Google AdWords Topic Targeting: What Is AdWords Topic Targeting & When Should You Use It?

Tom Demers
Last Updated: November 17, 2021 | Paid Search Marketing
HomeBlogGoogle AdWords Topic Targeting: What Is AdWords Topic Targeting & When Should You Use It?

Last week we pointed out that Google Display Ads have been the subject of a lot of Google marketing and advertising attention recently, and of course there is a lot of opportunity on the content network in many verticals.

So when Google rolls out a new display network control like topic targeting as they did in March, it’s worth taking some time to better understand how the feature works and when it makes sense to utilize it.

What is AdWords Topic Targeting?

Google describes topic targeting by explaining that:

Using topics to contextually target your ads offers broad targeting and reach and is a good way to connect with a large audience quickly and easily to generate awareness or drive sales. When using topic targeting, our system looks at all the terms on a page to determine the topic of the page and is less reliant on particular keywords. On the other hand, using keywords to contextually target allows you to target your ads to a more specific set of pages in the Display Network, since you use individual keywords to develop a theme in your ad groups. However, both targeting options can be used together to effectively reach an audience across the Google Display Network.

So the general idea here is that topic targeting is taking a similar but less granular approach to targeting than keyword targeting. An example might be to think about a campaign you’re building around various footwear products your company sells. Let’s look at the topic targeting options here:

Topic Targeting

It’s basically all or nothing – you can target pages whose topics are footwear or not. Meanwhile with keyword targeting we could break out several groups with highly granular keyword groupings to speak to things like specific modifiers, brands, or styles. In fact, in thinking through content network organization, this has, historically, been Google’s advice on campaign structure:

Keyword Targeting

The first grouping looks a lot like what an overly broad topic targeting strategy may look like.

In this respect topic targeting is a bit like broad match in that it’s very aggressive and allows you to quickly generate a lot of volume, but offers much less control and specificity than more granular targeting options (in this case keyword targeting).

While many of these categories are far too broad to effectively target with any specific product and in most cases a more hand-crafted approach to developing tightly related keyword groupings on the content network will be more powerful, topic targeting is a very powerful tool for refining and limiting your targeting.

Using Topic Targeting to Refine and Limit Your Targeting for Better Relevance

There are a few implementations of topic targeting that can really help you sculpt your display network targeting. Brad Geddes does an excellent job walking through three of them here; basically the use cases break down into a few different possible targeting combinations:

  • Using Topics & Keywords – Here you can use topics to focus broader keywords (i.e., if we wanted to create a PPC group and ensure that we’re not showing our ad on sites that talk about personal pocket computers, we could use PPC as the keyword and search engines as the topic). You can also use topics as negative topics, which is a really powerful way to exclude both dual meanings and tangential associations that would lead to low conversion rates.
  • Using Placements & Topics – Here you can create efficiencies such as targeting a certain topic on a larger site, or narrowing the focus of a collection of managed placements by knocking out an irrelevant topic you know will be representative of bad inventory.
  • Using Audiences & Topics – Once you’ve created a demographic or retargeting campaign you can refine your audience more by looking for impressions on more relevant topic pages.

The thing to keep in mind here is that topic targeting is basically a more aggressive form of keyword targeting – with things like ad group structure where you need more granularity, it’s generally best to stick with keyword targeting, but when you’re modifying another targeting option or looking for a means of taking a broad but somewhat limited approach to refining your targeting, topic targeting can be a very powerful tool.

Meet The Author

Tom Demers

Tom Demers is Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Measured SEM and Cornerstone Content.

See other posts by Tom Demers

google ads grader ad

More Articles Like This


Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter!