Dear Google: Allow US Advertisers To Exclude Sanctioned Countries

Earlier this year I wrote about how I noticed clicks from countries like Iran, Cuba, Syria, etc. that were under OFAC sanctions (meaning US companies cannot do business with companies in these countries). I’ve talked with many advertisers since then who have seen the same issue. The issue even got picked up by Wired.

My initial reaction was that Google was just being greedy. No one specific advertiser is getting charged too much for these clicks so most will just let it slide. In aggregate it’s probably a few million dollars of revenue to Google though. But the problem seems to be getting worse, not better for advertisers.

The Situation

My client is running a very straightforward campaign for business consulting services in the United States. We capture leads, the sales team follows up with them to see if we can work together. Last week, we got a lead from a very nice fellow in Iran. He has a LinkedIn profile, the company is legit and has a website. Only problem is we can’t work with him because of OFAC sanctions.

Of course, the client wondered why we got a lead from Iran. Here is how the campaign’s targeting is set up:

And here’s the report for the 27th-28th of August:

I was understandably puzzled so I went to the user location report to see where the conversion was attributed. While the conversion tracks just fine at the campaign level, ad group level and keyword level it disappears in the user location report (or any location reports for that matter).

Is Google Hiding Clicks?

Here is a screenshot of the user location report for August 27-28. The lead in my client’s CRM was time-stamped on the morning of the 27th. As you can see in the screenshot above, Google reported a conversion. However, that conversion is nowhere to be found in this report:

I added up all the clicks from all 50 states and got 37, which is one short again. I followed up with Google support about the issue (after giving it a full 24 hours) and they said the following:

I forwarded the issue to the concerned team and would like to inform that the Conversion Report is not available on the User Location Report, that is why you are not able to find it. This is expected behavior. The aggregate of statistics under a more granular level will not necessary equal the statistics under the less granular level.

This happens when the less granular level of location is the most granular data that we have in other words, we know that the user was in the United States, but for some reason we were not able to determine which state (or city and etc) the user was in when the ad was triggered.

If you add up all the clicks and impressions from the state level User Location Report you can see that the numbers don’t match. The United States has 36 clicks and 2227 impressions, while the sum of 50 states has 35 clicks and 2194 impressions.

This is a well-measured response, but it’s somewhat suspicious that the only conversion in the last 2 months, which happens to match up with an Iranian contact in the CRM, is the only one that doesn’t have state-level location attached to it.

Google, Please Respond

I’m not a conspiracy guy, but the optics here are really bad for Google. They allow the impressions & clicks in these countries but won’t allow advertisers to prevent the waste. So here’s my suggestion:

Give advertisers the ability to exclude ALL countries.

Really, you could go further and make these countries excluded by default for all US-based advertisers. That would be the better solution, but I’ll settle for the simple one above because obviously, I don’t want my clients spending any money on clicks from these countries where they can’t do business.