Google’s Big Mistake

I love Google. I really do. They’re true Internet pioneers.

But lately, I’m becoming a bit disillusioned with Google. They’re becoming more difficult to work with, more heavy-handed in their application of rules, less responsive to customer feedback.

Case in point:

Recently Google banned my ads promoting a long-form sales letter on this blog that has a lead capture form at the bottom even though I have a full nav bar, legal disclaimers, and more than 250 articles on my site!

What really irritated me is that they had never sent me any prior warnings — and yet sent me an email that implied they had repeatedly warned me and I was unresponsive. Uh, no. The “final warning” was the first one I had received.

Here is the email they sent me.

Subject:

Final Warning: Your Google AdWords account has multiple violations

Body:

Dear advertiser,

We are writing to let you know that your Google AdWords account is at risk of being suspended due to multiple violations related to our Advertising Policies, including the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines. Below is a list of example display URLs of the sites in violation of these policies. Please check the existing ads in your account to ensure that they comply with these policies. Please be aware that this is your final warning, and any additional violations of our Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines will lead to immediate account suspension.

As part of our commitment to making the AdWords experience safe and effective for our users and our advertisers, we routinely review the landing pages that our advertisers promote through our search and content networks. If we find that an advertiser has submitted poor quality landing pages that do not comply with our Advertising Policies, including the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines, we reserve the right to take account-level action.

Landing pages advertised via AdWords must have relevant, original content, and must be transparent about the nature of the business being promoted. Further, advertisers are prohibited from promoting certain types of sites, which include, but are not limited to:

* Data collection sites that imply delivery of free items, etc., in order to collect private information
* Arbitrage sites without relevant and original content that are designed for the purpose of showing ads
* Affiliate sites without relevant and original content that are designed to drive traffic to another site with a different domain
* “Get-rich quick” sites that make unrealistic promises
* Sites that are deceptive
* Sites that distribute malware or spyware
* Extremely misleading/unverifiable or inaccurate claims

Please note that this action is related to sites that have recently been advertised through your account. In a review of your account history, we found that your account had submitted multiple sites that merited poor landing page quality evaluations. Advertisers that have a history of promoting poor quality landing pages are subject to account-level disabling.

So: Based on Google’s advertising guidelines, I can only assume that my landing pages have been classified as “data collection sites.” Therefore, I can’t advertise on Google.

But here’s the deal.

If I can’t capture some kind of information by offering something for free or selling something outright, then how in the world am I supposed to justify the advertising expense?

It seems Google is trying to permanently cement their position as “The One Who Rules the Internet” by favoring advertisers who run branding ads and “slapping” anybody who uses direct response techniques.

Is this a result of Google knowing too much… of their ability to see how well our sales pages are performing?

I can tell you one thing: They didn’t ban my ads and my site because I wasn’t generating leads. They banned it because I was generating leads.

My theory is that Google wants to make their advertisers totally dependent on them for traffic by prohibiting data collection. That way an advertiser will have to keep paying Google over and over and over again — and will never have an asset (e.g. an email list) they can use to create profits.

With that in mind, check out the discussion that has literally erupted over on Armand Morin’s blog. On Friday, September 3, he wrote an article called Major Google Issue… Affects Us All.

Apparently, Google is now banning advertisers who use what they call “bridge pages.”

Example: Armand’s ad directs people to SecretPPC.com. He then has his shopping cart hosted on GeneratorSoftware.com. Because the cart is not hosted on the same domain as the sales page, Google is defining SecretPPC.com as a “bridge page” between Google and the shopping cart — and banning the ad.

As I’m sure you’d agree, this logic is ridiculous. Lots of online sellers host their carts on a separate domain to avoid paying for multiple SSL certificates.

Furthermore, does this mean every product seller who uses Clickbank to process payments can no longer advertise on Google? What about PayPal?

More importantly, what about Google Checkout???

If Google is indeed banning “bridge pages,” then the implications will reverberate around the Internet for months, maybe years.

I can only speculate what Google’s motive is for all these heavy-handed rules.

But whatever it is, I believe Google’s brazenness will eventually backfire. They’re going to force advertisers to flee to a better medium. And when that happens, maybe Google will finally wake up to how unfriendly they’re becoming to the very businesses that support them.

