"I am about to reveal what Google doesn't want you to know... because most of Google doesn't know!"
When I talk to various people in the internet advertising industry, I have yet to meet anyone of any sophistication many large spenders who love Google. They may like them, respect them, and need them, but they feel lukewarm at most towards the company and brand as a whole. For them, Google is the cable company or what AT&T was twenty years ago, a company with whom you have to use, one that no matter how much they try and act as though their business exists for you, regardless of their actual sincerity in saying so, you can't fully believe given their power and leverage. For the savvy marketer, Google is the mafia don, giver of wealth but fickle, ruthless, and a relationship that requires constant feather gloves, living with constant anxiety, never sure when the next hit will be you.
My marketing life ended two years with little fanfare. One day my ads were running. The next they weren't. No emails, no warnings, and most challenging of all, no recourse - no chance to learn what I did wrong to educate others, no chance to correct, improve, appeal or atone. If only my story were unique. Instead it happens daily to countless marketers, many legitimate, many like me who get caught up in the machine learning, false positive inducing world of Google Quality Score and Ad Policy enforcement. Looking for some in the weed understanding of the daily challenge faced by the small to midsize marketer? Have a read of this WebMasterWorld thread on Adwords. Lucky for this individual, they received an email first.
Everyone has their two degrees of separation from someone who got Google-whacked. A successful search engine marketer (white hat) wrote the other day, "I know of a company...largest affiliate for <redacted> that had all their Google accounts closed b/c they kept relaunching campaigns under new domains after they got hit with low quality score." Now, that ban makes sense, at least as its described. The company tried to play the system and lost.
Quality is Job #1
Anytime I or any individual criticizes Google, it requires a delicate balance, because a single voice against an established system always struggles not to sound like whiny and scorned. When a system becomes ingrained and accepted, dissenting voices get marginalized and those with dissent often relegated to the same category as conspiracy theorists. So, let's focus not a problem but one of Google's wonderful inventions - Quality Score. Google has a history of systematizing and automating through technology business operations that most either didn't do routinely or did manually. Evaluating and ranking first landing pages, then the various components of the ecosystem around the landing page - keywords, ad groups, campaigns, and ad text - makes incredible sense and worked out to be one of those decisions that even if it was the most capitalistic of decisions, i.e. make more money, looks almost purely user focused, a decision that just happened to be one of their major inflection points (another being the decision earlier on to take CTR not just CPC into account when pricing ads).
Quality Score is truly great. No one that I know dislikes the concept of Quality Score, only its implementation. To quote another marketer, "How can you be for 100% sure if a site is in violation with the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines before you submit the site?" Put another way, "How can Adwords ban you for submitting sites that that seems to be in violation with the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines while there is not a tool where can check if an URL is ok to submit?"
The Google Answer (phrased in English rather than the non-transparent Googlish):
A) All the information you could ever want is available on our website. Never mind that each statement leads you to say, "Well what does that mean exactly." If you are a real company you wouldn't even have to ask these questions.
B) We don't want you to know. We don't trust you. You will just game the system further. If you are a real company you wouldn't even have to ask these questions.
C) We don't actually care about fairness and equality. We are a company of the intellectual elite and no matter how sincere we think we are being, our elitist attitude seeps into our work.
The Google Whack
This is the type of note you might receive if your site has been flagged by Google as one that has violated their terms. You may or MAY NOT have received a warning.
Your Google AdWords account has been suspended due to multiple submissions of poor quality landing pages. We are unable to revoke your account suspension, and we will not accept advertisements from you in the future.
Please note that our support team is unable to help you with this issue, and we ask that you do not contact them about this matter. If you need more information about our Landing Page and Site Quality guidelines, please visit ...
As noted in our Terms and Conditions, Google reserves the right to terminate advertisements for any reason. To view our Terms and Conditions, please visit ...
We appreciate your cooperation."
