6 Tactics That May Put You At Risk Of Being Banned From AdWords

Every few months, there is an outcry from advertisers because they received the dreaded notification email from Google – their accounts were banned. Some accounts eventually get reinstated, some companies are never allowed to advertise on Google again.

There are several reasons AdWords accounts may get banned; however, most accounts are banned for one of six reasons. You should note that Google does not look at just your active information – they do consider paused or deleted items when scanning accounts for infringing items.

In this article, we will examine those six most common reasons, so you can ensure that your account is not endanger of being blacklisted by Google.

Arbitrage Site With Too Many Ads

My very first column at Search Engine Land, almost four years ago, was about arbitrage. Arbitrage was a hot topic a few years ago, and while the topic has subsided in popularity, it still exits on the web today.

If an AdWords visitor lands on your site, and the only option above the fold is to click on an ad – it may be considered an arbitrage site. If the visitor then clicks on ad to then go to a merchant site, why shouldn’t that same visitor have just clicked on the merchant ad on AdWords and saved themselves some time from that extra click?

As the site did not provide any additional value to the advertiser, it is in danger of being blacklisted.

To save your arbitrage site from being blacklisted, add more content above the fold. If you are selling ads directly to advertisers, then add more options about the advertisers than Google provides. You need to provide additional value to the searcher with unique content, and not have a page where the content is just ads.

Rebilling Nightmares

We can easily blame the acai berry / colon cleansing / get rich tomorrow / look beautiful forever marketplace for the rebilling nightmare that has caused membership sites to suffer the wrath of Google.

Many of these sites hid the fact that by buying a product, you weren’t actually buying a single product. In fact, you were enrolling in a membership site that would rebill you on a regular basis.

There has been much written in traditional media about these sites where you had fourteen days to cancel, but the product arrived 21 days later, and because it was past the cancellation date you would be rebilled again. If you tried to cancel on one of these sites, you were often lost in a maze of forms, redirected phone calls, and chargeback requests.

Regardless of the roots of the rebilling nightmare, Google keeps a close eye on sites that do engage in rebilling. Rebilling is not inherently bad or good in Google’s eyes. Google looks at the disclaimers and notifications on the website to make sure the consumer knows they will be rebilled.

If your site calls out the fact it is a recurring charge and is easy to spot, then you will most likely be OK. If your site hides the rebilling facts in the TOS or elsewhere on the page, then you may be endanger of losing your account. If you engage in rebilling, your best defense is to make it clear to the consumer that this is not a one time charge, but in fact they will be billed on an ongoing basis.

Free Offers That Aren’t Really Free

This is a large category that covers several different types of products.

The most common products in this arena are free downloads that have extremely limited functionality. You may see a free offer to download software that will speed up your computer. You download the software, run it,  and the software informs you that you have 1893 problems that can be fixed. However, you need to purchase the software to find out what the problems are. This is an example of limited software functionality.

In this case, it is also about disclosure to the consumer. If you call out the fact that the software will show you the top 20 problems, or will only give you a free diagnosis, then you are often OK in Google’s eyes. This disclosure cannot be hidden in a footer or TOS. It must be clear to the consumer that the product only provides a limited amount of functionality and that they have to purchase the product to unlock its full power.

Another category of free offers are ones where you land on a page and must fill out twenty offers to receive your free iPad. This was a scourge among ads a few years ago and Google has cleaned up most of them.

If your ad offers something for free, it must be easy for the consumer to attain. Filling out a single contact or lead generation form to receive the free whitepaper is acceptable. Filling out twenty offers, or sending an offer to twenty friends who must then click on the link and fill out a form before the consumer receives their free product is not OK.

Jump Pages, Bridge Pages, Thin Pages

Jump pages or thin pages are almost always affiliate landing pages. These are pages that exist for one purpose – for you to end up on the merchant’s site with the affiliate’s cookie firmly attached to the visitor’s browser. These pages provide no additional functions, features, or information except to send the visitor to another website.

