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6 Tactics That May Put You At Risk Of Being Banned From AdWords

My latest Search Engine Land article is out and examine the top ways in which accounts are being blacklisted from AdWords.

Every few months there is an outcry from advertisers because they received the dreaded notification email from Google – their accounts were banned.

Some accounts eventually get reinstated, some companies are never allowed to advertise on Google again.

There are several reasons accounts get banned; however, most accounts are banned for one of six reasons.

You should not that Google does not look at just your active information – they do consider paused or deleted items when scanning accounts for infringing items.

In this article, we will examine those six most common reasons so you can ensure that your account is not endanger of being blacklisted by Google.


Arbitrage Site with Too Many Ads

My very first column at Search Engine Land, almost four years ago, was about arbitrage. Arbitrage was a hot topic a few years ago, and while the topic has subsided in popularity, it still exits on the web today.

If an AdWords visitor lands on your site, and the only option above the fold is to click on an ad – it may be considered an arbitrage site. If the visitor then clicks on ad to then go to a merchant site, why shouldn’t that same visitor have just clicked on the merchant ad on AdWords and saved themselves some time from that extra click?

As the site did not provide any additional value to the advertiser, it is in danger of being blacklisted.

To save your arbitrage site from being blacklisted, add more content above the fold. If you are selling ads directly to advertisers, then add more options about the advertisers than Google provides. You need to provide additional value to the searcher with unique content, and not have a page where the content is just ads.


We can easily blame the acai berry / colon cleansing / get rich tomorrow / look beautiful forever marketplace for the rebilling nightmare that has caused membership sites to suffer the wrath of Google.

Many of these sites hid the fact that by buying a product, you weren’t actually buying a single product. In fact, you were enrolling in a membership site that would rebill you on a regular basis. There has been much written in traditional media about these sites where you had fourteen days to cancel, but the product arrived 21 days later, and because it was past the cancelation date you would be rebilled again. If you tried to cancel on one of these sites, you were often lost in a maze of forms, redirected phone calls, and chargeback requests.

Regardless of the roots of the rebilling nightmare, Google keeps a close eye on sites that do engage in rebilling. Rebilling is not inherently bad or good in Google’s eyes. Google looks at the disclaimers and notifications on the website to make sure the consumer knows they will be rebilled.

If your site calls out the fact it is a recurring charge and is easy to spot, then you will most likely be OK. If your site hides the rebilling facts in the TOS or elsewhere on the page, then you may be endanger of losing your account. If you engage in rebilling, your best defense is to make it clear to the consumer that this is not a one time charge, but in fact they will be billed on an ongoing basis.

Free Offers That Aren’t Really Free

This is a large category that covers several different types of products.

The most common products in this arena are free downloads that have extremely limited functionality. You may see a free offer to download software that will speed up your computer. You download the software, run it,  and the software informs you that you have 1893 problems that can be fixed. However, you need to purchase the software to find out what the problems are. This is an example of limited software functionality.

In this case, it is also about disclosure to the consumer. If you call out the fact that the software will show you the top 20 problems, or will only give you a free diagnosis, then you are often OK in Google’s eyes. This disclosure cannot be hidden in a footer or TOS. It must be clear to the consumer that the product only provides a limited amount of functionality and that they have to purchase the product to unlock its full power.

Another category of free offers are ones where you land on a page and must fill out twenty offers to receive your free iPad. This was a scourge among ads a few years ago and Google has cleaned up most of them. If your ad offers something for free, it must be easy for the consumer to attain. Filling out a single contact or lead generation form to receive the free whitepaper is acceptable. Filling out twenty offers, or sending an offer to twenty friends who must then click on the link and fill out a form before the consumer receives their free product is not OK.

Jump Pages, Bridge Pages, Thin Pages

Jump pages or thin pages are almost always affiliate landing pages. These are pages that exist for one purpose – for you to end up on the merchant’s site with the affiliate’s cookie firmly attached to the visitor’s browser. These pages provide no additional functions, features, or information except to send the visitor to another website.

The reason Google doesn’t like these pages is the same as the arbitrage reasons above. Why shouldn’t the searcher have gone to the merchant’s site directly? There was just another click and wasted time along the way to the real information.

Google doesn’t hate affiliates. Google doesn’t like sites that do not enhance the search experience. If the site compares ten products, shows you the advantages and disadvantages of various merchants, provides advice about buying a product, etc – then the site will often pass Google’s TOS.

