How To Use Custom Affinity Audiences

Last updated


Daniel Wade


August 30, 2022

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Most marketers know that paid ads are powerful, but the real trick is knowing exactly who to target — not just who might be interested in your brand, but who is ready to buy.

To help with this, Google has recently rolled out Custom Affinity Audiences, which help you target people who have a certain “affinity” towards an activity or interest. To get more granular, you also have the ability to customize them based on actual intent, which Google categorizes due to online behavior.

As with any paid platform though, you have to know how to use the platform. Google owns over 90% of the online search market, so being able to tap into that absolute wealth of information is exciting, albeit a little bit daunting. Don’t worry — I’ll take you step-by-step on how to set up your first campaign, as well as a few advanced tactics that will help you leapfrog the competition.

Experience is king, so I’ve asked some of my friends who are also in the online space to contribute as well. Rest assured knowing that the information listed below is field-tested and wide enough to contribute to any niche.


Table of contents

What are Custom Affinity Audiences?

With all the different online platforms on the market today, it can be confusing to use different terms that are specific to one platform or another. Simply put, “custom affinity audiences” are TV-style audiences that allow you to target based on a specific type of interest, determined by the information that Google collects about their billions of users.

At a high level though, the name itself spells this out. An "affinity" audience is simply a group of people that have an affinity for something, like cooking. A "custom affinity audience” then (or CAA) is a more specialized version of this group. For instance, instead of a generic group of people that are interested in cooking, you can target people that have downloaded an app, searched specific URLs, or lingered over recipe websites for hours.

Custom affinity audiences rest inside of the Google display network (or GDN), not to be confused with the Google search network that puts ads inside of search results. Google claims to have over 2 million websites inside of their GDN, reaching over 90% of global internet users. Clearly, this is a network that is worth tapping into.

Why Should I Use Custom Affinity Audiences?

The massive network notwithstanding, there are a few other reasons why you should consider using custom affinity audiences, primarily if your needs rest in one of the following areas.


With so many people to target, and so many opportunities for people to interact with your brand, the GDN offers a unique opportunity for people to be exposed to your brand in a variety of different formats. You can insert video ads onto sites like YouTube, banner ads onto generic websites, or even target customers inside of applications.

Controlled Targeting

Custom affinity audiences allow you to be much more granular with your targeting than generic AdWords. For instance, you can search not only based on activity but also intent, including and excluding certain behaviors that allow you to narrow down your search to only those people most likely to buy from you.

Real-Time Content

Since Google is constantly updating the amount of information that comes into their servers, using these types of audiences can help you stay relevant with the people that are searching for your type of good or service in real time. This increases your overall market reach, since people may lose (or gain) interest overnight.

How to Set Up Your First CAA Campaign

If you're familiar with setting up search campaigns on Google, then setting up your first CAA should be relatively straightforward. Start by heading over to Google ads and set up a new display campaign. Click on the button that says "audiences" (which can be hard to find), and then select to “browse” based on what their interests and habits are. You should see the words "affinity and custom affinity" inside of the button.

Go all the way to the bottom of the drop down menu, and you should see a plus sign ("+") that gives you the option to create a custom affinity audience. Click on that, name your new audience, and then populate the fields below with the various apps, URLs, and interests that you'd like to target. You can even set a description that will help you identify it later. Once you save your audience and publish your campaign, the ad will start populating shortly.

If you'd like to set up the audience without setting up a campaign, you can also do that. Go to the tools and settings tab of your Google account, then click on audience manager (under shared library), and select custom audiences. From there, you have the ability to create your own audience in the same way listed above. Play around with the different interest targeting specifically to see what types of behaviors most closely associate with your brand.

How to Optimize Your Custom Affinity Audiences

Once you're familiar with how CAA's are run, and you have a few campaigns on your belt, you should be able to optimize them to drive even better results. Here are some ways to implement even more specific types of targeting into your campaigns.

Target Your Competitors

This one is perhaps the simplest, but also the most overlooked. Since you're able to track user activity based on website URLs, try putting in the websites of some of your closest competitors and running ads directly to their visitors. You can narrow down the selection even further if you want, but even if your campaigns are only targeted at your competitor’s websites, it can still be super effective.

The one big caveat to this is if you are a local brand that is going up against a national chain. If that happens, try targetting a specific location page of your competitor, or a sales page that you think is performing exceptionally well.

Target Event Pages

In order to succeed with CAA, you should be willing to think outside the box. One of the best ways to do this is to target event pages that people are landing on and eventually purchasing products or services that are similar to yours.

For example, if you're a plumber, you may find a landing page for a plumber Expo or plumbing-related workshop. Input that URL into your custom audience lot, and you'll not only find a wide array of people, but those who are currently paying for access to this type of information.

Pick the Right Placements

Not all placements are created equal, and that applies to where your ads are currently being served. If you spend any amount of money on your campaigns, go back into your data and see which placements are performing better than others. For instance, you may find that you have a much higher click through rate on certain apps than you do on certain websites. Start a new campaign that just targets those high-yielding locations, and let the campaign run.

This will also help you determine the type of medium that is performing better than others as well. If you have an image that is vastly outperforming your video ad, then click off the video and funnel most of your creative efforts into developing images instead. Targeting those types of locations will also serve the images, and your CPC will drop as a result.

Target Consumer Behavior

With paid marketing, the primary focus is to find not just those who are interested in a certain topic, but live and breathe it as well. For this reason, one of your tactics should be to target keywords that are adjacent to your product or service. If you sell kayaks, don't just look for people who search for the word “kayak”; instead, target those who are looking for "best Lakes to kayak in Texas." These people are higher value keywords, and reveal a more deliberate focus on the keyword at hand.

You should try this tactic especially with retargeting or bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns. Since these people are already exposed to the keyword, then targeting them with your goods or services can reap a higher conversion rate. The best part is, you don't have to pay for that initial exposure, which helps keep costs down as well.

Combine Categories

The best way to make the most of CAA is by utilizing all the options at your disposal. While you can certainly target based on a URL or a single app, combining those with an interest will usually net you a higher return.

Don't be afraid to get granular with your targeting. Combine a competitor's website, like a tire shop nearby, with search keywords such as "best tires for BMWs," or something similar. This helps narrow down the people that are not only browsing competitor’s websites, but are also trying to evaluate between all the options that are on the market.

How To Use Custom Affinity Audiences


Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

After working for multiple digital advertising agencies and managing hundreds of client accounts and spending millions of dollars via Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Native Ads and Direct Media Buying, I took things out on my own and started SparrowBoost. Now, my tight-knit team and I continue to get smarter and more efficient at running our own campaigns and we share our knowledge with you.

Learn more about SparrowBoost