Apr 9 2019
Basis Technologies

How to Use Audience Bid Modifiers to Drive PPC Performance at Scale


Adwords bidding strategies have changed a lot in recent years. PPC advertising has always been keyword-focused, but audience targeting features are now more advanced when it comes to improving campaign performance. Google themselves are even taking the focus away from keyword targeting, rebranding from Google Adwords to Google Ads in 2018. This shift towards audience targeting is great news for advertisers looking to optimize and grow their efforts, especially if they utilize Google’s audience bid adjustments. Here’s everything you need to know about the role audience bid modifiers play in Adwords bidding strategies.

Adwords Bidding Strategies

Bid adjustments are a Google Ads feature that can help you optimize performance by displaying ads more or less frequently based on where, when, and how people search. Through performance analytics and audience insights, you may discover that clicks are more profitable when they come from a certain device, location, audience, or at a certain time of day. Bid adjustments let you take advantage of these insights to target the most valuable clicks for your business.

Types of Google Audience Bid Adjustments

Bid adjustments (also known as bid modifiers) make it possible to increase or decrease your bids based on certain circumstances you choose. With Google Search Ads, there are several types of bid adjustments you can use:

Device - Show your ad more or less frequently for searches on computers, tablets, or mobile devices.

Location - Show your ad more or less frequently to customers in certain countries, cities, or other geographic areas.

Ad scheduling - Increase or decrease your bids for campaigns that show only on certain days or during certain hours.

Remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) - Set bid adjustments to show ads to people on your RLSA lists. (Example: Increase your bid by 25% for people who viewed your website in the last 30 days.)

Interactions - Increase your bid for mobile devices to show call interaction ads more frequently for mobile phone users.

Demographics - Adjust your bid to target potential customers based on gender and/or in certain ranges of age and income.

How Bid Adjustments Work

Bid adjustments are set by percentages. Say you set a max CPC bid of $1 for a campaign, but you discover your ads perform better on desktop than mobile devices. You can increase your bid by 20% for searches on desktop, resulting in a final bid amount of $1.20.

Bid adjustments can be set at the campaign or ad group level. If you set more than one bid adjustment in a single campaign, they are usually multiplied together to calculate an overall bid increase or decrease. Combined bid adjustments can’t exceed a 900% bid increase.

Google Audience Bid Adjustments

To target audiences within your search campaigns, Google allows you to use several major audience types:


In-Market audiences include people who are actively researching products or services similar to yours. These audiences are great to target if your main focus is to drive conversions. Google has a long list of relevant in-market categories to choose from, examples of which include:

  • Athletic Shoes
  • Car Batteries
  • Skin Care Products
  • Office Supplies
  • Game Consoles
  • Retail Jobs
  • Student Loans
  • Trips to Japan


Remarketing audiences include people who have engaged with your company in the past by visiting your website, downloading your mobile app, or watching your videos, etc. You can build remarketing lists using snippets of code on your website or app. You can also set rules for which site visitors should be added to the list, and how long they should stay on it.


Affinity audiences are built for businesses running TV ads who also want to expand campaign reach online. Affinity audience targeting is a good choice if you want to build brand awareness in the digital space. Google provides a list of curated Affinity categories for advertisers to choose from. Some ideas:

  • Coffee Shop Regulars
  • Nightlife Enthusiasts
  • Comedy Movie Fans
  • Celebrity News Junkies
  • Hockey Fans
  • Snowbound Travelers

Custom Affinity

Custom affinity audiences are audience categories that are tailored to your brand. Custom affinity audiences are created using a number of factors, including:

  • Keyword phrases
  • URLs to create interest categories
  • Types of places people are interested in
  • Apps that an ideal customer may be interested in  

Custom affinity audiences are much more specific and relevant than general TV audiences. To illustrate, a running shoe company could target Sports Fans as an affinity audience, or they could target Avid Marathon Runners as a custom affinity audience.

Performance Opportunities with Audience Bid Modifiers

All bid adjustments are valuable to advertisers to improve targeting, performance, and ROI from Google Ads. Audience bid modifiers, though, have arguably the greatest potential when talking about improved performance, especially when used in combination with other bid modifiers such as location and ad scheduling.

Here are some of the main performance opportunities:

They help you target very specific groups of people

Google’s audience targeting options allow you to show ads to very specific groups of people. You can target based on interests, online behavior, what they’re actively researching, where they are located, how they’ve interacted with your business in the past, and more. Targeting audiences with the right combination of characteristics makes it easier to reach the right customers with your advertising message.

They’re highly customizable

There are a number of ways to define target audiences based on specific behaviors and characteristics of your target market. You can use audience targeting to create, exclude or combine different lists in a way that’s infinitely customizable. The only requirement is that the number of people in a list reaches 1000 for 30 days.

