Audience Targeting Online: The Complete Guide

Audience Targeting Online_ The Complete Guide

Let’s put this into perspective:

How well do you know your customers? 

Or do you just lump all of them in one list and then proceed to cast your net? 

Your first mistake, if you ask – especially since not all your customers are the same. Neither are they interested in the same product nor can they be converted with the same marketing message.

In comes audience targeting

What’s Audience Targeting? 

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Audience targeting is a fundamental marketing process of separating your consumers into segments based on their demographic, behaviour, experience, psychographic, interest, average income, age, gender, and so on.  

It’s a pretty useful marketing process for formulating marketing campaigns that directly align with your consumers’ lifestyles. 

You want to target your consumers with the right product when they want it, and with the right marketing message. 

Why is Audience Targeting Important?

Audience targeting is all about reaching the right people at the right time. It saves you from wasting your ad spend on targeting the wrong audience. 

You want to make sure you’re using your resources and time on the right people, or to the group with the highest converting potential. 

How Audience Targeting Works?

Audience retargeting is all about knowing your audience better instead of assuming they’re all the same. With this information, you can create tailored ads or target your prospects when they’re most likely to make a purchase or use your service. 

For example, when a customer fills out a form, visits your website, or happens to be in the vicinity of your brick-and-mortar store, you can create an audience segment for each group and device a fitting targeting strategy for each one of them. 

The more relevant your targeting parameters, the more effective your advertising campaign, both in terms of cost and results. 

Why Should You Build and Grow a Target Audience?

Target audiences consist of individual customers, segmented into different groups based on a few similarities. It’s important because the more you know and understand your customers, the more you’ll be able to tailor your marketing message and campaign to be more specific.

You can start by digging through your customers’ profiles, especially if you’re working with a CRM, DMP, or CDP. You can even take things a little further by collecting more data from an analytics solution, and where possible, consider purchasing this data from third-party sources. 

The next thing you want to do is assign a unique ID to each visitor. This is to help you clear any confusion. It should also help you identify your visitors, regardless of what device they’re using to access your site. 

4 Key Elements (Types) of Audience Targeting

The biggest obstacle in audience retargeting is deciding on the elements to focus on. You have the option of ignoring some of these factors, but that can only mean your results will be less accurate. 

To reach maximum profitability and cost-efficiency, here are the elements to consider:

Demographic Information: This refers to any information on the user’s background, in particular their age, marital status, religion, ethnicity, gender, race, and level of income. It’s the easiest data to collect, especially since it requires no in-depth analysis. 

Geographic Information: This refers to any information on user location. It provides businesses with the information they need to identify local opportunities. For example, if your company sells surf equipment, then it’s common sense not to waste your ad money advertising to Nordic countries and instead concentrate all your marketing effort on the countries in the south. 

Psychographic Data: Psychographic Information includes any form of data on user traits, social class, interests, preferences, hobbies, and lifestyle. It demands that you dig deeper to understand your customers better. You have the option of getting this information from your customer’s preference centre, asking them directly via email, or analysing their behavior on your site. 

Behavioural Information: The only way to collect this form of data is by closely monitoring how people interact with your site content. You’re to then create a series of campaigns based on what items they view, save, and add to their shopping carts. 

In so doing, you should be able to tell what items your site’s visitors want and when to exactly target them. 

How to Collect and Use Audience Targeting Data

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So, where should all this data come from? And how do you even incorporate it into your marketing process or ad campaign? 

You have three sets of audience targeting data to choose from: 

First-party Data

This refers to any form of data that your brand collects itself, without any external help. It includes information on your past customers (leads, contacts, and prospects), email newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or website visitors. In most cases, this data can be readily available in your CRM or POS. However, there are a few cases where you may be required to go the extra mile in collecting it – like using pixels to track how your visitors behave on your website.

This should be the first data you collect for audience targeting.

So, how is important:

  • It’s unique to every company out there. Your segment is your own, and no other marketer or business owner can target the same segment without you allowing them.
  • You cannot purchase it. You have to collect it yourself and naturally grow it. 
  • They tend to be more accurate and relevant than third-party data.
  • Keep in mind that you’ll be collecting the data from an audience that’s already warmed up to your brand. Meaning, there’s a higher likelihood of them converting.


