July 21, 2020

For years, marketers have attempted to understand the buying habits of customers. They have spent billions of dollars to gather this valuable information in an attempt to create offers and advertisements that result in the highest number of conversions possible. 

Then came the invention of smartphones. Smartphones have become a powerful tool that allows brands to interact with customers while also gathering their information in a much easier method. Mobile geo-targeting is a form of targeting that pinpoints customers based on their previous or current location. 

Location targeting available with geo-targeting includes:

  • Country
  • State
  • City
  • Zipcode

Marketers can also choose customers who are within a certain mile radius of a specific location or storefront.

If you have ever searched for a top restaurant or hotel in a certain area without inputting your location, then you have probably witnessed geo-targeting in action. If you open up your favorite web browser on your smartphone or laptop and do a quick search for a product or service, you are provided with results that are relevant to your location. The purpose of this is to customize and personalize the user experience for all internet users.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of digital marketing is the ability to target your consumers. Digital marketing tools have become so adaptive that marketers can target consumers by their interests, buying habits, browsing habits, and even their current location. With geo-location targeting, you can personalize each customer’s ad experience.

These are just a few examples of how you could use location targeting with ads:

  • An individual who visits a vehicle dealership- They are likely considering buying a new vehicle soon.
  • An individual who searches for wedding dresses online- They are probably engaged and planning a wedding.

The world of digital marketing is constantly evolving, and many expert marketers believe that geo-targeting is the future of digital marketing. With the amount of information you can gather today through marketing platforms like Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, marketers have all the tools they need to create detailed ads that convert.

How Does Mobile Geo-Location Targeting Work?

Many would agree that geo-location targeting is not only useful but also necessary for running effective ads. Many brands, especially service-based ones, can waste valuable marketing dollars when displaying ads in front of customers that are not likely to convert. Mobile geo-targeting allows brands to narrow down these customers, pinpointing the exact demographics that they are trying to reach.

The internet and advertising have made it easier than ever to access brands from all over the world. But, displaying your restaurant’s ads to customers who are currently in another country will waste your ad spend and produce poor results. In addition to the necessity of geo-targeting, it is also a powerful tool that can maximize your ad spend and produce significant results.

Understanding the Background of Geo-Targeting

Understanding how geo-location targeting works can help you refine your targeting strategy and maximize its effects. The internet can track each user’s location based on its unique IP address. Billions of IP addresses store their location, including city, state, and even country. When an internet user inputs a search, the database looks through the data, pulling out the ads that are most relevant to the IP address.

Where this data is stored and retrieved from varies, but most often a business that primarily focuses on geo-location data stores it. Some might wonder if this breaches any confidentiality or personal data regulations, but ownership of IP addresses are public data. The information is usually organized by IP range and location. The system organizes this information and makes assumptions on where each IP is located.

Identifying the exact location of each IP address can be complex. Using pings, geo data companies can test if and how long it takes to connect to a local database. Evaluating this data offers valuable information and will often lead to accurate location estimations. Of course, there is always the possibility of error. Larger companies can overcome this location challenge by gathering data physically through technical methods such as sending pings while physically visiting certain areas.

Overcoming Challenges of Geo-Targeting

As with any type of marketing, there are challenges to be aware of with geo-targeting. These are a few of the most common challenges with steps you can take to overcome them:

Challenge 1: Location is not always accurate: Because smartphones and manual check-ins track the location, a person’s current location is not always accurate.

Solution 1: Fortunately, you can use additional features that narrow down your location options. Your targeting options include:

  • Everyone in this location
  • People who live in this location
  • People recently in this location
  • People traveling in this location

Challenge 2: Geo-location targeting data can be expensive to gather.

Solution 2: With platforms like Facebook and Instagram, you no longer have to spend a fortune to take advantage of geo-targeting marketing and advertising practices.

Challenge 3: Privacy concerns are on the rise.

Solution 3: Although there have been concerns regarding privacy and the collection of data, many data companies are shifting their practices to be more ethical. Additionally, brands can gather information from customers who have elected to share their location.

Challenge 4: Competition among your brands is possible. If you own more than one brand within a certain area, you could potentially end up competing with yourself. If you are a franchise owner, you could also reach your ads into a partner’s market.

Solution 4: Fortunately, many tools can help prevent you from competing against yourself. You can narrow down your location by excluding certain cities or zip codes. You can also exclude individuals who follow or interact with another brand.

These location targeting tools not only allow you to reach your ideal audience but to also target others based on more creative perimeters. For example, you might advertise a transportation service to individuals traveling to a certain area. People who live in the location are less likely to use the transportation service because they likely already have a vehicle. However, travelers may need transportation.

