Enhancing paid search marketing in financial services: leveraging advanced audiences

In business, you have to speculate to accumulate. However, knowing where to spend and invest your money for optimum performance isn’t always clear.

We get asked to audit a lot of PPC accounts. And, half of the finance brands that reach out to us are investing part of their marketing budget into some form of online paid media and wonder whether that money can be better spent.

One of the first things we consider is the use of audiences. We ask whether the person managing these campaigns is not only considering the messages they want to present to the market, but the segments within that market who matter the most?

It’s easy to set-up an ad that bids on a keyword, but very different people often use the same search terms, so the needs of the individual behind the keyboard need to be considered.

There are plenty of ways to make sure that the budget you allocate to Google Ads and Meta Ads is spent on appearing in front of the most valuable users. The good news for financial services brands is that audiences already exist for many of your products and services, which takes away the hassle and delay out of building these groups.

The really good news is most of these can be customised to suit your particular business and the consumers you care about the most.

It is inexcusable when we see these are not being used within a paid media account. That’s why they are one of the first things to go under the microscope of the Balance PPC team.

What Google Ads Audience Targeting is there for financial service brands?

Below are some of the most used and most powerful PPC audiences. Consider how these can play a part in your paid media strategy.

Affinity audiences

Affinity audiences use the signals that users give off to Google that show what they really care about. Therefore, they should be looked at as fairly broad buckets for topics of interest and the people within each audience viewed as having a general, long-standing interest for a specific subject.

To define affinity audiences, Google Ads uses data such as a user’s browsing history and the time they spend on the pages they visit to associate an interest category with that browser. Why? Well, Google associates a person’s online behaviour with their overall interests, passions and lifestyle to get a better sense of their identity.

Google’s affinity audiences are usually quite accurate, and there are a couple that are ready-made for financial services firms to use – particularly if you want people who spend a lot of their digital time on investing. These include:

  • /Banking & Finance
  • /Banking & Finance/Avid Investors

Top tip: When using these audiences, remember to consider not just the financial services ones but all of the other options available.

  • There’s a Business Travellers group which might be ideal for anyone offering Forex services, prepaid overseas cashcards or car hire.
  • The Motorcycle Enthusiasts audience could suit insurers offering motorbike cover or a lender that wants more bike loans on its books.
  • For any insurer offering pet cover, there’s not only a Pet Lovers option but sub-categories for Cat Lovers and Dog Lovers. So, you can not only target these individuals but tailor your ad messaging to suit.

Custom Affinity audiences

If your products or services are very niche, then you may find the standard affinity audiences a bit broad. To be more specific, we recommend that you customise and build your own.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s as simple as giving Google a list of keywords and sites.

The keywords should describe the custom audience’s interest, and the sites will provide examples of sites that may be frequented by your target audience. It’s good to use a combination of authoritative news websites within the market, as well as URLs for established competitors.

Google will scan these sites, looking at the words and the themes, then identify other sites that are similar where it should place adverts for your brand to attract these kinds of users.

In-Market audiences

The holy grail for many advertisers is the ability to know when someone is about to purchase the product or service their brand offers. Lucky for you, Google Ads has revealed how to qualify someone as being ‘in-market’ and can tell you when ‘the iron is hot’ and ready to strike.

So, how does it do this? Well, Google considers the account clicks on related ads and subsequent conversions, along with the content of the sites and pages that a user visits, alongside the recency and frequency of those visits.

There are numerous in-market audiences you can take advantage of. For the B2B brands reading this, there is a Business Financial Services one waiting to be used. For the more consumer-facing offerings, there are a number of categories to choose from, including:

  • Banking Services
  • Credit & Lending
  • Financial Planning
  • Insurance
  • Investment Services
  • Tax Preparation Services and Software


Within most, there are further sub-categories which make these audiences quite powerful and very targeted. Here are the insurance sub-categories as an example:

  • Car Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Home Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Travel Insurance

Affinity audiences vs In-Market audiences

Where affinity audiences should be seen as general indicators of interest in a topic, in-market audiences should be viewed as individuals who are temporarily interested in a specific segment.

For example, someone may not be a car enthusiast and may not read a lot of automotive publications. Therefore, this individual won’t fall into the automotive affinity segment. However, when making a new car purchase or renewing their car insurance, for a short period, they would fall into an automotive in-market audience.

Life Event audiences

Similar to the way in-market audiences qualify and then categorise users, life events are described by Google as giving you the ability to ‘reach users when they’re in the midst of important life milestones’.

These audience groups are based on some of the main events that happen in life, such as graduating, getting married and moving home, most of which will involve investing money or managing risk.

