The days when keywords could either make or break a successful online campaign are long behind us. Yet over the years, they have remained crucial for targeting the right audience at the right time in the buyer journey.
But with the introduction of audience targeting -- which, unlike keyword targeting, engages the target audience based on demographics, interests and behavioral data -- the importance of traditional keyword targeting has been reduced. At first, pay-per-click campaigns used audience targeting primarily for ads on the Google Display Network, but then Google introduced behavioral targeting options for its search network, where the collision between audience targeting and keyword targeting truly began.
Some experts believe this collision will mean the end of the keyword as early as 2019, including Aaron Levy of Elite SEM, who in an article once wrote: "It’s been a long time coming; search engines have given us too many additional levers to handle along with keywords. I believe next year will the beginning of the end for keywords as a primary search lever.”
Since audience targeting and keyword targeting are substantially different, we will need to understand the differences between them in order to successfully speculate whether or not keyword targeting is going to lose its edge.
Audience Targeting Versus Keyword Targeting
With audience targeting, you can target a specific age group that is interested in whatever your product or service offers, or household income groups that meet your criteria. If you want to take it one step further, you can set ad preferences to exclude certain audiences, such as those interested in niche products, who may be less likely to convert.
The one thing that is currently giving keyword targeting the edge, at the time of writing, is intent. Keyword targeting makes it possible to specifically dial down on how likely a user is to convert based on what they are looking for.
It goes without saying that users looking for “best holiday deal Paris” are further down the conversion funnel than those searching for “holidays in Europe.” It’s this that has kept the humble keyword on its throne for all these years.
Your number one priority when running ads is to drive sales. You want to be targeting users who are ready to buy, not those who are only mildly interested in what you have to offer.
Deriving intent from keywords that include words like “buy” and “best price” is immensely powerful. But can the two approaches work together?
As it stands, audience targeting is not enough alone — you may be attracting your target audience, but if the majority isn’t ready to convert, you’ll be left with inflated traffic, a dwindling conversion rate and wasted spend. The best approach is to use audience targeting for top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) campaigns to weed out those unlikely to buy, and keyword targeting to ensure those further down the funnel engage with you.
Game Changer: In-Market Audience for Search
In-Market Audience, which has been part of the Display Network since 2014, has recently been rolled out to the Search Network. This allows you to target users whose past search behavior indicates they are actively looking to buy your product or service.
“In-market audiences use Google’s massive amounts of search data to analyse behavioral signals. This allows advertisers to target users who are actively searching for products at a time when they are ready and willing to buy them,” says Lewis Brannon, senior retail search manager at CPC Strategy.
But what does this mean in practice? A typical search pattern for someone looking to buy a handbag that implies a readiness to buy would look like this:
With in-market audiences providing a way for marketers and businesses to more accurately gauge intent, the dominance of keyword targeting could soon come to an end. Only time will tell whether expert speculation proves correct, but it looks like we won’t have to wait long to find out.