Online Marketing Blog

Is Your Business Model In Line With Google’s?

Google is known for taking an extremely hard line approach to those using it’s products that break their policies. This goes for every product, including AdWords. With adsense, if you click your ads you understandably get banned and even as an AdWords advertiser, if you break the policies, you are treated with equal indiscrimination regardless of how much you spend. AdWords advertisers spending millions a year have woken up to find that Google simply doesn’t like them any more and they can take their money elsewhere.

Google AdWords & Affiliate Marketing.

To be able to keep on top of the ever changing search marketing space, we absolutely have to operate our own sites. How can we help a client with their e-commerce site if we don’t have one ourselves or at least worked on one before? It would be like paying an accountant to do your accounts with no experience only after reading “accounting for dummies”.

To operate our own sites, we’ve had to create and build sites from scratch and use those sites to better understand what makes each search engine tick. We could hardly test sometimes risky techniques on clients sites now could we?  The lowest point of entry to do this is affiliate marketing. I have never spoken about affiliate marketing on this blog before, but I am going to today.

Let’s get this straight, Google most certainly DOES hate affiliates , to be more specific, affiliates that use AdWords and I completely understand why. Leaving aside the fact that a large majority promote some less than savory products or services (and sometimes outright illegal products and services) from Google’s point of view, it is NOT an affiliates job to help a searcher (their customer) to find a product or service, it’s theirs.

One of the most important articles I have read on Google’s view of affiliate marketing that sums things up has been AdWords Quality Score: Can Your Business Model be banned written by Andrew Goodman of Page Zero Media. This article was WAY ahead of it’s time and if you are an affiliate marketer, I suggest that you read it if you use AdWords. The basic idea here for affiliates is to adapt and either change your business model or get the hell out. Rae Hoffman of Outspoken Media has the definitive guide on where to go from here with affiliate marketing. If you have not read this, you’re way behind. The days of affiliates providing no value making a quick and easy buck are long gone. If you’re not adding value, and a lot of it, you’re in trouble. I would also like to point out that the lines between Google’s paid and organic search policies is increasingly becoming thinner. What you could once “get away with” because you paid Google is no longer possible. PPC SEO is now real.

Advertisers Caught In The Crossfire

One of the benefits (and sometimes a hindrance) of being an AdWords qualified company is that we have direct contact with the AdWords agency team. We have a love-hate relationship with our Google reps and sometimes I have been outright rude to them (Sorry Guys!) because of their notoriously cryptic and secretive policies. But when you learn to read between the lines of what they are saying, their policies make sense and you can learn a lot.

Now, many “innocent” advertisers have been caught up in Google’s crackdown on affiliates using AdWords by getting “slapped” with €10 minimum bids (affectionately called a Google Slap), effectively making their accounts unsustainable. While I don’t agree with how they go about it, I understand why they do it. It makes sense to keep your “product” (AdWords) clean but doing it in Google’s stereotypical automatic way can cause a lot of false positives. If you are a legitimate advertiser caught up in a Google slap, there is something that you can do:

  • Make sure that you have done everything you can to improve your quality score.
  • Make sure you have no prominent affiliate links.
  • Make sure any affiliate links are marked as “sponsored”.
  • Make sure it is clear that your business model is NOT commission based. (In the traditional affiliate sense)
  • Make sure that you have a physical address on your site.
  • Make sure your site follows all quality guidelines. (As usual, this is only a TINY subset)
  • Make sure your site is not a bridge page or a bridge site.
  • Make sure you offer your own product or service.
  • Submit your site for a manual review.

*If you are an affiliate, don’t bother submitting your site for a manual review, you’ll only make yourself look stupid. Google doesn’t want affiliates as advertisers any more. If you can’t read between the lines here, you probably shouldn’t be a PPC affiliate. The age of white labeling has begun ;)

Once a Google support rep has reviewed your site and is confident that you are not an affiliate, after a day or two, you should see your minimum bids go back to normal and your traffic flow again. For a more detailed breakdown of what I believe is involved in this “review” I would highly recommend joining the SEObook Community. There is some juicy… updated documents behind the scenes over there that can help a LOT in understanding what a “rater” is looking for.

