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AdWords Language Targeting – A Bit of a Beast

4 MINUTE READ | May 9, 2015

AdWords Language Targeting – A Bit of a Beast

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Blake Burch

Blake Burch has written this article. More details coming soon.

At PMG, we have some great global brands that we’re fortunate to run ads with on an international scale. While the setup always seems straightforward, in our world nothing is really as easy as it first seems. If you’re helping brands expand their presence across the globe (in multiple languages to boot!), here are a few things we’ve learned along the way that may help you avoid some trial and error:

Seems counter-intuitive, right? When you choose a language for your ads to target, you’re not choosing the language that users type their search in. You’re literally targeting their language preferences and those can vary widely.

You see, if I’m a native Spanish speaker living in the U.S., my default search engine is “” because of my location. The language preferences for are English – so if I make a search in Spanish, the ads will still show in English. This is because Google associates the languages together and determines what you’re trying to actually find, showing you results in the default language settings.

However, if I change my language settings to Spanish….

Options Reveals How To Change Your Language
Changing Your Language On Google

THEN all of the ads start showing in Spanish. Notice how I’m still on

Spanish Ads After Changing Language Targeting Settings

Why is this important? Well, in the U.S. alone, 13% of the population speaks Spanish. And although Google notices when you search in Spanish frequently and gives you a friendly little message to change your search settings…. 


I’ve got my money on a bet that says 95%+ of the population is too lazy to flip this switch. Why? Because funny enough, the organic results will be in the searched language but the ads won’t. I can still find what I’m looking for in the language that I’m looking for it – just not in the ads.

The same rule applies for other countries as well. Making an English search on “” will show German ads. Making a Polish search on “” will show English ads. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you want Spanish speakers to see Spanish ads, don’t just target Spanish. Instead, target all languages and only associate Spanish queries with those Spanish ads. This guarantees that no matter what Google domain a user is on, and no matter their default language, if they search in Spanish, they’ll see ads in Spanish.

“Well wait!”, you say. “Aren’t some languages similar? How do you prevent overlap?” That’s a great question, since languages like German and English can sometimes result in the same exact query. For example “dallas hotels” or “dallas restaurants” look exactly the same in both languages. For these instances, you’ll have to target the “common queries” to their respective language to ensure that one search doesn’t trigger an ad in the other language.

Still don’t believe us? Believe the Google FAQ.

Keep in mind that if your customers searched in Spanish but their Google interface language settings were set to English, your ads wouldn’t show. That’s why targeting all languages might be helpful.

All of the above points really come to culmination once you realize that when you type in “” when located in a different country, you will be redirected to the current country’s domain/language. If you don’t target your English keywords and English ads to all languages (thus targeting all Google domains), the rich business traveler in France will never see your ad searching for “dallas tx hotels” for his next business trip. Instead, he’ll see an ad that says “40 Hôtels à Dallas” directing him to site that’s in all French, and that’s just no good.


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While Google is pretty straightforward about how language targeting works, the whole system isn’t the most intuitive and it definitely takes a little while to wrap your head around. Hopefully, being armed with knowledge of these quirks will help save you some headaches in the future and help you spread yours ads all across globe!