In early July 2015, my client was sent to Google jail. This is their story of life behind bars, and their road to once again becoming a law-abiding advertiser.
Our client, a local sporting goods store with a spotless reputation, hired Workshop Digital to ramp up online sales for some of their secondary (read: non-hunting) products. They already did plenty of in-store business for their hunting equipment, and saw AdWords as a fantastic way to advertise things like coolers, shoes, clothing, etc.
Our campaigns were running smoothly, as we were only advertising the aforementioned products. With new, qualified visitors coming to the site each day, our client was on pace for a record year. Then, without warning, the ads stopped.
Site Suspensions Are The New Black
After digging down to the ad-level of one of our cooler campaigns, we noticed that Google had suspended our site because of a violation of their weapons policy. Although our ads made no mention of firearms, ammo, or any other banned product, and we sent traffic to very specific product pages, the site itself was considered in violation.
Now, for simple ad disapprovals, calling AdWords support is still the quickest and most efficient way to get things done. In cases like this, however, Google serves as judge, jury, executioner, appellate court, parole officer, and all-being keeper of your client’s fate. (Okay, maybe that’s extreme, but it often feels that way.) So, if this happens to you, it’s important to get the re-approval process started as soon as possible.
Follow The Path Of Least Resistance
Google has a number of forms through which you can contact them, but this “Disapproved ads and policy questions” form was the most helpful for me. You’ll get a fairly quick response (within 24 hours) via email from a Google representative, and will be able to use that thread to stay in touch throughout the re-approval process.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to submit this form several times, as your case will likely be routed to a different rep each time. It took me three tries to find someone who fully understood the absurdity of the situation, and went out of her way to get us back on track. Just keep following the path of least resistance, and you’ll eventually get the help you need.
Snitches Get… Nothing.
As I plead my case to several Google reps, I kept reminding them that every other sporting goods store’s website was structured exactly like this, yet their sites were still approved. After giving their stock “our policy team treats every website the same, but isn’t able to monitor every single website” response, most of them encouraged me to report the other advertisers.
Although I’m rather averse to snitching, I did follow their advice and submitted the competitors’ sites for review. What happened, you ask? You won’t believe this, but… nothing.
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Always Be Prepared
Site suspensions come swiftly and without warning. One minute, your ads are running perfectly fine; the next minute, you’re in Google jail. I’ll be totally honest: Google jail is a cold, lonely place, completely devoid of clicks, conversions, and new customers.
If your products or services could even remotely be construed as controversial, you need to have a contingency plan in place. Fortunately, online advertisers have quite a few non-Google sources of traffic to choose from.
Bing It On
Google’s scrappy little brother, Bing, has a sometimes-clunky platform that often leaves them as the punchline of PPC jokes. However, once you get past some of the frustrating features, Bing Ads can be an outstanding source of additional traffic. While Bing does have many of the same policies as Google, it’s quite possible that your site will be approved (or, at least not disapproved) by Bing.
Bing’s best quality, by far is the relative lack of competition, and therefore lower CPCs. You’re not likely to recoup all of your lost AdWords revenue with Bing, but it’s a great place to start.
For eCommerce accounts, Bing also has its own shopping network. If you use a third-party data feed management service like Go Data Feed, you can easily upload your products to Bing.
Go On a Comparison Shopping (Engine) Spree
Speaking of shopping networks… Comparison shopping engines (CSEs) like ShopZilla and NexTag are a great way to get your products in front of potential buyers.
Using the same third-party data feed provider we mentioned above, you can easily get up and running on numerous CSEs. Most platforms use the same CPC model that PPC advertisers are already familiar with, making for an easy apples-to-apples comparison.
Invest in some (Amazon) Prime Real Estate
Sorry, that was really corny.
Amazon, while hyper-competitive and often expensive, is an undeniably rich source of qualified traffic. It may not be the best fit for every advertiser (depending on your profit margins and fulfillment process), but it’s absolutely worth considering.
Now that you’ve activated your contingency plan, it’s time to get out of jail.
Bury the Issue
During the long, painful review process, one theme that emerged was “how easy it is to navigate to the firearms section.” In other words, in fewer than three clicks, you could navigate from fishing coolers to information about the firearms that are available for purchase in store.
Per Google’s advice, and at the expense of user experience, our client added a few steps between the information about their in-store firearms, and every other page on the website. That way, when we sent visitors to a product page for a hot new cooler, they were several clicks away from information about hunting supplies.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Even after we added the (unnecessary) intermediate pages, our site remained suspended. The reason, they said, was the mere presence of hunting/shooting-related words in the navigation was considered “advertising” that product.
So, take a look at the verbiage in your main navigation, hero images and banners, and category pages. Do any of them potentially “advertise” a banned product? If so, consider tweaking your wording to make it less controversial.
Be On Your Best Behavior
Though I have never spent any time in actual prison myself, television has led me to believe that good behavior is rewarded with shortened sentences.
The natural tendency was to be angry with Google for their inconsistent application of the rules, but my frustration got me nowhere. Instead, we quietly implemented all of their recommendations, played by their rules, and kept a smile on our face. The less frustrated we seemed, the more willing our AdWords reps were to help us.
We’re So Back
In late October, after more than three months in the Mountain View slammer, my client’s site was re-approved! It was a joyous day in the office, as we were about to enter into holiday shopping season without our biggest revenue driver. Instead, having spent the previous three months optimizing alternative PPC channels, we had a full arsenal (as it were) of revenue sources at our disposal.
With each network more than pulling its weight, our client had a 25% increase in year-over-year revenue during the holiday shopping season. What started out as a potentially devastating situation was ultimately the reason for our success; had we not expanded to Bing, Amazon, and several CSEs, we never would have experienced so much year-over-year growth.
Unfortunately, site suspensions are largely inevitable, due to Google’s inconsistent policy enforcement. However, if you do find yourself in Google jail, don’t give up! Just stay positive, open every door that Google lets you open, and make sure to explore some alternative revenue sources. Do all of that, and your story is sure to have a happy ending, just like this one!