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The Geo-Specific Ads Problem: How to Beat Google's New Policy

Published: May 15, 2014

Author: Jaime Sikora

I have a paid search client who has services in several geos with some geo-specific ad copy (same with their competitors). Recently, when my client located in San Francisco was searching on queries containing Chicago & their core terms, she was served their San Francisco ad.
Why might this be?  Wasn’t Google’s practice to serve ads based on the geo you are searching for? I then tried a couple of searches in their other geos whilst in Chicago (stay with me here). I was able to successfully trigger the ad for the other geo.
Why was this so ambiguous?  What was the deciding factor here?  Search history?  Location?  Bid?  Ad rank?  Was this a recent change?
I reached out to a Google rep (who shall remain nameless). Yes, this was, indeed, a change in policy, originated late last year.  It has not received good feedback, so, fingers crossed, it might not be here to stay. It used to be that a user’s location typed in the query would supercede the physical location.  Now, le sigh, a handful of factors (some of the ones listed above) impact which ad you are served.
How does this impact you and your clients?  It mostly is a factor if you have a client with several major geo concentrations and geo-specific ad copy, plus it depends on your client’s business.  Let’s say your client is a hotel chain.  I’m here in Chicago, I’m planning on traveling to Seattle, and I search “Seattle hotels”. I’m served Seattle ads for your competitors, and a Chicago ad on your client. Not. Awesome.
How do you control this?  Two options.  One is at the campaign level, under settings.
You can choose to only serve to people in your targeted location, or people searching for your targeted location (depending on your business) – however, I was advised against choosing option 3 by a Google rep, seeing if someone searches on a non-brand term but doesn’t include a specific geo-modifier at all, you could compromise your ability to show.
The second (and preferred) option – good old-fashioned negative keywords.  You have a client with campaigns specific to a couple different geos?  Just put the other geos as negatives against the campaign.  Make sure to hit up variations (New York, NYC, the big apple, etc.).  As a Chicagoan, if I put New York as a negative against Chicago, then search on ‘New York Hotels’ – the Chicago campaign can’t serve.  Voila!

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