Google AdWords’ Dirty Little Secret: U.S. Zip Code Targeting Sucks

adwords zip code geotargetingBack in April Google made the announcement that it would finally be possible to geo-target your PPC campaigns by zip code in the U.S. The lack of zip code targeting has been a glaring omission for AdWords for years. So, it was greeted with the “oohs” and “ahhs” and sighs of relief that typically accompany AdWords announcements. The problem is that Google has been particularly quiet about the unfortunate details and limitations that make U.S. zip code targeting suck.

You Only Get 73% Coverage

There are approximately 43,000 zip codes in the U.S. Google will only let you target 31,596 of them. Yes, you read that correctly. There are about 11,404 zip codes that are off limits in your AdWords campaigns. In other words, 27% of the U.S. is unavailable via zip code targeting.

That sucks. The appeal of zip code targeting is a grand vision of super-segmented geo-targeting. The ugly truth is that this vision is disrupted when large pockets of the country are flat-out rejected by Google AdWords.

Of course, Google has their reasons. It is all based on the availability of IP data. Simply put, if they don’t have the data, they can’t provide the targeting.

data geotargeting adwords

I can’t fault Google for that. But I can fault Google for not making all of this information readily available. In the announcement post they slyly stated the “ability to target more than 30,000 zip codes…” And the list of rejected zip codes? I had to ask my Google representative for it.

Just because you can’t target all of the U.S. with zip codes doesn’t mean that Google has a blind spot. You can still target those areas through the other geo-targeting methods: city, state, radius or metro areas. But this is counter to the aforementioned vision of super-segmented geo-targeting. And what’s worse, zip code targeting might actually be limiting your ad reach anyways. And that brings me to my next point…

Some Zip Codes Have Limited Targeting

When you set up geo-targeting in AdWords, you are given the promise that your ads will be displayed based on physical location through IP data (assuming that you have your campaigns set up that way). Zip code targeting offers no such promise. adwords badges

All of the 31,596 available zip codes have been assigned a “Limited Targeting Badge” which is based on the availability of IP data. If a zip code is labeled as “NoBadge” you are good to go. Your ads are eligible to display based on physical location. If a zip code is labeled as “HasBadge” then you may have a problem.

The “HasBadge” zip codes are unlikely to receive traffic from IP addresses. The only traffic you will receive comes from Google Maps, searches from GPS enabled smart phones or search queries that actually state the zip code. This means that your ad delivery will be severely restricted.

How do you know if a zip code is labeled as “NoBadge” or “HasBadge”? Ask your Google representative and they will send you the same spreadsheet that they sent me. And it will make you cry as I did.

So, there. I said it. AdWords’ U.S. zip code targeting sucks. It can still provide advertisers with the tools to create super-segmented campaigns with laser focused geo-targeting. But ONLY if approached with caution and the understanding that you may end up targeting cities and zip codes or worse, that your ad delivery may be severely restricted.

John Lee

John Lee

John is an internet marketing jack-of-all-trades with expertise in PPC, SEO, and social media marketing. Working in the search marketing industry since 2006, John spent time at Hanapin Marketing, Wordstream and Clix Marketing before joining Microsoft / Bing Ads in late 2016.

John is also an avid blogger, and has been featured on Search Engine Watch, The SEM Post, ClickZ, Clix Marketing blog, Wordstream blog and PPC Hero. He is also a speaker for SMX, SocialPro, ClickZ Live, HeroConf, Ticket Summit, MN Search Summit, Zenith and State of Search.

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