YouTube Ads Targeting Options Removed? Yes & No.

Here’s what’s going on and how you can still use placement, keyword & topic targeting on YouTube

Alex King - Your YouTube Ads Course Instructor
by Alex King
| Updated | Updated at Sep 5, 2023

Have you heard the news?

Google Ads has removed yet another feature. It affects the content targeting options for YouTube ad campaigns.

And media buyers like you and I loved them.

But many influential media buyers and digital marketers are under the impression that placement targeting, keyword targeting and topic targeting have all been completely removed from YouTube ad campaigns.

All is not as it seems though…

Search Engine Land reported:

“With the current targeting, advertisers could match ads to channels and videos to deliver more customized messages to audiences. This change will effectively put an end to the hyper targeting that made YouTube so appealing for ad dollars.” 

I’m going to tell you why that’s not true and how you can still use these targeting options on YouTube.

Before that, I’m going to show you why it’s a big issue and why you might want to use the granular targeting options contained within ‘content targeting’ – specifically placement targeting, keyword targeting and topic targeting.

Media buyers’ panic from perceived YouTube ads targeting changes

There is a little bit of a panic because a lot of YouTube advertisers were using keyword, placement and topic targeting. They were using it for high intent, targeted customized messaging to get higher ROI or test on a small scale and make their message very relevant to the audience that they were reaching. You could reach a high intent audience very easily and at low cost with these targeting options.

As the founder of Adzoola I had quite a few people contact me under the impression that Google Ads are removing placement, keyword and topic targeting from YouTube ad campaigns.

"YouTube ads are going to stop using keywords and placements"

They were asking: Where do we stand? How do we use Adzoola?

"Google Ads removed keyword and placement targeting options"

Sidenote: You can use Adzoola to do your audience and targeting research around keywords, video and channel placements. You can test drive our free video targeting tool and free keyword research tool.

How do we use those results now?

YouTube video and channel placements, are extremely targeted methods of reaching your target audience.

Keyword targeting was particularly popular and very successful for a lot of YouTube advertisers.

"Keyword targeting one of my best" options for YouTube ads

Even topic targeting is supposedly being “removed” and that’s generally considered quite broad or much broader than keyword targeting.

If they’re going away, that’s a real problem:

With these three targeting methods, you could reach a very, very high intent audience, particularly with placement targeting and somewhat with channel targeting.

With keyword targeting, you could reach a much higher volume than with video targeting and channel targeting but still achieve a solid ROI if you’ve got your offer and your video ad set up correctly.

With topic targeting, you could widen the audience even further and still you could get good performance from that if you tested the right audiences and you had everything dialed in.

Earlier I quoted the Search Engine Land post:

“This change will effectively put an end to the hyper targeting that made YouTube so appealing for ad dollars.”

Reading that, you would be forgiven if you thought it’s now not possible to use placement, keyword or topic targeting in your YouTube ad campaigns.

We had a lot of people suggesting that in Adzoola’s live chat, or even contacting me directly.

Even a colleague who manages a YouTube ads team at a sizeable agency contacted me and asked me what the position now is since it’s been removed.

Email: Google Ads removing targeting from YouTube ads

Here’s what’s really happening to YouTube ads targeting options

Content targeting (placements targeting, keyword targeting, topic targeting) is just being removed from one of the Video campaign subtypes – specifically the ‘Drive conversions’ campaign subtype.

The Drive conversions subtype (also known as YouTube conversion campaigns) is available when you select Sales, Leads, Website traffic or ‘Without a goal’s guidance’ as your objective when you create your video campaign.

When you use a Drive conversions campaign you’ll only get automated bidding strategy options: Maximize conversions, Target CPA, Target ROAS and Maximize Conversion Value.

These bidding strategies are all supported by algorithms to help achieve your goal.

Keep that in mind for just a second.

The actual statement from Google, according to Search Engine Land, says

“we will no longer offer contextual targeting to Video Action Campaigns.”


“contextual targeting can unintentionally restrict reach and performance for most Video Action Campaign advertisers and we’ve found removing when removing keyword and topic targeting, advertisers saw performance benefits.”

I agree with this – it makes perfect sense to me.

If you’re going to put an algorithm in charge of your campaign, you don’t want to restrict it so much with narrow targeting that it can’t do its job.

And that’s what I saw YouTube advertisers trying to do in the past: They would combine narrow targeting with an automated bidding strategy.

Google’s automated bidding strategies work best with lots of data.

Starving it of data, which is what these narrow targeting methods often do, leads to poor performance. Even restricting impressions unnecessarily.

Working with the bidding strategy rather than against it will always lead to performance improvements.

This is why Google found performance benefits when removing keyword and topic targeting from video campaigns using the Drive conversions subtype.

It’s why I always recommended clients and media buyers I coach to set up placement targeting in a manual CPV campaign. For this kind high intent, narrow targeting I found the Drive conversions subtype the results were a little hit and miss. It would have a difficult job to optimize or spend consistently.

