There are reports lately of a fresh round of “Google Slaps” going around. It seems like this happens every six months or so, usually in waves. I’ve heard of quite a few of the latest slaps being tied to accounts that were promoting “counterfeit” goods and knock-offs of designer products and the like.
The following are some of my general thoughts and observations on Google “slaps” and “bans”.
The Difference Between a “Slap” and a Ban
When you hear the term “Google Slap” it’s usually in reference to all of your keywords being “slapped” with a 1/10 Quality Score. You’ll notice this is a blanket penalty across all keywords that are promoted by one or more domain names within your account. You won’t see just one or two keywords slapped with a 1/10, with other keywords staying the same at 7/10 or the like for a given domain name. It’s all or none.
A “ban”, or as Google prefers to call it, having your account “disabled”, is different than a “slap”. Often, a slap will happen in advance of a complete account ban, with one or more “slaps” culminating in a permanent ban. Consider a “slap” to be a warning of sorts, and a ban effectively means you’re done with Adwords. Bans can stretch out to encompass any and all additional Adwords accounts tied to you personally.
When the original group of account bans started going out in the fall of 2009, Google said on their quarterly earnings call that over 30,000 Adwords accounts were ‘disabled’. That was 2009. Since then the bans have kept rolling, with reports indicating that over 50,000 Adwords accounts have been recently disabled for promoting counterfeit goods.
How does Google know what accounts are tied to you? Believe me, they know. Everything from IP address triangulation to Google Accounts (Gmail IDs) that have touched a common set of accounts can give you up. If one of your accounts is disabled, you can safely expect that unless you’ve been phenomenally paranoid and careful in disassociating your accounts from one another, your other accounts will soon be toast. (If you don’t know what’s required to do this and you have multiple accounts, it’s probably too late.)
Adwords Bans: Your Past Sins Have Come Back to Haunt You
“My site is totally compliant with the Adwords quality guidelines, and I STILL got banned!” One of the biggest mysteries to those who have their accounts ‘disabled’ is why it’s happened to them when the site they’re currently promoting is as “white a snow” according to Google’s Adwords quality guidelines. This might not just be their perception either, their site might indeed be 100% compliant (until Google decides to change the guidelines again of course).
So why are they being disabled?
The most common reason is not what they’re promoting now, it’s what they’ve promoted in the past.
Why would Google hold that against them? It’s probably because of the way affiliates used to ‘churn and burn’ domains they were promoting in years gone by. When Google slapped a domain in their account, they just grabbed a new domain, copied and pasted the old Adwords campaign into a new one (using the new domain this time), and started rolling again, with in Google’s view, zero effort to ‘fix’ what Google was objecting to on the old domain.
Google wasn’t stupid, they knew this “loophole” worked, I’m sure it didn’t help when advertisers were advising each other to ‘just grab a new domain and go’ on the Google-monitored WebmasterWorld forums, not to mention the in-house Google Adwords support forums. (Always reminds me of the “Don’t make Google look stupid” advice).
To get around this “loophole” Google now disables accounts that haven’t ‘fixed up’ the sites that were slapped in the past. It squashes the ‘get a new domain and reload’ tactic quite effectively. The only problem however was that it took Adwords support a while to let disabled advertisers know that it was sites they’re no longer even promoting that were at fault for their account getting whacked.
Over time however, Google has been more forthcoming with detailed ban reasons in their ‘farewell’ emails to advertisers, even letting them know what it was about that old site you’re no longer promoting that they didn’t like. That’s little consolation however when you’re being permanently banned anyway.
You Can’t “Fix” a Site You No Longer Have
Lately, Google has been slapping old domains with 1/10′s and sending warning emails to advertisers letting them know what they’re unhappy about on ANY domain in your Adwords account (deleted, paused, or active). If you’re lucky, you’re often given a certain number of days to update your site to comply with whatever changes they’re requesting.
