Know your Unknowns: Getting more out of demographic data

To squeeze maximum value out of Google Ads campaigns, we need to make use of all the relevant variables.

Beyond keywords, ads, bids and landing pages there’s another layer of optimisation levers we can pull… e.g. location, device, time of day, day of the week, and demographic grouping.

Although Google introduced demographic targeting and bidding for search campaigns over three years ago, it is still often overlooked as a simple – and often powerful – optimisation tool.

Demographic reports will often reveal a significant difference in performance by age range or gender. Frequently this doesn’t align with the expected demographic fit for your product… but if the data is consistent, then it’s real, and it’s valuable.

Differences in performance by demographic group – like any other variable – can be leveraged to improve overall CPA, either with simple bid adjustments and exclusions, or by differentiating keywords, ad text and landing pages based on the demographic performance patterns that emerge.

It may be unsurprising (though not socially fashionable…) to see different patterns of behaviour emerge between genders and age ranges, but beyond the defined demographic groups is another deceptively interesting group: ‘unknown’.

‘Unknown’ users are those whose gender or age Google is unable to determine with confidence.

Google generally assigns users to a demographic group, based on their Google account settings. This relies on the user being signed in to their account.

When users are not signed in, Google may still infer a demographic group “based on their activity from Google properties or the Display Network” (For full details, see https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2580383)… but generally, users who are not signed in end up in the ‘unknown’ category.

Because of this methodology, the ‘unknown’ segment in demographic reports does not represent a random sample of users. Certain groups, and types, of user will be more or less likely than others to be logged into Google – and therefore to be categorised as ‘unknown’.

Being a non-random sample, we would expect to see ‘unknown’ users deviating from the average when it comes to campaign performance… and typically, if you pay attention to your demographic reports, you will see exactly that.

The ‘Unknown’ segment often turns out to have a meaningfully different conversion rate from the average of the known demographic groups.

This is valuable to keep in mind, and to act on with bid adjustments, exclusions and customised targeting to improve your overall campaign performance.

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