Geographic and location targeting are among the main reasons why small, brick-and-mortar businesses use Google Ads. With mobile searching on the rise, it makes perfect sense for businesses with storefronts to try to attract potential customers in their area.

Big businesses who offer their products or services on a larger scale can also use geographic and location targeting. They can target whole cities, regions, or even countries with their ads.

Google Ads allows all of this. Depending on the county, the location targeting can be so specific that it only applies to an airport, a postal code, or a neighborhood. From there, it goes up to include larger locations including cities, provinces, territories, and eventually countries.

Advanced Location Options

Google Ads lets businesses go one step further in fine-tuning their geographic and location targeting. With Google Ads, businesses can target people who are in a defined area or location, but also people who are showing interest in those areas or locations.

In the “target” section of the advanced options, the first and recommended option is to target the people in the target areas as well as people showing interest in those areas. In that case, your ad appears to people who are in your target area, as well as those who are interested in that area.

Google Ads offers two other options. One is to choose only the people who are physically located in the target areas as targets for the advertising. The other is to choose only the people showing interest in an area as targets. This kind of advanced targeting gives marketers more control over their ads, but it also harbors a click fraud, a big problem that each advertiser is facing today.


The Issues with the Recommended Advanced Location Options

If you have a brick-and-mortar business looking to get some feet through the door, the first group will be more than welcome. The second group, the people who are interested in coming to your area, might not be the potential customers you want to target.

If you think about it, there are very few reasons why someone would target both groups. It looks like the only one profiting from that setting is Google Ads, because the recommended option maximizes the display of an ad.

For you, this setting is problematic for several reasons:

  • It significantly broadens your targeting to include people who don’t have as much purchase intent;
  • It leaves you open to clicks fraud attacks from outside of your target areas;
  • It makes you give up on one of the most effective reasons to ask for a refund from Google Ads, which is having clicks that come from outside of a predefined area.

Most businesses could do better than choosing the first, recommended option. The best way to have control over ads is to choose the second option, where the ads display only to people in a set location. Choosing that option helps you target people who are in your area and willing to spend money on what you offer. It also protects you from click fraud and gives you recourse if it happens.

The third option, the one when you target only the people showing interest in your target areas, is almost never a good choice. Unless you operate in one of a handful of industries — tourism is one of them — there is no reason to pick that option.

The Problem with Google Ads Geo & Location Targeting

On its surface, and even if you’d scratch into it a bit, Google Ads’ geographic and location targeting is an incredibly useful feature. For small local businesses, this level of targeting finally gave them an effective way to get store traffic from online advertising.

But the more you dig into the seedy world of business competition, the more you start seeing issues with the whole system. It’s important to know that Google’s understanding of location is far from being perfect. And it’s not just that it can be fooled by using tools that are available to everyone, such as VPNs.

A finely-tuned campaign with precise geographic and location targeting will sometimes “leak” ads to locations outside of the target area. So even if you target cities in the US, for example, you can see people from Asia seeing your ads and clicking on them. And it’s obvious how this can drain a budget or simply lower the efficiency of a PPC campaign.

The “leak” isn’t the only problem you can have. Google is notoriously inefficient in determining the precise location of searchers, especially on desktop or laptop computers. It might not be Google’s fault alone. ISPs should bear their fair share of blame for it. The bottom line is that too often people who are in one area appear to be in another area because their IP shows so.

In that case, you can expect to experience false positives and false negatives. That means that your ad will be displayed to people who are not in your target area, and that it will appear to people who are outside of it. And, as you probably know, neither is good.

How to Deal with Geo & Location Targeting Issues

The first thing any business wants to do is to ask for a refund, or at the very least complain to Google Ads. To do so, they would need proof. Google Ads, Google Analytics, and the log files are the places that hold information about the leaky geographic and location targeting.

The issues with looking for proof of fraud in these places is that, manually, it takes time to do it. Everyone who’s had to rummage through log files for visitor information will be able to confirm, it’s not a fun way to spend a day at work.

The best solution for the problem is the use of automated tracking tools that communicate with the Google Ads via the API. With them, businesses are able to set up additional exclusion rules to shore up defenses. Click fraud protection tools, like ClickGUARD, allow automated reporting, which saves businesses the time they would otherwise have to spend manually digging for data.