At some point in your life, you’ve probably played the game 20 Questions. If not, it goes something like this: one person thinks of an object, but doesn’t tell anyone else what it is. You have to figure it out by asking yes or no questions, and you only get 20 chances. For example:

Is it blue?

Can I carry it on my back?

Will it explode if I put it in the microwave?

The more detailed and creative your questions, the greater chance you have of guessing correctly before your 20 questions run out. (If you were playing at home, I was thinking of a Shetland pony. Better luck next time.)

Finding a likely customer online is a lot like playing 20 questions. You have limited time and resources, and a million possibilities, but you have to reach the particular audience that has a need for your products or services.

If you’re selling deck installations, your questions might sound like this: Are you interested in home improvement? How often do you shop online? Are you planning on building a backyard deck this year?

And that, in a nutshell, is Audience Targeting.

With Audience Targeting, this kind of filtering helps determine who will see your digital ads – and it happens in a blink. How you target your message depends on your product or service, your ideal audience and your goals. There are countless ways to segment an audience and get in front of the right people. Let’s review a few of the big ones.

Target by Interests

If you know what topics interest your audience, it makes sense to place ads next to similar content online. On large sites, that can be literally hundreds of site sections and pages on a range of topics.

Unfortunately, this is the point where many businesses stop. Just buying loads of impressions in targeted content is like asking three of your 20 questions and giving up.

Target by Behavior

Most websites capture a wealth of data about actions people take while they’re poking around – like pages visited, videos watched or devices used. When you combine that first-party data with reliable third-party data, a clearer picture of your audience starts to take shape.

From there you can segment your audience based on those past behaviors. Pinpoint the behaviors that are important to you, and then serve your ads to only those visitors.

Target by Demographics

The term demographics refers to statistical information about a particular group of people: age, sex, education, income, employment status and more. Demographic marketing is nothing new – but in the age of “Big Data” more information is available than ever before.

You’ll need to zero in on the data that best represents your target audience. For instance, you probably wouldn’t market baby shoes to Baby Boomers. Or tree trimming services to homeowners across the state. Which brings us to …

Target by Location

Location, location, location. For smaller local businesses, especially, targeting the right location is critical. A smoothie shop in downtown Portland doesn’t need to waste budget talking to vacationers in sunny Reno.

And in the Mobile Age, it’s increasingly important for every business to reach audiences where they are. With geo-targeting, you can serve specific mobile ads based on a person’s location – 50% off coffee inside, sale happening here – in real-time.

Target with Re-messaging

Technology has made it possible to see where consumers have been online and what they’ve clicked. If that sounds creepy, don’t worry – that data is anonymous. You can see what’s happening, not the specific person who’s doing it.

But it does allow you to do something smart called “re-messaging.” When someone visits your website or sees your ad, you can show that person another message later, in a different location or on another site, to stay top of mind.

You don’t have to do this all yourself, of course. Your media strategist will help match your goals to the right content, the right data and the right ad networks. You just have to decide how to celebrate your higher ROI.