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.
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.