If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about a mystical feature in AdWords known as the “Custom Affinity Audience.” Whether it was Cassie Oumedian’s 3 Killer Strategies for Custom Affinity Audience Campaigns, Joe Martinez’s 4 Custom Affinity Audiences to Try for Display Advertising or recommendations from persistent and dedicated Google teams, Custom Affinity Audiences seem to be coming back into the spotlight this year.

Custom Affinity Audiences are not a new feature in AdWords. In fact, they were first introduced in October 2014. While the aesthetics of the AdWords interface have changed over time, the basic principle has remained consistent: advertisers define a target audience using a combination of keywords and website URLs relating to a specific topic. This allows for an infinite number of audience combinations as unique as the organizations pursuing them.

Sounds pretty good, right? So how is it that I spent nearly two years working in PPC before learning how to create a Custom Affinity Audience for myself? Today, I’m setting out to right that wrong and spread the word once again for anyone else still in the dark about this process.

Plan Your Audience

Before getting into the interface, you will first want to define your audiences conceptually. This requires a bit of planning and research:

  • List themes you want to target—ensure they are distinct but not prohibitively limiting.
  • Consider keywords and placements you want to include, aiming for a combined total of 5-10 for each audience.
  • Include targeted web pages (such as blog posts, product pages, etc) vs. generic home pages wherever possible.

After constructing your outline, you’ll be able to build your custom audiences and start gathering data in minutes.

Building Audiences in the Old/Legacy AdWords Interface

If you have already switched over to the new AdWords interface, feel free to skip this section. If you’re like many of us and 1) don’t have access to or 2) haven’t fully warmed up to the new AdWords interface, you can follow the steps outlined here to set up your Custom Affinity Audiences.

1. Navigate to the Display Network tab and select “+ Targeting” – You can do this while viewing a single campaign/ad group or the account overall.

2. Select “Interests & remarketing” at the Targeting segment you want to add, then click the drop-down to reveal all audience types available. “Custom affinity audiences” should be the second option on the drop-down (for Display Network campaigns only).

3. To define your audience, enter a name and description (optional), then the keywords and placements you’ve already prepared. You will then be able to view estimated demographic and topical information for the users Google has selected for your custom audience.

4. Last but not least, don’t forget to save your audience! For efficiency, you can create and save all your audiences at once, then apply them to various campaigns and ad groups later, as desired.

And that’s all there is to it! Now let’s see how this has changed with the transition to the New AdWords.

Building Audiences in the New AdWords Interface

The core steps to building a Custom Affinity Audience have not changed with the new interface, things just look a bit different. Check it out:

1. In the account or campaign view, navigate to the Audiences tab (on the left side) and click the pencil icon at the top left or “+ Audiences,” if you haven’t created any audiences yet.

2. Select your campaign & ad group if not at the ad group level, or choose “edit audiences” at the ad group level. Determine whether you would like your audiences applied as Targeting, or for Observation. Within the Affinity Audiences category, collapse the auto-expanded Affinity choices or scroll down to select “Custom affinity audiences.”


3. Define your audience by inputting a name and description (optional), then adding your prepared keywords and placements. Click “Get Estimate” on the right side to reveal demographic and topical information for the users in your custom audience.

4. And of course, don’t forget to save your audience! You can create and save all your audiences at once, if you desire, then apply them to various campaigns and ad groups later (particularly if some will be used for Targeting while others are for Observation).

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this guide is useful and empowering, and provides the foundational knowledge you need to get started with your own Custom Affinity Audiences. Remember that you can create and test multiple audiences—AdWords will save them under the name you define, so name them well and enjoy the advantage of targeting users most like your identified personas.

At the moment, Custom Affinity Audiences are only available for the Display network but I, for one, haven’t given up hope that they will eventually be expanded to Search as well. If you share my optimism, now is as good a time as any to get your head start discovering which audiences work for you. And as always, come find us on Twitter to share your own thoughts, discoveries, and PPC wins!