Perry Marshall makes an excellent point in his Google’s secret criteria post for judging (and slapping) websites:

Might I suggest…. add “Would a Google rep send her grandmother to this site” to your bag of tricks and let’s all do our best to make the Internet a more trustworthy place.

Above all, don’t make Google look stupid and remember an adwords advertiser is not a Google customer, the average Joe Soap searcher is.

UPDATE: Looks like this is getting worse. The writing has been on the wall since I wrote this and now a lot more genuine advertisers are being outright “banned by the algo”. Barry has some coverage here and banned multi million dollar advertisers are having their say over on WebmasterWorld.

UPDATE 2: Google has just updated it’s “Website Types to Avoid” page here. Some notable additions pretty much in line with what I have been saying are:

Affiliate sites that the primary purpose of which is to drive traffic to another site with a different domain

Poor comparison shopping or travel sites whose primary purpose is to send users to other shopping/travel comparison sites, rather than to provide useful content or additional search functionality

I think the writing is on the wall. It’s only a matter of time before this sort of thing starts being inforced in the organic SERPS.


  1. avatar
    bruce Says:
    August 13th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Interesting article, but why do you link to questions/posts that are so old… one from 2007 and one from 2008.. I mean google has updated the algo like 15 times since then, everything said is old, and not very useful.. Could you add some links from 2009

    Reply

  2. avatar
    Stephanie Courtney Says:
    August 13th, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    You are spot on about Google, though the article takes an unexpected left turn in the middle. Coming from California and working in the Irish/UK market, I am often amazed (AMAZED) at how marketers here think of Google. It’s their website. It’s not a TV station, you don’t have the RIGHT to advertise with them. The searchers you’re trying to reach are Google’s customers and their first and only priority is to the searcher. If you want to reach the searchers that use their web site, you have to play by their rules. And the truth is, the reason they have the customers they have is that their way works for the searcher. Stop thinking of Google as a TV, radio station or newspaper. Their web site will go on whether you advertise with them or not. If you think of it in old fashioned terms, the searcher is to Google what the customer mailing list used to be to any utility monopoly (all the customers are theirs). If you want to run your ad in their newsletter or on their mailing list, you have to do it their way. Google owes advertisers NOTHING. And if other sites stopped showing crappy, flashy, unbelievably intrusive ads, I might, as a searcher, stop relying on Google to be my shopping mall, but until then, I advertise with them for the same reason I use their service, it works and it’s not annoying.

    Reply

  3. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    August 13th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Stephanie, Thanks for stopping by.

    To be honest, I come from both ends of the spectrum on this issue, so it’s difficult to be black or white on the topic as you can imagine. I think my post was fair to both sides though.

    I couldn’t agree more on your points. I’m a lurker on a lot of affiliate forums and some expect Google to treat them like royalty because they spend a few hundred thousand dollars with them. In fact, google makes a specific point here:

    http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html

    “Focus on the user and all else will follow, Google has steadfastly refused to make any change that does not offer a benefit to the users who come to the site”

    “By always placing the interests of the user first, Google has built the most loyal audience on the web. And that growth has come not through TV ad campaigns, but through word of mouth from one satisfied user to another.”

    They say it themselves and it’s obvious they have absolutely no loyalty to ANY advertiser that doesn’t fit with the aforementioned truths.

    The point I tried to make on balance was that many advertisers who fit into their mould of an “acceptable” advertiser were thrown out with the bathwater.

    Reply

  4. avatar
    Amy Helen Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for such Useful and Nice tips DAVE…That was really useful.

    Reply

  5. avatar
    Wilson Pon Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Dave, many Google adwords users think the Google company should treat them like kings/queens, due to the huge amount of money they’re spending in the Google adwords! They didn’t notice that Google is the “Justice Rider”, who treat everyone equally in the internet games! They show no mercy to whom that breaks the rules…

    Reply

  6. avatar
    Stephen Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Does this mean that affiliates are no longer able to run PPC campaigns. There are many big and authority sites that promote services of other providers. Commission based affiliate marketing is very common in fields like finance, travel, education, health and many more.