Now that you understand how geo-targeting works, let’s take a look at how you can apply it to your marketing campaign.

When to Use Mobile Geo-Targeting

Chances are if you have ever run an ad or analyzed data, then you are already aware of the importance of geo-targeting. With so many targeting perimeters available, it can be overwhelming to choose which ones work for your brand. To take advantage of each targeting tool, you would have to make hundreds of different buyer personas. With mobile geo-targeting, you can narrow down customers based on their location. You can learn about their buying habits and interests in this information.

Mobile targeting is especially useful for:

  • Local businesses with a storefront who want to increase in-store sales
  • Brands that host special events
  • Brands that already have a good idea of who their target customer is, including where they live and work
  • Brands that want to expand to a new location

Brands that are entirely online can still take advantage of geo-targeting. For example, a large retailer that sells outerwear might target colder parts of the country. If they sell internationally, then they might adjust their ads based on the season in each part of the world.

How to Set Up Mobile Geo-Targeting

Setting up mobile targeting will look different, depending on the platform you choose to run your ads.


  1. Open the main page of your ads manager
  2. Choose local awareness type
  3. Drop a pin in the center of the area you want to target
  4. Set your total radius

The great thing about Facebook is it tells you what your estimated reach is. You can add or remove targeting criteria to hone in on a realistic reach number.

If you want to break down your geo-location options even further:

  1. Open the audiences tab of your page
  2. Choose the targeting perimeters that work for your marketing campaign. (Age, career, buying, interests).

Google Ads:

  1. Open your campaign within the campaign tab
  2. Choose Settings, then Locations
  3. Enter the name of the country
  4. Narrow down your location based on state, city, or zip code

With Google Ads, you can also target multiple locations across different campaigns or add locations in bulk, cutting down the time it takes to draft your ads.

Geo-Targeting Facebook Ads

With one billion people active on Facebook, it has become a top platform for marketing. Social media sites like Facebook are great for engaging and communicating with your followers. You can interact with and reach thousands of potential customers who don’t already follow your brand. 

It is important to know that Facebook ads use an automated auction method. Brands with a lot of local competition will notice a higher cost per click, which can quickly drive up your overall marketing budget. While geo-targeting can be effective for smaller businesses, it is important first to understand your goals and how you will measure them.

One of the biggest advantages of using Facebook for geo-targeting is that they provide you with all the tools you need, right within their system. Using local brand awareness ads, you can target customers in an exact location, without having to go over your marketing budget. You can track the results daily and make any adjustments to your marketing campaign, as needed.

Geo-Targeting Instagram Ads

Instagram, another social media site owned by Facebook, also offers brands the ability to target by location. The interface for running targeted location ads on Instagram is very easy and user-friendly. While Instagram might have fewer active users than Facebook, it is also a more interactive platform. Almost 80% of users follow at least one brand on Instagram.

With Instagram ads, you can target potential customers by country, state, city, zip code, and even specified address. You also have access to the same detailed targeting as you do with Facebook and Google ads, allowing you to extend your customer reach.

Tips on Finding High-Value Customers

Many brands add digital ads to their campaign in an attempt to not only increase the number of customers but also to find high-value customers. Geo-targeting can be a great way to increase both.

For example, a brand that wants to extend services into a higher income area can do so with geo-targeting. If you have already researched your current customer base, then you might have a good idea of where your most valuable customers live and work. You can use this information to target other customers who may have similar buying habits.

These tips can assist you as you narrow down your customer base and find the highest value:

  • Dive into the data: Geo-targeting will offer you a lot of useful data. You can use this information to determine the buying habits of a certain market and to make important decisions like whether or not to expand to a new location.
  • Create look-a-like audiences: Creating look-a-like audiences that mimic your current high-value customers can help you reach even more converting customers.
  • Use geocoding to find new opportunities: Using your data, you can also find new opportunities for high-value customers that you are not already reaching. Evaluate your data to determine where your current customers are coming from and then gauge your ad success in these areas.
  • Re-target high-value customers: Don’t make the mistake of using all your resources to attract new high-value customers so that you lose sight of the ones you already have. Loyalty goes a long way.
  • Prioritize certain geo locations: Just as you can exclude areas, you can also prioritize certain areas. By adjusting your bid, you can dictate where your ads display.

The most successful brands recognize and appreciate their high-value customers. Doing so can lead to customer loyalty, which can lead to increased sales.

