Google AdWords Geo-Targeting Settings: How to Stop Losing Money


For many advertisers, the ability to geo-target PPC ads is of utmost importance. Whether you run a local brick-and-mortar store and want to drive more foot traffic or a national business that can only service a few areas of the country, when you geo-target your ads the general idea has always been to get clicks and customers from a specific location(s).

The problem: Google has given us options in the way of targeting settings in AdWords. And the default setting actually opens your campaigns up to the possibility of generating clicks from locations outside of your geo-targeting parameters. For many advertisers, this fact is missed and means that money is wasted in irrelevant traffic.

The Settings


  • Default: People in, searching for, or viewing pages about my targeted location (recommended)
    • This setting does exactly what it says it will do. It will send clicks from people inside of your targeted location(s) – this is good. But it will also send clicks from people “search for” your targeted location(s). Google will take liberties with your keywords and if someone uses a location modifier (city, state, etc.) with your keyword, your ad will show. And if you are running Display ads, if someone views a webpage with content based on your targeted location, your Display ad will show.
  • Most Specific: People in my targeted location
    • This setting is the most specific, and in my experience the preferred option. This tells Google that you only want clicks from people inside your geo-targeting parameters.
  • Wild Card: People searching for or viewing pages about my targeted location
    • I consider this the wild card setting. It takes the loose matching options from Google and isolates them.

Why would Google recommend the setting that could send clicks from just about anywhere? At the core, this setting stands to send the most clicks ($$$) to your website.

It can be argued that the traffic outside of your targeted location is just as qualified based on the search query or website viewed. But in reality, it isn’t appropriate for all advertisers. Most local businesses have no use for traffic outside of their targeted locations and any clicks that come in just result in wasted spend.

When does the recommended setting make sense? Frankly, there are more scenarios than I can fit in this article.

For a florist in Denver, Colorado that delivers flowers, for example, it would make sense to use the default setting so that their keyword “flower delivery” would match to anyone searching for “Denver flower delivery.” Another example would be someone working in real estate who wants to capitalize on searches for individuals or businesses looking to move into their targeted location.

Better Options

While there are some scenarios where it makes sense to use Google’s default geo-targeting setting, there is a better way. As with all things in PPC, the best option is isolate variables and test.

Before we test, we should understand any potential damage done by using the default setting. In AdWords, run a geographic report (Dimensions > Geographic):


Look to see how many clicks you’re receiving outside of your targeted location(s). Is it expensive? Is it converting? Good or bad click-through rate? Use this data to decide if you should simply limit your geo-targeting to “people in” your targeted location(s) or if you should proceed to a testing plan to try and optimize your traffic.

To test, create a combination of campaigns that employ the various geo-targeting options:

  • Root Campaign: People in your targeted location.
  • Test Campaign A: People searching for or viewing pages about your targeted location (this is the wild card setting that excludes people in your targeted location).
  • Test Campaign B: Go old school and create a campaign that targets all of the U.S. (or whatever country you’re targeting) but leverages geo-modified keywords for your targeted location.

What geo-targeting settings have worked best for you? Have you encountered scenarios that defy typical geo-targeting logic? Leave me a comment!

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