They help you prioritize different buyer personas

Most businesses today have several target audiences who would be interested in their products and services. But some audiences are more likely to convert and drive revenue than others. Audience bid modifiers can help you target multiple audiences simultaneously, while also prioritizing the more valuable ones.

For example, say a software company offers a product that is relevant to both freelance sole proprietors and start-up businesses. Their analytics show that when a startup CEO clicks on their ad, they’re more likely to purchase the premium product version. The company can increase bids for this audience to drive more conversions and revenue, while still targeting all relevant audiences overall.

They help you promote niche products at scale

If your ad groups reflect your product categories, then it’s possible to use audience bid modifiers to effectively promote niche products at scale. For example, say a video game company wants to promote a series of sports video games. They want to target gamers as well as sports enthusiasts. It’s possible to use bid modifiers to prioritize promoting these products to gamers who also like sports.

Advertisers who take full advantage of these performance opportunities will find that audience bid modifiers can:

  • Drive more conversions
  • Increase campaign efficiency
  • Increase Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)
  • Free up budget to pursue new growth opportunities

Challenges with Google Audience Bid Adjustments

There are many ways to benefit from audience bid adjustments to improve campaign performance, but doing so manually comes with some issues. Most advertisers begin by adding certain audiences to their campaigns at a 0% bid modifier, then monitoring performance. If the audience is more responsive to their ads, then they start increasing audience bids to improve targeting. This strategy is problematic for several reasons:

Improved Performance ≠ Maximum Performance

Say you identify an in-market audience that is more likely to click and convert. You increase bids for that audience by 15%, and drive more revenue as a result. You might think that your optimization work is done, but you really don’t know if that bid adjustment was the most efficient and effective strategy to improve performance. Maybe a 10% bid adjustment was all you needed to drive the same results. Or maybe 20% would drive exponential growth. The only way to find out is to change and test your bids adjustments to discover the perfect strategy.

Markets Change

Audience bid modifiers aren’t something you can research, set, and then forget about. Audiences, competition, and the overall market landscape are constantly changing. It’s possible for an effective bid modifier to start performing poorly over time. Like with most optimization initiatives, you have to systematically monitor the performance of bid adjustments and make necessary changes.

Challenging to Scale

The challenges mentioned above are enough to hinder even the most modest advertising programs from using audience bid modifiers at scale. Now imagine if you’re running a huge account with hundreds or thousands of campaigns. Applying and optimizing audience bid modifiers across campaigns becomes impossible to scale.

How to Automate Audience Bid Adjustments

Like with most optimization strategies today, the only way to fully benefit from audience bid modifiers is through automation. Right now there are a few different options to automate audience bid adjustments:

Google Smart Bidding

Google’s Smart Bidding is a subset of automated bid strategies that use machine learning to optimize for a set marketing goal. Smart Bidding strategies include Target CPA, Target ROAS, Maximize Conversions, and Enhanced CPC.

Smart Bidding considers audience signals when optimizing campaign performance. It’s possible to add audiences to a campaign or ad group that uses Smart Bidding. This indicates the audience is important for reaching campaign goals.

Here’s how to set up automated bid strategies with remarketing lists:

  1. Set up conversion tracking.
  2. Create a remarketing list.
  3. Add your remarketing list to an ad group so that your bid strategy can use it when adjusting bids.
  4. Apply an automated bid strategy to your ad group.

Google’s Smart Bidding is a great way to apply audience bid modifiers to your campaigns at scale. But the downside is you don’t have any control over how Google uses your audiences to automate audience bid adjustments.

Google Ads Scripts

Another more customizable option to automate audience bid adjustments is Google Ads Scripts. Using simple JavaScript, scripts are a way to programmatically control Google Ads data. There are many scripts available out there, and some can help you automate audience bidding.

Just keep in mind that if you want to make changes to your audience bidding strategy, you’ll have to edit the script.

Automated Bidding Technology

With automated bidding technology, it’s possible to create bid adjustments for all audience types: Remarketing, Custom Affinity, Affinity, and In-Market. The system uses all your relevant business data, statistical models, and machine learning to dynamically adjust bids and maintain optimum performance in real-time. These granular performance improvements maximize the value of all bid adjustments to drive business goals and revenue.

Automating audience bid adjustments is just one step in a complex series of calculations all aimed at minimizing necessary ad spend and maximizing performance:

target and bid on Adwords with data science

Automated bidding technology solves problems PPC managers face with precision, adjusting to market changes, and effectively scaling their programs with the help of audience bid modifiers.

Audience Bid Modifiers - The Bottom Line

Most PPC managers today understand the value of audience targeting as part of Adwords bidding strategies. But if you want to maximize the value of audiences to improve campaign performance, you need to use Google audience bid adjustments to prioritize the most valuable audiences.

Manually optimizing audience bid modifiers can drive performance, but is limited in scalability. Selecting a strategy to automate audience bid adjustments maximizes the benefits while freeing up more budget and manpower to pursue new growth initiatives.