What is Flexible Reach in Google Ads?

March 14, 2019

The flexible reach setting can be a confusing. In this blog I’ll go over what it is, when to use observation versus targeting, and how to change these settings in both the UI and Google Adwords Editor.

What is Flexible Reach?

Flexible reach is a setting within Google Ads that allows you to either target or observe the performance of specific topics, placements, audiences, genders, ages, parental statuses, or household incomes. These settings can all be set to targeting or observation at the ad group level, while audiences can be set at either the campaign or ad group level. Google will use the most granular setting so if you have different settings for campaign and ad group, google will use the ad group setting.


audience isolation


Flexible reach has two options: Targeting and Observation.

What is Targeting and When Should You Use It

When your flexible reach settings are set to ‘Targeting’ this means that you will only show your ads to users who meet these requirements. For example, if you want to have a display campaign only targeting certain placements you must have the flexible reach for placements setting set to ‘targeting’. That way your ads will ONLY show on the placements you’ve added. If you do not have the setting set to ‘targeting’ your ads will show on the entire GDN, which would not be optimal and cause for some wasted spend.

What is Observation and When Should You Use It

When your flexible reach setting is set to ‘observation’ this means that Google will observe and report performance about users who meet these requirements. For example, if you have an audience overlayed on a search campaign and simply want to see how users in this audience perform, segmented from the rest of the audience, you’d want to have your flexible reach set to ‘observation’. If it were set to targeting, you’d only show ads to users within this audience. This is good for tracking details like demographics data or audience segments within campaigns, without isolating targeting to just those segments. We often apply demographics as observational so we can see which age group or gender is the most responsive to advertising.

How to Change Flexible Reach in the Google Ads UI

First go to the targeting section in which you’d like to change the flexible reach setting; audiences, topics, or placements. Then click the big blue plus button and select the campaign or ad group in which you want to make these changes. Here you will see options to change the flexible reach to either ‘targeting’ or ‘observation’.

flexible reach settings google ads

Finally, select save.

How to Change Flexible Reach in Google Adwords Editor

In order to change the flexible reach settings in Google Adwords Editor, first download the campaigns you want to edit. You can then select the campaigns and go to the flexible reach settings at either the campaign level or ad group level.

Once you’ve adjusted the settings you can post your changes and they will be live.

I personally believe that adjusting the flexible reach from Editor is far easier. This method allows you to bulk edit campaigns and ad groups all at once, something you cannot do from the UI. It also allows you to quickly check these settings to make sure they are all set up properly. Another tip: you can use Editor to quickly check if there are discrepancies between the Flexible reach settings at the campaign and ad group level to ensure you are using the correct setting.