About targeting and observation settings

This article only applies to the new AdWords experience. Determine which AdWords experience you’re using.

There are a variety of ad group targeting methods available to help you reach potential customers. You can target your ads by choosing criteria, such as audiences you’d like to reach or content you’d like ads to appear on. 

In some cases, you may want to observe how ads perform when a customer matches specific criteria, yet you may not want to restrict your ads to only show with that criteria. The “Observations” feature allows you to monitor criteria without restricting your reach.

This article explains how targeting and observation settings work. For step-by-step instructions on setting up this feature, see Select targeting and observations.

Note: This article describes features in the new AdWords experience. If you’re using the previous Adwords experience, refer to Targeting settings on the Display Network. Learn how to determine which AdWords experience you're using.

About targeting

When you choose ad group targeting, like affinity audiences, placements, or remarketing, you’re telling AdWords who you’d like to reach with your ads or where you’d like your ads to show on the internet. 

If you don’t add a targeting method to an ad group, the only restrictions to where your ads can show are in the campaign and account settings, such as content exclusions, locations, and languages. This means your ads can run anywhere on the web, across the Display Network and YouTube, within your campaign and account settings.

When to use it

Use ad group targeting when you want to narrow your ad group to only show to specific audiences or on specific content you’ve selected. Targeting is recommended for all advertisers.

Keep in mind:

  • Targeting is the same as the “Target and bid” setting in the previous AdWords experience.
  • Targeting restricts the reach of your ad group.
  • In addition to narrowing your reach, you have the option to use custom bids or bid adjustments on specific criteria within your targeting. Learn more

About observations

When you use observations, the reach of your ad group isn’t affected. In other words, observations won’t change who can see your ads or where they can show. However, observations allow you to monitor how ads are performing on your selected placements, topics, or audiences while your campaign is running. Note that observations show you how additional criteria perform when they fall within the scope of your existing targeting.

You can then use this data to guide further actions in your campaign, such as making bid adjustments on certain criteria. You could also decide to create new ad groups with targeting criteria based on your observations.

You can add observations by using the “Edit all targeting” page. You can also add an observation method from that method’s reporting page, if that method isn’t used for targeting in the ad group. Note: You can’t add an observation method when you first create an ad group.

When to use it

Use observations if you don’t want to narrow your ad group’s targeting any further, but you want to monitor how certain criteria perform with your ads. This is an optional feature recommended for more advanced advertisers.

Keep in mind: 

  • Observations are the same as the “Bid only” setting in the previous AdWords experience.
  • Observations do not restrict the reach of your ad group.
  • Data is reported for ads that meet criteria selected for both observations and targeting.
  • In addition to observing the performance of criteria, you have the option to use custom bids or bid adjustments on specific criteria within your observations. Learn more


Abbey owns a store that sells motorcycle jackets for women. For her ad group “Targeting,” Abbey selects the “Female” gender under demographics and the affinity audience of “Motorcycle Enthusiasts.”  These “Targeting” selections will narrow the reach of her ad group, so her ads will only show to women who have an interest in motorcycles.

Additional observations: 
Abbey wonders whether many of her customers are avid readers of car blogs. She wants to know more, but she doesn’t want to further restrict her ad group’s reach. She decides to select the “Topics” method under “Additional observations” and she selects “Autos & Vehicles” for observation criteria. 

With this observation setting, Abbey can view reports on how many ad impressions appeared on “Auto & Vehicles” content on the web. Keep in mind, observations are reported when they overlap with existing targeting (in this case “Female” and “Motorcycle Enthusiasts”). 

So, if ads on the “Autos & Vehicles” topic perform differently from other ads, Abbey can adjust her bids higher or lower for this topic, while continuing to target women and “Motorcycle Enthusiasts.” She could also create a new ad group that targets the “Auto and Vehicles” topic.  

Targeting and observations availability

In Display Network campaigns

You can use “Targeting” or “Observations” for: 

  • Audiences
  • Placements 
  • Topics

Demographics and Display Keywords use the standard “Targeting” setting only. Note that by default, all demographic groups are targeted, unless you make changes.

In Search Network and Shopping campaigns

You can use “Targeting” or “Observations” for Audiences (this includes RLSA).

In Video campaigns

Observations are not available. All methods use standard targeting by default.

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