My Adwords Account Got Suspended

by Martin Malden

Adwords Logo. My Adwords account was suspended last week, so here’s cautionary tale for anyone new to using Google Adwords.

And please note: this is not a whining post. I broke Adwords’ terms and conditions and my account was suspended. Fair cop.

The point of this article is to help Adwords newbies realize just how easy it is to break their terms and conditions, completely unintentionally.

Typically, Google gave no specific reason for the suspension. They simply referred me to their terms and conditions – which are often open to interpretation, as I explain below.

So my assumptions about the reason for my account suspension are just that – assumptions.

Here’s what happened

My best guess is that it was because of a sequence of three incidents.

Sometime ago there was an Algorithm update in which Google added lead capture pages to their list of pages that are not acceptable to Adwords.

I had had 2 small campaigns, one of which was for a lead capture page, running for around 18 months.

They had run perfectly happily, with no hitches, for so long that I was only keeping an eye on the daily cost increase.

Both had always had high quality scores for landing page quality, landing page speed and keywords (all keywords either 8 or 9 out of 10, in all categories).

Then, one day, I noticed that my costs had stopped increasing.

Even though they were very small campaigns, this was clearly unusual and, when I looked into the ad group keywords, I found a message against each that said ‘Ad not being displaid due to poor quality score’.

So I checked the quality scores to find that my landing page quality score had been reduced from 8 or 9 out of 10 to 0/10, for every keyword.

No warnings, and I would never have noticed but for the fact that my daily costs stopped increasing.

Since the campaigns were small (generating little traffic and costing me next to nothing) I left them be for the time being and concentrated on other things.

Then, a week or so ago, I set up a new page on another site and decided to use Adwords to kick start some traffic to it.

As part of that, I remembered the two stalled campaigns and decided to delete them.

And the following day I received the account suspended email.

I’m guessing my new page infringed their terms and conditions as well, because I was linking out to a travel site (I was promoting tours to Hong Kong as an affiliate).

Of course they don’t specifically say ‘affiliate pages’, they actually say: ‘bridge pages which are there for the purpose of directing traffic to a third party site without adding any value’.

From which I guess they mean affiliate links.

And here lies the difficulty: ‘adding value’ is subjective.

My page did add value.

It contains background information on Hong Kong that’s not available on the merchant’s site, all of it my own input since I live here and I am, therefore, well qualified to talk about the characteristics of the place.

If you’d like to decide for yourself you can see it here.

Anyway, clearly Adwords didn’t agree, and the difficulty is created because their wording (‘..without adding any value..’) is subjective, not objective.

If there’s any additional information at all, that’s not available on the merchant’s site, technically that would be adding value.

You can always argue over the amount of additional information – but the amount is not specified anywhere in their terms and conditions.

So (and remember: I’m assuming that’s the reason for suspension) it would come down to whether or not we agreed on the amount of value added.

But there was no discussion and no warning. Just suspension.

A Heads-Up for New Adwords Advertisers

As I wrote about here, Adwords is autocratic in the way it operates with its advertisers.

Google regularly reviews and changes its terms and conditions and most times the only way you’ll find out is when your quality scores suddenly hit zero.

One of their paragraphs says that if you repeatedly infringe the Adwords terms your account will be suspended.

So my guess is that when those first two campaigns had their quality scores trashed, that counted as two infringements.

Maybe it was immediately counted as an infringement, or maybe there’s a grace period which I exceeded because I left them for some months before deleting them.

It’s anyone’s guess but, from my experience of dealing with the Adwords people, they’ll never specifically tell you.

As affiliate sites now appear to be in contravention of their terms as well (at least, if the added value is less than Adwords thinks it should be), that new campaign I set up last week must have counted as a third infringement.

So they added it to the first two and classified them all as repeated infringements.

Hence the suspension.

Buyer Beware

So my message is this: Keep a close eye on your campaigns all the time – even if they’ve been running faultlessly for a long time.

If your quality scores suddenly get trashed be sure to go searching for any changes in the Adwords terms and conditions.

And search diligently and quickly, because they don’t proactively send out notices advising advertisers of changed requirements.

They just reduce your quality scores to zero.

Reducing your quality scores to zero implies your ads have infringed a term or a condition and you’d better fix things quickly.

Or the next time they change their T’s and C’s, and your quality scores are trashed, they’ll consider it a repeated infringement.

And suspend your account without any prior warning.

Again – don’t make the same mistake I did of assuming that because a campaign has been running perfectly happily for a long period of time you’re somehow OK. You’re not.

You need to keep a close eye on your campaigns, even longstanding ones because, if you don’t, your account can be suspended when you’re looking the other way.

