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How To Exclude My Ads On Searches For Other Cities?

This question was asked in the Google Ads Strategy Facebook Group by a guy named Joseph.

What is the best way to exclude cities you don’t serve, preferably as negative Keywords? For example, if I am an event planner in Dallas and I don’t want to show up on searches for an event planner in Houston, San Antonio, or Austin is there a way I can do this without having to manually type in Houston, Austin, etc. as negative keywords?

That’s a good question.

I wanted to answer this because I think it’s important to realize what can happen if you think you’re targeting a specific area, but you might get traffic from searches intended for a different area. 

So first, let me just touch on the location targeting. 

The default setting is going to allow people to see your ad, even if they have just shown interest in the location you’re targeting.


Make sure your location targeting is as specific as possible and you’ve actually changed the advanced option to “People in or regularly in your targeted locations”, which is not the default setting.

So your ads are only showing to “people in or regularly in your location” targeting. I can just assume that you’ve already done that. That’s not really the main point of the question here. 

The main point is: 

Let’s say someone is actually in Dallas. But they’re searching for an event in Houston. So they’re searching for an event planner in Houston. They’re going searching on Google for “event planner Houston”. Now, because they’re in Dallas, and you’re targeting the keyword “event planner”, that could trigger your ad.  There are a couple of ways to prevent that. 

First, you could only target “event planner” as an exact match keyword, or “event planner, Dallas” (or whatever location you’re in). But I don’t really recommend that. That’s not how I do it because it’s just going to limit the traffic too much. 

If I’m an event planner, I want to be able to target event planners as a phrase match keyword. That does open up the problem of someone in the city you’re targeting searching for your business in a different city. 

And really, the way to deal with it  (just like you’ve mentioned, Joseph) is to add negative keywords for these other cities. I think it’s better to do that than to pay for traffic from all these other cities. 

When I’m setting up an account for a local business, I actually have a list of all the biggest cities in the United States. And I’ll go to that list and make sure to remove the cities that I actually want to target. So I’m left with a list of all the cities in the US that I don’t want traffic for. And I’ll add all of those as negative keywords. 

I also add all of the states and the states abbreviations that I’m not targeting. This way, every other state gets added as a negative keyword. And I found that this really cleans up the traffic a lot. 

There are lots of reason for people from another city to search for your service:

  • Maybe they’re searching for a friend or a parent. 
  • Maybe they’re going to be going to a different city for some reason. 

You don’t want to pay ads for them. 

If someone’s in Dallas, and they’re searching for an “event planner in Houston”, you just want to have that as a negative keyword. That’s the best and most effective way to do it without limiting your traffic too much. 

I go to the extreme of adding every large city with a population of 100,000 or more. You can go to Wikipedia and create your own list of the most populous cities in the United States, and add those all as negative keywords. 

You also may need to add some more localized cities. So, perhaps you’re in Dallas and you’re only serving a 20-mile radius, and there are other suburbs, other smaller towns in the area that people might be searching for from Dallas, that wouldn’t make the cut from my hundred thousand population list. So, on a more localized level, you want to be searching for those as well and adding them as negative keywords. 

And like I said, this really cleans up the traffic. If someone’s searching for a service in a major city, I have it blocked. If they’re searching for a service in a smaller city, in that case, what they’re going to do is they’re going to include the state. If you’re searching for “Atlanta”, there’s really only one Atlanta, they might not say “Atlanta, Georgia”. If you’re searching for “Duluth, Georgia”, they’ll probably type in “Duluth GA”. And because I have “GA” as a negative keyword, it’s going to block that search also, so it pretty much cleans up this whole issue. 

What’s the bottom line?

Yes, it takes some work. But really, how long is it going to take you? Thirty minutes? An hour if you’ve never done it before? If you have these lists all ready to go, it’s not going to take long at all. Take that extra time, exclude those city and state names that are not in the area that you’re trying to target. You’re going to save money, and you can thank me later.