Once upon a time, in a faraway land, heroes were called to arms to arms to fight a common enemy…

Ok, maybe it wasn’t that long ago. 

Our story began in 2016 when a grim realization came upon digital advertisers worldwide: almost half of the online campaigns missed their target audience!

A Nielsen Study conducted among more than 44k Ad campaigns across 17 countries revealed that only 53% of ad impressions were viewed by users matching the age and gender advertisers intended.

What’s a tech giant got to do to remedy the problem?  

Soon after, Google launched a product called “custom intent audiences.” 

Fast-forward to today, and this feature still allows advertisers to build hyper-relevant campaigns based on keywords and online user behavior. 

Google’s Custom Intent Audiences allow you to include inside your content strategy more effective Ad campaigns. At the same time, intent audiences set in Google Ads reduce your costs by displaying the most applicable Ads to the most qualified prospects.

So, let’s take a deep dive into Google’s Custom Intent Audiences as a targeting tool. 

Keep reading and discover the benefits of using intent audiences in your next campaign and how to set up display ad campaigns using this feature.

What Are Custom Intent Audiences?

Custom Intent Audiences refer to the Google Ads feature that allows you to decide who sees your Ads based on users’ past online behavior

In other words, with a Custom Intent Audience campaign, you’re only displaying your Ads to people who already intend to buy the products you’re selling – instead of showing them to a larger audience.

Since Custom Intent Audiences allow you to narrow down your targeting and advertise your brand to people who need (or are curious about) your products, you have more chances of converting.

Custom Affinity Ads vs. Custom Intent Ads

Before we dive further into the subject, let’s take a quick moment to understand the difference between Custom Affinity Ads and Custom Intent Ads.

Because they’re very similar concepts, we must first define the distinction to avoid confusion. 

The main differentiator is the accuracy of the two. Custom Affinity audiences are broad, while Custom Intent audiences are highly specific. 

With affinity audiences, you target people who search for similar keywords/ visit similar websites to your choices. In contrast, custom intents audiences target users searching/visiting the exact keywords (or URLs) you selected in your audience. 

How Do Custom Intent Audiences Work? 

Custom Intent Audiences look at online behaviors, then show your Ads on the Display Network only to users already in the market for what you’re selling. 

What type of behaviors is Google targeting, you ask? Here’s a selection of the tracked activity that determines whether a user will see your Ads or not. 

  • Google searches based on specific keywords
  • Website visits 
  • Types of apps installed
  • Videos watched

After creating a digital profile based on their activities, Google segments users into clusters that will later see your Ads. 

For example, if you’re a retailer in the Home & Deco niche, you will want to show your products to people actively looking up decor ideas, how-to type of videos, or users who are spending a lot of time on Home & Deco websites. 

You can use specific keywords (for example, “home renovation ideas”) to define your custom intent audience. So your Ads will only be seen by people in the market for new home decor items.

Another thing you can do is be intentional about the sites you’re displaying your ads on. Identify the most visited websites in your niche and place a Display Ad* there so users interested in the subject can discover your products.

*Display Ads appear on websites/ mobile Apps that are part of the Google Display Network. If you need a review on Google Ads for eCommerce, or you want to discover new eCommerce Ad Strategies, take a look at this Ultimate Guide for Google Ads.

The best part about Custom Intent Audiences is that they allow you to restrict the users who are seeing your Ads and only show them to shoppers who are already considering buying something. 

These users are more potentially interested in buying than a general, uninterested audience.

This way, you ensure that you spend every last penny of your digital marketing ad budget on prospects with the most potential to increase your sales.

Disclaimer – 

It’s crucial to understand the capabilities of your Custom Intent Audiences. 

If you create a Custom Intent Audience based on URLs alone, you can only use this audience in Display Ad Campaigns. Audiences based on both keywords and URLs can be used on Display and YouTube Ad Campaigns.