Adwords takes ‘buyer beware’ extremely literally.

Cheers,

Martin Malden

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Jason January 5, 2011 at 5:50 am

Great write up, Martin. I have had similar issues with “0″ quality score with a landing page I recently created. I tried working on it for 3 days, searching forums for reasonable answers.

After optimizing my images, reducing “hype words” and even dropping my opt-in box altogether, I still couldn’t get my score above 0/10. I just gave up and produced a full SEO friendly site to get to the top spot organically…and that took 30 days of full-time work. Sucked. There’s no doubt I got dinged for it more than 3 times so according to your experience, I’m just glad they didn’t suspend my account outright.

Great site and great value. Keep it coming!

Martin January 5, 2011 at 7:08 am

Thanks Jason,

I just read an article from the Wealthy Affiliate blog that talked about Adwords wiping out a lot of PPC advertisers in 2010, and acting as the FTC’s ‘enforcer’.

The article also said they believed Google would ease up on real marketers in 2011… Hmmmm. (I’ve heard that one several times before..!!)

Cheers,

Martin.

Jason December 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

Update from my comment a few months ago:

MY FRIGGIN ADWORDS ACCOUNT GOT SUSPENDED!

Just damn.

Stuart February 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Hi Martin,

I honestly don’t think you should add this disclaimer to the top of this post:

“And please note: this is not a whining post. I broke Adwords’ terms and conditions and my account was suspended. Fair cop.”

This gives the impression that you somehow did something wrong, when in fact you really didn’t do anything wrong at all.

You ran some online advertising to a perfectly useful page, and had been doing so for over a year.

Google sends out automated messages to email accounts that you probably don’t even check. And at no time is a normal person on hand to discuss the situation rationally.

They arbitrarily change the rules, and all their advertisers are constantly on edge.

A normal company would simply disallow the ads, and life would move on and everyone would just do business.

Or rather then sending out automated messages, just make a message appear within your adwords account itself to highlight any concerns. Not this ridiculous suspension stuff.

All these draconian suspensions and account bans are simply indicative of the fact that Google are schizophrenic with their advertisers, and have the worst customer service anywhere as regards the businesses who advertise with them.

The reality is that greater than 90% of their revenue comes from 1% of the accounts. So they have adopted a simple system.

Namely that they don’t give a shit about 99% of the companies who advertise with them, and have made it a point to automate everything down to the point where real people are not involved at all with the vast majority of adwords advertisers.

Google has become too powerful in the online advertising business, and I think there is a real case to be answered for either splitting up the company, or forcing them to allow other advertisers access to their ad inventory.

The amount of companies that have been put out of business because some intern put up a few ads that Google didn’t like, and the whole account was banned is plain insane.

You did nothing wrong at all Martin. It has now reached the point that Google is so powerful in online advertsing that their ‘help forum’ is basically simply full of lots of cowed business people kissing the feet of Google employees to be let back in after suspension, but being told that none of them have access to account data.

If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable.

Googles ad inventory needs to be opened up to other companies, so that there is some competition, and some alternatives.

Google controls the mountains share of online advertising, and it has now reached the point that they are holding most businesses to ransom.

They seriously act like the mafia.

They have closed over 100,000 adwords accounts for really no reason. It is like some 4rd rate communist dictatorship controls the online ad inventory.

Something needs to be done about it, and people need to stand up, and rather then acting as though THEY some how deserved the arbitrary insanity that Google dishes out, actually call a spade a spade and acknowledge that Google have too much power, and that it needs to be curbed.

Martin February 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

Stuart, hi,

You captured exactly how I feel – but I’m glad it was you who said it here, not me..! :)

I wrote in another post about how I spent my life trying to work out what Google wanted from landing pages when I first started, and how they’d wipe out campaigns in a blink.

Because of that there’s absolutely no way you could base a business on traffic from Adwords – you’d never know when it was going to be cut off.

I never even bothered to contact Adwords when they closed my account. Firstly, I used it very little so it didn’t really affect me that much and, secondly, I’ve never had a satisfactory response from them.

And given the amount of money they make their lack of service just makes me seriously frustrated.

Thanks for chipping in and rest assured we are in absolutely violent agreement about Google and the influence it wields :)

Cheers,

Martin.

Zach Eapen November 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

You are absolutely right Stuart, there should be some mechanism or body to check the callousness and supremacy of Google. Recently my Adwords account got suspended for no fault of my own. Adwords is horrible and Google is rude and Arrogant. I hate them. People start switching to other search engines and advertising networks and don’t give undue importance to the so called Big “G”. Their callousness will come down on their own and will start cringing for busines.

