Work With the Rules

A website that I am heavily involved in has a restriction on it – they are not allowed to offer their services within the US, based on the nature of their industry and the licensing restrictions imposed by their governing body. This is, from a strictly technical point of view, a fairly trivial issue to deal with – check the IP address of the visitor, and if it’s in the US, redirect them to another site. When a user tries to register, if they enter their country of residence as the US, we inform them that we currently do not service the US market.

However, we were thrown a twist when we realized that the site was not being indexed by Google. This was because the search engine was using spiders with US IP addresses, and so they were being rerouted as well. Not only was this not our intention, we were being penalized for following the rules.

Since the site is undergoing a rebuild at the moment, we decided to bypass the issue for the current version of the site, as it would take a significant amount of work to cope with it. However, we looked at the long-term plans for the site, and found a solution.

While we have no intention of defying the regulations, we took a closer look at what those regulations are. As they stand, while the site cannot service US-based users, it can inform them of the service. The solution was therefore to not redirect users, but to inform all users whom we believe to be located in the US that they cannot register with the site, nor can they log in (thereby preventing them from having friends outside the country create accounts on their behalf), but they can browse as guests.

What this achieves is that the search engines, which are not trying to register or actually make use of the service, can now browse the site. Additionally, changes in the regulations would result in a relatively trivial change on the site, with their marketing and promotions already present in the US.

However, the real lesson here is that when faced with a rule or regulation that seems to pose difficulties to your business, remember to read the fine print. You will often find that even without violating the rules, you can still solve the problem you face as a side effect of a random regulation.