    Reply

  7. avatar
    Nick Stamoulis Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    The reality is that Google can treat anybody how it wants and advertisers will keep coming back because nothing beats it…right now at least. We will see 10 years down the road who holds the majority of search.

    Reply

  8. avatar
    Kieron Donoghue Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Utter rubbish. Google does not hate affiliate sites it hates BAD websites, some of which may be affiliate sites and some may well be merchant/retailer sites. I’ve been advertising my affilate sites on Google AdWords since before they even launched in the UK and have never had a problem. Sure, Google messes with the quality score algorithm but that’s just to weed out the rubbish. I know lots and lots of retailers who have been slapped and don’t advertise any more with Google.

    On the other hand I know LOTS of affiliates who work very closely with Google AdWords, they have even been invited to Mountain View and have very close relationships with their account managers.

    Your “Google hates affiliates” quote is misleading and sensationalist. I expected better from this blog, try doing some research before writing such ridiculous statements.

    Reply

  9. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Kieron, thanks for stopping by. While the statement may be a little sensationalist I believe it’s true. Perhaps I should have said that “Google hates affiliates that provide little value” and this measure of value from my experience is getting smaller and smaller.

    You may have survived or adapted to the latest clear out but Kieron, I have seen sites like some of yours being flushed out with little more than an email with a link to the quality guidelines.

    Account age and trust are huge factors in maintaining a good quality score and “getting away” with some smaller things but this is always being reviewed. How would you feel if your HIGH QUALITY affiliate sites were spat out in the next round? Would you change your tune? Just because it hasn’t happened to you yet, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

    I’d also like to point out that I am NOT talking about affiliate sites that run the garbage ringtone/acai/rebill crap either. Have you noticed a LOT of comparison shopping sites that DID INDEED offer (a lot of IMHO) value that are no longer advertising. next on the list:

    https://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?answer=66238&cbid=yoik9y35dwv1&src=cb&lev=answer

    * eBook sites
    * ‘Get rich quick’ sites
    * Comparison shopping sites
    * Travel aggregators
    * Affiliates

    Reply

  10. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Stephen, that is NOT what I am saying (and I think I may have led Kieron to believe that’s what I said too).

    Of course there are still affiliates who still run PPC with Google, we’re one of them! The point is that the measure of value that is expected to be provided to the searcher is always on the increase. Because of this “unpublished” measurement many advertisers are being thrown out with the affiliates that provide no value.

    Reply

  11. avatar
    Kieron Donoghue Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Dave, because being an affiliate offers a low barrier to entry for many, there are by definition a lot or rubbish, poor quality affiliate sites. These are quite rightly “slapped” by Google and kicked off Adwords. I have no problem with that.

    But I also know of retailers, info sites, brochure sites etc than have also been kicked off, for exactly the same reasons – they have crap sites.

    Affiliate sites have mainly a bad rep because of the low barrier to entry and the fact that there are a lot of get-rich quick, thin landing page sites etc. that fall into the affiliate category and that’s why they are on Google’s “watch” list.

    What I STRONGLY object to is your inaccurate statement that Google hates affiliates. I will say it again, nonsense.

    Myself, and many many other affiliates I know have been working closely with Google for years to ensure we stay within their guidelines and continue to use Adwords. Some of Google’s biggest advertisers are in fact affiliates. It’s really not rocket science, all Google want is advertisers to have good sites that offer value to users. Simple. It is a massive misconception that Google automatically slaps or penalises sites that have affiliate links. Google are way smarter than that.

    To answer your question, if my high quality affliate sites were spat out I wouldn’t be happy. But guess what, they haven’t been spat out in ten years so I can’t see it happening.

    The fact that Google doesn’t like comparison sites isn’t the point either. Personaly I like comparison sites and use them. However, Google don’t and that’s their choice.

    Show me a high quality affiliate site that’s been kicked off Google and I’ll change my tune. However I doubt you can.