Kent March 9, 2011 at 12:23 am

Hi Martin,
What will you do now? Will you go without an adwords account? Have you thought about getting another one under a business name? Do you know anyone that has done it successfully after being banned under their personal name or previous business name?

Martin March 9, 2011 at 6:43 am

Hi Kent,

As I said in the article, I was only using Adwords for a couple of small campaigns, so I didn’t bother to appeal and I’m not going to get another one.

I just switched to Bing, which is working fine for what I need.

My main focus is on getting search engine traffic.

As long as you structure everything well it’s more reliable than PPC (or at least Adwords). I gave up using PPC as a source of traffic for anything other than testing or providing a quick boost a while ago. :)

Cheers,

Martin.

Rob May 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Hey Martin,

Thanks for your post. My account was recently suspended and no reason was given or will ever be given (at least in my opinion).

What is the impact of being labelled an Adword ‘terrorist’ by Google? I believe they flag your domain as undesirable, which may have an effect on your page rank and ultimately organic traffic. Your thoughts?

My hosting company suggested that I move away completely from my current website and start from scratch with new branding etc. This is a massive blow if this is what is required.

My biggest concern lies here. If you have built up a ‘legal database’ and your site has been flagged, it may be that you are unable to refer your database to other websites (for whatever reason) without the receiving website being flagged by Google. I’d appreciate any insight from your side.

Thanks

Martin May 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Hi Rob,

Relax..!

Being banned by Adwords has no impact on your Google natural search results placings.

The largest (and continuously growing) proportion of my traffic comes from organic Google search results, and having my Adwords account suspended made not the slightest difference. My organic Google traffic continues to grow.

I don’t know why your hosting company would recommend moving away from your current domain and re-branding. You can’t use Adwords to drive traffic to your site anymore, but Bing is growing in importance and they’re a heck of a lot more customer friendly. Go and have a look at them!

Bing doesn’t (currently) have as many reporting and analysis tools as Adwords, but they’re growing in both market share and in the development of the service. And their cost per click is less than Adwords.

The most important thing to do, as I’ve written elsewhere, is to diversify your sources of traffic as much as you can.

Being highly dependent on a single source of traffic is just not smart – as I found to my cost years ago.

Cheers,

Martin.

Geff May 25, 2011 at 4:30 am

I have also been hit with my adwords account being permanently banned. Here’s why it is insane.

I haven’t advertised much with my account since 2006. I do log in to my account and checked it every few months or so. This year, I logged in and it said my account was suspended permanently. So I contacted them.

After a week of email (adwords support only repliese to one of your emails per day for some reason) it came down to this.

5 years ago, I did some affiliate advertising (a couple days worth) while I was creating my own website and product. Everything was fine. After a few days, my own stuff was live and I only promoted it, no affiliate stuff. Everyone was still happy.

Fast forward 5 years… 3 of those sites I promoted as an affiliate 5 years ago, were apparently not up to google’s standards anymore. Since I once promoted them with google adwords, my account was flagged and suspended.

After 8 phone calls I got the same response with every call. I need to contact the owners of those 3 websites and they have to change the websites to comply with Google’s terms of acceptable websites. They then need to re-submit their site to google and they will decide at that point if the site is acceptable.

They didn’t care that I have no connection to the sites, they retroactively banned my account even thought the sites were 100% legitimate when I advertised them. That makes no difference. Google doesn’t like them now, so they will not reverse my account suspension.

Crazy.

It really seems like google wants advertisers to pay for ads that lead directly to information sites that have no monetization. Yeah, that makes perfect financial sense.

Martin May 25, 2011 at 6:55 am

Geff, hi,

Yes – Adwords isn’t interested in logic or common sense. And they are totally unreasonable. No question.

Unfortunately they make so much money they’ve developed a level of arrogance that is mind boggling!

I can understand wanting to ensure searchers get good results. But there’s no logic in refusing to work with people who actually want to provide good results, especially when they were in compliance with Adwords’ own policies previously.

You may want to take a look at Bing. They don’t have the market share Adwords does, but they are growing, they’re cheaper and they’re a lot more supportive to advertisers.

Cheers,

Martin.

dan June 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Hi Martin,

I like your article and your great choice of words. I would advise any newbies to spend at least a year studying their TOS and Policies before they even use their platform. Google do not offer a second chance. In a way, it’s quite similar to bankruptcy, in that you have to open under someone elses name. Just get a friend to open an account, pay them 15% of your monthly spend :)

Dan

Martin June 17, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Hi Dan,

Now there’s a good business model – wish I’d thought of that one! :)

Cheers,

Martin.