Note the language. "Our support team is unable to help you..." and most important of all, "We are unable to revoke your account suspension, and we will not accept advertisements from you in the future." If you aren't incensed, outraged, and absolutely frightened, check your pulse. If you are a class action lawyer, get going. These are the makings of issues far larger than click fraud. This is people's livelihoods.
You have only one identity with Google. You could end up in a completely different line of work, go from the online equivalent of drug dealer to guidance counselor. But if you were banned once, you are still banned. People simply don't understand the magnitude of the issue. And in five years when the first suits start happening, it will be too late. Any meaningful change too little to make a difference with their coffers, like Microsoft's five years ago, too full to matter.
These bans are nothing short of identity fraud.
The Double Standard
Now, before you dismiss those for whom Google ended their marketing lives, thinking they just sit around and kvetch, either virtually on forums or on overly long blog posts, that they are just a noisy group of people who broke the rules and simply can't take their punishment, you need to know the hidden secrets to Google.
- They don't understand the advertising world. They are a technology company whose engineers create rules (they won't use the word rules) for a ecosystem whose gradations mean almost nothing to them. The handful of engineers who do understand the internet advertising landscape, end up leaving because they see the gaping holes of opportunity that Google doesn't and won't grasp. Luckily for them, these holes represent companies that will be purchased for hundreds of millions of dollars, some by Google.
- Google is a profit machine with a double standard. All advertisers are not treated equal. Quality Score is to many the Wizard of Oz, a mystical and almost mythical being that controls their lives, a faceless demi-god that if sacrifices were desired, sacrifices it would get. Quality Score is not a being. It is a knob. A lever that can be manually adjusted and is adjusted.
Big Whale Hunting: What Google Doesn't Want You to Know
What do they call those who spend a lot money at a casino - whales. What do whales get - almost anything they want. Who does every casino want - a whale. Who is the real internet casino - Google. Who gets special treatment - whales.
Spend enough at Google and the rules for others don't apply.
Spend enough and the curtain gets removed from the Wizard of Oz. The dialog goes something like this, "You're site just got dinged by a new quality score release? Hold on. I will make sure to do an override so that you aren't automatically hit."
It can also go like this, "I just wanted to let you know that there will be a policy change coming up that will impact quality score. Here is what you need to do in order to comply."
We're not talking about non-savvy, big spenders who get a courtesy call. We are talking about some of the most savvy, big spenders whose businesses continually push the limits of what Google considers adding value. These are some of the necessary evil sites, ones that Google will probably copy / push out eventually but for now, they spend enough and aren't bad enough. These are companies that also break the rules, but who have been reinstated or saved before being completely blacklisted. And, perhaps most importantly of all, these aren't unique properties. These are businesses where a number of similar players exist, but if you aren't at a certain threshold or don't know the right person (which often go together), yours will be shut down while theirs will still run.
I don't blame Google for doing this. It's how any company would act to protect their revenue, public or private. They are after all a company, and no matter what the founders believe regarding the vision of the platform, the day to day business managers must cope with pushing growth and the people responsible for that growth. Some people might work for the joy of the product (and they make some great products), but more than a few work there to make money. And no one, not even Google, can make money - this much money - without people willing to take some risk and treat some clients better than others.
The Trusted Spender
The special treatment, documented in email exchanges and not some internet advertising lore, sounds more and more like an informal trusted spender program. If you are big enough, you get treated like a human by a human. That's all that everyone else really wants. And, while in theory it is not good that two people in like businesses receive different treatment based on their monetary value to the company, in practice it is understood and begrudgingly accepted. As practiced by Google, though, it amounts to segregation. Why should one get to do something the other can't? Quality Score in a casino is done the same way as Google - as a price deterrent. You can't play at certain tables unless you can spend a certain amount. Google's version of course works the reverse. It tries to discourage people by setting high minumums.
Google and Casino's both have their whales. The big difference today is that Google resembles the lawless Vegas from years past while Vegas casinos come off as the more democratic institution. Lucky for Google so few people really understand the implications of their injustice that those who do will continue to be lone whistle blowers of a frequency no one can hear.