Has Your Business Gone International Unintentionally?

Has Your Business Gone International Unintentionally?

It’s a common experience for many businesses to find themselves reaching audiences they hadn’t deliberately targeted. This can either be in the form of unexpected orders from outside your target market or just web traffic from users located in non-target geographies. Sometimes it can be hard to pin down exactly why your business is getting attention from these locations. But often this can present your business with new and exciting opportunities.

Businesses will occasionally find themselves receiving orders from overseas territories that they hadn’t meant to reach out to. Often this is a sale that’s welcome, albeit somewhat unexpected. In these cases, someone in the order fulfilment team usually has to scramble to arrange shipping and hastily find out what the relevant market rules and regulations for imports are.

It’s always best to be prepared for these unexpected sales but many small or locally-focused businesses just won’t see it coming until it happens. In some circumstances, you’ll need to refuse to fulfil the sale – for example, if there are regulations preventing you exporting to that country.

It’s best to have a payment system in place that can handle the payment and also a shipping service that can fulfil it. Not all businesses manage to plan that far ahead and end up having to make decisions quickly when an order comes in from an unexpected destination.

Strange traffic

Many businesses also find themselves surprised by web traffic patterns that don’t make immediate sense to them. Locally-focused businesses may notice their website is seeing a large volume of traffic from abroad, without any clear reason.

It’s particularly baffling when the traffic comes from a market that operates in a different language to the ones used on your website. Low volumes can often be explained by expat activity but higher volumes of traffic from unfamiliar markets may be a cause for concern. That’s especially true if the unwanted attention is coming from paid campaign activities that you’ve not targeted properly.

To check what volume of international traffic your website is seeing, go to your analytics dashboard. If you’re using Google Analytics, go to ‘Audience’, then ‘Geo’, then ‘Locations’. You may be surprised by what you see.

Sometimes there’s a relatively simple explanation for unexpected visitor patterns. If you’ve used web services based overseas it’s quite common to see residual traffic from the same territories, even long after you’ve finished using the supplier.

Web design and SEO service providers often focus their activities locally, meaning your business may be registered in local directories even if your business activities are located in a completely different territory. You can try to rectify this by asking the relevant directories to remove your site.

If you’ve recently completed an ad campaign, check your targeting. If you’ve not targeted your ad activity on your intended market that may explain why you’re getting traffic from unexpected quarters. It’s an expensive mistake to make but just learn from this and tighten up your ad targeting practices in future.

Fake traffic

Fake traffic is artificial online activity generated by click farms, bots and other types of software – sometimes illegally installed on your own website. The scale of this fake activity is often quite astonishing. You can usually spot this fake traffic because it may be a lot of requests in a short period of time which have an unusually high bounce rate and very brief session duration, indicating a bunch of bots just visited a single page and then left almost immediately.

If you’re also spotting a big influx of traffic from unusual locations that may also be a sign of bot activity. An example of this would be if your English-only website suddenly sees a lot of traffic from China or Russia. Essentially you need to use your judgement to decide whether your traffic looks abnormal and whether any new influx of traffic cannot be explained by your marketing activity.

Usually, the purpose of fake traffic is to boost ad revenue by artificially inflating web visitor activity. So-called ‘ghost spam’ is disguised referral traffic that aims to get you to click through from your analytics data to another website, thus inflating that website’s visitor data in an unscrupulous way.

Ghost spam diagram

Image source: Moz

This ghost spam traffic uses a fake hostname and often disappears from your analytics after a few days but in the meantime, it really distorts your reporting. You can filter many of the worst offenders out of your reporting – check with your data analytics provider as most offer a solution.

There’s one other possible explanation for bizarre web traffic. If you’ve been using an unscrupulous provider to generate traffic you may see a lot of fruitless hits on your site. Poor value traffic generators tend to source useless traffic at high volume. If you’re paying for traffic make sure you’re keeping an eye on the analytics so you can assess the true value of what you are paying for.

One way to do this is to use segmentation tools from your analytics provider to identify traffic by origin. You should be able to identify the conversion rates for each geography. Be particularly wary of high volumes of traffic with low conversion rates that can be traced to a particular country of origin.

This is worth exploring further. Maybe this traffic is genuine but represents a pattern of visitors failing to convert because of something you have control over. Maybe you’re not offering a payment method these users feel comfortable with, or shipping to this geography is too expensive. It could be the case that you can make some changes to your business that help convert this traffic at a higher rate.