Ryan December 1, 2011 at 6:33 am

I just had this problem last week myself (on Monday). I’ve been building a new website that offers a detailed look at the different ways one can make extra income online (such as reviews about affiliate programs such as Linkshare, Clickbank, GDI, and others), and I submitted an ad for a page I created that offers a detailed and honest review about Global Domains International (on Saturday), which is basically a network marketing company that sells web hosting packages, and although initially, the adwords team accepted my ad, on that following Monday, I got an email saying my account was suspended to my surprise. I’ve also noticed they are getting pickier about what kinds of ads you can submit. For example, I’ve tried advertising a blog that I have that features viral videos about huskies and malamutes and they often rejected my ads for that site due to their “site policy”. I wonder if there are any good ad networks online that make good alternatives to Google Adwords for affiliate marketers?

Martin December 1, 2011 at 7:37 am

Hi Ryan,

Sorry to hear that and I can well understand your frustration.

You may want to take a look at Bing (Microsoft Adcenter) – it’s a lot more customer-friendly than Adwords but, of course, it doesn’t have the reach and coverage that Google has.

Cheers,

Martin.

Ravi December 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm

This happens with many small advertisers if you are big one Google will never suspend your account. Google think itself like Big Boss everything is in its hand and advertisers or publishers can’t do anything.
The biggest problem is that Google never tell you about your mistake and we can’t get right answers. It like we are walking on road and suddenly Police comes and arrest us without telling the reasons.
Google is moving to wrong side if he continues this soon many advertisers and AdSense publisher will start leaving Google.

Martin December 6, 2011 at 8:03 am

Hi Ravi,

Yes – it’s extremely frustrating for small advertisers. The problem is they’re effectively almost a monopoly because, with their dominant share of search traffic, there’s no real competition to them, so they can pretty much do what they like.

Cheers,

Martin.

Geff December 7, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Yes, it’s pretty much a wait until the next company comes along and knocks off Google. It certainly is taking a while though. It WILL happen… it’s just no one knows when.

I will be having a nice little party when Big G falls under 50% of search traffic.

Martin December 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I think several others will be as well :)

Cheers,

Martin.

Stuart December 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Unfortunately, Google are insane and there is no communicating with them.

Case in point.

I tried promoting this Clickbank site for a week a few years ago as an affiliate (not an affiliate link)

This is a genuine story.

http://www.undergroundhypnosis.com/

Normal Clickbank fare. Sells a product on ‘covert hypnosis’. all above board, and you can easily get your money back if you don’t agree it delivers on the promises, because Clickbank has a 60 day no questions asked, money back guarantee.

Anyhow, when I was trying to get my adwords account back one of the sites they brought up as breaking the rules was that one:

I quote “Undergroundhypnosis.com is violating our misleading and inaccurate claims policy”

(Though how they know that without having read the book is anyones guess? I have read it. It is a book about ‘Covert Hypnosis’ – It was neither misleading or innaccurate)

And that before any account could be unsuspended the actual Undergroundhypnosis.com site would itself have to be changed to comply with their rules.

I pointed out to them that I neither owned the site, or had ever owned it, so I couldn’t possibly make changes to a website that I didn’t own, but was happy to delete all ads and undertake to NEVER advertise them again through adwords. (I had spent less than a $100 advertising it and the ads had been paused for YEARS)

That cut no ice.

Here is there reply:

“As I have mentioned in the earlier email, the violations should be removed from the accounts history and only then we can go ahead and unsuspend the account.

For the violations to be removed you will need to make corrections to the websites that were advertised in your AdWords account and were in violation with our policies.”

Note – You cannot remove them from ‘Account History’. They manually check that the website complies with their crazy policies.

So if you don’t own the website you promoted (ie any kind of affiliate marketing), then you are basically screwed, because it is physically impossible to make changes to a site that you don’t own, and have no control over.

Get this. If you ever advertise a site they don’t like as an affiliate, then you have to get the guy who owns the site to change his site when a couple of YEARS later they decide it is in contravention of their policies.

Which is simply impossible, so in effect they are blanket banning all affiliates. (Yeah – Because acting as a middleman is so ‘evil’ – Oh wait isn’t that what The Google Adwords ads are?)

And bear in mind that the site had run fine on Google a couple of years back, but had simply been sitting in the account dormant, long since paused.

I hardly remembered even running ads for it, it was that long ago!

Absolutely insane.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

On another site they flagged about gardening I had ONE outbound link on the ENTIRE SITE to this wikipedia page (not monetized)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardening

No lead captures. No pop ups. No links at all on my own site, just a page about gardening and how to improve you skills.

ZERO monetization. Just content. No ads at all.

