In the movie "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben Der Anderen), a question is asked, "What does an actor do if they can no longer act?"
The movie takes place before the fall of the Wall, in the socialist Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR, a state with an all powerful government that has complete and utter control over its inhabitants lives. The state has complete autonomy to determine the success or failure of any person. There is no appeals process for those whom the state has deemed broke the rules, nor consistency in the passing of judgment. That element of whim is especially dangerous for those trying to live by the state's rule.
At first, such a state almost works, but in the end such suffocating power alienates those living by its rule. And, in a just world where enough outside pressure exists, the people can ultimately find a better life through an alternative system.
Google is such a system. It is the equivalent of a socialist state, and each day it ruins the lives of those dependent upon it. For the ruined, the blacklisted, there is no redemption or reprieve. I know. I am one of them, and I could live with that because I had options. I cannot now because often others do not.
In "The Lives of Others", Albert Jerske is a director blacklisted by the state, and his life never recovers. It wasn't just the impact of his ban on art that was the tragedy but the ruining of a good man. A central character, the writer Georg Dreyman, finally takes action, motivated by the impact the state's overly harsh decision to ban Jerske had on his friend's life. For Albert Jerske to be denied a livelihood didn't just impact Albert but all those whose lives he touched.
Google. Not Just the New Microsoft.
Much has been written about Google being the new Microsoft. The latter has its fair share of detractors, and for the savvy few, they can live their lives free of Microsoft's reach. There is a difference between being able to and having equivalent options easily within reach. You might be able to live without Microsoft, but it's not easy for the vast majority to do so. The same is true of Google. As a consumer, other options exists; whether they are equivalent is up in the air, but they are available for use without difficulty.
As a business, though, you do not have the same ability to live without Google. Whether you rely on organic search traffic or paid search traffic, if the Google Socialist Sate judges you unfit, your business will be ruined. There are workarounds, but all rely on deceiving the state that you no longer practice your trade.
When the State is young and its reach not as widespread, the number of bans to false positives are in alignment. When it must make judgments across an ever increasing universe that has grown in not just scale but complexity and especially subtlety, the State makes mistakes. And that is OK, because everyone will make mistakes. Where it is not OK, and where we are today is when the innocent have no voice.
It's a search engine, what's the big deal?
I used to be of this camp when I'd hear of people who had their publisher sites shut down or their advertiser account banned. Surely, the State had its reasons. They broke the rules. Then, it happened to me, and I had a taste of its potential impact.
As someone that has written extensively about the online space, I am fortunate to have both a broad and deep understanding of many aspects to the online advertising ecosystem. That knowledge doesn't necessarily translate into practical expertise, the same way that some of the best coaches will never play as well as the players they coach. Still, first-hand experience is critical in making for not just a better player but coach. For me, that means understanding what those I write about go through.
I started promoting an offer, having first built out a site to support it. It was a pretty unique offer but the backend for it relied on a technology provider that a wide range of other companies also leveraged. The experience provided just what I hoped it would and a chance to put my money where my words were. Then, one day, about three months after I begin, all traffic stopped. After checking the settings and ruling out the obvious, I wrote in to Google. The reply surprised me.
No AdWords for You.
Google suspended my activities because of "repeated violations." Given that I had never received a warning or error, I sat dumbfounded. I wrote in again. The reply let me know that it wasn't necessarily my account but one to which I was linked. (Given Google's ultimate goal of user experience which includes policies against double listing, if they feel a person has set up two different accounts to game the system, they treat those accounts as one.) That they do this in an automated fashion makes sense given the sheer size of accounts and ease with which a person can set up an account. It's ripe for abuse.
There are countless stories of how accounts get linked, and many are
cautionary tales at best, horror stories at worst for companies who
might not appreciate the consequences. A classic example is as follows.
A person who has access to the company's AdWords accounts has their own
AdWords account. They are a good employee and don't work on their
personal project at the office, but as a good employee they do work on
your business while at home. By accessing both AdWords accounts on the
same machine, Google decides both accounts are the same person despite
their being different. Worst case, the employee breaks the rules with
their personal account. The employer finds their campaigns stopped and
can't get them back online.
With my account, linked because of the technology provider's other clients, I called Google support to see if any additional information would come to light. Dealing with Google is like a bad dream, like the a perversion of justice. Want to know what it's like? Read John Grisham's non-fiction book, The Innocent Man. The arrogance, lack of information, and unwillingness to help by Google employees who find themselves in the position of power and more frustratingly the almost unquestioning trust in their system's correctness in dispensing sentencing. Without a doubt, you are presumed Guilty, but you will not be allowed to prove your innocence.
