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Location advertising: where to start8 min read

8 min read

Advertising to someone in the right context is key, and location is a critical part of context. There’s a plethora of location options available for online advertisers. Let’s run through what you can do.


Geo-targeting search queries are not new, but the options are quite extensive. Google AdWords campaigns can be restricted to geographical areas, or you can also exclude locations altogether. Positive or negative bid modifiers can also be set by location.

AdWords also has more subtle options than conventional geographical areas like countries and cities. Radius targeting limits ads to a set distance around an address, place of interest or co-ordinates. Location groups make it easy to target certain types of place within a defined area. Airports, centres of commerce and universities can be selected, for example; London airports. It’s also easy to upload a set of addresses (like retail stores) by pasting in addresses or postcodes.


There are similar options available for Bing Ads and Yandex.

Location extensions let advertisers highlight location specific information within a search ad. AdWords requires advertisers to have a Google My Business account set up with all relevant physical locations. You can then filter the locations to assign them to specific campaigns and ad groups.

For relevant search queries, AdWords will show one of an advertiser’s locations together with an address, phone number and opening hours. Ads can appear on Google Maps too if you’re opted in to the search partner network.

Locations can be uploaded into Bing Ads, and like AdWords, you can choose which locations apply to individual campaigns. Locations are uploaded in bulk through Bing Ads Editor. Bing will show up to two addresses for relevant search queries.

It’s easy to include location in your paid search campaigns targeting and ad copy, but how do you measure results? Tracking sales in physical store locations from search advertising is much more difficult.

Google offers one possible solution with store visit conversions. It’s not available to all advertisers. It’s most appropriate if you have lots of locations and a high volume of AdWords accounts.

Google uses a statistical model to estimate store visit conversions. It’s based on searchers who clicked on your ads and later visited your retail locations. Google uses location data from logged in users on smartphones to create the model. Google has published a case study with Nissan. But it’s reasonable to assume it’s easier to measure visits to a large, outdoor location like a car dealership than somewhere smaller, like a concession inside a department store.

Store visit conversions are particularly useful when determining the value of mobile search ads. Advertisers still find direct conversion rates are higher on desktop compared to mobile. But including store visits can cast mobile ads in a more positive light.


Similar location targeting options exist with ads on Facebook and Twitter too. Facebook’s options are more subtle, with the ability to target people who live or are travelling in a particular area.


Facebook’s local awareness ads are a similar concept to location extensions in search. If you have a Facebook page for a specific retail location, you can create a campaign to promote it. Users will see a ‘map card’ that shows them how close they are, and a call to action such as get directions, call now or send a message (via Facebook Messenger).

The Facebook Audience Network takes mobile advertising to other apps and mobile websites. It’s easy to extend your existing campaigns to Facebook’s publishing partners, while still using the same targeting options.

Like AdWords, Facebook has a statistical measure, store visits, to estimate how many users saw your ad and also visited a retail location. Facebook bases the metric on users who are logged in on their smartphone with location services enabled.

Facebook is a step ahead in offline measurement with its offline conversions API. Consumer data (emails, phone numbers) captured during an offline transaction can be uploaded, rather like a custom audience. Facebook hashes the data and matches it against users that have seen your ads. This does add an extra step at the checkout. Retailers that already have a loyalty programme will find it easier to benefit. Advertisers can use the API themselves, or partner with a few 3rd parties who have already integrated it into their platforms.

Although Google Analytics has offline conversion tracking, it depends on capturing the ‘gclid’ value at the time of a click. That won’t work for in-store transactions without an extra mechanism, like a unique voucher for the consumer to use in the store.

More options to consider

There’s a few popular apps that are also worth considering for location advertising.

Waze is a satnav app that routes you around traffic and delays, based on real-time data other app users upload as they travel. Even for regular routes, it’s worth using to beat queues, roadworks and accidents. Waze was bought by Google in 2013, and recently they’ve started to create ad placements.

waze app

Advertisers promote their locations through branded map pins, or sponsored results when users search for a destination. More interesting is Waze’s interruptive format ‘zero speed takeover’.

Safety first: Waze only shows ads when the vehicle isn’t moving. Your ad won’t cause an accident! Waze is fascinating not only because it knows where you are, it also knows where you’re going, what’s on your route and how long you’ve been driving. McDonalds features in a case study; I’ve seen ads for their many drive-through locations while in my car. Users can re-route just by tapping on the ad (a reported metric) and can redeem ad offers when they get there.

There are a few other local business apps that offer advertising to promote locations. Foursquare, Yelp and Tripadvisor all have different options worth considering.

I’ve done well getting this far without mentioning Pokemon Go. Sponsored locations are being trialled by McDonalds in Japan. At the moment Pokemon Go has enormous potential to attract people to a location. The question is whether they’ll buy anything once they are there.

The last option to consider, Snapchat, definitely isn’t first to mind for direct response advertisers. However, there’s no doubting the app’s enormous and growing user base. Snapchat geofilters allow brands to buy custom filters that appear for users in the right time and place.

What about beacons?

Beacons often come up in discussion about location marketing.

First, let me explain what a beacon is, what it does and how. Beacons are low-power Bluetooth devices (known as Bluetooth LE). They can run for months (or years) off a single coin battery, and are fairly cheap to buy (£20-30 each). They have a range of up to 70 metres, though that will be dependent on the environment they’re in.

If you’ve got a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse or headphones, you will have gone through the painful process of pairing it with your laptop or phone. With Bluetooth LE beacons, that process is not necessary! Instead, the beacon can communicate with your device so long as it’s in range. Beacons have GPS co-ordinates that can be transmitted to a smartphone, so an app knows exactly where it is, even indoors.

Advertisers can use a beacon SDK in their own mobile app to enhance their in-store experience. Google’s Eddystone format lets you send push notifications through Android’s Chrome browser or your own app. Likewise, Apple’s iBeacon technology can trigger iOS notifications on a consumer’s phone.

Note that Eddystone and iBeacon are software products, neither Google or Apple make beacons. Instead, they rely on separate hardware vendors to manufacture compatible hardware.

Facebook has taken a different route. It is producing its own beacons to enhance its Place Tips product when consumers are in-store.

There is a myriad of interesting use cases for beacons. It’s estimated that 93 percent of Major League Baseball stadiums are now using beacons. Combined with a team app, they help promote seat upgrades and merchandise to fans inside the stadium.


The prevalence of smartphones and sensors means we know more about where a user is than ever before. It’s pretty straightforward to target users appropriately using location features of Google, Facebook and others, with geo-specific messages through the right ad extensions. This should be standard practice for any online advertiser.

Measuring the effect in-store is a different matter. Statistical in-store measures are interesting, and it’s worth enabling these metrics—especially as a comparison against clicks on mobile ads.

For a generation of marketers who’ve been brought up on the ease of last click measurement on desktop web browsers, understanding the interplay between online and offline is a significant challenge. In-store beacons and extra data capture inevitably leads to process change, staff training, and consumer incentivisation. But this challenge is not going away, and will only get more important as time goes on. As with most marketing challenges, the time to start tackling it is now.