Unannounced Changes to Google Ads Targeting Functionality (2021)?

We have encountered some data that suggests Google might have made a change to how it handles search queries that target entire states via search intent.

Long gone are the days where search intent overrode physical location, but this is different.

The Problem

Prior to roughly 6 months ago, the following scenario would result in a client’s ad NOT showing:

  1. The person conducting the search is NOT in a targeted area,
  2. The client is targeting only certain locations within a state (let’s say PA), but not the entire state,
  3. The person searches for “my client’s services Pennsylvania,”
  4. Targeting settings are “Search interest: People searching for your targeted locations”

In this scenario in the past, the client’s ad would NOT show because he was not targeting Pennsylvania – he was only targeting certain regions of the state. This does not appear to work this way any longer.

Problems with the Problem

This is actually a high problematic issue and results in clicks that have no chance of converting. For example, if a person in western Ohio searches “dui lawyer in oh,” a client who is targeting eastern Ohio, only, would not want his ad to appear for obvious reasons.

It is possible that this is another way of broadening the pool of eligible ads, just as did the change made years ago where search intent stopped overriding physical location. In both cases, Google is able to pick from more ads and show those that will result in higher CPCs.

Response from Google Ads Support

We have submitted crystal-clear data that illustrates this issue three times. After back-and-forth emails we finally got a recommendation to change the clients’ targeting settings to “Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations.”

This a “solution” that would create another problem: our clients’ ads would then not be shown to individuals who a) are not in targeted areas but b) seek the clients’ services and c) seek these services in targeted areas.

For example, if a client offers DUI legal services in York, PA, then we want his ads to show for anyone (regardless of physical location) who searches for “dui lawyer york pa.” Changing the targeting settings to “Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations” would prevent that.

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