By Susan Waldes, Account Director

One of my lead-gen clients has a form that allows users to select their country. So I set all of our targeting to United States-only and expected to see data saying 100% of the users are coming from the U.S. Simple, right?

You’d think. But for the last month, the client has seen about 15% of the domestic Google leads select their country as non-U.S. locations. This was spread across search and content campaigns and various ads and targets, and the leads were coming from various countries. I quadruple-checked to make sure all our targeting was set to United States-only and set to “people in my target location.”

Since that checked out, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I engaged our Google rep. Snippets from the answer I got:

“When we don’t have enough information to map an IP address range to a particular country, we default the location to the US.”

“The tech team is working on a long-term fix but for now the only potential workaround is to switch from targeting the US as a country to the individual states.” 

Checking my geo reports showed that the international leads in question aligned pretty closely with what Google reports as in the United States but with an “Unspecified” state.

So, bottom line is that if you are using a full U.S. footprint, you are probably getting some non-U.S. traffic. Switch your targeting to all 50 states (and DC) instead. I implemented this solution, and the international leads have stopped.

I still have a couple of questions outstanding with Google on this:

1. Is this true for all countries or only the U.S.? Does the language of the page content or search phrase create a country assumption when Google can’t collect the IP address?

2. Is this new? I can think of a couple scenarios in the past where I think I would have noticed this. I suspect this is a consequence of the recent switch to being able to select actual location vs. intent.

Anybody know the answers to these? Post them in the comments! But first, go change your geo settings!

Susan Waldes, Account Director


  1. rodnitzky July 9th, 2012

    Is Your US AdWords Traffic Really Coming From the US?

  2. toddmintz July 9th, 2012

    Is Your US AdWords Traffic Really Coming From the US? | PPC Associates Blog

  3. Dave Davis July 9th, 2012

    This has always been the case. I’m surprised they have the number down to 15% and I would imagine for certain search verticals, it’s a lot higher.

    Best practice has always been to select all states as it has the added benefit of showing the users search location below the ad, even when the business is not located in that state. Giving it an almost “fake local” label.

    CTRs across the board are higher and not just because of the non-us traffic.

  4. Bryant Garvin July 9th, 2012

    Susan Thanks for the heads up. This is a common problem I saw frequently when I dealt with Ad Operations. This is no surprise that this is happening… Our current methodology of Geotargeting based off of IP addresses is not the best, but the best for the moment, and one most companies use.

    My guess as to why they are defaulting to US is two score, 1) possibly because they are on the main domain instead of a country specific domain and 2) because that is where the largest possibility for revenue is going to come.

  5. Susan Waldes July 9th, 2012

    @Bryant. Yes, it is understandable that this would happen. It’d be nice if they offered a simple opt out though. One additional aside is that this client uses a third party platform for reporting and bid management. For most of these leads where Google did not know the IP, this third party system did catch the IPs.

    @Dave, I rarely see the state/city line on ads these days. It could just be the industries I deal with now, but does Google still use those much?

  6. streamline July 9th, 2012

    RT @JaimeTSikora: Is Your US AdWords Traffic Really Coming From the US? | PPC Associates Blog #ppcchat #ohadwords

  7. guerrieo July 10th, 2012

    Is Your US AdWords Traffic Really Coming From the US? – @PPCAssociates

  8. Peter August 15th, 2012

    Wow, This is great stuff. Google being lazy? Keep it coming, looking forward to the next installment :)

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Susan Waldes
Susan Waldes has worked in the search engine marketing industry since 1999; she is currently the SVP of Client Services at Fivemill Marketing. Susan has handled a multitude of lead generation, branding, and eCommerce clients in her previous roles at ROI Revolution and Rockett Interactive and as an independent SEM consultant. Susan has a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. Susan has contributed insights about SEM and client relationships to other highly regarded outlets, including