Take moving home as an example. Conveyancers, estate agents and removal companies could consider using life event audiences for their paid ads, but this group would also be relevant to mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, and home insurers.

Plus, as an advertiser, you can choose to appear either just before or just after these events happen depending on the typical journey of your target persona.

Custom Intent audiences

This is one of our favourite audience types and is something that we run for most clients as it allows us to combine the low cost of display traffic with the high intent of search.

Custom intent audiences work across the Google Display Network with text, image and video ads shown on news publishers’ sites, blogs, special interest websites, social sites, and so on. This is done by the network allowing advertisers to target the URLs people have visited and the keywords they’ve searched for in Google.

This can be game-changing for your display advertising!

It means, if someone is searching for your rivals or visiting their website, then you can now show display ads to that person. Essentially, it is competitor brand bidding, but in a more covert and cost-effective way.

Aside from pinching potential customers from your rivals, we would recommend finance brands use custom intent audiences to get a better understanding of relevant personas.

Why? Well, high net worth audiences are notoriously difficult to reach. However, it is a little easier to get your ad in front of this group if you identify they’ve recently visited Coutts or performed searches for private jet hire, for example. Rather then spend pounds attracting these people via search, you could use display ads to build your brand awareness amongst them for pennies.

Custom Intent audiences vs In-Market audiences

The key difference between these two types of audiences is in the name: Customisation.

While both audience groups will allow you to target audiences with a relevant interest, custom intent audiences are more specific allowing you to input your own keywords and URLs.

And, what about ready-made social ad audiences?

Google offers digital advertisers more targeting options than any other channel, but it’s still worth highlighting some that exist within the main social platforms.

Just like with your ads on the Google Search Network and Google Display Network, these offer a way to home in on those most likely to interact with your advert and then purchase what you are offering.

Read on to learn about just a few of our favourites.

Meta ad targeting

Meta Ads is used to show adverts across Facebook and Instagram, and, as you’d expect from platforms that hold such a wealth of data on us, the targeting options are plentiful and fall under their ‘detailed targeting’ choices.

On top of standard targeting, such as location and demographics, these ready-to-go audiences consider things such as additional demographic information, interests, and behaviours. Your detailed targeting options can be based on the ads that someone has clicked or the pages they have engaged with.

For financial services brands, there are a number that already exist for you to use, including:

  • Business
  • Banking
    • Investment Banking
    • Online Banking
    • Retail Banking


If you are targeting others within the world of financial services, perhaps as potential introducers of business or even future employees, then you can also advertise based on categories like an individual’s current employer or the subjects they studied whilst in education:

TikTok ad targeting

Whilst it hasn’t become the go-to platform within financial services yet, advertiser use is rising due to the platforms access to people who don’t spend that much time performing Google searches. These video-first searchers offer an untapped audience and ads on the platform can be a powerful way to build brand awareness, provided your creative is strong enough, of course.

Like the other audience groups and platforms mentioned in this article, ready-made finance TikTok audiences are available on the platform. Similar to the way both Google and Meta do this, you can choose to advertise to people because they have already interacted with something, or that it is listed as one of their interest categories.

Don’t forget best practice!

We’ve chatted a lot about how to target the right people, but it’s always worth considering who you don’t want to advertise to, too.

With most digital advertising platforms, you can choose which audiences you want to exclude. So, for example, if you offer travel insurance but your skiing cover isn’t strong enough to compete, you should still advertise using the Travel Buffs affinity audience but block out the subcategory of Snowbound Travelers.

You can even layer audiences on top of one another. The more you do, the greater the refinement. However, be careful not to overdo it and end up with a niche so small that it’s not large enough to meet your marketing goals.

The question of brand awareness vs performance is one to answer here as smaller groups are often better for performance outcomes, but bad for raising your profile.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, then our recommended approach is to start a little broader, perhaps with wider interest or affinity categories, and then consider adding in additional demographic, in-market or custom intent options to narrow things down.

It’s also important to consider how you’ll use audiences like these with your remarketing activity. One approach that I’ve always liked has been to increase bids when a past website visitor is now showing as in-market. They might not have bought from you a few months ago as they weren’t ready to purchase, or it’s a product with a long sales cycle, but if their activity now tells Google that they are making commercial searches and browsing review websites then now might be your last chance to convert them.

Bring balance to your marketing

To achieve your marketing goals, you need a financial services expert who knows the unique market dynamics in and out, and wants to get to know your brand the same way. This may be an in-house advertiser or a specialist agency partner like us.

If you’d like to learn more about how we balance creativity and compliance to help financial services brands achieve growth without taking too much risk, check out our paid media page and get in touch.