The reason Google doesn’t like these pages is the same as the arbitrage reasons above. Why shouldn’t the searcher have gone to the merchant’s site directly? There was just another click and wasted time along the way to the real information.

Google doesn’t hate affiliates. Google just doesn’t like sites that do not enhance the search experience. If the site compares ten products, shows you the advantages and disadvantages of various merchants, provides advice about buying a product, etc – then the site will often pass Google’s TOS.

If the site does not enhance the search experience, expect it may eventually be banned from Google.

Double, Triple, Or Quadruple Ad Serving

Before January 2005, often a searcher would see multiple ads for the same company. Usually one was the merchant and several more were affiliates. This restricted user choice in a search result.

After the change, unscrupulous advertisers would create multiple sites and multiple AdWords accounts in order to have more than one ad on a search result page. This is clearly against Google’s TOS.

The problem with double or triple ad serving is that it often works for a long time before it is noticed and dealt with. This leads competitors to complain at first, then notice the accounts are not being banned, and it tempts the legitimate advertisers to try creating multiple sites and multiple accounts in order to compete with the unscrupulous advertisers.

It might work for a day. Often it works for much longer. However, if you get caught, you could lose the ability to advertise on Google forever.

Personally, I wish Google was better at catching this problem. I will see advertisers report these issues for months and nothing happens. Sometimes it’s so blatantly obvious as there will be exact copies of the same website from multiple ads that you have to wonder why these reported infractions are not dealt with by Google.

These ongoing issues lead legitimate advertisers to think that its easy to get away with multiple ad serving. The advertiser’s choice is to go to the dark side to compete, or play it safe and watch their competitors continue to benefit from multiple ad serving.

Cloaking

Usually the word cloaking is associated with SEO, but it’s been an issue on the ad side for years. Googlebot and Google employees see one website, those who click on ads from other IP addresses see another website. Sometimes, this means the landing page is actually breaking many policies, which the other advertisers see and wish to report; but when Google employees look at the site everything looks OK and no action is taken.

When combined with multiple ad serving, this drives other advertisers crazy. Usually, the other advertisers do not know cloaking is involved. They see the same site from multiple ads. Google employees see different websites from multiple ads.

If Google actually catches you cloaking, expect your account to be banned and any and all appeals to be reinstated fail.

Conclusion

There are other reasons advertisers get banned, such as repeatedly violating trademark policies, repeatedly violating image ad policies, etc. It is useful to take a look at Google’s site policies.

However, the most common reasons ads are banned are not related to the AdWords account directly (except for multiple ad serving). The most common reasons are mostly related to the landing page and website.

If your landing page provides:

  • Provides unique and good content
  • Provides user choice
  • Clearly informs users about any disclaimers regarding product functions or billing
  • Does not auto-install malware
  • Does not misuse consumer’s information
  • Does not make inaccurate or misleading claims
  • Does not violate other Google policies

Then, usually your website is not in danger of being banned.

It is better to be clear to the searcher and lower your conversion rate and profit by a little bit than one day losing access to the largest source of paid traffic on the planet.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column

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About The Author: is the Founder of Certified Knowledge, a company dedicated to PPC education & training; fficial Google AdWords Seminar Leader, and author of Advanced Google AdWords.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.renaissance.co.il Jackie Goldstein

    Regarding bridge pages: What about incentive marketing sites, such as we-care.com or onecause.com?

  • http://andybeard.eu AndyBeard

    I think you might be underestimating some of the issues.

    1. Data collection – I have seen a situation fairly recently where someone with a high quality blog driving traffic to his home page which was a static page, lot of links, privacy policy, disclaimers etc, links to recent blog articles… and an email list opt-in form.

    Google gave him a first and final warning about being a data collection page – no further discussion.

    2. First party shopping cart hosted on another domain was mistaken as being a thin affiliate doorway page.
    An affiliate was driving traffic directly to that sales landing page which possibly wasn’t ideal… as it contained primarily a video sales letter, but it was still high production quality, full legal papers etc.

    Google hit the affiliate for driving traffic to a doorway page

    Google have 2 major problems

    a) Poor communication
    b) Incompetent staff – not all of them but if there is no room to discuss and sort out issues as a small business owner, it is just written off as customers falling through the cracks.

