Over 200,000 Adwords users were banned in 2014.
That’s close to a quarter million advertisers giving Google money and the search giant simply said “stop it”.
You must have heard the horror stories. People whose entire businesses were felled by an AdWords permanent ban. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you may think that it could never happen. That those people were probably doing something illegal, they were trying to game the system or were writing horribly low quality ads.
It’s true, AdWords does ban a lot of accounts where questionable tactics are being used. However, there are a lot of other astonishing reasons for which people find their accounts suspended, such as for linking to software that doesn’t meet their standards or disputing a charge with a bank instead of paying your balance. Or for just being annoying.
3 Small Business Owners See Their Companies Collapse After A Suspension
A significant number of AdWords users rely primarily on advertising to get new customers, so the idea of a suspension or a ban is like a nightmare where you’re on the Titanic and you see the Hindenberg coming to your rescue.
1. Jonas Gets A Restraining Order
John Jonas was spending about $20,000 a month with AdWords when he got a warning email from Google stating that an ad was flagged due to a trademark violation, so he requested an exception. The following day, he logged into his account to discover it had no impressions, so he emailed Google.
After a lightning fast six day response, they informed him that his account had been suspended as a result of submitting ads that violated their copyright policies. The email reminded him that they could and were suspending his account because they felt like it.
Jonas attempted a variety of methods to reach out to someone at Google to reinstate his account. He was told that there was no person on the planet that could undo the suspension, it was final, forever, set in iron. In fact, one email specifically told him to stop contacting people because of this irreversible decision that totally couldn’t have been undone by simply making a change in a computer database.
Jonas moved on and is getting his PPC needs met through other companies.
2. Dooley Learns Not To Violate A Page
This is another story of someone with a fairly large ad spend of around $20,000 per month. Iain Dooley was in the process of working on an AdWords eBook “Your First 3 Months on AdWords” when he received the dreaded page violation email from Google.
Dooley had set up a single page on Unbounce that told a bit about what he was doing and had a form to fill out. He was notified that the page violated Google’s Information Harvesting policy. After pausing his accounts, he tried to get to the bottom of the issue after having had no problems with several other similar ads.
Sunday night, he sent an email. After mulling things over, Dooley also tried to call Google on Monday morning. They informed him that since he’d sent an email, no one who had ever seen a phone could help him, so he had to wait up to seven days for an email reply. During the time that he was waiting for a reply, Dooley created additional ads for his book, although of course they were not live.
He finally got an email telling him that his account was suspended due to multiple violations of their policies. It turns out that because he was creating new ads on the account, even though they were paused and he had a pending support request, they still counted against him.
The good news for Dooley is that he was able to both to determine the cause of the issue and get his account back. The problem was completely crazy pants, because Google, but in essence, he had a form that wouldn’t allow people to proceed to the rest of the site without filling it out. The fact that there was no rest of the site to go to since it was a single page was immaterial to Google. Once he made it so you could click submit without entering any data, the Google Powers That Be were assuaged.
He also discovered that reinstating a suspended account requires a lot of patience, in the same way that the ocean holds a lot of water. It took him five months of wheedling, but he’s back in action.
3. Google’s Hypocritical Software Policy
A software company that creates major enterprise software had an AdWords account for 10 years. They focus on creating telephony components, and their software is used in 911 call centers. One day, out of the blue, they got an email informing them that their ads had been disabled due to violations of the Unwanted Software policy.
This policy covers things like malware or software that installs automatically without the user’s consent, so the company was mystified. During a chat session, it was determined that the company website needed to include uninstall information, even though a) the software uninstalls normally via the standard Windows uninstall process and b) Google Chrome has no instructions for uninstalling the software anywhere. However, this seemed like a small point to quibble, so the changes were made.
Unsatisfied with this concession, Google got creative. Instead of having the account reinstated, another email was sent saying the software company violated the Unsupported Content – Free Desktop Software policies. Again, the company was baffled since businesses were paying significant sums of money to obtain their software, so they could hardly be violating any free software policies.
When the software company attempted to figure out just what on Earth was going on, Google swiftly jumped on the issue by refusing to accept any chat requests. A phone call to Google determined that the account was under review by the India office. The following morning, a call was received and a Google rep informed the company that they had to fill out a free software request form, although the rep didn’t know why. Once the form was filled out, someone should be in touch within 24-48 hours, which in Google speak means: sometime before the sun goes nova, maybe.
The company dutifully filled out the form and noted that they did not, in point of fact, offer free software. Multiple phone calls to Google and multiple promises to get back to the software company were broken before, after nearly a month, their account was finally reinstated.
They are still unsure of what, exactly, caused the reinstatement of their account, but I’m guessing someone with a lick of common sense realized that Google was being cray-cray and reinstated the account. That person has probably been fired since for failing to follow the Google employee policy of being a giant wanker.
Why Is Google Trigger-Happy?
Are they jerks?
Since Google makes nearly all of its money from advertising, you might wonder why they’re so happy to suspend accounts at a moment’s notice, even if someone is spending tens of thousands of dollars a month with them.
Although I personally suspected the answer was, “Because they’re capricious and scrofulous jerks,” the reality is that they are held responsible for the ads they display by a number of governments throughout the world.
Is it fear of the government?
