Master Adwords Location Targeting
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Every advertisers who uses Google Adwords and Display is going to use location targeting. But there remains a lot of confusion about exactly how to use location targeting. In this post we’re going to get into detail on what location targeting does and how to use it to maximize performance of your campaigns.

First of all, we have to understand what location targeting actually means. Location targeting does not mean everyone in your target location will see your ads, it means that everyone in your target location is eligible to be included in the ad auction for your target keywords. You are still bidding against other advertisers to serve your audience ads and your ads will only be shown to people who trigger them through their keyword search. Conversely, if you choose to exclude certain locations, then people in those locations will not be eligible to be included in the auction, even if they run a search that triggers your ad.

Now let’s look at some of the key factors to consider when deciding what locations to include and exclude in your campaigns.

Key Considerations

Intuition. There is no secret formula for finding the best locations to target because every business is different. Only you are going to understand the intricacies of your business model. Some businesses will need much more detailed location targeting than others. Local business, for example, are obviously going to need to be more granular in who they target. Consider where you ship, what sort of product you sell, the language of your marketing, etc. This is the most basic way of figuring out where to target and exclude, and it will give you a good foundation.

Historical data. One great source of insights into location targeting is your historical customer data. Look at who your customers already are, and if you have data on where they live or where they’re from, then you can assess who spends more, who buys more often, etc. Buying patterns are going to differ greatly from place to place. If you don’t have that sort of historical data but work at a larger company, try talking to your co-workers to get a sense of your customers demographics. If you have customer service reps, they can be a great source of information here.

Google Trends. Try looking at Google Trends to get volume estimates of people searching for your keyword in certain locations. This should give you a sense of how much interest there is in your product in certain regions. You may then be able to extrapolate from this to predict larger spending patterns. For example, if people in wealthy cities are searching for your keyword, you probably want to focus your advertising on these areas.

Keyword Planner. We don’t cover the Keyword Planner in this post, but you can use the Keyword Planner to go in and check out where your competitors are bidding. Use this information to build your own campaigns. Often you won’t want to duplicate what your competitors are doing, but you can use this data to make smarter decisions about where to target your own campaigns.

Exclude competitor locations. Try to exclude the locations of your competitors (the zip codes their offices are located in). Competitors will often click on your ads to drive up your cost. There is no way for Google to prevent this, and it’s debatable whether there is anything wrong with doing it. In any case, save yourself some budget and stop your competitors from skewing your results by excluding their offices from your bids.

Feature: Basic Inclusions/Exclusions

Basic inclusions and exclusions are straightforward. First we’re going to Create a new campaign and then scroll down to the location options.

Now I just click ‘Let me choose…” and start typing the location I want to include/exclude. You can type city names, postal codes, regions (like states or provinces), counties, or entire countries.

It’s worth noting here that when you include a location, that location is added to your targeting. But when you exclude a location, that location is excluded from your targeting even if it overlaps with the included locations.

So for example, below I have targeted New York City but excluded Brooklyn. This means I am targeting everywhere in New York City except for Brooklyn.

This is the simplest way to do location targeting and should be fairly intuitive.

Feature: Advanced Search

If you need more advanced location targeting, click on Advanced Search. This will reveal a popup that gives you a visual representation of your targeting and some additional options.

If you look at the targeting I have setup below, you’ll see that New York City, with the exception of Brooklyn, is targeted.

Let’s remove our targeting and explore the other ways of targeting. The first way is through the map. To access this, click the blue polygon right below the search button. This will then show you all the possible locations you can target visible on the map, along with a text list of them. Below I have brought up this list for the New York City area.

Now none of these areas are selected. So let’s go through and add some regions. You can do this by clicking ‘Add’ on the list or by selecting them on the map and clicking ‘Add’ on the popup that’s revealed.

I have gone ahead and added southern Manhattan by postal code. You might do this if you were running ads for a local business or something else highly specific to that location.

Why, other than this sort of narrow targeting, would you ever add places postal code by postal code rather than by city, state, or country? The answer is that you can adjust the bids on your ads in each of your target locations. So if I target the United States, I can set one bid for the entire country. But if I target each of the 50 states, I can adjust my bids for each state. You can usually save a lot of money by doing this, though it’s possible to go overboard and drill down too deep. Strike a balance that you can manage.

Feature Radius Targeting

Radius Targeting is a second way to do advanced targeting. It lets you select a specific address and then target/exclude a radius around it. Say I wanted to run ads promoting the Whole Foods grocery store on 3rd St. in Brooklyn, NY. I’d enter that address and click Search.

That gives me a really big selection of areas. So let’s narrow that done by reducing the size of the radius from 20 miles to just 2 miles. I clicked Add and you’ll see the targeted area is now highlighted.

