Planning ahead for the removal of Google’s Similar To Audiences in 2023
A number of changes have already happened across Google platforms in 2022 including responsive search ads (RSAs) replacing expanded text ads, smart shopping campaigns upgrading to Performance Max campaigns, and the rollout of Google’s helpful content update. As we head into 2023, more changes are on the rise. This includes not only the shift to Google Analytics 4 coming in July 2023 but also changes to Google Ads’ “similar to audience” segments. Here’s what marketers need to know to prepare for this newly announced change in the year ahead:
What are similar audience segments?
Reaching users who meet the parameters of your target audience is becoming increasingly difficult. One way to identify users who are like a brand’s core audience segment is by leveraging Google’s similar audiences (or segments) targeting feature. How does this work? Google identifies users who have similar search behavior to existing remarketing list members. This means marketers can gain increased reach among prospective customers to drive new customer acquisition efforts within their paid search, shopping, display, and videos campaigns run through Google platforms including Google Ads, YouTube, Display & Video 360, and Google Display Network.
What’s changing in 2023?
Announced on November 1, 2022, Google shared it will begin a gradual phase out of this targeting feature in spring 2023. Here are some key dates and associated changes to keep in mind:
First phase of changes (May 1, 2023)
- Can continue targeting existing similar segments already attached to campaigns and ad groups, but will be no longer able to add similar segments
- Unable to create conversion value rules based on similar segments but the existing conversion value rules will continue to work
- Similar segments will not be created automatically for data segments
Final phase of changes (August 1, 2023)
- Unable to use similar segments for targeting and reporting
- Similar segments will be removed from all ad groups and campaigns
- Similar segments will not appear in Google Ads, including in Audience Manager
- Similar segments will not be included in Google Ads insights or reporting; historical reporting will continue to be available
- Conversion value rules using similar segments will not work, and conversion value will not be adjusted based on similar segments
Sunsetting similar audiences will take place gradually in 2023, but Google has already identified replacements for marketers to consider well ahead of May. These include:
- For Discovery, display and video action campaigns’ optimized targeting is recommended to help advertisers find new and relevant audiences that are likely to convert. These audiences don’t rely on third-party cookies and include first-party data segments as “hints”
- For video reach or consideration campaigns, audience expansion is recommended to help grow audiences. Audience expansion leverages machine learning, which finds users that matter to a brand based on its goals
- For search and shopping campaigns, smart bidding is recommended to replace similar audiences. Smart bidding automatically leverages signals from first-party data
What this means for marketers
While Google has outlined the alternative solutions denoted above, none of the proposed solutions are observable data. This means they are not a 1:1 replacement for the audience targeting data lost from similar audiences going away. Rather, this move to sunset similar audiences is another example of the dichotomy that has emerged between platform automation and actionable insights. As Google continues to push for greater automation, it continues to pull information away from advertisers. Trusting in Google may be difficult as advertisers have less information — or observable data — to rely on. And while automation can help generate results at a faster pace and greater scale, without human intervention, limited action can be applied to results.
While these changes are not being implemented until 2023, it is important that advertisers begin to prepare their media campaigns for this change. As observable data continue to disappear, it will become increasingly important to review existing data with a critical eye to ensure performance is not hindered. For example, the inability to review audience data carefully means analyzing placement data for video campaigns will be increasingly important. Evaluating placement data rather than audience data will serve as a proxy to help marketers understand if they are not only reaching their intended audience but if those users are taking the desired action. Identifying these “proxies” as data we have come to rely on go away in favor of increased automation will be essential to drive success in 2023 and beyond.