The cleanest looking ‘Granny Friendly’ site ever.

And because of the link to that EXACT wikipedia page the woman at Google classed it as being in contravention of their policies as a “Bridge Page”!

Really. Really Crazy Stuff.

It’s the internet! Sites link to other sites!

A site on gardening links to a wikipedia page on gardening, and its in contravention of their policies!

Wow. They are insane.

They are basically blanket banning everyone who has EVER promoted a site (even normal ones) as an affiliate, and there is zero hope of ever getting your account unsuspended, because they make it impossible to be in accordance with the rules.

You cannot simply delete the ads. You have to make physical changes to EVERY site you have ever linked to.

And if you don’t own those sites, which clearly you usually wouldn’t as an affiliate, then when they suspend your account you have no hope of getting it unsuspended, because it is physically impossible to change things over which you legitimately have no control.

Obviously I pointed all this out to them, but common sense doesn’t figure at all with Google, because what they ‘Say’ about why people are being suspended is not the truth.

The truth is they are banning anyone who has EVER promoted affiliate products.

If thats you, and you haven’t been banned yet, then they simply haven’t got around to a manual check on your account.

My advice to anyone thinking about advertising with Google Adwords is not to bother. They have no customer service, crazy rules which they change constantly, and they cannot be relied upon to be sensible even when the craziness of their position is pointed out to them.

In short they are a very bad bet as traffic to depend on.

They only care about the top 1% of advertisers.

Google are a monopolistic, draconian company that are busy bullying small business on the web so that they can open up spots for the 1% of the companies who provide 80% of their Adwords revenue.

That is the truth.

That was what the Panda SEO update was all about as well. Cosying up to their big ad spenders by moving revenues to their big 1% adwords spenders by placing big brands more prominently in the organic listings, and further screwing small businesses.

A legislative solution really does need to be sought to curb Google’s monopolistic power or break up the company.

They really are bad news on a number of levels.

Martin December 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Hi Stuart,

Yep – when I was running Adwords ads the Adwords people were the most frustrating people on earth to deal with.

I quickly learned, even before my account was suspended, that Adwords could never be considered a reliable source of traffic. That was why, in the years leading up to its suspension, I only ever used it to test keywords or give a jump start of traffic to a new site.

As I said in the article, I never even attempted to get my account un-suspended and I haven’t missed Adwords at all.

Cheers,

Martin.

Stuart December 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm

One interesting aspect of doing EVERYTHING possible to comply with the rules in order to get the account unsuspended Martin (and failing), was that it made me realise that Google is totally speaking with forked tongue when it comes to their ‘rules’.

The fact is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to change a site you neither own or ever owned, and Google know that.

It slightly reminds me of the gate above Auschwitz, which read “‘Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Sets You Free”.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you work with Google, Freedom never comes.

The implication of the rules that they constantly quote is that if you abide by all the rules and put up good sites that you have nothing to fear from Google.

But in practice, my experience leads me to believe that is simply not true.

The rules are a smokescreen for a larger goal.

The endgame is to exclude ALL Adwords Publishers who have EVER advertised an Affiliate product, because in practice they don’t drive much revenue for Google.

It is actually VERY anti-competitive and an abuse of power.

I changed ALL of my sites to become granny friendly with only content and ZERO links to anywhere.

And AFTER I had done that they suddenly found that hypnosis site that they KNOW I cannot change, because I don’t own it.

In effect making it impossible to ever unsuspend the account, because it isn’t enough to comply with the rules now, you have to comply with the rules even in retrospect when the rules were different!

Think how draconian and monopolistic that really is.

Given the massive percentage of the PPC market that Google controls, that is unacceptable.

It is a bit like the Water Company being able to cut off your water supply permanently, and saying that you should never have water in your home again, because you forgot to pay your water bill one time (even if you subsequently paid it!)

They definitely need more stringent anti-trust investigations into Google and sort this out.

When someone controls that large a share of a market they should be forced to work with people, rather then arbitrarily suspending accounts that cannot possibly be unsuspended given the way they have rigged the system.

Martin December 10, 2011 at 7:25 am

We’re in violent agreement here, Stuart..!

John December 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I had an interesting experience with Adwords. They banned me without notice, so I switched to Bing. I then wrote to them and told them that I had done so and that I concluded that since they were prepared to ban me without warning that Adwords was clearly an unsound business model and I would not be using it in future. They immediately wrote back to apologize and tell me that they had reinstated me. But I won’t be going back.

But it seems that under some circumstances they do listen!

Martin December 28, 2011 at 7:50 am

Both interesting an unusual..!

Cheers,

Martin.

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