But what if I look at the map and decide I want to exclude locations from this targeting zone?

Well, I can’t use a different radius target to exclude — you can’t do that with radius targeting. Instead I’m going to look at the list of locations on the map and select the ones I want to exclude. So in this case, maybe I know there is another Whole Foods closer to people who live in Brooklyn Heights, so I want to exclude them. I can just click on that on the map and select Exclude (or find it in the list) and it will be shaded red on the map.

It’s worth noting that you can also use the ‘Search’ tab to find locations to exclude while keeping your radius targeting in place. Sometimes it can be a pain to try to find the correct exclusions in the radius targeting menu.

Feature: Location Groups

The next way to do advanced location targeting is through Location Groups. This lets me choose from Places of Interest, Demographics, and My Locations. We’re going to cover the first two in this post, My Locations requires a data feed and is not that useful because (as we’ll soon see) bulk location targeting can do the job.


The first type of location group is Demographics. By demographics, Google really means income tier. So let’s say I want to target people in the top 10% of income in the US. I’d select that option from the dropdown, like below:

Nothing will light up or become shaded on the map, and you won’t be able to see a reach. This is annoying, but you’ll just have to trust the integrity of Google’s data here.

Places of Interest

Places of Interest works in a similar way as Demographics. You pick the location you want to search within and then select the type of place from the dropdown. Your options are Universities, Airports, and Central Commercial Areas. So if I want to target university students, I could select all universities within Canada like below:

Again, nothing will show up on the map and you won’t get a reach estimate.

Keep in mind you can combine this targeting with other types of targeting, so if I wanted to exclude universities in Ontario, I could head over to my search, type in Ontario, click exclude, and voila — I’d be targeting all Canadian universities except those in Ontario.

Feature: Bulk Locations

Bulk location targeting is a way to quickly find a list of locations. It’s easy to use, you just type in the list of locations (they all must be in the same country) and then click Search. In the example below, I have searched for the Pacific coast states in the US and Hawaii.

You can then include, exclude, or remove these locations from your targeting.

There’s not much else to say about this targeting feature — it’s just a good way to quickly build a targeting universe.

Advanced Location Options


This section is important, so don’t skip it! You need to understand the Location Options that Google hides away from you in order to do targeting right. This is because depending on what option you select, you’re going to reach a completely different group of people.

You’ll see that by default, Google will target your ad to people who are “in, searching for, or show interest in your target location”.

What does this actually mean?

Well, it means that people who see your ad could be physically in your target location. That’s straightforward enough. But it could also include people who have searched for something in your target location, or people who are nowhere near your target location but who Google believes have “shown interest” in it. There’s no way of knowing what this actually means. For most business we do not recommend using this option, though it may make sense for some businesses marketing to both people travelling to and physically in the target location.

Instead we recommend using the second option: target “people in my targeted location”. This will ensure that only people physically in your target locations will be eligible to see your ad. If they are outside your target location, they will not be eligible to see your ad no matter what their search query is. This option gives you much more control over who sees your ad, and is generally what most businesses should use. 

The third targeting option completely ignores a users physical location, and only shows your ad to users who have shown interest in your target location. The primary way of “showing interest” is the search term. So if your target location is Manhattan and someone in Manhattan searches “5 star hotels”, your ad will not show up — the user isn’t expressing interest in Manhattan specifically. But if someone searches “Manhattan 5 star hotels” and they are in Australia, your ad is eligible to be shown. The use case for this option is when you don’t care where the person seeing your ad is — for example, if you’re selling something to travellers (but not people physically in your target location) or trying to expand your market share outside of areas where you are already dominant.


You can also use advanced options for exclusions.

The default option for exclusions is “Exclude people in, searching for or who show interest in my excluded location (recommended)”. Let’s say you’re running an ad for “used iphones” and you’re excluding London. If someone in London searches “used iphones”, they will be excluded. If someone in Dublin searches “used iphones london” they will also be excluded.

The other option for exclusions is “Exclude people in my excluded location”. Returning to the above example, the person in Dublin would be eligible to be seen your ad but the person in London would not be.

Either of these are useful options and you should pick the one that is best suited for your business. The first option is generally recommended for businesses so long as they are not legally prevented from operating in an excluded location (for example, Uber would not want to show ads in cities where they are illegal). The second option is recommended in cases where you can still operate in the excluded location, you just don’t want people in that location seeing your ad for whatever reason.


As you can see, there is a lot more to Adwords’ location targeting than first meets the eye. This is a critical piece of your campaigns, so don’t just leave the default targeting on — do some strategic thinking and dig into the advanced features. You’ll get better results and spend less money.

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