user location reports
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Are You Checking “User Location” Reports in Google Ads?

Google Ads location targeting allows advertisers to choose who can see their ads and prevent them from showing in areas they cannot serve. Google uses a variety of signals such as user settings, device, and search activity to determine where a user is located each time they search. In Ads reporting, you will see two types of locations reported: Targeted Locations and Matched Locations. “Targeted Locations” are the physical locations where your users are when they search, usually based on their IP address or device GPS. “Matched Locations” are determined by the intent of the user’s search query or recent search history. In the examples below, you’ll see what can happen when Google gets a little too loose with their “Matched Location” targeting.

Here’s how one of our clients’ display network campaigns performed last month:

A screenshot of Google Ads location report showing ads are targeted to the United States

These are pretty decent numbers for a display campaign. 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:

A screenshot of Google Ads location report that shows ads serving in Ukraine, India and the Netherlands

This is the same campaign, but now you’re looking at Google Ads’ “User Location” report. According to Google, people in Ukraine, India, and the Netherlands showed “interest in” the United States. On the search network, that concept works. If I search for “widgets in Philadelphia,” I might not be located in Philadelphia, but I’ve told Google that I’m looking to buy a product there. But how does that work with a display ad? I can pretty much guarantee these are not qualified leads since they live so far away.

I found worse examples of this when I dug deeper. Here’s Google showing my ad in Iran:

A screenshot of Google Ads location report that shows ads serving in Iran

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, Google Ads isn’t available to advertisers in the following countries or territories (with criterion ID):

  • Crimea (21120)
  • Cuba (2192)
  • So-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) (21113)
  • Iran (2364)
  • So-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) (21111)
  • North Korea (2408)
  • Sevastopol city (21583)
  • Syria (2760)

We have examples of ads showing in the other countries as well. Furthermore, we 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.”

A screenshot of Google Ads that says locations are not eligible for exclusion

We have examples of this happening in many different accounts on many different campaign types, including search, targeted, display targeted, and universal app campaigns.

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.

A screenshot of Google Ads “location options” campaign settings

Bonus content: Here’s a list of all of the countries you can exclude in Google Ads; just upload it into Editor and delete the countries you want to target: Negative Countries for Google Ads

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