How to Create a Custom Intent Audience 

If you want to create custom intent audiences (without relying on Google suggestions), you first need a Keywords list* you wish to use and Website URLs connected to your business – the most popular in your niche.

*According to Google Ads’ knowledge base, you shouldn’t exceed a total of 15 keywords/ URLs per each custom intent audience. This limit exists to help Google’s algorithms to better understand and reach your desired audience.

Creating your own custom audience gives you more ownership and control over how you target prospects. 

For example, suppose you’re a retailer in the fashion industry, and you know a famous music festival will happen in six months. In that case, you can add “outfit festival ideas” as keywords and reach users interested in creating icon looks for the event. 

With this highly targeted option, you can advertise your clothes to people actively looking and have the money to buy your products instead of showing them to people who are idly browsing to pass the time. 

As for the actual steps in creating a Custom Intent Audience, the process is straightforward.

  • Inside Google Ads Manager, select Tools & Setting, then click on “Audience Manager” from the dropdown.
  • Select “Custom Segments,” then click + (plus button). 
  • Define (give a name to) your audience, choose your keywords from the menu, and add keywords/ URLs related to your business, niche, or industry.

Congratulations, you’re done!

Your new Custom Intent Audience can be used for your next Display Ads campaign. 

Selecting the Keywords & URLs for Custom Intent Audiences

1. Choosing the right Keywords.

It’s best practice to create audiences using keywords representing users in different places inside the funnel. 

Even if the bottom of the funnel will bring prospects ready to buy, you can’t lose anything if you also target the middle and top of the funnel.

This way, you ensure you won’t lose any prospective buyers AND create remarketing campaigns for top and middle funnel prospects to push them further in the buying process. 

2. Selecting the URLs 

The beauty with the URLs (and what really takes custom intent audiences to the next level) is that you can be as specific as possible when you input URLs for your audience. 

For example, you can select specific website sub-tabs to nail your granular targeting efforts and refine your audiences.

This helps promote and sell extremely niched products or products designed with a particular use in mind.

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Benefits of Custom Intent Audiences 

As stated before, Google’s Custom Intent Audiences are a method of using granular targeting for your Ad Campaigns. 

Granular targeting is one of the best types of targeting because it’s highly specific and accurate. It allows you to go as niched as you need when targeting users.

For example, instead of creating audiences in Google Ads based on college students, you can go even further and target Art Students above 21 who live in New York and are interested in Social Justice issues. 

Moreover, Custom Intent Audiences can significantly reduce your Ad spend and even remove irrelevant campaigns by getting rid of general, low-quality prospects. 

1. Custom Intent Audiences lower your costs.

Search Ads can be pretty expensive, with higher CPCs than Social Media CPCs. Acquisition Costs going up is a trend that doesn’t give any signs of going away, so it’s great to find cheaper options for targeting. 

Even if this type of audience targets qualified prospects already in the market for your products, you would spend less with intended audiences.

Additionally, custom intent audiences can help you reduce the overall ad budget because you now have control over your target audiences. 

For example, you can create relevant offers and display them to your most-likely customers – specific groups of people who take an interest in your products. 

Consequently, you don’t waste impressions anymore – a side effect of going too broad with your targeting or not being specific enough to define your target audience.

2. With Custom Intent Audiences you can tap into a new market and advertise to your competition’s customers.

Did you know that it’s pretty easy to peek behind the curtain of your competition’s websites?

Competitive research and traffic analysis allow you to identify competitors’ most popular pages and the keywords bringing traffic to these pages.

After you identify and rank the keywords, you can use them to create custom intent audiences. This way, you’re targeting users that visit your competitor’s websites and promote your own products instead. 

While this simple targeting doesn’t guarantee instant (re)conversion, it still increases awareness of your brand.

And if the competition offers a poor customer experience, or your products are simply better, customers might migrate to your business now they’re aware of your existence.

