Location Targeting in Google Ads

Google Ads happens to be one of the most powerful and optimizable forms of advertising online. Google includes several campaign types (search, display, product, video, etc.) across a large expanse of web properties. The Google Ads platform offers a range of tools to help advertisers optimize campaigns to improve performance. The Google Ads Location Targeting tool has made it possible for local and regional advertisers to run successful ads on the Google network.

Location targeting, AKA geotargeting or geofencing, allows advertisers to target ads based on user location. While geotargeting is a pretty standard tactic in ad campaigns. The different location targets available at Google are not necessarily well known. Google Ads Help doesn’t do a good job of making mention of the various location targeting options. At a high level, Google mentions, “you can choose locations such as entire countries, areas within a country like cities or territories, and even a radius around a location”. It mentions areas within a country as “regions, cities or postal codes”. In reality, there is so much detail that Google Help is leaving out.

So, let’s start with the highest level of targeting – outside of not targeting at all (global). Country targeting is straightforward. You can choose which countries to target your ads to, or which countries to exclude from targeting. I’ve always wondered why Google hasn’t added continent level targeting. That would make country geotargeting a lot easier. Say you wanted to target all continental European countries. You could simply add Europe as a geotarget and then add the island nations as negative locations. Not having continent targeting has cost me hours of time.

The next level of targeting – “Areas within a country” is where Google Help truly understates the geotargeting capability of Google Ads. Google’s targeting options here are expansive, but not well promoted. Users can be targeted by common geographical structures such as counties, states, cities, postal codes and foreign country equivalents (territories, okrugs, governorates, provinces, etc.). There are some additional more granular location targets that don’t get much mention such as neighborhoods, boroughs, universities and airports. You are also able to target in the US by congressional district and Nielson’s DMA regions.

Radius targeting is also straightforward. Google allows you to target a radius of 1 to 500 miles/kilometers around a location. But again, Google doesn’t fully disclose the options available. The only mention for the target location is “enter the address of the location you’d like to use for the center of the radius”. For people who have used this tool. Its generally known that the location can be a zip code, city or street address. You can also input a business name/location such as “McDonalds Bronx” and target around that business location. Another sometimes powerful, yet widely unknown option is to target a map coordinate. This is the most granular and exacting form of radius targeting.

Keep in mind that Google’s geotargeting settings (“Targeting Method”) have become less rigid over time. There are now 3 options at the campaign level for targeting your selected locations. They are “People in, who show interest in your targeted locations (this setting is recommended by Google)”, “People in or regularly in your targeted locations” and “People searching for your targeted locations”. This selection is very important to your targets. If you are a service used by locals in Hawaii and use Hawaii as your targeted location, you wouldn’t necessarily want to target “People searching for your targeted locations”. You may find traffic mainly made up of prospective travelers from across the globe.

Additionally, Google now has 2 negative location settings (“Exclusion Method”) – “People in your excluded location (recommended by Google)” and “People in, or who show interest in, your excluded locations”.

A couple things to be aware of when bulk implementing locations. First, Google’s Geotarget list, found here, is a great resource. Keep in mind it follows a rigid definition of what a geographic area is. You’ll want to search through various categories to make sure you haven’t missed a geotarget. If you use Google’s list for country implementation, you will find Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, etc. and others listed as regions. In the case of Puerto Rico, you would not be targeting the island by implementing the United States as a Geotarget.

When using bulk implementation, be sure to review the location targets once they are resolved by Google. Where a location may be ambiguous, Google will select a region based on some internal hierarchy (most popular?). For instance, inputting “Norfolk” will target the nation of Norfolk Island. Inputting “Albany” will target the country Albania.

Location targeting is one of Google’s more powerful tools. Unfortunately, Google has not documented the tool in much detail. Putting some time into researching, and understanding, how the tool works, and its various options can lead to the difference between a winning and losing Google Ads campaign.

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