Are Your Local PPC Ads Really “Local”?

Paid Advertising Platforms are growing exponentially on what seems like a weekly basis. What once was Keywords + Ad + Bid = Money has now become a full-time job. Bid adjustments, rules, remarketing, extensions, day-parting, local or geographic targeting, modified broad match, and more — the vocabulary alone is a struggle for small business owners who do their own marketing.local-maps-featured

As I review and overhaul paid advertising campaigns for new clients, I’ve noticed that there are numerous misunderstandings surrounding local paid search advertising in Google and Bing.

Targeting with location extensions, entire campaigns, keywords alone, or some combination thereof? You can see how easy it is to make mistakes here. For small businesses that are going to be handling their own paid advertising maintenance and will manage their account going forward, I set up simple campaigns that target their service areas, and I show them how to monitor those campaigns with custom dashboards and reports in Google Analytics.

First, a few tips on setting up your AdWords targeting. If you target by campaign, you must be sure that you set the radius from your business correctly — if you choose 30 miles instead of 40, are you cutting out potential business? How far customers are willing to travel (or how far you travel) is an important piece of data to have. I recommend you err on the side of a larger radius, because you can always narrow it down if you need to.

In AdWords, you can target people in or talking about your location. I start with this setting, because someone in New York City might be searching for a locksmith for their college-age daughter in Boston. I may want my ad to come up for that search.

targeted location

If you find (through analytics) that the people outside of your local area are not converting, you can change this setting to “People in my targeted location.” There are certainly a few other ways to handle geographic targeting in AdWords, though I find this one the easiest to teach to novices who really want to learn how to manage these themselves. There’s less chance for error as they perform day-to-day maintenance on their ads and keywords.

Analytics Setup

Once you’ve set up your AdWords campaigns to target a local business or service area, you must monitor that campaign to make sure your settings are doing their job.  I like to set up a local dashboard that tells me the cities that are driving clicks to my website via that local campaign. I can then decide if my radius is too small or too large, and if I need to adjust my location options (shown above).

Because this dashboard is highly customized to your location, I cannot give you a link to a ready-made dashboard you can download. But I can show you how to set up your own dashboard.

Step 1: Make a note of your locally targeted AdWords campaign name. In this case, my campaign name is “Locally Targeted 2013.”

Step 2: Navigate to “Audience,” then to “Demographics,” then the “Locations” tab.


Step 3: Drill down into the “Metro” area you’re targeting. If the metro is too broad, then drill into the cities report within the state you’re looking at.


Step 4: Create a custom segment that shows ONLY traffic to the site from the locally targeted campaign you noted in Step 1. (Again, in my case, “Locally Targeted 2013.”)


With this segment applied to the city or metro report, you’ll see the cities where visitors saw and clicked on your ads. You can move back out to state level and keep the segment in place to see what other states might be looking for information. You can also look at the e-commerce report to see what locations are driving the most revenue through this paid advertising campaign. Here, you can see traffic and revenue for my campaign over the last 30 days via my PPC Campaign that targets locals.


Florida is really the only place driving revenue — but the brand recognition is enough for me to keep the campaign on for the other locations as well. It’s not costing a ton of money, and the second visit (or conversion) could be happening via another source or on the phone. If I was spending a lot on clicks to other states, I might consider narrowing or adjusting my strategy here.

The goal of this report is to determine three things:

  1. Am I really targeting local customers?
  2. Are those local customers converting at a rate that justifies my spend on PPC click?
  3. Should I expand or contract my targeting to improve ROI?

If you’re only seeing clicks in your local area with a few in other parts of the country, then things are working correctly.  If you’re seeing clicks from all over the country, something isn’t working right and you should revisit your settings within AdWords.

The same targeting (and reporting) can be done with a Bing Ads campaign, and you can even combine campaigns within the custom segment. By clicking “Email” at the top of your report, you can schedule this report to show up in your email once a week, once a month, or just once if you like. This allows you to have a reminder to look at how things are doing, without the need to create and ignore another calendar reminder!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | Google: AdWords | Google: Analytics | Search Marketing


About The Author: is the co-founder of Ignitor Digital, along with long-time colleague Mary Bowling. At Ignitor, Carrie tackles tough technical SEO roadblocks many small business owners don't even know they have. Her experience with analytics and troubleshooting helps her get to the root of issues. When not working, Carrie loves to cook for friends and family, hang out with her pretty awesome kids, and read books that have little-to-no educational value!

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  • Pat Grady

    Wouldn’t the targeting inaccuracies also be present in the report, so that using it to determine how accurate the targeting is, would suffer as well? (State level, I’m not arguing, but the 30 or 40 mile radius…)

  • Carrie Hill

    If you’re targeting a 30 mile radius – you drill in and look at the city you’re in – and if it looks like all clicks are happening within that 30 mile radius then your targeting is working. I see radius issues with radius set at campaign level vs radius at local extension/ad level all the time – esp if one is set to 20 and one is set to 50.

    This is not about showing you where you’re MISSING ppc clicks – but more about where you’re getting them, and if that’s in the right spot.

    I do wish that GA would go more granular – and let us zoom further in than just state level on a map. Right now we can see the cities in the table, which is about as good as it gets. I know the geographic area of my client and looking at cities tells me that a majority of the clicks are within their 200 mile target.

    If we rely solely on the map display, I do agree that their “dots” are a little “generous” for the most part. I think that more zooming and granularity will probably come eventually – but right now – I use this report to make sure that my campaigns that target 30 miles out, really target that area and I’m not getting clicks from 100, 500 or 1,000 miles away in any significant volume.

    I hope this helps clarify some…..

  • Pat Grady

    If I’m actually in Tampa, but AdWords thinks I’m in Orlando, where would you guess that Analytics will think I am located?

  • Carrie Hill

    I guess I don’t understand why AdWords would think you’re in Orlando – unless you’ve set your browser to think that way – which is something only a few know how to do.

    I’ve tested this tracking method on about 7 different accounts with location targeting from 10 miles to 200 miles and they all show useful data – nothing out of the ordinary now, I had one that wasn’t set up correctly – hence the need for this report.

    For the example above I’m targeting Tampa and a 200 mile radius with this campaign. If I look at the city level – my clicks are within 200 miles for the most part which is what I want. I’m not showing very many clicks outside this radius. Our settings were people IN or TALKING ABOUT this location – so I see a few clicks from outside my target area – but nothing crazy. I’m finding that this report is working at the city, metro & state level for campaigns that target only 20 miles out – i just have to look at the city levels.

    This isn’t for everyone – but I’m finding it very effective through my application across multiple accounts.

  • Pat Grady

    “I guess I don’t understand why AdWords would think you’re in Orlando” = because geo-location has inaccuracies.

    You might choose to target something very specific, and the targeting choices imply precision (because you can pick them fairly precisely) – but the detection mechanisms of someone’s actual location have inaccuracies. Target Florida, and perhaps the fringes of the targeted area are a little problematic, so overall, it’s a very small problem. But pick a small area (a zip code), and the fringes of that area make up a large portion of that targeted area, and the location inaccuracies make for a larger problem. The smaller the area, the more trouble location inaccuracies relatively become.

    And if AdWords and Analytics use the same detection (I’m guessing they do), when incorrect, they’d both label the person in Tampa, as being in Orlando – so checking Analytics (detected location) against AdWords targeting choices (intended location) wouldn’t reveal the inaccuracies – they both would give the same wrong answer.


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