Housing ads come with their own set of restrictions — here’s how they can impact your campaigns.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why housing search ads have their own guidelines
  • Which ad types fall under this category
  • What to do if your housing ad is disapproved
  • Ways you can continue to create successful housing paid search campaigns

Between rising mortgage rates, a dearth of affordable living options, and investors buying a record number of homes in 2021, the housing industry has been under a spotlight as of late.

This means that, for companies in this industry, it’s as important as ever that they get their message across to the right people.

Paid search ads are one of the most effective digital marketing formats. But these ads also have guidelines set by search engines and even the federal government. This means, if you want your ad to be approved, you’ve got to play by the rules. 

row of grey, green and tan houses

These relatively new restrictions, particularly the ZIP code aspect, have created an added hurdle for housing ad marketers when it comes to targeting. (Image: Unsplash)

What company types fall under the “housing” umbrella?

It can be tricky to know which companies need to adhere to housing-related ad guidelines. 

In general, these include:

  • Residential real estate companies, agents, and brokers
  • An individual selling or renting a residential property (including apartments, mobile homes, and houseboats)
  • Any other ad related to a residential property where a person would reside

On the other hand, these companies do not fall under the restricted targeting category, according to Google:

  • Hotels or vacation rentals 
  • Property management services
  • Property inspection or escrow services
  • Home design services
  • Office building or office space rentals

Google’s targeting restrictions for housing ads

In fall 2020, Google announced an update to their personalized advertising policies for housing, employment, and credit.

In their words, they focused on these specific industries “in an effort to improve inclusivity for users disproportionately affected by societal biases.” Basically, these are some of the top industries where people can be turned away or denied simply based on things like their age, gender, or race.

Ads featuring the above products or services cannot be targeted to audience members based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code.

These relatively new restrictions, particularly the ZIP code aspect, have created an added hurdle for housing ad marketers when it comes to targeting. 

Whether you’re a big-name brand or an independent property business, not being able to target via ZIP code can be potentially spendy. It can also make it more difficult to attract qualified leads, since housing searches are usually contingent on location.

Pro tip: Along with Google, these targeting restrictions are also in place for Facebook (aka Meta) and Instagram ads.

View from outside a house in a suburb

Someone searching for a home loan would be in-market, while being a dog lover would be considered an affinity. (Image: Rawpixel)

What happens if your housing ad is denied

If you create a paid search ad that doesn’t adhere to your local laws as well as the search engine’s policies, you’ll be notified that your content was denied.

From there, you’ll be tasked with updating your ad or its targeting until it falls within the acceptable guidelines. After that, you can resubmit your ad for review.

Pro tip: When it comes to age and parental status, you can target the “Unknown” category to see what results arise.

How to create housing ads that adhere to search engine guidelines

As with all algorithm updates and policy changes, it’s important to remember that these are created for a good reason. The aim is to better connect searchers with the content they’re seeking.

At the same time, you want to ensure equity practices are in place to prevent bias and unfair advantages or disadvantages.

Marketers in the housing industry can still target based on in-marketing (those actively shopping or searching) and affinity interests (signals based on hobbies or interests).

Someone searching for a home loan would be in-market, while being a dog lover would be considered an affinity.

These signals may not be as specific or granular as something like age or ZIP code. But they can still tell you plenty about your audience. They can also inform how you create your ads — like putting a photo of a dog next to a home in your ad, for example.

Pro tip: You can also use affinity interests (such as shopping for baby clothes or searching for areas with good elementary schools) as an “observation” setting vs. a targeting parameter. Monitor the campaign performance, then reconfigure your targeting or create new campaigns as needed based on the results.

The takeaway

We don’t need a crystal ball to predict that search algorithms will continue advancing just as people will continue using the internet for just about everything.

With that in mind, it’s wise for marketers to zoom out and think creatively about their audiences, based on things outside of generic demographics.

These policy changes provide an opportunity to dig into your audiences rather than taking the more black-and-white info you’ve gathered about them at face value.

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Think about what they’re looking for in a home, where they are in life, what else may be going on in their lives, and what values they hold.

This inject a healthy dose of empathy into your ad campaign creation processes. It’ll also add a level of personalization that is sure to bring about positive effects.

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