Here’s how one of my clients’ display network campaigns performed last month:
Looks decent for a display campaign, right? We weren’t even trying to get conversions, just generate brand awareness in the United States using custom affinity audiences.
Now, take a closer look:
This is the same campaign, but now you’re looking at Google Ads’ (formerly AdWords) “User Location” report. According to Google, people in the Ukraine, India and the Netherlands showed “interest in” the United States. I get how that works on the search network. I might not be located in Philadelphia, and yet I’m looking for a service there. But how does that work with a display ad? I can pretty much guarantee these are not qualified leads.
It gets worse. Here’s Google showing my ad in Iran:
That’s not good. According to Google’s article titled “Understanding AdWords and AdWords Express country restrictions”:
Google must comply with sanctions imposed by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As a result, AdWords isn’t available to advertisers in the following countries or territories:
I could provide examples of ads showing in the other countries as well, but ain’t nobody got time for that. Another fun fact is that I can’t exclude Iran from being targeted because, from the same article, “Countries or territories subject to OFAC sanctions are not able to be targeted (and do not appear as targeting exclusions) in AdWords.”
Last, but not least, I have examples of this happening in many different accounts on many different campaign types, including search, targeted, display targeted, and universal app campaigns. I reached out to Google Ads via tweet for an explanation but didn’t get a reply.
If you haven’t been checking your user location reports, I suggest you take a peek today and see if you’re having a similar issue. I know I’ve checked these reports for clients in the past and never ran into this problem, so I’m assuming this is a new tweak to targeting that Google has made. As far as I can tell, the only way to stop ads from showing in sanctioned countries is to change your campaign’s “Location options” to the non-recommended settings.
Please let us know in the comments if you’re having similar issues – we haven’t seen anyone else talking about this problem and would love to make sure we’re not crazy.