target and bid vs bid only
Published: 27 April 2017

“Target and Bid” Vs. “Bid Only” for RLSA and Display:

If all of your targeting methods are set to “Target and Bid” it means that all of your targeting methods must match to a user before your ad is shown. “Bid Only” means that a user is not required to match to your targeting methods to see your ad.

It’s extremely important to understand this, because Adwords uses “Target and Bid” by default when adding targeting methods. Not only that, there's something much deeper here... They can define how to bid big when your ideal customer comes along.

Still confused? Not to worry. 


The new Adwords Interface (including the Beta) has changed the wording of this setting, and changed where you can find it if you want to alter it. But fear not - see the contents table below to find where you can find out all you need to know about this change.

Adwords Target and Bid Update


Click below to jump to the section you want, or simply keep reading:

If by you've still got questions by the end of this blog, check out this 40 minute tutorial which goes into great detail, with a wealth of examples. It was produced in 2015, but the information is still relevant.




The Problem with the Setting

This innocent looking setting can be a real headache for PPC people, and personally I’m bemused that Google doesn’t have a dedicated video guide about it..

I mean, look at this description under "Topic" targeting:

For many, this just raises further questions.

Worst case scenario, this little setting has the power to effectively disable your entire campaign, even if everything else has been set live, resulting in your Display Network looking like this:

Grim, isn’t it?

If you’ve ever sat pulling your hair out wondering why your campaign has sat at zero impressions, first port of call is to check to see which targeting methods are set to “Target and Bid”, and which are set to “Bid Only”.


Why Google’s Explanation is Unclear

True story: Last time I attended an Expert Academy day at Google’s London offices, one of the Google-employed speakers interrupted his own talk with a slide detailing the difference between the two options. As he put it in his charming Irish accent: “Google are ****ing terrible at explaining this. I know I shouldn’t be slagging off my own company, but hey I’ve been here 10 years. May as well get fired right? **** it.”

I highly recommend attending an Expert Academy day, by the way. Great fun.

Even while writing this blog post I called a Google Expert to clarify my findings and explanations, and I was put on hold three times while the poor girl had to go and ask someone about it.

Here’s why it’s such a mess:

Many Display campaigns are based around building Brand Awareness, and will use a mixture of targeting methods in order to advertise to different groups of people, and see what sort of engagement each group receives. There’s nothing at all wrong with doing this, as a Brand campaign should focus on broad targeting to capture the interest of as many people as possible.

However, having all targeting methods set to “Target and Bid” means that any single user must meet all targeting requirements, and sometimes that’s just too narrow for targeting users – or downright impossible in some cases.

Google’s explanation makes no mention of this anywhere in Adwords, only saying “Show ads only on pages about these topics with the option to bid on them.”

As for an example of how this can change your campaigns, all they offer is this:

This is in no way clear or comprehensive enough, so let’s explain with our own example.


An Example of How “Target and Bid” Can Make Things Too Narrow

Let’s say you or your client sell umbrellas online, and you’ve created a Display Remarketing campaign with the following targeting settings in a particular Ad Group:






Interests & Remarketing

Viewed Umbrella Catalogue, not Converted (30 Day Membership)

Added to Basket, not Converted (30 Day Membership)


Display Keywords


How to stay dry

Rain Hate


All three of these have been set to “Target and Bid” by default. What this means is a user must be related to either the Health and Travel topics, viewed our catalogue or added to basket without purchasing, and be related to our chosen keywords.

Target and Bid Audience

Targeting this narrow could mean your ads are seen by virtually no-one. It could get even tinier if we also wanted to add things like Demographics!

A new approach is needed.


A Much Better Example: Combining the Two for Layered Targeting

You might think you can just set all targeting to “Bid Only” to be safe, but thats too broad, and remember that there needs to be at least one method set to “Target and Bid”.

You need to be smarter and use them both to go for a layered form of targeting, by giving a chosen targeting method a higher bid and setting it to “Target and Bid”, then giving “Bid Only” methods a lower bid.

Let’s say we want to target based on Managed Placements and Interests. We have given a higher bid on Managed Placements. What happens if we alternate “Target and Bid” on the two? 

Managed Placements Target and Bid

If you go with this method, your ads will show on Managed Placements. You will also target all users who are related to your Interests outside of your Managed Placements with a lower bid. However when a user who intersects with both is shown an ad, you will use the higher bid that has been set for Managed Placements.

And if we switch it…

Target and Bid Interests

… The opposite logic applies. By setting Managed Placements to “Bid Only” and Interests to “Target and Bid”, you will target users who match with your Interests. You will also target users who visit your Managed Placements. However, if a user visits a Managed Placement who also matches with your Interests, your bids will be lower as per your Interest bid.

So, which one is preferable?

Because we’ve prioritised Managed Placements with our higher bid, logically speaking the second strategy sounds less desirable. When a user that matches with our Interests visits our chosen websites, we should be using the higher bid, as the user is exactly who we want to be targeting.

If we had given a higher bid preference to Interests, then the second method would probably work better for us. The beauty of layering bidding and targeting like this is it allows us to make these granular decisions, to squeeze out more relevancy and interested users from our campaigns.


Where to Find the Setting in Adwords

1. From your top level view, select the Display Network tab

Display Network Tab

2. Then select + Targeting

Adwords Targeting

3. Select your Campaign and Ad Group

4. Click a targeting method and you’ll be presented with this view. The setting can now be changed as you please.

where to find target and bid setting

Remember that these changes apply to individual Ad Groups, and not campaigns.


Where to Find the Setting in Adwords Editor

1. Open your desired account

2. Select a Campaign and Ad Group

3. Select the “Flexible Reach” tab

4. Simply change the setting as desired.

As with Adwords, remember that these changes apply to individual Ad Groups, and not campaigns.


Changes in the New Adwords Beta Interface (2017)

While the changes in the new Adwords Beta Interface are largely visual, Google has taken this opportunity to update the wording of "Target and Bid" and "Bid Only", to something a little clearer.


Adwords Target and Bid Update


"Target and Bid" has become simply "Targeting", and "Bid Only" has become (somewhat confusingly) "Observation".
As far as we can tell, this has not changed the function of the two settings, and they will still operate as they always have done.

"Targeting" largely speaks for itself, and the new description works a little better. However Google are clearly still having trouble describing what "Bid Only" or "Observation" actually does, and the bit about "getting reports" only adds to the confusion. However, its a step in the right direction.


How to Change the Setting in the New Adwords Beta Interface (2017)

1. Select the Campaign or Ad Group containing your chosen audience.

2. Select "Audiences" from the left sidebar.

adwords target and observation settings 1

3. Select the Edit 'Pencil' icon.

adwords target and observation settings 2

4. Change the setting and any amendments to Audiences as desired, as you normally would in the old Adwords interface. Don't forget to hit "Save" before exiting!



And that about wraps it up! 

There’s still lots to learn, so perhaps you’d like to hear about the new (and free) Google Optimize tool, or learn about changes to Exact Match in Adwords.

For more info, tips and news on Digital Marketing and Web Design, check out the rest of our blog.

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