In spite of the fact that Google neither creates the ads nor has any actual connection to products or services that people sell, the company has been fined for displaying ads. Just a few years ago, Google settled with the U.S. government and agreed to pay $500 million for just showing ads for fraudulent Canadian pharmacies.
It takes a whole lot of accounts spending $20,000 a month to make up for $500 million in fines, which, of course, doesn’t include attorney or court fees. Although I still have issues with the way that Google handles a lot of matters related to account suspensions, I can see why they’d be a bit jumpy.
Is it a concern for quality search results?
It is true that Google justifiably takes pride in the quality of their search results, and the world loves them for it.
But they have a history of going overboard.
For example, in the past, some affiliates would abuse the system by setting up several ads that would all send people to the same page. Someone searching for “cat toys” would see three ads, but all of those ads would lead to the same page. This was not the type of user experience that Google wanted to be known for, so they added unfair advantage as a reason that an affiliate account might be banned.
This sounds fine in theory, but the problem is that Google, as is their habit, went bananas banning affiliates at the slightest whiff copied content. If Google believes that a page is simply being used as a passthrough to get to a parent website or if a website looks too much – or perhaps at all – like a parent site, the ads will be pulled. Banning may be a bonus.
There’s light at end of the tunnel
1. Google’s Greedy Investors To The Rescue
We’ve established that the people at Google may not simply be suspending AdWords accounts as a result of the physical thrill it gives them (but I still don’t discount maniacal laughter). With the looming threat of government fines hanging over Google, you might wonder why they’ve developed a less take no prisoners attitude.
Well, as scary as the government is, Google is more afraid of their investors.
In April of 2014, Google saw a 3 percent drop in their stocks in a matter of hours following a first-quarter sales report that missed projected earnings and saw a 9 percent drop in payments from marketers for ads.
Google suddenly discovered that people do make mistakes and perhaps they might have been a bit hasty in suspending people’s accounts with no warning, recourse or bit of human sympathy. This doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear if you’re suspended, it just means that the light at the end of the tunnel may be an escape route and isn’t definitely an oncoming train.
The change in attitude has made an incredible difference in the number of accounts suspended.
2. You Can Avoid Getting Suspended
Under no circumstances should you use common sense as a basis for determining if something will meet Google’s standards for ads, landing pages or pretty much anything. It’s a long slog, but I cannot begin to tell you how much I urge you to read the Google Advertising Policies sections that are related to your industry and all of the ones related to ad creations.
I read the entire thing, for all industries, and there are land mines everywhere. Let me emphasize that these are just a few of the things that I discovered that could trip a normal person up.
- Google restricts advertising of alcoholic beverages, including beverages that resemble alcoholic beverages but are not actually alcoholic, like alcohol-free wine and beer.
- Ads for gambling are restricted, including games that do not involve the exchange of money. A free casino game would fall into the category of gambling.
- There are some types of ads that you have to get pre-approval from Google for, such as ones promoting certain prescription medications.
- Any software that is linked to on a site at all has to comply with Google’s software rules, whether or not it is being advertised.
- Landing pages cannot have pop-ups or disabled back buttons.
- Claims in ads must be backed up. For example, an ad claiming something is the most popular coffee in Seattle needs to have a link to a third-party industry analysis stating this fact.
Google policy also changes all the time. This often has to do with the new government rules and regulations, but sometimes it seems like it’s just on a whim. Whatever the reason for a change, you need to make sure you’re aware of changes and adapt as they occur.
It is your job to know all of the rules that apply to you.
Whether you receive a warning or not for some small infraction or simply have your account suspended often appears random, and for all we know, is based on a Magic 8 Ball, the phases of the moon or whether a Google employee got a donut for breakfast.
I’m not saying that you should act as though Google is out to get you, but I’m not not saying that either.
3. You Can Get Unsuspended (Sometimes)
This will depend specifically on your account and situation, but the first thing to do is to stop doing anything on your account until you’ve resolved whatever the initial problem is. If you’ve got a group of disapproved ads, deal with them before creating new ones. This may sound like a waste of time, but Google has been known to disapprove domains for paused or disapproved ads that remain on an account.
If you don’t know what the problem is, endeavor to find out. Again, do not do anything to your account until your problem is resolved. Be sure to fix every possible thing that could be wrong with an ad, account or landing page before contacting Google for re-approval or reinstatement.
Don’t email Google with an issue if at all possible because they will refuse to speak with you on the phone about the problem if you’ve contacted support through another channel. Again, this is me telling you what you should do, not what makes sense to a normal human person.
It is also important to remain nice and very, very patient when dealing with these issues. You may personally wish that every person you talk to had to deal with papercuts under their fingernails for the rest of their lives, but you must not let this be known. They are your only hope of getting your account back in order, and you cannot sue or shame them into submission. This isn’t about fair – it’s about what works.
Two last points that I need to make about suspensions:
- There are a lot of websites that claim to offer services that will get your AdWords account reinstated. They can’t do anything different than you can, which is to fix the problem and hope that Google shows mercy when asking to have the account reviewed.
- There are also black hat methods that involve creating a whole new identity and website. However, Google is very, very aggressive about looking for these types of accounts and frequently and emphatically states that once an account is suspended, they will go around looking to shoot the survivors. Accounts, domains and just about anything that Google thinks are related can and will be suspended. If you take this path, keep in mind it’s likely you may end up starting from scratch a lot.
The moral of the story is…
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.