Geo-Targeting vs. Geo-Modifying: Treat Them Differently


Geo-targeting Paid Search campaigns to attract a specific geographical audience is a practice that is implemented by advertisers in a plethora of industries.  What many advertisers neglect doing, however, is separating geo-targeted campaigns from nationally targeted geo-modified campaigns.  It is important to understand the difference between the two, and treat them just that way: differently

  • Geo-targeting (often referred to as “location targeting”): Campaigns target one or more specific locations, made up of keywords that do not contain location modifiers (e.g. “digital marketing agency” targeting the Pittsburgh area)
  • Geo-modifying: Nationally targeted campaigns made up of keywords with location modifiers (e.g. “Pittsburgh digital marketing agency” targeting nationally)

Different Strategies, Different Campaigns

Always keep in mind that geo-targeting and geo-modifying are two different strategies, and therefore should always be separated out into different campaigns.  While advertisers may assume the search situation is the same, this is very often not the case.  Geo-targeting works by showing ads to users in a specified location at the time that they perform that search.  What if a user is currently performing searches while on business in Chicago, however, but interested in finding a digital marketing agency in the Pittsburgh area?  Let’s say the search is “Pittsburgh digital marketing agency.”  Your Pittsburgh geo-targeted campaigns will not trigger an ad to show, regardless of whether that campaign is made up of ad groups that contain geo-modified terms.  Your ad will be triggered, however, by the nationally targeted campaign that contains “Pittsburgh digital marketing agency” keywords.

Aside from the above reasoning, another key reason to separate geo-targeted campaigns vs. geo-modified campaigns is budget management.  As paid search professionals know, the more specific, transparent, and closely targeted your campaigns, ad groups, and keywords are, the more successful account management will be.  Ensuring a handful of keywords doesn’t gobble up an entire campaign’s budget is an ongoing task for advertisers, and separating geo-targeted and geo-modified campaigns helps to alleviate this issue.  Depending on your account and the locations you are targeting, either geo-modified campaigns or geo-targeted campaigns can pull in more traffic than the other, although the majority of the time, geo-modified campaigns will receive less traffic.  It is an advertiser’s job to ensure both sets of keywords get a fair chance in the engines, and are not missing opportunities due to the other keywords using the majority of the budget.  Separating geo-targeted and geo-modified campaigns allows for a more efficient method of budget management, and provides better indications of trends, search intent, etc.


In my post last week, The Many Faces of Negative Keywords, I detailed why every Paid Search account should utilize negative keywords, and how this match type can be used to manipulate your account to your liking.  Geo-modifying and geo-targeting are a perfect example of how to use this negative keyword manipulation.  While it is best to target geo-modified campaigns nationally, there will always be instances of searchers in a certain location including that location name in their search query; therefore, we run into the situation where an ad could be triggered by both the geo-targeted or the geo-modified campaign (depending on which match types are set up within the ad groups).  While many advertisers will choose to let this be the case and allow the engine to decide which keyword/ad is best to match it to, I recommend testing out this scenario.  Try adding, for example, “Pittsburgh” as a negative keyword within the geo-targeted campaign to allow the nationally targeted campaign to trigger “Pittsburgh digital marketing agency.”  After sufficient data is gathered, remove the negative keywords to determine how the performance of each campaign changes, and which method is best for your account.

Brittany is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • Jon

    At least for Google AdWords, this isn’t true–there are separate options for targeting by physical location and/or by keyword-implied geographic intent. See here:

  • Brittany Baeslack

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for visiting the LunaMetrics blog! Yes, you are absolutely correct that you do have the option through advanced settings to target by intent. The strategy I outlined in my post is my recommended approach to handling geo-targeting and geo-modified methods, based on successes I have seen through my experience and the ability to manipulate a campaign that contains geo-modified keywords. The main overall recommendation, though, is to maintain separate campaigns for each, to allow each its fair chance in the engines.

    Thanks, Jon!

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