If the site does not enhance the search experience, expect it to eventually be banned from Google.

Double, Triple, or Quadruple Ad Serving

Before January 2005, often a searcher would see multiple ads for the same company. Usually one was the merchant and several more were affiliates. This restricted user choice in a search result. After the change, unscrupulous advertisers would create multiple sites and multiple AdWords accounts in order to have more than one ad on a search result page. This is clearly against Google’s TOS.

The problem with double or triple ad serving is that it often works for a long time before it is noticed and dealt with. This leads competitors to complain at first, then notice the accounts are not being banned, and it tempts the legitimate advertisers to try creating multiple sites and multiple accounts in order to compete with the unscrupulous advertisers.

It might work for a day. Often it works for much longer. However, if you get caught, you could lose the ability to advertise on Google forever.

Personally, I wish Google was better at catching this problem. I will see advertisers report these issues for months and nothing happens.  Sometimes it’s so blatantly obvious as there will be exact copies of the same website from multiple ads that you have to wonder why these reported infractions are not dealt with by Google. These ongoing issues lead legitimate advertisers to think that its easy to get away with multiple ad serving. The advertiser’s choice is to go to the dark side to compete, or play it safe and watch their competitors continue to benefit from multiple ad serving.


Usually the word cloaking is associated with SEO. It’s been an issue on the ad side for years. Googlebot and Google employees see one website, those who click on ads from other IP addresses see another website.  Sometimes, this means the landing page is actually breaking many policies, which the other advertisers see and wish to report; but when Google employees look at the site everything looks OK and no action is taken.

When combined with multiple ad serving, this drives other advertiser’s crazy. Usually, the other advertiser do not know cloaking is involved. They see the same site from multiple ads. Google employees see different websites from multiple ads.

If Google actually catches you cloaking, expect your account to be banned and any and all appeals to be reinstated fail.


There are other reasons advertisers get banned, such as repeatedly violating trademark policies, repeatedly violating image ad policies, etc. It is useful to take a look at Google’s site policies. However, the most common reasons ads are banned are not related to the AdWords account directly (except for multiple ad serving).

The most common reasons are mostly related to the landing page and website.

If your landing page provides:

  • Provides unique and good content
  • Provides user choice
  • Clearly informs users about any disclaimers regarding product functions or billing
  • Does not auto-install malware
  • Does not misuse consumer’s information
  • Does not make inaccurate or misleading claims
  • Does not violate other Google policies

Then usually your website is not in danger of being banned.

It is better to be clear to the searcher and lower your conversion rate and profit by a little bit than one day losing access to the largest source of paid traffic on the planet.

No Comments

  1. danhughes
    February 11, 2011 at 10:35 am · Reply

    I think an alternate title to the article could be “Six Tactics that will eventually see Google in Class Action suits”. Ok, maybe not six, but four or five.

    My biggest concern is the retro active nature to policy change punishment. In other words, banning someone today for something they did a long time ago… that wasn’t considered wrong / bannable. Imagine your driving 45mph on a road with a 45mph speed limit. The road used have a 55mph speed limit. A cop pulls you over and tickets you b/c during the 55mph days you used to drive… 55mph. What’s even more insidious is that Google were happy to take your money for the actions thing they are banning your for.

    When it comes to hidden terms and conditions / disclaimers / rebilling, there are *massive* double standards. First of all Google themselves are the Kings of hidden terms and conditions. The are hundreds of things with PPC and SEO that Google considers heinous that you’ll never know about unless you do some serious digging. They religiously hide behind flowery, non-specific language (“other ranking factors”, ” based on various factors including”, “always involve an element of discretion”).

    The terms and conditions of Adwords itself is incomplete and includes a link to for more information. The link doesn’t send you to a specific document, it sends you to another page with another 20 or so links.

    Google’s most disgraceful action is to only apply these policies to those how can least afford to defend themselves and will have only a small impact on Google’s profitability. There are many industries that use dubious claims, hidden / non-obvious policies and billing as standard practice:

    Insurance (auto, home, medical)
    Financial services (credit cards, banking, loans, investments)
    Prescription Drugs
    Mobile phone service providers
    Internet service providers
    Cable / satellite providers
    Attorneys (litigation, defense)

    If Google banned policy offenders universally what would the their 2010 revenues have looked like? Probably not $29 billion.

    A great article for sure. It’s nice to see someone with credibility talking about this stuff.

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