What Marketers Need To Know About Google’s New Housing Ad Restrictions

Google’s Ad Policy Restrictions for student housing, multifamily and senior living go into effect October 19th, 2020. Here’s what you need to know.

Yesterday, GRO employees received hundreds of emails (literally) from the Google Ads Policy team announcing that their housing ad targeting restrictions are set to go in effect on October 19th, 2020. This gives student housing marketers a little under two months to make sure that necessary adjustments are made to their Google campaigns to be in compliance with the new policies.

Here’s an excerpt from Google’s email that hit our inboxes this morning:

...advertisers promoting housing, employment, or credit products or services will no longer be able to target audiences based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code. Any existing campaigns featuring housing, employment, or credit products or services that target newly restricted audiences will no longer be eligible to serve. Advertisers should update their campaigns before this policy goes into effect to ensure they aren’t negatively impacted.

The Google Ads Team - August 18th, 2020

Google goes on to state that marketers will not be able to create/run campaigns until they “accept” their new terms and adjust the campaigns to be in compliance.

Here are some of our main takeaways from Google’s email:

Google’s new location targeting restrictions are not as damaging as Facebook’s restrictions

When Facebook launched their housing ad policy changes in the Fall of 2019, digital marketers were shocked to find out that minimum location targeting expanded from zip code targeting to a minimum city + 15-mile radius. Facebook’s “+15 miles” kicker on top of city targeting caused a great deal of problems for student housing properties that were located near major cities.

For example, Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois, with a population of 74,000. Before Facebook’s restrictions, properties in Evanston could simply target users passing through or living in the city of Evanston or the zip code in which Northwestern University was located. When Facebook’s city+15-mile targeting went into effect, Evanston’s city targeting now meant the city of Evanston + Chicago since it’s located within Evanston’s 15-mile radius. Needless to say, this caused headache after headache for student housing properties in the Evanston area, as the potential audience expanded from that of a smaller city to now including the nation’s third largest city in America.

So, we see it as a small victory that Google only expanded their minimum location targeting to city and not city+15 miles like Facebook.

Paid search ads for student housing will be affected, but not too much

In addition to location targeting, there are other settings being affected as well. Age, gender, parental status, and marital status targeting will also be unavailable to target or exclude. This will require student housing marketers to make adjustments to their campaigns, especially in how student and parent ad groups are structured. However, it appears that the biggest targeting tactic of paid search advertising, keyword targeting, will stay the same. This is a huge win for student housing marketers. Still having the ability to implement university-specific keywords and phrases such as “student housing,” “student apartments” and “off campus housing” into your list will be sure to weed out unqualified users from visiting your website.

Display / YouTube Ad / GMail Targeting Options seem to be unchanged

When Facebook enforced their new housing ad restrictions, thousands of targeting options disappeared. The ability to target undergraduate and graduate students of specific schools and students who were in the greek system vanished overnight and marketers were left with just a few broad targeting options such as users interested in: apartment, apartment list, apartment guide, apartments.com, renting and higher education.

From what we can tell, the core targeting tactics within the Google Ads Display platform will stay in place. Contextual and topic targeting, custom intent audiences and retargeting will all still be in play, which means student housing marketers will continue to have an impressive arsenal of display targeting tactics/combinations at their disposal.


At the end of the day, Google’s new ad targeting restrictions will cause student housing marketers to have a little bit of heartburn, but it will be manageable. In comparison to Facebook, the restrictions are relatively tame. Challenge your marketing agency or in-house marketing team to start building a plan NOW to adjust your Google Ad campaigns to be in compliance before the hammer drops on October 19th. Good luck out there 🙂

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