This is an example of exactly that (inconsistent spend and impressions):

YouTube placement targeting with Max conversions not spending

Want to fix YouTube ads with no or few impressions? Use this comprehensive checklist to find out why your YouTube ad isn’t getting any impressions and how to fix it.

Campaigns with manual bidding actually performed really well. They had fewer problems with getting impressions, which was always an issue specifically with placement targeting and sometimes with keyword targeting as well.

So this change actually makes sense.

But how can we still use placements, keywords and topic targeting?

Particularly placement targeting, which is really, really effective if you want to test your messaging and to really reach your target audience at the right time with the right message.

Well, here’s the key part…

Placement, keyword & topic targeting options on YouTube WILL remain

Google says:

“It will remain available for other campaign types on YouTube ads.”

This is the key point.

These YouTube targeting options will remain available for other campaign subtypes.

So, currently at least, Content Targeting for YouTube is not going away. It is going to remain, it’s just in a different video campaign subtype.

To be clear:

Content targeting is being removed from the Drive conversions subtype (sometimes referred to as a video action campaign) but will be available in other video campaign subtypes.


Avoid this misconception

This is what I’ve heard from some media buyers:

“Surely if I choose a campaign that isn’t a YouTube conversion campaign (i.e. choosing anything other than the ‘Drive conversion’ subtype) won’t that mean I’m not going to get conversions?”

Answer: No, you can still absolutely get conversions and an impressive ROI without a YouTube conversion campaign. Some of you, like me, may remember when we didn’t even have automated bidding, it was all manual!


How to use placement, keyword or topic targeting on YouTube now

Here’s how to target placements, keywords or topics in your video campaigns since these changes have come in.

1. Select campaign objective: Create a campaign without a goal’s guidance [My recommendation and the option I’ll be using in these instructions].

It’s also possible with Product and brand consideration, and Brand awareness and reach.

When you choose your objective you are setting your path for the options you’ll get in the rest of the campaign set up.

Most media buyers choose the Sales or Leads objective here. But if you do that, you are then changing the subtype options you’ll be shown.

If you select Sales for example, you’ll only be able to set up a Video campaign with the Drive conversions subtype.

This is why you I recommend choosing ‘Create a campaign without a goals guidance’.

Step 1: Choose campaign objective

2. Select campaign type: Video

Choose the Video campaign to advertise on YouTube!

Step 2: Select campaign type - Video

3. Select a campaign subtype: Get views [Used to be ‘Custom video campaign’]

Previously you would select ‘Custom video campaign’. Now Google have split that option into two subtypes: ‘Get views’ and ‘Efficient reach’.

Step 3: Select campaign subtype - Get views

You can choose either of these options but I recommend starting with ‘Get views’ because you can bid using Maximum CPV (cost per view). With ‘Efficient reach’ you’ll be bidding by impressions, using Target CPM.

Now you’ll be able to set up a placement, keyword or topic targeted campaign but we do want to make change to the default set up.

4. Networks: Turn off ‘Video partners on the Display Network’ by unchecking the box. It’s on by default.

Step 4: Video campaign network settings

If you have this box checked, you could potentially show on Google’s Display Network (aka Google video partners), which is not going to take into account your placement targeting for example. If you use placement targeting in this type of campaign, you don’t want video partners on the display network selected.

If you’re using topic targeting instead, you could take the view that you want to show on the Display Network and you think it’ll help you reach your audience outside of YouTube. In that case you might leave it on. That’s up to you as a media buyer.

I usually suggest turning this off and then adding it in later if you have a reason to, but definitely not if you are using placement targeting.

By the way, you can’t turn off the Display Network with a Drive conversions campaign.

5. Targeting: To add your targeting you can go to the Ad group section, select ‘Content’ and add your chosen targeting – video placements (or channels), keywords or topics.

Step 5: Choose your video ad targeting options

You can use Adzoola for both keyword research and finding video or channel placements for your targeting. It’ll help you uncover:

Keywords that are specific to YouTube.

Keywords you’d never have thought of.

Video placements and channel placements.

Keywords, websites and mobile apps for to use in your custom segments.

3 Important points for this type of YouTube ad campaign

Ad Type and YouTube’s Search Network Setting

Be aware that the YouTube search network cannot be turned off with this campaign subtype. You don’t want to show on YouTube’s search network if you’re using placement targeting as you’ll show for any strange and random keywords Google can find – it will have no relation to your placements.

But your ad won’t show in YouTube’s search network if you’re using a skippable in-stream ad (which plays before, during or after another video).

When you add your ad you’ll be given the option whether you want it to be a Skippable in-stream ad or an in-feed video ad (which appears on YouTube search results, next to related videos, or on the YouTube homepage).

YouTube video ad formats for manual 'Get views' campaign

If you create a skippable in-stream ad, then it doesn’t matter that the YouTube search network is selected because YouTube search is only available for responsive or in feed ad types.

YouTube search network only for responsive and in-feed ad types

So you don’t need to worry that your ad will be shown in YouTube search results when you’re using a skippable ad.

