Web Marketing Today

PPC Basics: Part 10. Geo-Targeting

In the “Part 9. Dayparting,” my previous article, I explained dayparting — showing pay-per-click ads during the times when visitors are most likely to convert. In this final installment in the “PPC Basics” series, I’ll review another way to focus pay-per-click ads on the best customers by targeting them geographically – i.e. “geo-targeting.”

Articles in This Series

This is the tenth installment of my series on the basics of pay-per-click advertising. The previous installments are as follows.

What Is Geo-Targeting?

Put simply, geo-targeting is displaying your PPC ads to a limited geographic area: countries, states, cities, or even zip codes. It’s a practice that will be familiar to many traditional advertisers, who may have used geo-targeting in other types of marketing campaigns.

In PPC, the search engines use indicators, such as the user’s IP address, to determine the location of the person searching, and serve ads accordingly.

Who Should Use Geo-Targeting?

Many advertisers should use geo-targeting. Even if you’re a global business serving every location in the world, you should still separate your campaigns by country. It should come as no surprise that people behave differently in different parts of the world, in terms of both languages and consumer behavior. What works in one location may not work in another.

Geo-targeting is also a way to make PPC advertising work for smaller, local businesses. For instance, you could use geo-targeting to create awareness of your brick-and-mortar store, or to promote a special offer.

Another effective use of geo-targeting is to test and tailor messages to different locations. You might find that customers on the east coast of the US respond to different offers than those on the west coast. Or maybe you don’t ship to Alaska and Hawaii; you don’t want your ads displaying there.

In short, there are many situations that call for geo-targeting. Like with most aspects of PPC advertising, though, it’s important to do a bit of planning first.

Analyze the Data First

As with many aspects of PPC advertising, it’s best to get baseline data before limiting the reach of your campaign.

The exception to this rule is that you should automatically limit your campaign to the geographies you serve. If you only sell within the U.S., then geo-target to the U.S. only. If the customers shopping your brick-and-mortar store only come from your metro area, then just geo-target that.

But if you want to segment messaging by geography, always look at the data first.

There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to use your web analytics data.

Any good web analytics program will break out traffic by location. In Google Analytics, the report looks like this:

Google Analytics page displaying visits broken down by country.

You may get most of your traffic from certain countries.

In this example, there is significant traffic from many different countries. Your data may look totally different, though, for different locations. For example, it won’t be unusual to see 98 percent of traffic coming from the U.S. if you only sell to the U.S. In that instance, you might want to look at cities, rather than countries, to further fine-tune your analysis.

Web analytics aren’t the only place to find geographic data. Both Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter also provide geographic data. Remember, however, that data from the search engines is limited to data for that distinct engine. It won’t reflect the total traffic to your website.

In AdWords, you’ll find the geographic report in the “Dimensions” tab. Just choose your date range and select country/territory from the drop-down menu.

List showing different report filtering options.

The Dimensions tab allows you to filter your data several ways.

By default, the report will return country data. If you want to get more specific, you can add columns to your report for state and city.

Graphic indicating the Geographic Columns option in Google Analytics.

Add Columns for greater detail.

Unless you’re a global business, you’ll want to look at the data at the state level, at minimum.

Microsoft adCenter provides similar data. You’ll need to run a report to get it, however.

Screenshot of Microsoft adCenter.

Microsoft adCenter is another pay-per-click advertising platform.

The report from adCenter gives more data, rather than less, by default ; you’ll get cities and states broken out.

Once you’ve looked at your geographic reports, you’ll be ready to decide how to segment your traffic. Let’s look at an example.

Say you sell only in the U.S., and your reports reveal that the conversion rate for Ohio visitors is significantly better than average. You might decide to set up a campaign that just targets Ohio, and create distinct ad copy and keywords for this highly profitable audience.

Geo-targeting can work in the opposite way, too. You can break out areas where performance isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, and test different offer copy, specials, deals, or even different keywords to try to improve your performance.

If you have a brick & mortar store, you can also use geo-targeting to drive foot traffic to the store, while promoting online sales to the rest of your geo-targeted locations.

Setting It Up

To start using geo-targeting, you’ll need to visit the Campaign Settings sections in both Adwords and adCenter. In AdWords, you’ll find it in the “Settings” tab. Click “edit” under Locations, and then you can search for cities, states, or zip codes:

Screenshot showing Google AdWords options.

AdWords allows you to search very precisely.

In adCenter, you’ll find a similar setting for locations, although there’s no search function. Instead, simply choose your desired location(s) from a set of drop down menus.

Screenshot showing Microsoft adCenter options.

AdCenter allows you to browse by location.

Summing Up

Geo-targeting is an advanced pay-per-click advertising setting that should be used only when it makes good marketing sense. If you’re looking to focus on particular countries, states, or cities, it’s a good way to target your messaging and improve the performance of your campaigns.


Melissa Mackey
Melissa Mackey
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Comment ( 1 )

Have Something To Say ?

  1. Daniel Woodall June 27, 2012 Reply

    Being able to target specific geographic locations is one of the beauties of PPC. The instant feedback you get is also very useful in running any campaign.

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