    There are also 2 minor problems
    c) extremely poor documentation and support
    d) extremely cluttered search results from their forums and poor internal search

    There are people making decisions that are killing off the legitimate marketing efforts of small businesses.

  • http://www.adwords-adviser.co.uk/know-adrian AdWords Adviser

    Facinating article. I get lots of questions from AdWords users who have had their website banned and don’t know why. I used to send them to AdWords terms and conditions, but now I am going to show them this web page.

  • Dave83

    Great article- your advice is spot on! I only wish that I had read it six months ago before I was permanently banned for promoting ewan chias 24 hour internet. I had actually tried the product myself and felt that I well and truly got my moneys worth, so why not promote it? Being new to affiliate marketing (it was something I was giving a try on the side) I didn’t really know what I was doing, so the minute that I got the dreaded warning letter from google I immediately deleted the campaign completely. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough for them, a few months later when I logged back in they had banned my account. Having received no explanation whatsoever, and unable to navigate the horrible mess that they call “help” files, I wrote an extremely polite email to them to seek forgiveness and advice. I received an equally polite reply informing me that there was no mistake, and yes I was banned.. For life! (You get less than that for murder these days) It seemed a bit over the top, especially since I had said I would do whatever it takes to fix it, and it was an honest mistake. I suppose this is what you get when a couple of kids start up an internet business straight out of college with no real world experience(I don’t actually know how old they are but I am assuming they are immature from the way they run their business). Anyway, that was my brief experience in Google Adwords. I am much more aware now, and looking at other options such as Yahoo, and Bing- I mean, what else can I do? Not much point fighting them, just got to cut my losses and keep moving on. What really rubbed salt into the wound though was seeing the Google head-honcho on a business show here in Australia the other day. He was saying how easy it was to start a business on the net, especially using Adwords to send traffic to your site. One of the benefits, he said, was the ability to tweak and experiment with different campaigns. What a joke! One strike and you’re out! It would seem that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, this guy doesn’t seem to know what is actually happening within his own company. You had better know what you are doing before you start experimenting with different campaigns, as I was. It is hard to believe, but what you have said is true- even if the campaign is no longer running, Google can and will ban you forever for a campaign that you have run in the past!
    Believe it or not I can actually appreciate what they are trying to do, just not the way that they are going about it. They need to be waay more open about the rules, and waay more helpful and patient with newbies. This has really left a bad taste in my mouth, and has opened my eyes to other options out there that I was not previously aware of. Who else does that.. willingly sends their hard-won customers to the opposition? I can only hope that this is the beginning of the end for Google, but seeing their market share I suppose they can afford to be so arrogant.. For now anyway.

  • http://www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk SteveBaker

    Hi Brad,

    The point about Arbitrage is a good one. Google’s own guidelines are pretty vague: http://bit.ly/huuz6P. “Websites whose primary purpose is for users to click on ads that redirect to other sites” are not allowed, but “Websites that have more content than ads” are allowed.

    But recently, they’ve started to encourage advertisers to use Adsense in conjunction with their Adwords account: http://bit.ly/e5iNb9. Their case study actually states that “We have come to think of AdSense revenue as a partial but instant rebate on our AdWords investment,”

    So clearly, you are allowed to use Adsense to generate income to offset your Adwords costs (Google encourage this), but if your adverts are promoted too heavily, you can be banned.

    There’s a line that you can’t cross, and Google don’t even tell you where the line is (or mention that there is one, when promoting Adsense).

    In fact, if you actually look at the website that Google hold up as a shining example of good Adsense usage, you find that they don’t actually sell anything. Every product link on their site heads off to a different website!

    Taking all of this together, it’s not surprising that advertisers are getting confused, and making mistakes. Google do say that they have a range of penalties, and I’d hope that they only ban sites that are clearly and deliberately running their website to take money from Google, but it’s a real minefield for advertisers…

    Steve Baker
    Chief Analyst
    Epiphany Solutions

 

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