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Under The Hood: How Google AdWords Measures Store Visits


The ability to measure store visits from AdWords launched in December 2014, and there are currently hundreds of advertisers that are taking advantage of it. It makes sense; users search for something and then end up buying it in a store, hotel, dealership or somewhere else instead of online. This stuff is already happening all the time — now, Google (my employer) is getting better at helping you measure it.

With “store visits” becoming a new type of conversion to use when optimizing your account in AdWords, I wanted to spend some time looking under the hood of the technology that drives it. It’s pretty cool stuff, and it stands to revolutionize the way that we all measure offline behavior.

Understanding The Geography & Geometry of Stores

Google’s Maps team has mapping technology that helps us understand not only an advertiser’s store location, but also the shape of that store. The coordinates and borders of millions of buildings worldwide have been mapped in precise detail, so there’s a really strong starting point for understanding location.

We can connect Wi-Fi, cell tower and GPS location signals to the maps that we already know about to see which stores are receiving visits.

wi-fi mapping of store location

Store visits also take advantage of Wi-Fi signal strength in many stores. We can measure signals to differentiate between visits to the store and visits to the store immediately next door. Compared to GPS, which doesn’t work well indoors, Wi-Fi-based location does a significantly better job, including in multi-storied buildings.

Double Checking Maps Data

So we have loads of active reporters of location history and some really great maps at our disposal, but that’s not the only set of data used. As my friend and colleague Surojit Chatterjee talked about over on Marketing Land, there’s a survey panel of over one million users that we use to verify the accuracy of our store visits data.

We rely on user surveys to calibrate our algorithms and inform our data modeling on location. It helps get store visit estimates to a high level of accuracy.

If we think there was a visit and the panel then confirms that visit, then we know the data checks out. If we think there was a visit, but the panel data says otherwise, the model is going to be updated with that discrepancy.

The Right Places & The Right Times

Simply being near a store doesn’t automatically count as a visit. There are additional considerations.

We know that a one minute visit isn’t the same thing as a thirty minute visit. One minute could simply mean that a shopper passed through a store on the way to get a hot pretzel from Auntie Anne’s at the food court. There’s even such a thing as too much time spent in one location. Employees who spend time at stores in long, discernible patterns aren’t counted as store visitors.

The Importance Of Statistical Validity

Store visits are estimates based on aggregated, anonymized data from a very large sample set of users that have turned on Location History. This data is then extrapolated to represent the broader population and only reported if it reaches a strict, highly conservative confidence level.

How will you know that you can trust these estimates? We use surveys to inform and validate as I said above, but the meat of the estimates is lots and lots of data.

If we aren’t confident we won’t show anything at all. So if you see any store visits, you can be sure that we’re confident that your ads are bringing people into your locations.

When It Comes To Protecting Your Privacy

So I mentioned Auntie Anne’s Pretzels at the mall earlier, and what if pretzel eating is something that I want to keep to myself?  That’s totally fair.

Store visits are never tied to anything related to you as an individual — they’re based on an aggregated, anonymized number.  We pull some store visit information from users that have turned on Location History. If you don’t want Google to know your location history, you can pause or delete your location history at any time.

But with or without Location History, your Auntie Anne’s visit would be safe: Google never shares personal location information to anyone at an individual level.

Getting Started On Store Visits

After learning more about Store Visits, you might be wondering how you can take advantage of it yourself. There are a handful of requirements to meet first:

  • Have a Google My Business account linked to your AdWords account
  • Set up location extensions in your account
  • Have multiple physical store locations in a qualifying country
  • Receive many ad clicks and store visits

If you think you could start counting store visits, get in touch with your account rep.

Best Practices For Store Visits

As you go on your merry way measuring all of the users that come to your store after seeing your search ad, there are a couple of best practices to keep in mind.

Location extensions and location extension targeting are great starting points — especially in the context of mobile users. Keep an eye on your search terms reports to be sure that you’re matching to locally-relevant searches that include phrases like “near me” (again, this may be even more important to do for mobile queries). And factor store visits in as a part of your KPIs (note that store visits are attributed to the campaign that the user last clicks from).


If you start including store visits as part of your total number of conversions, you’ll get a much clearer view of the impact your marketing is driving (and has been driving all along).

If your account doesn’t qualify for this quite yet, there are some benchmarks that other industries are seeing that you could use as a starting point for your own analyses.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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