Keywords vs. Audience Targeting: Find Your Target in a Complex Landscape

Is audience targeting more effective than good-old-fashioned keyword targeting? This question is widely debated in marketing circles. A closer look reveals that each targeting method is profoundly different, and keywords arguably hold the edge for generating leads and sales.

Back in the day, keywords were the primary ammo in a digital marketer’s arsenal. Google AdWords, Bing Ads and other platforms were built on the simple premise of matching ads with interested consumers. Campaigns lived and died on their keyword lists.

Now, there’s audience targeting. Unlike keywords, audience targeting matches consumers with advertisements based on demographics, interests and behavioral data. Google and Facebook offer their advertisers hundreds of options for shaping their audiences. In AdWords, audience targeting was mainly a feature of Google’s Display Network, but recently Google introduced behavioral targeting options for Search Network advertisers.

In other words, audience targeting is on the rise.

But is audience targeting more effective than good-old-fashioned keyword targeting? This question is widely debated in marketing circles. A closer look reveals that each targeting method is profoundly different, and keywords arguably hold the edge for generating leads and sales. Read on, and we’ll review the differences between keywords and audience targeting and how to find your target in today’s ever-changing landscape.

The Depth of Audience Targeting

Imagine you own a shoe store, and you’re creating a Facebook ad campaign for a new model of men’s trail shoes. How can audience targeting help you meet your objectives?

Using Facebook’s custom audience settings, you can literally target a specific age group of men who share relevant interests such as running, trail running and hiking. You can target men who show interest in specific shoe brands. You can target men whose households meet certain income requirements. You can even target men whose online behavior indicates they’re on the verge of buying new running shoes.

You can tighten the screws even further by requiring audiences to meet multiple conditions. For example, you can set your ad to be shown only to people who’ve shown interest in running and hiking, or running shoes and trail shoes. Just like with keyword targeting, you can also exclude certain audiences from seeing your ads. A good example here would be excluding low-income buyers from seeing ads for your most expensive trail shoes – they’re probably less likely to convert.

Audience targeting makes it easy to get your ad in front of millions of interested eyeballs. And it’s effective on multiple ad platforms. That said, despite the obvious advancements in audience targeting, there’s still one thing that keywords do better.

And it’s a big thing.

Keywords Capture Intent

Once more, imagine that you’re marketing a new model of trail running shoes. Your biggest goal is to drive sales. That means you’re looking for people who are ready to buy. Preferably now.

In this case, keywords are king.