Third-party data sets tend to be small. You cannot grow them beyond your current audience, and it’s for this reason that you might also want to collect second-party and third-party data. 

Second-party Data

Second-party data refers to the first-party data that you inherit from someone else. It’s the first-party data that was collected by someone else and handed, sold, or shared with you. 

Second-party data is less common than first and third-party data. However, it’s still an effective way to grow your audience, while still maintaining your data set exclusivity and quality. 

This type of data also tends to be relatively cheaper to obtain compared to third-party data, but it all depends on the sharing terms and agreement and the amount of data involved. 

Third-party Data

Think of third-party data as some ready-made data, collected, segmented, and sold by a third-party company specialising in that.

Where you do not wish to get your hands dirty by collecting and preparing data, you can opt to purchase it directly from a data-mining company.

These data sets are usually sold through demand-side platforms, public data exchanges, and data management platforms. 

When to Use Third-party Data

Third-party data sets work best when you’re looking to scale rapidly. They might not be targeted as first-party and second-party data sets, but they expose you to whole new audience groups, stretching your audience far beyond what the other two types of data would have. 

The KPIs for Audience Targeting

Audience targeting may emphasize growth, but it’s also about retaining your customers. It’s common sense: it’s impossible to grow when you have some of your customers slipping through the cracks.

Audience targeting is also about helping you reach the right audience at their most convenient time. In the end, you want to analyse everything and see if you’re headed in the right direction.

For this, you have KPIs such as customer lifetime value, conversion rates, and net promoter scores to weigh the effectiveness of your audience targeting campaign. 

With these three KPIs, you can easily tell if you’re targeting the right people or wasting your time and resources on the wrong audience. 

Remember to also look at the number of drop-offs. Is the audience making consistent purchases or are a majority of the prospects dropping off? 

Where to Use Audience Targeting

Audience targeting works with almost any digital platform, including programmatic (such as the Trade Desk), Paid Social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn), and paid searches (such as Google Ads). 

You can serve programmatic ads across all channels: mobile, display, videos, digital audio ads, and connected TV/OTT. 

Things get a lot easier on social media. Their relatively simple interfaces allow you to select the audience attributes to target, which can easily be managed by either an in-house team or a digital ad agency. 

Things get a little more advanced when using a programmatic ad platform such as the Trade Desk. For starters, you’ll be provided with a wide selection of data to choose from. You may also be made to select from different data sets bearing the same attributes.

Combining Different Data Sets for Custom Audiences 

You’re not limited to only working with one particular data set. A better approach would be one where you combine several of them to create custom audiences.

It’s even more effective when you’re able to combine first-party data with second- or third-party data (and even Both) to reach an even wider variety of prospective customers. 

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For instance, let’s say your first-part data primarily consisted of millennials with a thing for extreme sports. By combining this with a third-party set, you may find that you’re also able to reach young people with an affinity for Red Bull adrenaline videos. 

Lookalike Audiences: How Are they Created?

Ever wondered how lookalike audiences are created?

All it takes to build a lookalike audience is to combine first-party data with second-party or third-party data. You’re to match the characteristics between first-party data and the second-or-third-party data. 

In other words, you’ll be singling out which prospective customers on your second-or-third-party data sets are any similar to your list of already existing customers. 

With enough first-party data, you can even maximise conversion by matching those at the furthest end of your sales funnel. Instead of just matching customers, you can match your most consistent customers or purchases to maximise your chances of conversion. 

Other Targeting Options that Could Work with Audience Targeting

Audience targeting isn’t the only targeting option for ads. But for any campaign, it’s the best place to start if you’re looking to avoid wasting your ad impressions. 

And once you’ve identified your target audience, the next thing you want to do is to incorporate all the targeting options to further enhance the efficiency of your campaign. 

Contextual Targeting

Derived from the term context, contextual targeting is all about selecting the most fitting context for serving any given ad. It’s where you determine which type of content can best accompany your ads (recipes, how-to’s, the keywords you should use, or what app or website should the ads appear. 


