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Where, Oh Where, Can You Find Your Audience Online?

Flying Hippo

By Flying Hippo

The Web is a big place. All kinds of people use it for all kinds of reasons and in different ways.

But, no matter who your audience is — which ages, genders, income levels you’re trying to reach — they’re almost definitely using the web in one way or another.

One of the keys to successful marketing is reaching the right people. (After all, if you’re speaking to the wrong people, it really doesn’t matter what you’re saying.) So, if you’re gearing up to launch a new marketing campaign, how do you target the right people online?

The first step is to understand where your audience can be found — which social networks do they use? What sites do they visit?

There are a number of ways to go about it, depending on your specific goals and what kind of audience you’re hoping to reach. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the best ways to target your perfect audience online:

1. Social Media Demographics

One of the first things many brands ask is which social media networks they should be using — if any — to reach consumers online.

Different channels attract different demographics. As an example, look at this small piece of an infographic on social media demographics released by Pew Research Center:

Statistics from a study on social media user demographic broken down to show Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

This isn’t comprehensive, but knowing which social media networks are most popular among your key demographics is key to setting your strategy. We all have limited time and resources, so being able to choose the right social media networks is critical to getting the most from our investments. (See the full infographic from Pew here.)

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that with social media, context is also important. Although your ideal consumers may use a social network does not mean that they want to engage with your brand on that particular site.

For instance, teachers and higher education professionals often maintain personal Facebook accounts. But, it may feel unnatural for B2B companies targeting these industries to try to connect with them on Facebook — where they engage in personal networking with friends and family. Consider carefully how people use each network before deciding which channels are the best way for your brand to reach the right audience.

2. Google AdWords for Search / Bing Ads

If your product or service is something that consumers may be actively searching for at certain times — like purses or plumbers — then Google AdWords for search is a great option. Using AdWords, you can target people precisely at the point of their buying decision by displaying your ads in the search results.

As with other platforms, there are down sides. For one, many people have learned to quickly tune out AdWords ads and skip straight to the organic search results. Secondly, there isn’t a lot of room for positioning or creative advertising. Your ad needs to be a pretty straight-forward message about your product or service.

3. Google Display Network

Again leveraging Google’s huge reach, you can target specific audiences across their Google Display Network — any site that serve ads using Google’s AdSense program (a huge number of major and small-scale sites.)

With GDN, you’re able to run both text and image/interactive ads — a huge benefit over AdWords. Google is also continually improving their targeting features.

As of now, you can target based on:

  • Interest topics (gleaned from users’ previous browsing habits)
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Context (based on content that appears alongside the particular advertisement)
  • Affinity (large demographic and interest-based groups like “technophiles”.)

Screenshot taken from Google's display ad planning tool.

4. Media / Blog networks

If you’re looking to really connect with a specific market of consumers, then engaging a boutique media or blog network is a great option.

Whether it’s mommies, millennials, or 25-35 year-old urbanite men, there are media networks out there that publish content aimed at these groups. You can usually work directly with their team to develop promotions for their audience. These networks can also give you more freedom of creative execution, rather than relying on traditional display advertising or text.

Some examples of media networks:

5. Facebook Advertising Targeting

Although users are sometimes resistant to advertising on the giant social media site, the targeting advantages cannot be denied. Using Facebook’s precision targeting capabilities, you’re able to target people in certain geographic regions, specific age ranges, who have particular interests, work in particular professions, and more.

Even if you aren’t planning to run any Facebook ads, you can use their data to mine key insights about your potential markets.

Screenshot from Facebook advertising targeting screen showing a targeted audience of 18+ Californians who are interested in wellness, fitness, etc.

Which movies do they like? In what topics are they interested? How are they connected to your competitors?

This kind of rich data can be very useful in learning how and where to target different audiences. By simply playing with different targeting settings, you can begin to identify patterns that emerge, similarities between different groups, and more.


Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Each project requires careful consideration to develop the right promotional strategy. We use a number of tools and conduct extensive research to find the perfect channels, sites, and targeting parameters to reach the right audience.

Any sort of advertising or paid exposure is usually just the top of the funnel, creating awareness and driving brand engagement — always with the end goal of reaching specific business objectives.

Top photo by Flickr user Allan Rostron

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