Does Google Understand Where You Are? For Almost Half Of You, The Reply Is No


I was trading anecdotes with a number of fellow promotion professionals who were fighting to make sense of the geolocation settings within Google AdWords before this year.

Inherent everything we suppose about geotargeting is the ability to accurately find the user of Google. If we’re looking to serve advertising to men and women in Nyc, then (obviously) we should target individuals who Google identifies as being in Nyc. We need to make sure that we’re not targeting individuals who aren’t in Nyc.

Whilst this second statement might appear redundant, it really is not — because, as we’ve found, there are two errors that Google appears to be making. The foremost is the man that Google identifies as being in NYC, the false positive, when in fact they’re not. The second is the individual who’s in NYC, the false negative, but whom Google has identified as being found somewhere else.

Quantifying The Problem

To examine Google’s geolocation capabilities, we asked folks all over the world to assess to see how precise Google was at locating them.

We requested players make use of the Real Time reporting tool to track their particular visit — from both a desktop computer along with a mobile apparatus and then to log in to Google Analytics. With the cellular apparatus, we requested them to make sure that they weren’t connected via WiFi, but instead using the internal geolocation function of their cellular device.

In total, 149 individuals reacted to the survey, about half of whom were from America. The results were still interesting, while the sample size may not be important enough to draw comprehensive conclusions.

The principal takeaway is the fact that Google appears to be considerably better at correctly finding a desktop apparatus (d) than a cellular apparatus (m).

The image below depicts the typical mistake in miles for all respondents:


Typical mistake, in miles, for desktop vs. cellular apparatus (all respondents)

There were a few outliers from states where we might anticipate the geolocation precision to be significantly less than ideal. So we looked at the amounts for the US:


Typical mistake, in miles, for desktop vs. cellular apparatus (US only)

And for the UK:


Typical mistake, in miles, for desktop vs. cellular apparatus (UK only)

Before those of you in the UK begin preening yourselves for the numbers that are better, we have to recall the relative sizes of both of these states.

Though the amounts for Europe were somewhat more good in practically all situations, Google was much more precise with desktop computers than with cellular devices.


Typical malfunction, in miles, for desktop computer vs. cellular apparatus (Europe)

There were some people who found that Google had them found more than 2,500 miles from their real place. A couple of users were identified as being in an entirely different state, with one user on the Spanish isle of Ibiza being found by Google in Rome and another in Pakistan being situated a few thousand miles away in the United Arab Emirates.

The Consequences For Search Marketers

So do you know the consequences of this for advertisers?

For one, we must reconsider the geotargeting choices that we are being given by Google. Now, once we pick our geo-goal, we can pick from three choices:

Individuals in, seeking for, or who show interest in my targeted place (recommended).
Folks in my place that is targeted.
Individuals hunting for, or who show interest in my place that is targeted.

If you’re operating a local campaign, which is when geolocation truth will be most significant, the next alternative is the one you’d probably pick rather than the first (considerably freer) default option.

In our study, just 55 percent of users were accurately found with zero error. Even if we allow for location error of 25 miles (a decent radius for most local companies and Google AdWords Express), this amount increases to only 67 percent.

That means that we’re taking a look at a false positive/negative speed of anywhere between 45 percent and 33 percent.

Let us now think about the consequences of both of these kinds of errors.

To a searcher who’s outside of your target area, Google is serving your local advertising with the false positive. In case your advertising just offers your product or service without specifying your place, your advertising may click on only to find that you’re far away — a wasted click.

In case your place is indicated by your advertising copy, the click can deter. This means you’ll save on the budget but reduce the click-through rate (which can, in time, impact Quality Score and advertising position).

This means your advertisement WOn’t be served to somebody in your target area regardless of the truth that they’re particularly searching for your product or service — a missed prospect if, on the flip side, the individual is a false negative.

There’s little we may do to reach someone in our target area that Google believes to be outside of it.

As Google encourages advertisers to look toward mobile advertising, the news that geotargeting is really worse on mobile devices than desktop computers is troublesome. Obviously, where an individual is connected to a WiFi network, their cellular acts as though it were a desktop computer, choosing the exact same place as would a desktop computer; yet, as an increasing number of individuals are seeking on the go, the question as to exactly where they’re going is one that becomes increasingly significant. They may be on the go from where Google considers them to be but a few hundred miles.

One closing idea: if you’re ever accused of a crime — do not ever call on Google to supply an alibi to you!

Some views expressed in this informative article may be those of a guest writer and not automatically Search Engine Land. Staff writers are recorded here.

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