Geofencing uses IP addresses and GPS data to serve your ads to people who visit or come near your brick-and-mortar store or any particular location. You can draw a virtual geofence on any location, and your ads will be served to anyone who accesses your website or blog for the first time within that area. It’s a pretty useful strategy for targeting specific businesses, events, and neighbourhoods. 


Retargeting collects data on the people who’ve already visited your site and made an exit without placing an order or making any purchase. It also collects data on the people who’ve at some point interacted with your ads or taken any other relevant action. 

Based on the data you collect; you can choose to either serve a new ad or the same old ad. This allows you to secure a conversion through repetition, improved messaging, or special offers. 

10 Audience Targeting Tools Every Serious Marketer Needs to Have

You need to utilise every single tool at your disposal that lets you know your customers better. We’ve identified a few of these tools:


  • Google Analytics – the Audience tab


Google is the tool you use to turn the assumptions you have about your target audience into solid facts. Under the audience tab, you can quickly find out where your audience is from, who they are, and so many other critical details about them. You can even check the demographic tag for their age and gender.

Here’s what Google Analytics will reveal to you under the audience tab:

  • The location of your target audience or prospects
  • The interest of your target audience, together with their demographics
  • Your granular target audience


  • Google Analytics – The Acquisition Tab


Still on Google Analytics, but this time on the acquisition tab. Click on “All Traffic” ~> “Source/Medium” and you’ll discover where your web traffic was referred from.

Here’s what Google Analytics’ Acquisition tab will reveal to you:

  • What website did your site visitors come from before visiting your website?
  • What platform should you advertise on?
  • Where can your potential customers be found?


  • CRM Platform


You can store the information you collect about your customers into a CPM platform. It’s even better this way because a CRM platform allows you to analyse this data.

Your customers’ wish list, loyalty program data, net promote score, and abandoned carts all help to determine your customer’s behaviour and level of satisfaction. 

Now try combining that with third-party insights and cookie data and you’ll have all the information you need to know about where your customers live, how they discover your brand, and how they behave on your website. 


  • Surveys


The easiest way to collect demographic information on your customer is to conduct regular surveys. 

Beauty companies do this all the time. They run surveys asking about hair colour, skin type, and eye colour before recommending a cosmetic shade or any other beauty product. 


  • Lookalikes Tools for Ads


If you run ads, then it helps to look for a lookalike generating tool. With this feature, you can target audiences that align with your current customers or prospects. 

Some of these tools offer interest-based targeting while others allow you to group audiences based on interest and level of investment.  


  • Cloohawk


Cloohawk is a social assistant tool that’s been specifically designed to help you grow the right audience for your brand, products, or services. The tool has been designed to dig around for a list of people whose interests align with your own. These are the people you should be targeting. 

It can trace your target audience. It’s also designed to look around for active people who can relate to your product offering or niche. It mostly derives this information from Twitter, by gleaning through people’s profiles to check their areas of interest and recent activities. 


  • Audiense


Audiense is another social assistant tool for identifying the right audience or the most relevant audience to your line of business. It’s a tool that’s capable of identifying an even bigger audience connected to your brand.

Besides assisting you to identify audiences; it can also help you personalise the messages you deliver to them. 


  • AgoraPulse


If you’re looking for a social media tool that will help you understand your audience better, then look no further than AgoraPulse. It’s everything you’ll ever need for a tool of its kind. 

You can use it to directly engage with your target audience and customers. Other than that, the tool allows you to segment your existing audience based on gender, age, location, and interest. 


  • Amazon


There’s so much you can learn about your target audience and their thinking by just signing up on Amazon. 

The odds are your target audience has ever shopped with Amazon, and that Amazon picked tiny details on every single one of them and stored them safely in their database. 

You can start by checking out the review section to understand what your customers want or prefer. There are nuggets of information to pick from there, and which may prove useful to your overall marketing campaign. 


  • Think with Google


All you have to do is plug in your industry and watch as the tool works its magic to uncover the marketing channels that your prospects are likely to be found or use, in their right order throughout their purchase journey. 

