Building Hypertargeted Google Ads Audiences for ABM Campaigns

Google Ads is a seriously underrated ABM tool. As Google shifts from cookie-based tracking, its audience targeting capabilities are getting more impressive. With some forethought, Google Ads paid search and display advertising can easily outperform the other channels in your account based marketing initiatives.

The more you know about your target accounts, the better your ads will perform. Marketers are increasingly relying on intent data platforms for initiatives like this, but that is by no means a requirement.

Step 1: Upload Existing Contacts

If you don’t regularly upload your opted in lists into Google Ads, you should get started. This is one of the most basic things marketers can do to accelerate performance across channels in Google Ads.

For ABM campaigns, you’ll need to export all marketable contacts associated with your target account. Depending on your martech stack, you may be able to automate this with dynamic segmentation. If not, it’s one manual step that only takes a few minutes and is 100% worth it.

Depending on the size of your database, you may need to combine target accounts in your lists so the audiences can meet Google’s threshold. The Google Display Network requires at least 100 active visitors or users for eligibility. Google Search Network, YouTube, and Discovery ads require 1,000 active users.

To upload a list, navigate to Audience Manager, click the + button to create a new segment and select “Customer list.”

Uploading customer list in Google Ads Audience manager

The only field you need for upload is email, but Google also recommends including fields for:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Country

Note: Country must be in country code format.

Once your .csv file is ready, confirm that you’re complying with Google’s Customer Match policies and you’ll be ready to start leveraging the data.

Step 2: Target Customer Match List(s)

If your Google Ads account is older than 90 days, has a lifetime spend exceeding $50,000 USD and is in good standing, you’re eligible to reap the full benefits of this feature. You can use the list for targeting, observation, creating similar audiences, manual bid adjustments, and exclusions. If you’re not quite there yet, you can still use the lists for observations and exclusions, which are absolutely worth it.

Observational

If you have any ads running, immediately adjust the campaigns’ audience targeting to at least observe its members’ behavior. This will surface data you can use to fine tune your ABM strategy or to inform decisions if planning is just starting. You’ll be able to tell which assets and keywords resonate with the contacts you’re targeting without committing extra spend. This is another often overlooked Google Ads feature that has countless applications.

For paid search and display campaigns, audience lists can be added for observational targeting within the Audiences section of the campaign. If you haven’t created a campaign yet, you’ll be given the option to add audiences for observation when you’re configuring it. If you don’t yet meet full Customer Match requirements, this is a quick win you can leverage while you earn Google’s trust.

Google Ads observation targeting setting

Step 3: Create Custom Segments

If you’re active in Google Ads, this is something you should already be doing. But if you haven’t, navigate to Audience Manager to create new custom segments.

There are two types of Google Ads custom segments:

  • Intent: Keywords describing what products or services that users are actively researching and purchasing
  • Search: Keywords that Google users are typing when researching products or services

The search-based custom segments are only used for campaigns running on Google properties. For other campaigns, they are treated as intent keywords.

I recommend creating an intent and search custom segment for each topic. There’s a copy to clickboard button that makes this quick and painless.

In the example below, I’m targeting people researching and planning purchases regarding parachute safety technology. Note: This is a topic I know nothing about besides watching Point Break a few hundred times.

Google Intent Audience

I copied over those keywords into a custom audience targeting search phrases. In intent and search audiences, there’s an option expand the segment by including webpage URLs related to your target topics. I added a few based on a quick Google search. If this was a real campaign, more serious research would be required.

Custom search audience

What to target?

If you’re unsure what keywords you should be looking to target, look to your existing datasets for:

  • Paid search keywords driving conversions
  • Organic search keywords with high impressions, clicks and conversions
  • Third-party intent data
  • SEMRush, Ahrefs or similar SEO/SEM tools

Where this data comes from depends on your martech stack, but a lion’s share can be pulled from most Google Analytics accounts, especially if they’re connected with Google Ads and Google Search Console. Bing Webmaster Tools is another great free tool for this.

Step 4: Create Custom Combination Audiences

This is where having a robust dataset comes in handy. In the Audience Manager, navigate to Combined segments to create a new combined segment.

Combination audience segments allow for AND and OR conditions. I’m using the custom search and intent audiences I just created for the foundation of this combination. The more relevant info I can layer on top of that, the more effective it will be.

Custom combination audience

The conditions you can use to segment include:

Who they are (detailed demographics)

  • Parental status
  • Marital status
  • Education
  • Homeownership status
  • Employment

You’ll probably find the options under Employment to be the most useful. That’s where you can segment based on Company Size and Industry. Education may also be useful if you’re targeting people who need a certain level of schooling for their trade.

For this fake example, I’ll pretend the company I’m targeting is large (250-10k employees) and is in the manufacturing industry.

Affinity and In-market

Affinity and in-market audiences comprise of people with a demonstrated interest in a topic and intent indicated toward purchasing a product or service. Since these are pretty broad, I don’t think it’s useful to focus on them for this experiment.

Your data and similar segments

If your business solves problems that a particular company is trying to solve, there’s a good chance its employees have already visited your web properties lately. Google Ads allows for segmentation based on website visits, YouTube channels, and prior converters. These are lists that should already be built if you’ve done any remarketing.

Note: Google also auto creates similar segments that can have very powerful applications. Unfortunately, Google is phasing this out “gradually” starting in May 2023. Let’s hope that’s a glacial process.

Step 5: Adjust Campaign Settings

Once you have your custom audiences created, you can use them in your campaign settings. Unfortunately, combination audiences are only available for display campaigns in most cases, but this is the channel that it provides the most value.

The company I’m pretending to target has locations in New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho, so I’m limiting it to people in or regularly in their major metro areas:

Note: Under advanced options, select Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations.

When setting up a campaign, you’ll have the option to add the combination and customer list segments in the targeting options.

In the end, this fictional campaign would target:

  • Existing contacts from target account
  • People who are in the company’s office locations who’ve shown interest in topics highly relevant to their business

Step 6: Experiment with Conversion Value Rules

If your account has A/B testing enabled, it’s worth testing adjusting conversion value rules to apply more value for conversions belonging to your custom lists. This conditions Google Ads’ AI to look harder for the prospects you care most about. Some trial and error is required to get this technique right, so you may want to start your experiments on 20% segments instead of 50/50 splits.

Step 7: Be Patient and Agile

This will not be an overnight win, but if you know your customers and what they want, you could see accelerated results. Taper expectations based on prior performance, but I’m telling you this technique will likely blow your other tactics away.