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PPC Geotargeting Best Practices Guide

Here are the top benefits of using geotargeting on your PPC campaigns, along with hands-on tips on avoiding common geotargeting pitfalls.

The Definitive Guide to PPC Geotargeting

Why is geotargeting so important?

It brings many improvements to scaling efforts, budget optimization, reporting, and aligning insights with other marketing channels (both digital and non-digital).

No matter the scope, any paid search strategy is incomplete without geotargeting considerations.

Whether a paid search effort has a big or a small budget, awareness or direct response as a goal, has been running for a while or is launching for the first time, geotargeting is a key element to review.

In fact, geotargeting benefits go beyond paid search. It applies to marketing at large.

While critical to paid search marketing, geotargeting principles are appreciated by all marketers being channel and tool agnostic.

Anyone who understands them is well-positioned to develop successful omnichannel marketing strategy including display, social as well as traditional, non-digital marketing channels like TV or radio.

Below are a number of use cases that should convince you to make geotargeting a priority. As you will see, these high-level strategic benefits.

Further below, I discuss some hands-on tips on avoiding common geotargeting pitfalls. Many of those will sound obvious but are often overlooked.

Benefits of Geotargeting

Start Small Before Going Big

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is the ability to launch in one or a few locations when one is unsure of potential results or is severely limited by budget.

You could launch in a couple countries, states, regions or even go more granular targeting at DMA, ZIP/ postal code, or radius level.

Identify Your Most & Least Efficient Segments of Traffic

Analyzing your campaign’s performance on a location basis will show how it varies by location. You can then focus on areas where results are best aligned to or exceed goals while pulling away from others where results are less attractive.

For example, you may find that your ability to meet CPL targets is due to several states driving above average results, while all others are offsetting that efficiency.

You could use geotargeting to create a campaign specifically targeting just those highly efficient states, ensuring they are fully funded with other less efficient states deprioritized for budgeting purposes.

Reporting Granularity

Geotargeting allows seeing “the forest and the trees” of your performance. Sure, it’s important to understand the big picture of how campaigns perform in aggregate.

In fact, I would even encourage not to get hung up on the details geotargeting offers. So long as one is meeting goals overall, there is little reason to change an overall approach.

However, the devil is in the details and geotargeting is a great way to periodically check if adjustments are needed. Geotargeting insights may not impact your overall strategy, but they will show what markets need more attention requiring for tweaking paid search execution.

Aligning with Other Channels’ Insights

For many non-search marketing channels, place (one of the 4 P’s of marketing) plays a key role in how strategy is formulated.

To ensure that results can be effectively combined into holistic cross channel learnings, it is key to have a paid search marketing strategy with geotargeting alignment with other marketing channels.

Many marketing briefs are crafted around investing a certain budget specifically for a certain physical area with the remaining P’s (product, price, promotion) uniquely customized for that.

For example, an IT provider may want to push a product in states where they do not have strong sales team coverage and so need a digital push encouraging users to sign up for a trial online.

For maximum integration, the search engine marketing strategy should not merely target the same states. It is key to align closely on messaging unique service proposition and pricing as well as collect KPIs one would usually measure for each of the targeted markets.

Geotargeting Tips for Your PPC Campaigns

1. Avoid Unnecessary Hyper Targeting

Don’t get carried away. With the many tools offered by engines (i.e., Google Guide on geographic locations and Bing Ads Location Targeting Guide), it is easy to try hyper targeting at a granular level.

The outcome of many small campaigns will backfire with small budgets that are tough to manage and volatile results. Small geographic regions (e.g., ZIP code or small radius targets) often do not drive consistent results due having low traffic.

2. Split Your Campaign by Time Zones

Your target area may not be in the same time zone as where you or your client is.

Remember to adjust launch, reporting, and stop times based on where the target users are. Not where you or your client is physically located.

If multiple time zones are involved, you may even set up multiple campaigns.

If you don’t, you may find campaigns running out of budget before the day ends due to users in earlier times zones (e.g., US EST) consuming most of it.

This is especially important with international paid search campaigns

3. Group Similarly Performing Markets

If the effort warrants further optimization, consider refining further by grouping together similarly performing areas with rest of markets targeted by a “catch all” campaign.

But take note, this is purely a budget management move.

The goal is to better allocate budget ensuring that similarly performing areas can be managed together with foxed budget going to each one vs. all markets grouped in one campaign with budget going to areas with most expensive traffic.

As long as the similarly performing areas are in the same time zone, language targeting is the same and can use a common landing page, do not have to be physically next to each other.

Let’s assume you have a Spanish language campaign targeting Texas. San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth all have similar CPLs which is above goal justifying for greater focus on them.

While San Antonio is not near Dallas or Fort Worth, that is not a concern. So long as above-mentioned conditions are met, since they are all in the same time zone, will have the same language

4. Target Strategically Important Markets Separately from the Rest

Often, some areas will need singling out for strategic reasons. For example, they may be locations of flagship stores, counties with filed sales team offices or region with a strong competitor presence.

In these cases, ensure that targeting is sufficiently large to capture a meaningful level of traffic. I would recommend using radius targeting based on a reasonable driving time for a user to need your product or service.

A bank enticing users to visit a new branch to discuss mortgage and loan offerings will warrant wider geotargeting from a home supply store promoting end-of-season clearance on potted plants.

As the former is a bigger consideration item, the bank’s target audience will be willing to drive much longer than someone saving a couple dollars on plants.

5. Set up a Scalable Naming Convention

Now that you set up lots of different campaigns based on the above tips, it is time to come up with a scalable campaign naming convention.

For ease of reporting and consistency, ensure that all campaigns have a slot for all possible fields.

Below are three possible campaign names. Notice how the last catch-all campaign has a field after the dash to clearly show how it is targeting the rest of the state.

  • Generic-Plants-CA_Top
  • Generic-Plants-CA_Los Angeles_San Jose_San Diego
  • Generic-Plants-CA_Rest

6. Don’t Forget Negative Locations

Beware of the overlap! Unless you have negative locations, in the above example, the third campaign will target all of California including locations of first and second campaigns.

For the above structure to work, the last campaign needs to have all markets of the other campaigns as negatives.

7. Chose the Right Targeting Method

Three options are available, with big implication on the one you chose.

People in Your Target Location

For most advertisers this is the correct setting is you only want to show ads only to people who are physically in the designated location.

For example, select this if you are targeting German users who are in Germany and you are advertising flights from German to London.

People Who Show Interest in Your Target Location

This includes people who are not physically in the designated location but searching about it.

For example, a restaurant interested in targeting tourists could run a campaign with this setting to target people before they arrive to where it is located.

Combination of 1 & 2

This is the broadest form of targeting, it is trickiest to analyze, and I would not recommend it.

As user behavior varies with location influencing results, I suggest having only campaigns in format 1 and 2. This will allow most easily to report on how results of people in the location differ from results of people outside the location. It will also allow most effectively controlling budgets.

8. Don’t Set & Forget

Geotargeting trends often change. What worked one year may not next year. As each new month approaches, review YOY as well as MOM insights to see if a different focus is needed.

Mature campaigns are often the best fit for geotargeting enhancements, but new efforts can also benefit from a more granular go to market approach.

If you don’t do much geotargeting or have not revisited your settings, give it a go!

More Resources:

Category PPC
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Ilya Cherepakhin Enterprise Consulting Manager at MightyHive

Ilya Cherepakhin is a digital strategy expert with over 15 years of experience in client-side and agency roles. His work ...

PPC Geotargeting Best Practices Guide

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