With this tool, you’ll discover how various marketing campaigns impact your customers in their purchase journey. 

How to Improve Your Audience Targeting Game in Five Easy Steps

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What do you consider the best audience strategy? While there isn’t one particular step-by-step guide for developing a fitting audience targeting strategy, there are a few key ingredients that you wouldn’t want it to miss.

With that said, here are five practical pointers on how to run with your audience targeting game like the pro you are:


  • Broaden Your Focus


Audience targeting doesn’t favour the narrow-minded.

You have to learn to think outside the box.

That’s not to say that you should go rogue with your approach. Instead, we urge you to be open-minded and let your creativity fly.

Here’s a real-time example of how this works:

Let’s say you’re in the real estate business. You have the obvious go-to choices.

  • Moving or relocation business
  • Residential properties for rent or residential properties for sale
  • Mortgage financial services – loans, credit, and mortgage

This is where you put your creativity to work. You have to broaden your thinking and paint an out-of-the-box picture of your potential customer.

What are the not-so-obvious facts about them?

What cars do they drive, which neighbourhood do they live in, and what’s their level of income?

Armed with this information, you can look at the adjacent markets that align with this persona instead of just focusing on your products or brand. 


  • Audit Your Audience performance and Make Necessary Changes


This is one of the most natural things to do. But you’d be surprised by the number of people that choose to ignore it.

Don’t be quick to adjust your bids. Instead, monitor them and only adjust them based on performance. 

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You can start by setting up a weekly schedule, and either increase or decrease the frequency of adjusting them as time goes, depending on their scope or the number of channels you manage.

Here’s what you’ll be doing during each session:

  • Review the different types of audience targeting: remarketing, lookalikes, custom combination, etc. Are things flowing according to plan or should you take a step back and rethink everything? 
  • Regularly review how the applied audiences are performing
  • Apply negative and positive bid adjustments to your campaigns, based on how they’re performing.
  • Make note of any campaign adjustment to draw a meaningful conclusion


  • Matching Audiences to Your Messages


Audience targeting revolves around the idea of sending the right message, to the right group, at the right time. 

Audience targeting allows you to know who your audience is so you can tailor your marketing message. 

Here’s an ad customization tool you might want to take advantage of: 

Microsoft Advertising:

Microsoft Advertising allows you to leverage audience IDs for remarketing. They also happen to have in-market audiences feature as one of their Ad Customizer parameters.  

What this means is that you can create automated text ads that can swap out descriptions and titles depending on the targeted audience. 


  • Learn to Embrace Granularity


As you strive to think outside the box, don’t forget to embrace granularity. 

Quite too often, advertisers apply audiences on a broad-stroke logic – they want to lump up all visitors, converters, etc. 

This overarching approach could make a great start – mark the word start. 

However, for high-performing campaigns, you want to take a more granular approach.

And here’s what we mean when we talk about granular: 

  • Break your audience by product/service, category, and other ways that map them to your website, products, or business structure
  • Break the audience by time (what days do they visit your site, how many days do they take to complete an order after adding a product to their carts, and so on). 
  • Use Microsoft’s Product Audiences to track how your visitors interact with your e-commerce site. They have already done much of the work for you. 

Take time to think through the following:

  • How do you intend to slice and dice the data you get based on your content or products/services?
  • What does your traffic consist of?
  • How did your visitors find your website? 

This should help you tailor your marketing message. 

6 Things You Should Know About Your Target Audience

Audience targeting isn’t rocket science. It’s not even an art. It’s a simple data-driven process of increasing the likelihood of your ads converting by making sure they’re shown to the right audience. 

Everything narrows down to six basic things every advertiser should know about their target audience:


  • Who they are: Find out all there’s to know about your target audience – age, gender, school, job, home, etc. 
  • What they do: You have to find out what your audience does with their time to figure out how to best approach them. Find out what they do as a hobby, what they do in their free time, and what activities they are passionate about.
  • Where They Are: Can you point out where your audience can be found on the map? Is your target market local, national, or global? 
  • What Appeals to them: What’s that one thing that your target market cannot resist? What influences their buying decision? Think in terms of free shipping, discounts/coupons, free expert information, and prizes/contests/giveaways. 
  • How Connected they Are: Are they on social media? If so, what channels? What do they use to access your website (phone, desktop, or tablets)? How often do they use the email?
  • What they Do Online: what does your audience do when online (search, read, learn, share memes, connect, and so on). 


