• Josh McRay

Google Ads Zip Code Targeting Is Dead

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Well it was great while it lasted! A recent Google Blog post hinted that some major changes to the way that advertisers in the housing industry were coming up. One of the biggest changes seemed to be the ability to target at the zip code level. Why is this important?

The Importance of Zip Code Based Targeting


For years real estate investors have been able to get really granular with how they target a market with both Search and Display campaigns. You could add and target zip codes based on a number of external factors like how well your direct mail was doing, whether an area was ripe for rentals, or based on average incomes. You could target the zip codes that meant the most, and exclude the ones that didn’t make much sense.


This morning I got the following email from Google:

What does this mean for your account?


The email gives an official date for compliance, meaning that this is officially happening. Let’s break down the “What this means” section from the email above:


“Potentially impacted advertisers will receive notifications in their Google Ads account prompting them to acknowledge these policy changes and to agree to comply with relevant local laws. Advertisers who have not accepted these changes when the policy goes into effect on October 19 will be unable to create any new campaigns until they accept the changes.”


You’ll need to go through and make sure that the policy changes are accepted in your Google Ads account. Failure to do this will result in ads stopping on October 19. This is pretty easy to fix and pretty straight forward. These will normally show up in an alert banner at the top of the page, and in your account settings.


“Additionally when the policy goes into effect on October 19, advertisers promoting housing, employment, or credit products or services will no longer be able to target audiences based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code. Any existing campaigns featuring housing, employment, or credit products or services that target newly restricted audiences will no longer be eligible to serve. Advertisers should update their campaigns before this policy goes into effect to ensure they aren’t negatively impacted.”


In regard to the zip code portion of this section, if zip code based targeting is still active when the change officially rolls out on October 19, campaigns won’t be able to serve ads. This will likely result in the entire campaign being disapproved, and a re-submission will be required. In some cases of policy violations Google will completely disable an ad account. All targeting will need to be swapped out for something else.


How can I target my campaign now?


In Google’s updated FAQ page for ad policies, they listed the following available substitutions for zip code based targeting:


  • City

  • County

  • Country

  • DMA/TV Region

  • Local Subdivision

  • Municipality

  • National Subdivision

  • Place of Interest

  • Province

  • Region

  • State

  • Location by Demographic

  • Airport

  • Privacy Safe Radius


City, County, and Radius based targeting will make up the bulk of replacement targeting for real estate investors. The big thing missing from targeting in general is going to be exclusions. Exclusions really helped investors to save ad spend. It also helped with keeping the number of undesirable leads from getting into their pipelines. Without exclusions, investors can expect more leads, and higher costs to go with those leads.


Google Ads for Real Estate Investors Moving Forward


Okay, so now we have an understanding of what exactly is going on, how impactful is this? For investors running campaigns exclusively at the zip code level, this will likely impact you a ton. You’ve spent time getting those areas narrowed down, and a radius might not be small enough to just target those areas. The smallest area you can target with a radius is 1 mile, like below:

In some areas, this will be sufficient. In others this will definitely mean an increase in leads and cost.


For those already targeting larger areas, this will primarily be business as usual. It should be pretty easy to use city, county, and radius based targeting to cover almost exactly the same areas that you were targeting before.


While the change is significant, there are a few ways to overcome it. Just make sure that the policy changes get implemented inside of your account, and get creative with radius, city, and county based targeting with the expectation that there should be some inflated costs due to the potential increases of area and absence of exclusions.


This is definitely doable. Is it a bump in the road? Yes. Is it a nuclear bomb detonating at point blank range? Absolutely not. I strongly feel that real estate investors are some of the, if not THE, best in the real estate industry at coming up with creative solutions. This is just another opportunity to prove that point true!


Gimme The TLDR

  • Google Ads is doing away with zip code based targeting

  • Excluding zip codes is no longer an option

  • New policies have to be accepted inside of accounts by October 19

  • New targeting needs to be in place by October 19

  • There are still tons of targeting options

  • Expect more leads and higher overall costs in super granular accounts

  • Business as usual for investors with larger target markets

  • Real estate investors are rock stars

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