3. And they help you beat SEO rankings.

We all know the benefits of finding the golden ratio in SEO and appearing in Google’s first results. Just like we all fear going to the graveyard – aka, the 2nd page of Google’s results. 

But what happens if you don’t have the resources, time, or energy to invest in SEO and climb your way to the first page?

You use the URLs of best-ranked pages inside your industry to create your custom intent audiences and get access to their visitors.

You reach users faster than you would with organic SEO, attracting more traffic to your own pages and contributing to getting you higher in Google’s ranks. 

Best Practices for Custom Intent Audiences

Lowering your costs, earning market share, and helping you rank better in SEO? What else do you need from a type of audience?

Now that you’re probably hyped on Custom Intent, let’s look at the best practices in the field to help you make the most out of this feature. 

1. Create and test multiple audiences for the same product.

A beginner’s mistake with Custom Intent Audiences in eCommerce is trying to target multiple keyword/ URL variations with a single audience. 

Even if the results are satisfactory, when creating all-encompassing audiences, you lose visibility into the groupings that brought the most qualified prospects.

The best way to treat Intent Audiences is as you would treat Search campaigns – test every idea, monitor its performance, measure the results, and draw relevant conclusions into the debriefing phase. 

For example, let’s suppose you’re selling sports equipment. 

Don’t use the same audience with highly different keyword variations. You could target users with “running shoes for asphalt” keywords and users searching phrases like “how to train for a marathon.”

While you will bring traffic with both queries, you’ll attract prospects in different customer journey stages. The first group are more advanced runners, who know the different types of shoes needed for different environments, and the latter group is more interested in learning how to train. 

Even if your end goal is to sell your products, the first category is more prepared to purchase them than the second group. 

2. Broaden your horizons and observe all your campaigns. 

Let’s say you already have Search or Shopping campaigns running, and a particular cluster of keywords is bringing impressive results. 

Capitalize on the momentum and use the keywords in Custom Intent Audiences to acquire users who are further in the funnel (users ready to buy). 

3. Mimic your ideal customers.

Lookalike audiences (on Social Media) or similar audiences on Google are specific audiences based on your customers. 

It’s a good practice to deploy these types of audiences in your acquisition campaigns because (at least in theory), these audiences have more chances of converting. 

However, since not all customers are created equal, not all audiences will bring prospects of similar value. 

You wouldn’t want to attract bargain hunters or one-time customers that churn on the first occasion, right?

You want to attract high-value customers, who can be retained and turned into loyal customers – and bring more value to your business in the long term. 

To achieve this, you can use RFM analysis to identify the power groups and create custom intent audiences that mimic your best customers’ online behavior.

This way, you don’t waste your budget on bad-fit customers you can’t afford – instead, you only target qualified prospects.


As with most digital advertising channels, Google Ads also needs to become more and more effective and intuitive, to continue earning business from entrepreneurs everywhere.

Affinity Audiences are a great example of intuitive advertising that allows you to create highly targeted ads to reach qualified leads.

So, give them a try, test your keywords and good luck!

Frequently Asked Questions about Custom Intent Audiences

How do I add a custom audience to Google Ads?

To add a new Custom Audience, go to your Ads account, click on Tools & Settings and choose “Audience Manager”. Then, select “Custom Segment”, click the plus button and input all your data.

Can you target audiences on Google Ads?

Yes. Google Ads allow you to select your audience in smaller segments named ad groups. With these ad groups, you can reach prospects based on their interests, their online behaviour, and how they engaged with your brand.

How do I target specific people on Google Ads?

To target specific people, you first have to create Ad Groups based on desired demographics. After you set the Ad group, you just have to create a new campaign, click “Add Targeting” and select the Ad groups you want to target.

How do I create a custom affinity audience on Google Ads?

To create a new Custom Audience, go to your Ads account, click on Tools & Settings and choose “Audience Manager”. Then, select “Custom Segment”, click the plus button and input all your data.