Audience targeting is the simple processing of ensuring your ads are served to a group of prospects that’s most likely to convert. 

8 Audience Targeting Strategies to Adopt

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  • Use Google’s In-Market to Expand Your Audience


You’ve probably been underestimating the power of Google Displays Ads, especially when targeting an entirely new audience or an audience that has never heard of your products or brand. In fact, with Google In-market, you can target customers that research your products or services. 

Use the not-so-popular report from Google Analytics to research high-performing affinity categories and in-market segments. 

With the insights provided, you can quickly build ads for each audience group and serve them a marketing message they can best resonate with. In other words, that’s how you make a data-backed business decision. It starts with you identifying who are your best customers and then going all out to find even more of them. 


  • Remarketing with Google AdWords


There’s so much you can do with Google Ads editor.

First, you can download, edit, view, and assign ads to your existing audience.

And depending on your type of campaign, you can even target remarketing lists, life events, custom combination lists, interest categories, and so on. It’s a remarkable tool – even so when you consider the fact that you can perform a lot of A/B testing with it and even set up ad clusters to compare the effectiveness of different ads. 

 A remarketing list works even better when you’re targeting an audience that’s already expressed interest in your business. 


  • Use Facebook Retargeting and Custom Audiences


Facebook’s Ad platform has one of the most advanced targeting features you’ll ever come across anywhere. Core to their list of targeting features is the ability to target users based on their interest. That allows you to send relevant ads to your users based on preference, instead of just casting them on a humble. 

It’s a pretty useful way to build content that adds value to your users. Facebook users are known for having short attention spans. That explains why short videos tend to perform well on the platform. 

With Facebook ads, you want to target users by sending them a series of ads (and not just one general ad). And once a user engages with an ad, you can send them another different ad to push them further down the conversion funnel. 


  • Use LinkedIn to Research Keywords


It’s no hard science. Social media platforms offer the most extensive targeting capabilities. Or we could say no other platform stacks the same amount of data on online users as them. 

An effective LinkedIn audience targeting strategy would be to convert job titles to keyword research. 

There are more pedestrian approaches for this, like LinkedIn sponsored content, site-based display targeting, and native content. 


  • Prioritise SEO


We can point out a thousand and one reasons SEO should your primary point of focus in your marketing strategy. 

But core to all these reasons is the fact that it’s the only marketing strategy that puts you in front of your target audiences for years for free. 

By ranking your websites in a list of relevant search terms, that means your website will be among the results they see every time they go online to search for anything relating to your products and services. 

Plus, online searching is a key signal of an online user’s intention to buy something. By just running an online search query, they’d have already expressed what they’re interested in and what remains is for search engines to link them with a suitable seller like you.


  • Add Chatbots to Your Marketing Strategy


There’s more to chatbot than you think you know. There’s more you can learn about your target audience every time they engage with you via your chatbot.

The only important lesson in this is that your marketing team must be actively involved in decisions that the chatbot’s algorithm is taking. They should learn to refine the chatbot and keep it educated based on the knowledge that your chatbot has been accumulating over the years. 


  • Start Tracking Your Visitors


Add an event tracking feature to your website to find out how visitors interact with your website. This should help you figure out how to perfect the user experience or make your online presence even more effective. 

You can even capture phone IDs to serve geographically-based ads to your visitors. 

Learn to leverage B2C technologies such as geofencing and geotargeting to targeting your prospects based on their physical locations. 


  • Keep Looking Forward


These strategies should help you find and reach your ideal customers. But with technology advancing and new inventions made, there should be more strategy to make the process even smoother. 

For example, you could use voice search to target new audiences. The point is to never close your mind and assume you have it all figured. There’s always room to learn something new and make your audience targeting strategy even more efficient. 


About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media




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