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. For even more insight into Google’s new Adwords rules, check out this post (and follow the links for detailed info on Google’s Quality Score guidelines): Google’s Final Slap

Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

Shawn - September 4, 2010

Hey Ryan,

Great post! I was just about to write something similar on my blog cause the same exact thing happened to me recently.

I’ve spent over a million dollars with google up to this point. I’ve always used straight forward, direct response techniques with all my sites I’ve run on adwords.

I got the same “final warning” email last week… and they canceled the account the next day without any other warning and without telling me ANYTHING about what I did wrong.

It was a crippling issue, since almost all of my business is from referrals… but clients of mine that had this happen to them… their businesses have been greatly effected.

And even though I don’t see this as fair… and I’m sure it will come back to bite them in the long run… it just goes to show you that one should NEVER put most of their “traffic eggs” in one basket.

Like the old Tactic 7 series a while back that Harlan and others had… they approached business with a multi-faceted approach. Many spokes and many different streams of traffic, just in case one dried up… you still had others.

But I’ve read on blogs where SO many people have had their businesses shut down, just because they were forced off Google… it makes me wonder the “foundation and structure” of their businesses… if one advertising source can ruin them.

I’ve used direct mail in the past, ads in major magazines, all other ppc search engines… and facebook… but google always performed better than all those.

I think what this latest “ban” from google has done is force me to really evaluate all my traffic sources and it’s really made me think long and hard about how to diversify my traffic methods.

When google was doing so well for me, I kinda just got complacent.

But Google has since lost me as a customer… but I’m better for it because now I’m looking into so many other ways to get traffic to my businesses. What seemed like a curse has turned out to be a blessing in the end for me.

Good post Ryan,

Shawn Lebrun

    AndyBeard - September 6, 2010

    Shawn just to let you know, I just included an excerpt of your comment in my post here.
    http://andybeard.eu/3100/google-adwords-rules.html

    Just trying to get some more visibility to the issues as I managed to tag a story on techmeme.com

    p.s. Ryan, your landing page example is throwing up PHP errors

      Ryan Healy - September 6, 2010

      Thanks for the heads-up, Andy. Upgraded WordPress and Thesis yesterday, so probably has something to do with that. Will get it fixed.

      Ryan Healy - September 6, 2010

      Thanks for the heads-up, Andy. Upgraded WordPress and Thesis yesterday, so probably has something to do with that. Will get it fixed.

      Ryan Healy - September 6, 2010

      Turns out a file was inadvertently deleted during the WP upgrade. All fixed now.

    AndyBeard - September 6, 2010

    Shawn just to let you know, I just included an excerpt of your comment in my post here.
    http://andybeard.eu/3100/google-adwords-rules.html

    Just trying to get some more visibility to the issues as I managed to tag a story on techmeme.com

    p.s. Ryan, your landing page example is throwing up PHP errors

JosephRatliff - September 4, 2010

Guess we’ll have to start testing and using other forms of advertising then. ;)

But we have to ask the question…do the executives at Google see something with all the data they collect that supports their conclusions? Should we be following suit?

I doubt they are going to sabotage their own business…are they?

If someone reads your sales letter and doesn’t buy, and it was targeted and properly marketed, the reader may not have been in your target market.

Are we as direct marketers in Google’s market?

Kevin - September 4, 2010

Joseph,

That’s a good question. I’ve heard much speculation that Google wants the big-business bucks, and does not really care about entrepreneurs. But I have a hard time with that, seeing how small businesses are the majority of economic activity in America. Can Google really be so foolish as to pass on the biggest market in the world?

Still, like Obama, you can’t judge them by what they say… only by what they do. Know them by their fruits.

So yeah, I guess I agree with you.

JosephRatliff - September 5, 2010

Yeah, I just can’t see where a company as innovative as Google would intentionally ruin what they’ve built based on alienating the larger market of small to medium businesses (where most of the direct marketers reside).

But who knows Kevin, they might be totally missing the boat :) LOL

But if they aren’t missing the boat, and for some reason WE are as direct marketers…hmmm….

Don - September 5, 2010

You can’t really conclude that the violation was due to (or only to) “data collection.” It clearly states, “multiple violations,” although it is possible that whoever flagged you improperly selected that descriptor. You really need more data (but good luck getting it).

Google employs human reviewers who review sites, and I believe they may be home-based employees (perhaps not particularly sophisticated, and most likely very rigid). You may have been reviewed just after someone had looked at 100 “work at home” sites and they had by that time developed a trigger finger. Worse, even if your review was inaccurate – Google simply has no empowered customer service to speak of and are incredibly difficult to penetrate and communicate with in any logical fashion.

