understanding geo-targeting in google adwords and using it to improve returns

One of the important features in Google Adwords is the ability to limit or expand your audience. One of the many ways to do this is by geo targeting which is also referred to as the location targeting. This feature allows you to target users based on their geographical location. Adwords allows you to specify any number of geographical areas based on several different criteria such as area name, zip code or distance.

Geo targeting in Google Adwords has many advantages…

  • Reduced Budget or Cost: It allows you to reduce your cost of marketing by allowing you to target specific and high performing audience. Even more important is that it allows you to remove advertising in areas that are not relevant to you.
  • More Relevant Ads: It allows you to create location specific ads that can then be used with the location to better target the users. For example, This allows you to create location specific campaigns, and then use location specific words in the ads.
  • Small Business: This is especially useful for small businesses and local business whose audience is pretty local. You can target local audience rather than the much larger and often irrelevant users.
  • Segmentation: Targeting the users based on location allows you to segment the data and get a good understanding how users in each geographic location is converting.

Of course, when used incorrectly, it does have its own disadvantages…

  • Limits your Clicks: You will receive less number of clicks than what you were receiving earlier. This can both be good and bad, which means you will have to be judge of how restrictive you need to be with the location.
  • Inaccurate: The technology used to track and identify users is not completely accurate and it is possible that you might inadvertently target wrong users. You could also be missing out on customers who use some kind of proxy or blocking software.

Geo Targeting Criteria

You can choose your target geographic area based on three criteria on a per campaign basis.

  • Name Based: You can search for the area by name. You can search for a country, state, city etc and get pretty granular as you want.
  • Radius Based: You can also specify a specific area by radius (in miles) with respect to a known region or city.
  • Zip Code: Although not much different than the name based targeting, you can also specify exact zip codes to target.

Once you have specified the exact regions that you want to advertise in, you will need to check your reports regularly to make sure that users in the right regions are indeed being targeted. You can make use of a couple of reports in Google Adwords to view the locations of users that your ads are getting shown to and analyze your geo targeting efforts.


The dimensions tab in Adwords, gives you two reports based on the geography and the user location. There is also a location report in the settings tab of your campaign. All of these allows you to find where your clicks are coming from.

Depending on what you find in these reports, you might sometimes want to widen the area of advertising especially if you are getting less impressions than anticipated. You can increase your Adwords impressions by widening the target area. Sometimes, you might want to actually reduce the area or even exclude certain areas. This can be very helpful if you find that your ads are performing badly in certain areas.

Refining the Criteria

Excluding areas based on Reports

The location based report in the campaign is very useful in identifying the under-performing regions. This report is based on your existing location targets that you have specified. Access this report from Campaign -> Settings -> Location.

If the area is performing very very badly, then you can outright remove the region from the location settings. If the location is only slightly under-performing, then a good trick is to break the region into multiple regions. This will allow you to know which part of the region is not working for you at a more granular level. For example, a state can broken into multiple regions based on the cities in them.

You can then compare these new areas and decide on what to do. You can actually continue this process of breaking down regions till you get to the desired granularity.

Widening the area based on Reports

This is probably much easier to do compared to the process of excluding areas. If you have a region that is performing well, then you might want to add the surrounding regions as well. The dimensions reports are a good indicator of your high performing areas.

It is always a good idea to add more regions as additional criteria rather than modifying the existing criteria. This will make it easier to compare the performance of newly added regions to existing ones over time. It will also allow you to delete or remove these regions, if it does not perform well.

The location mapping is usually pretty reliable, but it is still not very accurate or exact. It is not uncommon to find users being identified in the wrong areas, but these are usually far and in between and should not affect your cost and data by much. Geo targeting require a little bit of an effort to work the best. It is always easy to target a wide enough geographic area and get enough hits to justify the budget, but segmenting and targeting the right audience for optimum return on investment will require both time and effort.