics subtab and switch between demographic data for age and gender using the two subtabs located under the graph.

One data source that drives the Demographic Targeting function is activity from the profile settings of various Google accounts. For example, if an AdWords campaign attracts visitors who have Gmail or Google Plus accounts, those visitors are most likely candidates to be served relevant ads based on the stated interests their account profiles.  

Social Targeting Becomes Mission Critical

This kind of influence is not entirely new. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have long been using profile information to target their digital ads, and Bing added a demographic segment feature to its paid search platform back in 2015.

So does that mean that Google is behind the curve in incorporating age and gender? Not necessarily. That’s because the role of social media in delivering the right offer to the right person hasn’t really been mission critical until now. 

Now, the scale of social media’s impact on consumer behavior has reached a tipping point, with mobile devices and widespread internet access allowing consumers to access social media on the go and act on what they see.  

Welcome to Social Search

Reaching critical mass with enough consumers regarding social media as a reliable platform for product and service discovery has been key to the process of marketers updating their user personas and sales strategies to reflect social media’s richer data inputs. 

That’s because, unlike search, consumer interests and activities are what power social ads. For example, Facebook ads are only displayed when an ad matches an interest reflected in a user’s profile or activity. 

However, today those profile-related signals from social media have begun to appear as part of search. For instance, Pinterest users can set their Pinterest boards to be searchable by Google. Tweets can appear in Google search result as well, allowing not only for subject-matter insights but sentiment analysis as well. 

More Accurate A/B Testing

Another reason Google is incorporating age and gender is to create the potential for more accurate marketing campaign analysis using A/B testing. Traditionally, marketing campaigns have tested for conversion lift opportunities associated with keyword terms.  Now, with age and gender factored into AdWords, A/B testing can better account for demographic differences as it seeks to optimize the ads being served up in response to keyword searches. 

The change also opens new possibilities for segment searches. For example, marketers of luxury leisure experiences such as cruises could target ads to specific age groups who might be more likely to have the necessary discretionary income. 

More Innovations to Come

Never content to rest on its laurels, Google plans to announce its “latest Ads, Analytics and DoubleClick innovations” on May 23, 2017 at a San Francisco event that will be livestreamed on its Inside AdWords blog, at 9:00 a.m. PDT/12:00 p.m. EDT. 

Google promises that its announcement will share “innovations designed to improve your ability to reach consumers, simplify campaign measurement and increase your productivity. [Google also plans] a sneak peek at how brands are starting to use the Google Assistant to delight customers.” 

In short, it’s a good bet that the Google has only begun to harness the power of social media for enhanced AdWords targeting. Stay tuned.