Best Practices When Mobile Geo-Location Targeting

Following these best practices, when mobile geo-targeting will ensure that your ads are optimized and reaching your intended audience:

  • Consider your offer and how far customers are willing to travel: Creating a location radius that is too large can waste valuable marketing dollars, whereas choosing one that is too small can lead to missed customers. Consider the value of the offer and how far the average customer is willing to travel for it.
  • Use the radius feature instead of zip code: Geo-targeting by zip code can lead to missed customer opportunities. Instead of inputting individual zip codes, consider using the radius feature.
  • Get creative: One ad type will not match the purpose of each targeted area. Consider the audience that you are trying to reach in each area and adjust the image and text-based on that information.
  • Ensure your ads are mobile-optimized: Because geo-targeting is reliant on the location services of a mobile device, your ads must be optimized for mobile use. This allows you to target other locations like hotels or airports.
  • Test your ads frequently: Testing the user experience, location perimeters, and creatives of your ad will help you determine whether or not your location ads are working.

By defining your ideal audience and drafting ads that meet their needs and interests, you can reach the customers that are most likely to interact with your brand.

How to Find Your Ideal Audience

The success of mobile geo-targeting depends on understanding your ideal customer and their location. Fortunately, you can also use the tools within geo-targeting to find your ideal audience.

  • Choose a related venue: Consider the locations where your ideal audience will frequent. If you are selling a movie subscription service, then you might target a movie theatre. If you are trying to sell a healthy meal plan, then you might target local fitness centers in the area.
  • Use exclusions: You can also take advantage of exclusions to narrow out customers that are unlikely to fit your ideal audience. If you are selling a babysitting service, you might exclude the local college. If you are trying to increase the store visits to a local vehicle dealership, you might exclude individuals who are traveling to the area on vacation.
  • Go beyond location: Location is a powerful tool, but combined with additional targets, you can refine your exact customer. You might gather data that your customer visits weekly, but it can also be valuable to understand the time of day they visit and the things they do when visit.

Narrowing down these options can ensure that you reach your ideal audience.

How to Optimize Your Geo-Targeting Campaign

There are many techniques you can take to optimize your geo-targeting marketing campaign.

Here are a few:

  • Look at the customer’s habits: When you geo-target, it is not necessarily limited to the customer’s current action. Instead, you can look at their trends and overall habits.
  • Target areas where your ideal customer frequents: If you get creative, you can target specific areas in which your customers are likely to frequent. For example, if you own a tutoring company, you might geo-target the local community college. If you run an errand business, you might create a geo-target around an assisted living area.
  • Choose keywords: Keywords allow your ad to be displayed to customers who have searched those exact terms. Consider what location-specific keywords your ideal audience is using when searching for your product or service.
  • Gather data from alternative locations: Gather additional data from alternative locations like social media check-ins to understand interests and buying habits.
  • Take advantage of third-party tools like Google Trends: Google Trends allows you to identify buying trends in specific locations.

Optimizing your ads will ensure that you can maximize your ad spend and increase your ad conversions.

When to Exclude Locations

Geo-targeting is also a useful tool to use when you need to refine your potential reach. Using the radius feature to determine your targeted location could leave you with areas that you don’t necessarily want to target.

Just a few times when you might exclude locations include:

  • Your franchise agreement prevents you from marketing to a certain area
  • You already have marketing campaigns running in another area
  • You don’t actively serve a specific market
  • You already have a large presence and awareness in the specific market

Excluding these targeted areas will prevent you from competing with yourself or wasting ad spend on customers who are already aware of your business.

Example of a Major Brand Who Found Success With Geo-Targeting

Many large brands have demonstrated exceptional success using geo-targeting practices, such as the restaurant chain, Denny’s. 

Denny’s reminds many customers of a simpler time when going out to eat meant enjoying a meal in a booth of the local diner. As convenience and speed have taken over the restaurant world, Denny’s went to the back of American’s minds. It wasn’t that customers were against Denny’s; it’s just that there were too many options available, and Denny’s had a hard time capturing that interest.

Commercial ads provided a temporary increase in traffic, but results would quickly decline. That is until Denny’s chose to take a geo-targeted route. By targeting potential customers who were nearby Denny’s location of their ongoing pancake promotions, they were able to boost their click-through rate significantly.

Following this success, they decided to narrow down their targeted audience even further. They expanded their targets to include customers who had previously been to Denny’s. This allowed them to reach their loyal customers. They targeted build your ads to these customers, increasing their conversions significantly.

Many retailers have also found success with geo-targeting. Retail brands like Kohl’s, use mobile geo-fencing to track in-store visits. They use this to thank the customer for visiting while also encouraging them to take action and make a sale. Additionally, they can then place ads on other platforms to encourage repeat visits. Customers view these practices as convenient, while Kohl’s can understand the buying habits of their customers.

Geo-targeting is likely to become an even more important part of the digital marketing industry over the next few years. As marketers learn to narrow down geo-location targeting to better reach the exact customer they want, they can optimize their ads and maximize their marketing budget.

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