The fact is, Google prefers large corporate advertisers, and smaller, local advertisers. The former because they run more “informational in appearance” sites (such as catalog sites), and the latter, because small businesses tend to be inept and drive up the cost of advertising for everybody just by paricipating. Direct marketers are more shrewd, and all about effectiveness, efficiency, and keeping costs low. Google accepted them in the beginning, but now that the market has matured and there are more advertisers spending like fools, Google is probably happy to not have them around asking questions.

Ryan Healy - September 5, 2010

Of course, you could be right, Don. It could be because of data collection and some other unspecified reasons. But I do find it a little strange that I’ve been running my ads on Google for 5 years or so and they just now decided to ban my ads. Furthermore, if there were “multiple violations,” why not give me a warning first or specify the reasons before sending a “final notice?”

I think your observation is fairly accurate: “The fact is, Google prefers large corporate advertisers, and smaller, local advertisers.”

    Debbie - September 7, 2010

    I just spoke to an associate who is really successful in the network marketing field and that industry has been hit hard, too. He had just spent thousands of dollars in software for his Google Adword account and received the Google Slap. They took away all his Google Ads and I’m not sure of the other details, but their decisions really hit him hard in the pocketbook. The same thing has happened to several other friends in that industry. I’m just wondering what you and the others think of the idea of approaching Yahoo and asking them to develop a program similar to Adwords and other Google offerings, then telling them that we will all sign up with them instead. Spread the word so our friends can all jump on board. We’ll then let Google know what it’s like to get a slap.

Jason Leister - September 5, 2010

Hey Ryan,

Great post… I guess it’s kind of the natural order of things:

1. Business innovates
2. Business grows
3. Business builds confidence.
4. Money pours in.
5. Priorities change.
6. Company from item 1 isn’t the same company as in item 6.

Despite the corporate slogans, PR or fancy videos, Google is responsible to their shareholders, that’s it.

My guess is that over time, the market won’t support an 800 pound gorilla forever. People have too many choices to put up with junk like this.

Codrut Turcanu - September 5, 2010

Google’s day are simply count down. That’s a bad move; if I were working on Google and I would have made such a decision, I’d probably quit the job and said that was my mistake.

Jonathan Boettcher - September 5, 2010

Seems the Goog is playing god again.

The thing that gets me is if you read that list of bullets Google supplied, many of them are subjective; few if any are cut and dried.

Take this one for example:
* Data collection sites that imply delivery of free items, etc., in order to collect private information

Presumably, this could be (subjectively) applied to any squeeze page out there. And what exactly does ‘implied’ mean? Does that mean I promised them a free something in exchange for their email, and in Google’s view, that I may or may not deliver? Is that what implied means?

Or does it legitimately mean poor communication of what exactly the user is getting themselves into if they do signup…? In this particular case, I guess it’s true we need to hold to high standards, always making sure that we are explicitly clear as to what happens on signup, but that said, I personally don’t think it’s Google’s business whether or not we’re clear about those things. If we’re crappy marketers, then ultimately, we’re out of business.

In my opinion, they’re providing traffic that we pay for. It should end there. As soon as they start subjecting the marketplace to their own philosophies as to what good marketing entails, that’s where we start having problems.

It’s the same with big business – if they want to take out a multi-million dollar TV spot during the superbowl, then they’re free to do so. They’re at the mercy of the market as to whether or not that spot is profitable. But the TV stations only get involved to enforce the tastefulness of said commercial… and perhaps that’s what Google thinks they’re doing here.

The TV stations (to my knowledge) have never jumped in to ensure that the claims made in those commercials are indeed delivered on, or factual, or whatever. Benefits have been ‘implied’ in advertising for a long, long time…

Speaking of big business… anyone notice how Amazon gets away with with pathetically low-relevancy Google ads that would get slapped in 15 seconds if any of us tried to run them?

GPG Solar - September 6, 2010

that the hell was that.

Dave Ward - September 6, 2010

Hi Ryan,

I think what we have here is the classic one rule for one ( the little guy), and one for another ( big corporate spenders). The big corporate boys can do as they wish. Coke have an ad running on search over here in the UK, and it sends you to this page

https://secure.cokezone.co.uk/home/register/register.jsp?WT.srch=1&rsrc=gg_cz_br I don’t see them getting a slap for this page anytime soon.

