Boating Industry: Google Ads Audiences

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Steve Ward

Audience Targeting Gives Boating Companies An Edge in Google Ads

The power of Google Search ads lies in its high relevance.  When someone searches for a product or service they are giving the best signal we can hope for in digital marketing: asking for our product!  When we advertise on those searches we have an opportunity to bring those searchers to our (virtual) doorstep.  

In this article I’ll show you how to go step further using audiences to refine and power your campaigns.  With audiences you’re tapping into the accumulated intelligence Google has on shopper behaviors and interests.  

Let’s just say audiences gives us an edge over that static billboard on the highway.

Billboard for truck stop diner
Abandoned truck stop signs on highway roadside.

Google Ads Targeting For Boating Advertisers

Google Ads has several audience types, each with its own technical and marketing particulars (age, household income, custom audiences and remarketing, just to name a few).  Here I’ll discuss how in-market and affinity audiences can help boating advertisers home in on hot prospects.  

First up, some definitions:

In-market audiences are users who have demonstrated a strong intent to purchase or have shown recent and active interest in a specific product or service category. Google identifies in-market audiences based on their online behavior and engagement with relevant content.

Affinity audiences consist of users who have demonstrated a strong and long-standing interest in a particular topic or category. These interests are usually inferred from their browsing behavior, search activity, and the types of websites they visit regularly.

Screenshot showing the Google Ads audience table and audience chooser
Audience table in Google Ads

At Steve Ward Media we use both audience types frequently in client campaigns.  Each has advantages but differ in how and when you might employ them. 


For example, you might call in-market audiences “hot prospects.”  These are people who have shown by their browsing and searching behavior that they are looking to make a purchase.  This could be an experienced boater who is ready to upgrade an aging boat.  So he starts researching “new center console boats.” He’s Googling, comparing and reading articles like, “How to Transfer a Boat Title in Colorado.” 

If you sell new center console boats in Denver, you want to get in front of this searcher.  


On the other hand, someone who has long been a fan of boats, reading boating websites, commenting on popular boating message boards and reading technical articles about fishing and boat equipment, that person is showing an “affinity” for boating.  She might not be in the market for a new boat right now, but she is part of an active, interested cohort of boat lovers.  

Affinity audiences can be good for introducing your brands to build awareness among an engaged audience.  

The 'Boating' Audiences in Google Ads

In Google Ads if you search for “boating” or “sailboat” in audiences you’ll see a long list of options that include boating topics and other related topics.  Here are the four audiences most relevant for boaters:


/Autos & Vehicles/Vehicles (Other)/Boats & Watercraft
/Sports & Fitness/Sporting Goods/Water Activities Equipment & Accessories


/Sports & Fitness/Sports Fans/Boating & Sailing Enthusiasts
/Sports & Fitness/Sports Fans/Water Sportsangler catching a fish on a bending fishing pole from an outboard boat Enthusiasts

These are a great place to start.  But, Google has many hundreds of audience categories.  When last I checked I saw nearly 1,000 – and the actual number is probably higher.  So let’s take advantage of that.  

One of my favorite techniques is to start with one or more of the above boating audiences and then add related or adjacent audiences on the hunch that my ideal target prospect is interested in complimentary topics like outdoor activities, certain types of vehicles and more.  

When we review future ad performance (in 30-60 days for example) we may find that ‘Outdoor Enthusiasts’ also respond well to our ads.  

How to Use Audiences - Step by Step

Let’s take a look at some ways to configure and use audiences now that you know a bit more about them. 

In this scenario let’s consider an advertiser who sells boating supplies through an e-commerce website.  


  1. Begin by configuring a standard Google Ads Search campaign (see my other articles for advice on budgeting and keywords).
  2. In your new campaign, head over to Audiences and then ‘Edit audience segments’ on the right side. 
  3. In the pop-up choose ‘Campaign.’
  4. For now, start with ‘Observation’ (it is normally recommended, so let’s just go with it for now). 
  5. Now you can either search or browse by topic.  In our case I’m going to search on ‘boating.’
  6. Next you should see a list of boating audiences and adjacent or related audiences suggested.  
  7. Choose the boating specific audiences and also choose several relevant groupings that make sense for your hypothetical target shopper.  For example, avid boaters are often outdoorsy types too so you might also choose ‘Campers & RVs.’   
  8. Click save.

Now you should see a table for your new audiences with columns for metrics. This table will begin to fill with data as your campaign begins to run.  This give you the data to help decide where to direct your ad traffic.  

Working with Your New Audiences

Now that you have audiences applied you can begin to work with them in this session and over time.  In fact, audiences have at least two distinct benefits.  On one hand, audiences allow you to target and —  with bid adjustments — steer traffic to people more likely to be your ideal customers.  On the other hand, audiences allow you to track how well different people respond to your ads over time.   

'Steering' With Audiences

One technique we like is using bid adjustments to favor groups with better results.  It takes patience and study but it is well worth the effort.  Over time your audience table will fill with ad performance metrics.  For example you might see this:  

Table from Google Ads showing a boating audience with results for 90 days

This ‘Boating & Watercraft’ audience had 14.99 conversions at $81.76 each.  In the middle of the table you’ll notice I have added a ‘+25%’ bid adjustment. I did this to take advantage of the fact that this audience started to convert at a higher rate and lower cost per conversion than the account as a whole.  So this bid adjustment boosts my bid, steering my traffic more to that favorable audience.  *

[*NOTE:  manual bid adjustments like these are only available in campaigns with manual bid strategies, namely Manual CPC and Max. Clicks. This tactic can be valuable in the early days of a campaign when the algorithm doesn’t “know” as much about how the ads will perform.]

Now over to you.  What about your ad campaigns?  Can you think of audiences and adjacent interests your idea buyer might come from?


Audiences are a valuable tool to help boating advertisers to reach their ideal prospects effectively and at a high ROI.

What do you think?  Post back your comments or questions – email us at  


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