CPV Bidding

One of the key differences between the ‘Get views’ campaign subtype and ‘Drive conversions’ is that you’re bidding by Maximum CPV – Cost Per View. This is actually a pretty huge benefit because you get up to 30 seconds ‘free’ watch time. You don’t pay for a view until someone reaches 30 seconds or longer on your video ad unless your video ad is shorter.

So this is a really good benefit of using this type of campaign. Not to mention of course the extra and additional granularity that you can achieve with this type of campaign.

Manual Optimization

At this point, it’s important to note that you are responsible for optimizing your campaign. This is a video campaign with ‘manual’ bidding (CPV or CPM). As you’re not using an automated bidding strategy, you are the algorithm!

That means you’ll need to go in regularly and manage your placements or keywords to improve performance and your results.

When to use YouTube Conversion Campaigns: Drive conversions vs Get views campaign subtype

Now the question is:

When should you use these granular, manual campaigns (bidding by CPV or CPM)?

What’s the benefit of those versus the drive conversion campaigns where those content targeting methods are being taken away?

I created what I call the Pyramid Targeting Technique which is a framework for how to advertise on YouTube, so you can profitably start and then scale your YouTube ad campaigns.

I use it as a tool to coach media buyers so they can get clear on where they should start with a client and which targeting options achieve what.

The Pyramid Targeting Technique for YouTube Ads

You can learn the PTT framework and how to deploy it to start and scale YouTube ads by taking this YouTube Ads Training Course.

You can see at different levels of the targeting pyramid, you’ll be reaching larger or smaller audiences – broadly speaking.

So with placement targeting (targeting specific videos or channels) the audience size is likely to be smaller, a lot smaller than if you were to target keywords. That means that you’ll get fewer impressions.

Look over to the right to see the features of those targeting options on YouTube.

At the top of the pyramid you can see placement targeting where it indicates a small audience.

Move your eyes along to the right to see the features of this targeting type on a scale:

Pyramid Targeting Technique - YouTube placement targeting

With placement targeting you’ll generally get a narrowly targeted audience, which is good because you could potentially get a higher ROI.

You can also test your ads, messaging and audience. And you don’t need a big budget.

You have the maximum control over where your ads are showing because you’re choosing the exact videos or channels to show your ad on. That’s why you may have seen erratic and inconsistent performance using these targeting methods with automated bidding using the Drive conversions campaigns – particularly with placement targeting. I believe this is one of the reasons Google removed content targeting from campaigns driven by automated bidding.

As you go down the targeting pyramid, you reach larger and larger audiences. This is where you start getting the benefits of automated bidding campaigns.

In the lower half of the pyramid you have targeting types like Custom Segments and Affinity audiences. These are more suited to an algorithm to help you drive conversions.

The targeting at the top of the pyramid has now been removed from the Drive conversions campaign subtype because they have a narrower target audience, they provide maximum control and don’t require as much budget. This is where automated bidding tends to be less useful, less valuable, or performs less well than manually managing it.

Applying the Pyramid Targeting Technique for YouTube ads

If you’re starting out on YouTube ads or if you’ve got a lower budget, then it makes sense to use the most targeted method you can. That’s placement or keyword targeting – the first and second levels of the Pyramid Targeting Technique.

And it makes sense that it’s not automated because at those smaller volumes, the algorithms won’t work as well.

That puts you in charge, which I think is a great thing.

Of course, if you want scale and you’ve proven your offer, you’ve already got profitable results from YouTube ads with these more targeted methods, or you’ve just got a much bigger budget behind you, then you can choose the broader targeting methods further down the pyramid.

And the video action campaign, or the drive conversion campaign, will actually be working in your favor.

So you’ve got two options:

1. More targeted campaigns where you are manually managing placements, keywords or topics. You’ll be in charge. There won’t be any automation. But that’s the good thing about it – you are in charge.

2. The second option is the Drive conversions campaign where you’re further down the pyramid, you’re reaching a broader audience and that’s where the automations can actually work in your favor. You’ll often need a larger budget, you’ll need to have conversions coming in so that the automated bidding strategies can work for you.

I’ve overlaid the bidding strategies on to the Pyramid Targeting Technique so you can see where you’d use manual vs automated bidding strategies with YouTube ads.

YouTube Ads Pyramid Targeting Technique: Bidding Strategies

And by the way, these two types of campaigns are not mutually exclusive. You can run them alongside each other in the same account. I actually encourage you to do that, as long as you’re seeing results.

For example, you could have a really targeted placements campaign, getting those incremental high ROI conversions. You can test in that area as well on a low budget.

And then you could have the Drive conversions campaign type working at a higher scale, motoring along, bringing conversions for you as well. So you can use both together.

Start at the top of the pyramid with narrower targeting. Then work your way down the pyramid as you see positive results.

I invite you to check out Adzoola because it will help you reach your ideal audience with these targeting methods (and more).

To scale up on YouTube you can build custom segments using the keywords, domains and apps Adzoola helps you find. You can also use those targeting methods and custom segments across Google ads’ products so you reach even more of your ideal target audience.

Keywords that are specific to YouTube.

Keywords you’d never have thought of.

Video placements and channel placements.

Keywords, websites and mobile apps for to use in your custom segments.