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What is Non-Linear Targeting in Google Ads?

Apr 02, 2024
a winding road, used as a visual analogy for non-linear targeting

Feeling frustrated by Google Ads targeting limitations? You're not alone.

While Google's advertising policies prevent directly targeting users based on religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality and other protected categories, I've devised a way to reach those seemingly out-of-reach audiences.


What is non-linear targeting?

Introducing non-linear targeting by Jyll Saskin Gales, a creative ad targeting strategy that lets you connect with your ideal customer without breaking policy restrictions.

Imagine this scenario: You run a business selling beautiful cross necklaces. You want to show your ads to Christians, but targeting "Christians" directly isn't allowed on Google Ads. So, how do you reach this specific audience who would be most interested in your products?

Non-linear targeting encourages you to think outside the box. Instead of focusing on the exact group we want to target, we take the long way around - the non-linear route - to target interests and behaviors that correlate with your ideal customer.


How to use non-linear targeting

Let's stick with our example of reaching Christians interested in cross necklaces. How might we achieve this through non-linear targeting?

  1. Identify Interests: What are Christians typically interested in that non-Christians are not interested in? What kinds of things would Christians search for, websites would they visit, and apps would they have on their phones? Some starting points might be searching for specific bible passages or Christian charitable organizations, websites for various churches or Christian music groups, or apps for Bible study. 
  2. Build Custom Segments: Now for the fun part! We can use Google Ads custom segments to create new audiences based on these interests. Type in the interests you identified in the first step. In less than a minute, you'll find that some of your ideas may be approved, some may be disapproved, and you can use this guidance to further refine your custom segment.
  3. Craft Compelling Ads: Don't just display generic jewelry ads. Tailor your ad text, images and videos to resonate with your audience. Showcase the beauty and meaning of your cross necklaces, highlighting their significance within the Christian faith.


Why use non-linear targeting?

The magic of non-linear targeting lies in your ability to connect with your ideal customer indirectly. By targeting relevant interests and behaviors, you can still reach a highly relevant audience even with platform policy limitations.

Here's what makes non-linear targeting so valuable:

  • Increased Relevance: Your ads reach people who are genuinely interested in your product or service, leading to a more qualified audience.
  • Improved Click-Through Rates (CTRs): Targeted ads resonate better with viewers, resulting in higher engagement and potentially more clicks on your ads.
  • Enhanced Brand Affinity: People like to see themselves reflected in the world around them. By showing the right, targeted creative to the right, targeted audience, you can develop increased brand recognition and consideration.
  • Better Results: By advertising to people who are most likely to be interested in your products or services, you are more likely to achieve a higher ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) and lower CPA (Cost per Conversion).

Non-linear targeting requires some creative thinking, but the rewards are worth it. By understanding your ideal customer and their online behavior, you can craft effective Google Ads campaigns that reach the right people, even with limitations.


Non-linear targeting isn't just for restricted industries

While the example in this article focused on Christian audiences and cross necklaces, non-linear targeting can be applied to a wide range of scenarios - even if there are no policy limitations for your industry!

Are you selling fitness equipment? Target users who visit health and wellness blogs or download workout apps.

Do you run a vegan restaurant? Target users who search for vegan recipes or follow vegan influencers on YouTube.

Start brainstorming the interests and behaviors that align with your target audience. Think about websites they might visit, apps they might use, or content they might consume online.


With a little creativity, you can find infinite ways to connect with your ideal customers on Google Ads.

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