Google Launches Demographic-Based Targeting for Search Campaigns

Executive Summary

New demographic targeting capabilities through Google now allows advertisers to better utilize Google data to refine marketing efforts. Pharma marketers can take advantage of this benefit now.


Aiming to provide paid search advertisers a greater ability to reach the appropriate audience, Google has for several months been planning a new demographic-based capability. Layering on demographic targeting to traditional paid search campaigns would allow marketers the ability to adjust their paid search strategy and customize campaigns to better reach their audience, based on age and gender.

While this functionality had been available for the last few years within Google Display Network campaigns, traditional search campaigns were not able to leverage it. At the end of Q3 2016, advertisers started to see the functionality roll out within Google’s AdWords platform.

How it Works

The data that Google leverages is compiled in a few different ways. It includes data from Google account holders, which registers when a user is logged into their Google account while conducting a search, and they have filled out the appropriate personal information. Google also uses inferred data, based on user behavior trends, in order to help determine the age and gender of a searcher. The demographic-based information is broken down into the following segments:

Potential Capabilities & Benefits

Advertisers will continue to set up paid search campaigns the same way they always have – campaigns, ad groups, keywords, ads and sitelinks are all created within the AdWords platform. After campaigns are set up, advertisers have the option to make adjustments towards the specific demographic targeting categories.


While the benefit of this approach is very straight-forward, the biggest challenge is surrounding the ‘Unknown’ bucket. While Google’s data collection method is very reliable, they are not able to place everybody who inputs a search into a specific demographic based bucket, leading to a large number of users falling into the ‘unknown’ category.

This means that if an advertiser wants to prevent an ad from serving to a female who is searching for a certain keyword, they can remove a large portion of females, but cannot guarantee that all females are blocked from seeing the ad. It can help refine the targeting, but cannot be viewed as a foolproof way to only serve your ads to one specific demographic audience.

Utilization Within Pharma Advertising

Unlike many of the products that Google rolls out, pharmaceutical advertisers are, in fact, able to leverage this demographic data and implement these strategies. While there might not be as many cut and dry situations where pharma advertisers can leverage this, it definitely can be utilized in certain scenarios.

Paid search campaigns that are solely focused on targeting HCPs can utilize age-based modifications to increase the likelihood that an HCP is clicking on their ads. Either completely removing 18-24-year olds from their targeting, or increasing bids for an older audience, can help achieve this. CMI can also combine this approach with demographic data from our proprietary Media Vitals™ study, in order to adjust bids for different age ranges and align them with the target audience.

Another potential use case is for when a paid search campaign is attempting to reach patients who have been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Implementation of demographic targeting here can make it more likely that males are being driven to the site.

On the flip side, one pharma specific challenge would be the possibility of alienating caregivers through this approach. If an advertiser was to completely remove ‘females’ from search targeting, a female caregiver looking for treatment information for their loved one would not be served an ad.

Additional Benefits

Aside from being able to optimize paid search campaigns to improve performance and efficiency, insights can be gained from this data and applied to other channels.


As more data points become available in the paid search space, it is essential for advertisers to evaluate all the ways in which it can be utilized, including optimization opportunities and audience insights. Ultimately, implementation of demographic-based targeting will further hone in on the target audience, improving the rate of engaged and relevant searchers being driven to the site, as well as minimizing costs associated with irrelevant traffic.

Updates such as this, and others including the reintroduction of device based bid strategies, show that Google is dedicated to helping their advertisers become more effective at capturing their intended target audience.

We are recommending that our clients evaluate this opportunity and implement a test to see if it can be used to more effectively to reach their intended audience, and thus improve paid search performance and efficiency.