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Case study / how to guide – audience insights for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

One thing I often do is use free tools for things they’re not built for. One example is Google Ad Planner. I’ve never worked with Google Ads, but I’ve been using this tool for years, to gain audience insights to inform digital strategy and social media campaign plans, as well as to map influential websites for online PR / outreach.

Here’s a quick overview of a recent audience research project we did for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

The brief was to understand the online behaviours of three key audience groups, with a view to engaging with them around travel advice. The audiences were all British citizens and broken down into the following profiles:

  1. 18-25 year olds who go on single sex group holidays, beach holidays, hen and stag trips etc.
  2. Independent travellers, mainly going on gap years and adventure holidays
  3. Over 55s, who have or may plan to move or retire abroad

Using Google Ad Planner, I chose ‘Search for placements’ and selected ‘All Domains’. In answer to the question, ‘How should your results be ranked?’, because I was looking for general online habits, i.e. the most popular websites for each audience, I chose ‘Audience Reach’. If I was looking for niche, highly targeted sites of particular relevance to this audience, but with much lower traffic and reach, I could have selected ‘Composition Index’ at this stage.

After clicking ‘Start Search’, I was able to input audience details. Aside from the obvious ones like Geography and Demographics (age, gender, income, education), some of the most useful here are:

  • Online Activity
    • other sites your audience visits: if we know they visit your company website already, you can put that in. Or you could put in your competitor, or a potential partner. Or just a very popular website that we already know our target audience visits en masse.
    • keywords that your audience searches for online: this can include interests, hobbies, products or brands etc. or if you want to reach an audience at a particular time, put in things they’d be searching for related to that experience, e.g. in this case, ‘beach holidays’ would be an example – it’s not a general ongoing ‘interest’ of the audience, but they would be searching for it at the time we’d want to reach them.
  • Interests – these are things more specific to an audience’s ongoing personal interests, hobbies, things they like in general, rather than being specific to a certain time in their life or position along a consumer journey.
  • Topics – if you want to know the top sites overall for an audience, leave this one blank. But if you know you want to know what social sites an audience uses, or top sites within a particular genre, you can filter it here. For social sites you can select ‘online communities’ and more specifically if you need to, ‘social networks’.
  • Where possible use the ‘search’ option in the menus as they are often vast and you could miss what you’re looking for if you try to browse

Once you’ve got your results, you can select the top sites and turn these into a graph, or export to Excel and do it there. Here’s my results for audience 1: single sex group holidays – top ten sites, ranked by the percentage of the audience that visited the site in the past month:

Repeating the process for all audiences allowed a comparative graph for the top ten of each:

In this case, and as is quite often the case with broad audience segments, the top ten sites for each audience were found to be extremely similar, with all audiences undertaking the following online activities:

  • Socialising on Facebook
  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Reading email (Hotmail and Yahoo)
  • Reading BBC news
  • Chatting with friends on MSN
  • Gathering information from Wikipedia
  • Shopping (Ebay and Amazon)
  • Reading blogs (Blogspot)

Although similar, we were able to identify key insights setting the audiences apart:

  • Casual gaming on Facebook was a top (4th) activity for the single sex holiday audience, who were twice as likely as the other groups to visit
  • Wikipedia was a top (2nd) site for independent travellers, coming 8th for the other groups

The above two insights could feed into a strategy to communicate with these groups through different tactics.

We did the same analysis specifically for the top travel sites for each audience, which will allow us to focus our efforts for any campaigns or partnerships on sites particular to our selected audience.

And repeating the analysis for top social sites produced the following results (email, casual gaming, file sharing and software sites were ignored):

So (perhaps unsurprisingly?) the top four social sites across all audiences are consistent (Facebook, YouTube, MSN, Blogspot). Perhaps this is surprising to some, for the older age group?

We can learn more from the key differences between the audiences:

  • LinkedIn is a top site for Independent travellers and over 55s, but not at all for single sex holiday makers
  • Two ‘dating’ (sex) sites were top sites for single sex holiday makers, both with very low relevance for the other audiences
  • Outbrain, a content distributor, was a top site for over 55s


From the above research we were able to inform, and support, our recommended engagement strategy for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Any concerns about whether the suggested campaign platform is right for the audience can be allayed, as the proof is right there in the data…


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