Google Ads Targeting Changes Are Coming: Here’s What You Need To Do Today


August 20, 2020

Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be making updates to targeting capabilities for ads within the housing industry. In the wake of this announcement, many real estate brands and apartment marketers have been wondering what to do about the Google Ads targeting changes and how to ensure their digital campaigns continue to run smoothly and effectively. Today, we’ll be going over what you should do today to meet those goals.

Due for implementation on October 19, 2020, Google’s update will limit the targeting options for real estate ads run on Google platforms in order to bring ads on the platform into alignment with HUD standards. The change will impact ad campaigns in Google Ads, Gmail, and YouTube, some of the most popular and lucrative ad platforms in use by real estate brands today.

Google’s announcement comes in the wake of Facebook’s decision last year to limit its targeting options after the company faced criticisms that some of its targeting options conflicted with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other civil rights legislation concerning housing, employment, and finance. With these two industry leaders making these changes, we can likely expect to see new updates along the same lines emerge on other platforms as well in the future, although none have been announced as of today. 

Google Ads Targeting Changes

So what exactly is changing? Google’s October update will restrict targeting options for housing, employment, and credit advertising shown to users in the US and Canada. Let’s break down what we know so far.

Broadly speaking, housing, employment, and credit ads will no longer be able to target or exclude users based on age, gender, marital status (or whether someone is getting married soon), parental status, or zip code. This policy only applies to in-scope ads targeting the US and/or Canada. These changes will bring the platform’s targeting tools more in line with legislation like the FHA, which is designed to ensure equitable conditions across the housing industry and reduce discrimination against protected classes of people.

This will also mean that any automatic bid adjustments made on the basis of any of the above targeting factors (age, gender, etc.) will no longer be possible.

Real estate marketers will still have many targeting options, however. They can continue to use all other Google Audiences, contextual targeting, automated bidding, and non-zip code geotargeting options. Let’s dig down into some specifics.

First and foremost, advertisers will still be able to target users based on browsing behavior (like what they search for and what websites they visit). This is already one of the most effective ways to reach qualified leads and this capability isn’t going away. For example, you can still target the keyword “student housing” to capture users searching for this term, even if you can’t target users between the ages of, say, 18 and 22.

Advertisers will also still be able to target based on Interests, providing the possibility of further nuance where useful. For example, if your property is located near a major stadium, you can still target people interested in sports.

Finally, let’s talk about geotargeting options. Targeting based on zip codes will no longer be possible for housing ads, which is a good thing. Zip codes are often drawn on the basis of districting practices that were (or are still) influenced by systemic racism and classism, such as red-lining or gerrymandering. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use location as a targeting factor, however. It just means that, instead of zip code targeting, you’ll need to rely on radius targeting. This will allow you to target users within a certain radius of your property, allowing you to generate qualified leads without the same risk of inequitable impact.

What You Need To Do Today

So what, if anything, should you be doing to prepare for this change? The vast majority of ad campaigns can continue uninterrupted, but if you are running ads that use any of the soon-to-be eliminated targeting options, you’ll want to take action sooner rather than later.

Once these changes are implemented in October 2020, any campaigns using the now-eliminated targeting options will automatically be paused. In order to ensure uninterrupted campaigns, we recommend you make the necessary adjustments to remove soon-defunct targeting options from your campaigns before October 2020.

Whether you’re reading this before or after October 2020, performing a self-audit on your existing ad campaigns (or having your marketing partner do this for you) is an important first step. Determine whether any of your existing campaigns use targeting options that will soon be eliminated, such as age targeting, zip code targeting, or targeting on the basis of family or marital status.

For any existing campaigns that use such targeting features, remove these targeting features. Then, if necessary, you may choose to implement other options that will have a similar targeting impact. For example, you may choose to replace zip code targeting with radius targeting.

After you’ve made the changes, keep an eye on your results and adjust as needed. Impressions, clicks, and cost-per-click are the Key Performance Indicators to focus on as you optimize your campaigns.

Overall, these targeting updates should still leave real estate marketers with the tools they need to see meaningful results that positively impact their bottom line. If you’re looking for more guidance on these changes and how your brand can adapt, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at Threshold. We’re always here to help.

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