My suspension was not just frustrating, but it felt like a questioning of my character. You feel like crying out, "Don't you know who I am? People will vouch for me. I'm respected in my field." And on and on. You don't because you know it will fall on deaf ears. And, while your friends feel for you, they know how the State works and won't offer up their relationships in the State to help, lest they need to use their one get out of jail free card for themselves.
No Longer Silent.
The real problem with the suspension is that it's not a suspension. It's a ban, a blacklist. I am tainted. If I want to help someone else out, I can't, unless I do so from a machine that never logs into my gmail account. That was my first mistake. I set up my AdWords account using the gmail account that I use for my entire life.
I didn't write about my ban initially because I had other things to do. My time and effort was being spent on LeadsCon, which is looking fantastic. It's unfortunate that I cannot actually advertise my conference on Google because of my suspension, not unless I go through some extraordinary lengths to make it seem as though it's not actually me behind the conference. I know how to do it, but I don't want to live two lives. My childlike was reaction has simply been to make sure Google is not welcome at my show. We need to understand how to use them, but that doesn't mean they represent the type of company that I want around the people I like and respect. If MSN were smart, they'd make sure to be at the show to tap into marketers who spend more than $2 billion are big in search and display. Yahoo will have some people there, which I think is a smart decision and consistent with their aims of better understanding lead generation especially aftertheir acquisition of Blue Lithium.
My Albert Jerske
This post has certainly had a quasi-therapeutic effect, allowing me to finally share, rather vent, about a personal frustration, but if it comes off only as that, then I've failed at expressing the main point, the danger of Google's policies and raising awareness of a growing problem that impacts a growing number of a legitimate talent each day. It's much like a global warming; you know the problem exists, but until your life has an interruption due to it, you can do a pretty good job ignoring it and paying it lip service.
What really forced me into writing about the Google State was not my experience, which is several months old now, but one that happened to a dear friend, not just my friend but a friend to the industry, a remarkable person, who as it turned out also happened to spend several hundred thousand monthly with Google. Almost insultingly, Google wouldn't assign him an account manager. Can you imagine a company that you spend seven figures with yearly and you didn't have a person in the company to whom you could speak and knew your business?
His particular problem started when Google having sent him a note informing of an infraction early February. Then, on February 13th, a follow-up email came saying that they had done as requested. Google had said that his campaigns contained too many irrelevant keywords. Like many of the more sophisticated, he was a long-tail bidder, and long-tail is often audience based, especially, and as was the case for him, when spending money on content sites. It makes sense to advertise a high end watch on high end car words. There is an audience overlap. A person spending money on a $100k+ car is the same one who is likely to want a $5k Panerai. His weren't quite that far reached, but it's the same concept.
My Albert Jerske, my amazing talent of a human being who was blacklisted, didn't expect to receive a note sent at 5pm PST this past Friday saying that his accounts were being shut done and that any new campaigns or accounts he tries to set up would be declined. He's not on PST. Do you think Google works on the weekend? No. What type of behavior is that on their part to shut down his business, which isn't just him but a staff of people who rely on him for employment, at the end of day on a Friday?
You could blame him for not diversifying, not figuring out display or email or not doing scale with other engines, but anyone who actually spends money on search, I mean truly spends money, knows the fallacy of those arguments. Google is the online advertising platform for an enormous group of companies, much like Microsoft is for personal computing. Not everyone can be a Toyota or Proctor and Gamble (or wants to be); not every company has a business which doesn't really need search. For those that do, Google is the only real alternative.
Remembering Spider Man
The Jewish people call it Yiddishe Kopf. It's a way of thinking and caring for your fellow human, a type of consideration and compassion. If you are a superhero, you could describe it as Spider Man's Uncle Ben did, "With great power comes great responsibility." It's the Golden Rule, and that's just the problem. For Google, the Golden Rule is mathematical. They revere phi. For a just society, we revere a much different Golden Rule. Google could learn to get in touch with that other Golden Rule. Mathematics might help describe the universe, but it can't help the people of the world.
I can accept a mistake made against me, but I can't can't when something happens to someone as dear as family. I respect and appreciate what Google has done and built, what they provide. But, I don't like them, and I certainly don't trust them.
Actions speak louder than words. Google has always had the right things to say, but their words are empty in the face of their actions, a shield that weak people hide behind to feel righteous and better. it's time for the world to see that the emperor has no clothes and for those inside the State to change lest their Wall comes down and leaves all the bureaucrats without their layer of ill-earned, ill-deserved, and protective self-importance.