With my own sites and clients I currently have seen the following.

1 Sites/ Pages using Google checkout currently not affected .. go figure !

2 Content network sending to a squeeze page, not currently affected.

3 search traffic to squeeze pages, certain markets with high competition slapped, an example would be finance, weight loss, and pages like yours. but non competitive ones are still ok. Let’s say the how to look after tropical fish free report, does not seem to be on the Googs radar just yet !

I know you thought your warning was because you are capturing data, but I would also not be surprised that the person who looked at your page, thought ” this is get rich quick ” I am not saying for one moment it is , I am just pointing out that it would not be the first time that a member of the Google QS team calls it wrong.

I agree with you that we are moving towards a situation where you can only advertise on Google if you are not wanting to sell anything.

Dave Ward - September 6, 2010

Hi Ryan,

I think what we have here is the classic one rule for one ( the little guy), and one for another ( big corporate spenders). The big corporate boys can do as they wish. Coke have an ad running on search over here in the UK, and it sends you to this page

https://secure.cokezone.co.uk/home/register/register.jsp?WT.srch=1&rsrc=gg_cz_br I don’t see them getting a slap for this page anytime soon.

With my own sites and clients I currently have seen the following.

1 Sites/ Pages using Google checkout currently not affected .. go figure !

2 Content network sending to a squeeze page, not currently affected.

3 search traffic to squeeze pages, certain markets with high competition slapped, an example would be finance, weight loss, and pages like yours. but non competitive ones are still ok. Let’s say the how to look after tropical fish free report, does not seem to be on the Googs radar just yet !

I know you thought your warning was because you are capturing data, but I would also not be surprised that the person who looked at your page, thought ” this is get rich quick ” I am not saying for one moment it is , I am just pointing out that it would not be the first time that a member of the Google QS team calls it wrong.

I agree with you that we are moving towards a situation where you can only advertise on Google if you are not wanting to sell anything.

Dave Ward - September 6, 2010

Hi Ryan,

I think what we have here is the classic one rule for one ( the little guy), and one for another ( big corporate spenders). The big corporate boys can do as they wish. Coke have an ad running on search over here in the UK, and it sends you to this page

https://secure.cokezone.co.uk/home/register/register.jsp?WT.srch=1&rsrc=gg_cz_br I don’t see them getting a slap for this page anytime soon.

With my own sites and clients I currently have seen the following.

1 Sites/ Pages using Google checkout currently not affected .. go figure !

2 Content network sending to a squeeze page, not currently affected.

3 search traffic to squeeze pages, certain markets with high competition slapped, an example would be finance, weight loss, and pages like yours. but non competitive ones are still ok. Let’s say the how to look after tropical fish free report, does not seem to be on the Googs radar just yet !

I know you thought your warning was because you are capturing data, but I would also not be surprised that the person who looked at your page, thought ” this is get rich quick ” I am not saying for one moment it is , I am just pointing out that it would not be the first time that a member of the Google QS team calls it wrong.

I agree with you that we are moving towards a situation where you can only advertise on Google if you are not wanting to sell anything.

MK Safi - September 7, 2010

I personally don’t like what Google did here because I know that Ryan is an honest copywriter and blogger. The person who flagged this doesn’t know Ryan. He/she only sees a landing page which is designed very similar to other “get rich quick” scam sites.

I think this wouldn’t have happened if Ryan’s landing page looked fancier and more Web 2.0ish, say, like this: http://dailyburn.com/

Yes, Google has become large enough that they don’t care if they mistakenly flag an honest small/medium size business owner…But the policies that lead to Ryan’s account being suspended were probably first enacted with sincere, good intentions…

Debbie - September 7, 2010

Hi Ryan,
I personally think that Google is out of control. Pride goeth before a fall and, with that in mind, I think we should all approach Yahoo to develop a program for small business that would take us all to the top and leave Google in the dust.

    Jonathan Boettcher - September 7, 2010

    Problem is, Google has the traffic.. Yahoo doesn’t. Therefore, Google has the power.

    Yahoo / Bing are going to need to capture more eyeballs before they will ever be able to provide that viable alternative we’re looking for…

Samuel - September 10, 2010

It terms of search traffic it would be hard to use other traffic sources that get targeted visitors the way Google does. The quality of search traffic is better on Google. Which creates the dilemma for those who rely upon it.

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