How to transition away from Google Ads similar audience segments
Learn how to maintain or improve your performance in Google Ads and prepare for the removal of these high-quality audiences.
Google’s similar audiences (or segments) will be removed from all ad groups and campaigns starting Aug. 1, 2023.
These audiences generally perform well across each campaign type, so advertisers and brands need to have a plan for replacing these golden audience targets.
What are similar audience segments?
Similar segments (previously known as similar audiences) are automatic audiences created by Google Ads when your original list meets certain criteria, such as size and recency.
For now, Google Ads creates this automatic audience using machine learning. It analyzes your original list to determine the commonalities with other Google users, such as:
- Recent search behavior.
- Websites visited.
- Frequented topics.
If enough statistically significant similarity is found with new users, a similar audience segment becomes automatically created.
These new audiences can be originated from website tags, YouTube users, or customer match lists using offline data imported into your account.
When first-party data, such as customer lists, are used to generate a similar audience segment, this can be a powerful performance driver for new customers in Google Ads.
After all, the audience segment is filled with other users who match the behavior profiles of those who buy from you.
You can achieve 41% more conversions by combining similar segments with display ad campaigns, according to Google.
Why are similar audiences going away?
Due to the phasing out of third-party cookies and the ongoing need to increase user privacy, Google announced in November 2022 that they would remove similar audiences.
Google’s reasoning included that with the ongoing changes and uncertainty in the industry, a more durable solution is needed going forward.
They maintain that optimized targeting, audience expansion, and smart bidding are privacy-centric and will continue to allow advertisers to reach their relevant audiences.
Similar audiences can generate fantastic performance depending on the quality of the original list. When they stop working in August 2023, you will want a replacement strategy in place and four weeks or more of learnings ahead of the change.
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How to prepare for the removal of similar audience segments
Step 1: Take inventory of where similar audiences are being used
In the Audience manager under Shared Library, you can filter for similar in-use segments throughout your campaigns.
Similar audiences can be used across YouTube, Discovery and Display campaigns, and Search and Shopping. Be sure to check audience signals across Performance Max campaigns, as well.
Here is an inventory sheet you can use to execute a proper similar audience segments audit.
Once completed, you can decide on the proper strategy for transitioning away from similar audience segments and maintaining the same or better performance.
Step 2: Use smart bidding and transition to value-based tracking to improve Google's quality signals
If you aren't yet using smart bidding in your campaigns, you may see this improve your performance without similar audience segments.
These bidding strategies use Google's machine learning across each ad auction to automatically optimize for conversions and conversion values.
As observable data is becoming less and less available, smart bidding will be your best solution for this and has been shown to help drive results across all campaign types.
Value-based tracking goes one step further in signaling what is most important. Adding values to individual conversions can help Google's bidding and targeting algorithms prioritize who to go after and why, improving your performance even more.
Step 3: Use customer match to improve Google's signals for search and optimized targeting
Unless you have opted out, customer match lists are now automatically included as a signal in smart bidding, such as target CPA, target ROAS, and maximize conversions.
Upload your high-quality customer match data to help with performance bidding as well as to help drive improved performance for optimized targeting. This will be especially helpful once similar audience segments are removed.
Step 4: Test new audience segments based on your data insights
If you haven't already done so, create custom segments for People who searched for any of these terms on Google of your most profitable search queries. Create one for branded search terms and a second for the top-performing non-branded search terms for the account.
Next, visit Your data insights to discover high-indexing in-market and affinity segments for your first-party audience segments. Use these learnings to create a new combined audience segment and test different inclusion levels of indexing scores.
These audiences are great for testing against existing similar audience segments. They can be added concurrently on the ad group level and measured for performance after two to four weeks.
Step 5: Test optimized targeting for performance and audience expansion for reach and consideration
Optimized targeting is Google's recommended replacement for similar audience segments in Display, Discovery, and Video action campaigns.
However, before you toggle on optimized targeting across all your ad groups with similar audience segments, it is essential to note that this feature is expected to work best with first-party audiences.
As a best practice, add your first-party data, such as customer match lists, and expand slowly into optimized targeting or audience expansion while allowing enough time to measure the results.
Step 6: Request access to the beta for turning off demographics expansion
If you use video action campaigns with optimized targeting, Google will deliberately ignore your demographic exclusions.
According to a Google Support representative:
"As for the optimized targeting in Video Action Campaigns, we have demographics expansion. This means that the ads with enabled optimized targeting may serve to users outside of the selected demographics target (demographics exclusion), but only if the system deems that there is a strong or high conversion signal with the user shown the ad (i.e. past search history, relevant video views, etc)."
The best solution for eliminating ad serving to your excluded demographics with optimized targeting is to request to be whitelisted to turn off the demographics expansion. This can be achieved by contacting your dedicated Google rep.
Step 7: Transition your website audiences to GA4 sooner than later
Google Analytics 4 has privacy features and audience tracking capabilities that will help you stay ahead as more privacy changes and third-party cookie removal occur.
GA4 helps companies with tools and features that allow easier compliance with data privacy laws such as GDPR. For example, GA4 will anonymize the IP addresses of all website visitors by default.
If your remarketing audiences are still generating from Universal Analytics, re-create these lists in GA4 and enable them in Google Ads.
Transitioning to GA4 audiences will require that your GA4 account is linked and activated in Google Ads.
Second, be sure that Google signals data collection is enabled and that you confirm the User Data Collection Acknowledgement by navigating to Data Settings > Data Collection in the GA4 Admin tab.
Getting used to privacy-focused audience targeting in Google Ads
As disappointing as it was to learn about the removal of similar audience segments, hopefully, this guide will help you maintain and even improve your performance on Google Ads.
Times are changing in this industry, as they always have. Always stay ahead by having a proper plan in this ever-evolving privacy landscape.
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