Why Is Google Ads Allowing Ads In Restricted Countries?

The other day I was doing an audit of geographical performance so I could set up some bid modifiers. In the Google Ads interface there are a few ways to view that data; the Geographic Report that shows performance by targeted locations (whether the user is physically located there or if they showed interest in that location) and the User Location Report that shows performance ONLY when the user is physically located there. See the screenshot below.

I was looking at a User Location Report and saw ads being displayed in lots of bizarre countries, so I started adding geographic exclusions for those countries. However, I kept getting an error message reading “At least one of the selected locations is not available for targeting nor exclusion.” After some trial and error, I managed to isolate one of the countries causing the problem: Sudan!

Google Shows Ads, But Won’t Let Advertisers Exclude

I did some digging in Google Ads Help to figure out what was up. I eventually came up with this article about country restrictions. On that page we learn that due to US sanctions, there are 6 countries that you can’t target nor exclude:

  • Crimea
  • Cuba
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Sudan
  • Syria

Okay, I can live with the restriction. I’m all about honoring the law. But this is the worst-possible way to handle this situation. Remember, this is a User Location Report so we know these clicks and impressions happened with users physically located in Sudan. But because Google won’t let me target NOR EXCLUDE these countries I’m stuck paying for these clicks even if I don’t want them.

What Google Should Be Doing

If the sanctions don’t allow advertisers to target or exclude, then Google should be preventing these ad impressions by default. This is likely what the OFAC restrictions were trying to accomplish anyway and it seems like the right thing to do for your advertisers’ user experience. Come on, Google!

Have you encountered this issue? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.