Sometimes unusual patterns of web activity can be traced back to your website having a rogue twin in another territory. That’s a particular risk for well-known brands but can affect brands that aren’t household names too. There are free services that can help you monitor whether your content is being cloned elsewhere but an easy way to do it is to paste chunks of your content into Google and see what is returned by search.

Whilst it’s very frustrating to see your content copied elsewhere, it’s usually not as impactful on your search rankings as you might initially fear.

Google is pretty good at identifying (and penalising) the culprit just by identifying which version of the content was published first or has the most authority and genuine users. Your best approach is probably to pursue a DMCA takedown notice with top search engines in the relevant markets. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for plagiarism, particularly if you’re defending a brand.

Blocking traffic from certain places

Sometimes a vendor will make the difficult decision to block web traffic from some destinations. It’s always a tricky decision but sometimes it’s done for good reasons. Sometimes the traffic from some parts of the world is 99% bots, brute force hacking attempts or vulnerability scanners looking for a way to access the systems that power your site.

Sometimes vendors just need more time to reach a position of being compliant with the regulations in a particular territory. And sometimes it’s just simply not feasible to serve customers located in a particular location, perhaps because goods can’t get to them reliably via available delivery partners or it just costs too much to serve customers in those locations.

If your business makes the decision to block customers from some locations there are a number of ways to go about implementing this. Check whether your hosting company offers this facility as part of their controls – be aware that not many do but it’s worth checking anyway.

You can try using website security or content delivery networks with geotools like CloudFlare to block certain countries from accessing your content. That’s a solution often used if you have a licensing concern when it comes to showing media content in a particular country or area such as the EU.

Content delivery network example

Image source: CloudFlare

You can also block traffic at the application layer. This may lead to a lag for all users of your website. You can also approach this using APIs, which can often be pretty fast, to minimise the lag. Using a proxy service on your domain is perhaps the best option for many businesses trying to block traffic on a country by country basis and proxy services usually offer other security benefits too.

Whatever approach you take, just make sure that blocking traffic from that country is definitely the right solution to your problem. It’s quite common for web owners to try to block traffic from one location as a reaction against plagiarism that seems to originate from a particular part of the world.

Blocking all users from that territory may not be the best approach and all blocking approaches tend to have its disadvantages. You don’t want to disadvantage other users, such as by slowing down your page loading times, when other solutions exist to combat web content plagiarism.

A belt and braces approach

If you’re blocking traffic to your main website make sure you’re not inviting that same traffic through other channels. You’ll want to avoid targeting those users with your Google paid search or Facebook ads (you should be doing this anyway by targeting those properly in the first place!).

Once you make a decision to block that traffic, take the time to check your efforts in search and social advertising to make sure you’re taking a belt and braces approach. It’s always a good idea to keep reviewing your geo-targeting efforts anyway.

You may find it difficult to identify the location of everyone in your email marketing lists, such as those that have signed up for your newsletter. If you have their location information it’s advisable to avoid sending them communications in the future. It’s not always possible to identify all your email contacts by their location though.

Remember that you’ll also need to make a decision about how to handle past customers from the blocked territories. They probably have every right to reach your content and may need to do so to follow up on their past purchases. It’s tricky to figure out how to handle this situation.

Positive targeting

You’ll probably notice that traffic from some locations tends to be more lucrative than others, perhaps because there are lower costs of serving those customers or because they tend to place bigger orders. Whilst you might not want to take the extreme step of excluding traffic from less profitable areas, it’s a good idea to target users from the more profitable locations.

Try to analyse your web traffic by user location to see which areas are most profitable and then aim to localise your site into their native language and target your efforts on users from those locations.

There are a number of ways to do this. Maybe start by concentrating any paid acquisition campaigns at the more profitable locations. You can do this by targeting Google ads by geography. You can do the same with your Facebook ads using advanced location targeting.

Another approach is to use language as a further means of targeting. You may find that users who interact with your content in particular languages are more profitable than others.

Services such as Bing and Google Ads help you target users by their language as well as their location. That’s particularly useful in complex language markets or ones with large numbers of expats.

§If you find your site is attracting unexpected volumes of international traffic, don’t panic. Whether the explanation is benign or not there’s likely to be something you can do to either address the issue or even benefit from it.

Perhaps the most important lesson is not to ignore your web analytics but to try to make sense of the source of your traffic and take advantage of any opportunities that overseas traffic may provide in order to grow your business.

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