BTW: Here’s a Pro Tip: Nothing in Adwords accounts is ever really “Deleted”, it’s just in a deeper state of “Paused” essentially. So when you think you’re golden because you’ve “deleted” that old campaign on the offending domain, you’re still wrong as far as Google is concerned, the site is still very much “alive” to them.
But what if the site Google is mad about wasn’t even “yours” to begin with? The most common example of this is affiliate campaigns where you were ‘direct-linking’ to a vendor’s site via your affiliate link, not even promoting the offer on a site or domain you control. So far the answer from Google to this objection is “not our problem, get it fixed or you’re done”. Good luck with that. NOTE: If anyone has had an answer from Google about this scenario, please note it in the comments, I haven’t personally heard of one as yet. As a result you have to be VERY careful who you direct link to via your destination URLs.
What if the site you used to promote was sold, expired, or you simply don’t have access to anymore? Looks like the answer from Google is pretty much the same, “that’s your problem”.
You might have guessed at this point that Google may not genuinely care if you’re able to ‘fix’ an old site or not to make it compliant, they’re just telling you how things are, and whether you’re able to actually DO anything about it or not is your problem. As a result, even with a ban warning email with specific remedial steps to carry out, you’re possibly still going to be permanently dumped.
Can’t I Just Close My Adwords Account & Start Over?
This is a pretty common question: If an old Adwords account is “tainted” by old campaigns and sites you can’t possibly fix anyway, isn’t it better to “close” your Adwords account while it’s still breathing and open a new one?
Short answer: You can try, but go back and read the part above that explains that “nothing is ever really ‘deleted’ in Google’s systems”. This applies to entire accounts as well. (The folks at Facebook learned this from Google and never really “delete” your Facebook account either, it just lies in wait for you to break down and open it again, ‘reactivating’ it.)
The end result is here is that ‘deleting’ your Adwords account and opening a new one will most likely lead to Google just following your Gmail ID, IP, credit card number, Google analytics ID, Google Docs ID, or some other data point to tie your new account to the old one. The ‘curse’ follows you to the new account, which will then be a fresh candidate for a ban. Fun Times.
So What CAN You Do?
Death sentences are rarely overturned when you’re strapped to the electric chair. The chances of reversal are not good at all, but here’s some things that have worked in the past:
- Pro Tip #2: If it’s a site other than your currently-promoted site that suddenly gets a 1/10 slap, you may want to avoid reaching out to Google support to share what you’ve updated and changed on your old site to make it compliant. New support inquiries can bring new scrutiny on your existing site that you may not really want. Use your best judgement when deciding to contact Google for anything to do with site reviews.
- If your currently-promoted site has been slapped with 1/10, submit a support ticket asking for “specific things that you can do to make your site compliant with Google’s current ad quality guidelines”. DON’T bitch them out explaining why your site shouldn’t have been slapped in the first place, why you’re ‘a long time advertiser and shouldn’t be treated this way’, or argue at all. The bottom line is that they are a monopoly and Larry Page doesn’t believe in customer service. What they say goes. If they think you’re not compliant, that’s all that matters. If you get bitchy you’re email will go straight to the trash. It’s obvious that they think something’s not right per their current guidelines, just ask them politely what that might be.
- Lately, they will usually get back to you with details about the issue: don’t argue about the validity of what they’re asking for. Just fix it and move on.
Bans (“Account Disabling”):
- Sacrifice a chicken to the Google gods and then send an email begging for a second chance to make your sites compliant. If there’s an “appeal” request path offered in the disabling notice, use it. If not, and Google tells you not to contact them anymore, Google’s system will usually just trash your manual appeal request.
- If you’re told not to contact them again, you can try sending the most contrite email you’ve ever composed to ‘lpq-support at google.com’, which goes to the ads quality review team at Google. If your chicken offering has been successful, (again requesting specifics on how you might better comply with Current ad quality guidelines) you may get a second chance.
- Other than that, enjoy your new-found interest in advertising on Bing.