    One last point, you shouldn’t have said “Google hates affiliates that provide little value”. You should have simply said ““Google hates sites that provide little value”. Way more accurate.

    Reply

  12. avatar
    Jeffrey Henderson Says:
    August 18th, 2009 at 12:16 am

    What you’re missing here is that Google hates affiliate marketing because it competes with AdWords and they don’t like that. Google’s real goal is to force advertisers using affiliates to spend directly with Google.

    Reply

  13. avatar
    Sergey Rusak Says:
    August 18th, 2009 at 3:20 am

    I don’t blame Google, quality search result if you bring searcher directly to seller of product or service. Google don’t want middle people to be in their search result.

    When I shop online I don’t like when I waiste my time on some website to find something I need and right when I click “buy” button it brings me to completely different site where I have to start shopping process from the beginning.

    Reply

  14. avatar
    Sam Says:
    August 18th, 2009 at 5:24 am

    hii … that is really very nice post… thanks a lot for sharing with all of us… you have great writing skills

    Reply

  15. avatar
    wilhb81 Says:
    August 21st, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Dave, some people love to take on the risk, as they think it should be fined, as they’re the ones who paying for the advertising! However, they didn’t realize that they’re playing with fire!

    Reply

  16. avatar
    Muscut Says:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 5:44 am

    hi Dave.. this is really a very nice post. google is very strict against the people who break the rules of google indeed. People used to click there own ads so that they can earn some more money but they are not well aware of google’s power of capturing these kind of frauds. well thanks for sharing this post with us.. good luck..

    Reply

  17. avatar
    Ed Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    (from the point-of-view of a non-search/SEO person)Anyone involved in some way with search marketing has to think hard about Google´s overall business model. Involves reading and research but a lot, too, has to be common sense (especially now as Google have so much experience at what they do – they will have pretty much fine-tuned, for most people, the fine-tuning of rules and how to catch those who over-step them). But as a non-search/SEO person, I place value in those with experience in it, to optimize site, as well as to warn against (as opposed to encourage) any aspect of affiliate marketing, for example, that might have negative results with Google.

    Reply

  18. avatar
    brian Says:
    October 3rd, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Google has its own affiliate program. So they clearly can’t be opposed to affiliate marketing as a concept, and must believe that it adds value somewhere…

    Reply

  19. avatar
    brian Says:
    October 3rd, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    One annoying exception to the rules seems to be Ask.com, which essentially advertises their search results via Google’s search results, which is some sort of PPC arbitrage on a huge scale. They signed a big contract with Google several years ago and basically are adding a middleman to the search process. Wonder if that contract will be renewed. Ask.com=useless.

    Reply

  20. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    October 9th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Google has just updated it’s “Website Types to Avoid” page here:

    http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66238

    “Affiliate sites that the primary purpose of which is to drive traffic to another site with a different domain”

    Another notable addition is: “Poor comparison shopping or travel sites whose primary purpose is to send users to other shopping/travel comparison sites, rather than to provide useful content or additional search functionality”

    @kieron, while I agree that Google hates BAD sites, I think there are very few affiliates using adwords who are NOT trying to send the traffic elsewhere. I may be wrong, but unless it’s a white label solution, most affiliates primary purpose is to drive traffic to another domain, even after providing the “value” in the form of a review or comparison.

    Reply

  21. avatar
    Gabe Killian Says:
    October 20th, 2009 at 5:18 am

    PPC SEO is truly real indeed! Google is forcing its participants in to creating a better quality experience for those who use it… the average consumer/researcher and everyday people. Now affiliate marketers have to really work for their money, but as a result, the quality of business transactions taking place becomes better as a whole. Although it may seem like bullying, Google is doing its best to create a better Internet experience – which is a pretty strong statement if you ask me, but miraculous nonetheless.

    Reply

  22. avatar
    John Says:
    November 5th, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    When it comes to affiliate marketers you obviously have no idea what you are talking about. Affiliate marketers run some of the top websites on the web. True affiliate marketers represent real products that give real results from soft ware to washer and dryers computers printers ex, So to generalize like you did goes to show your lack of understanding of what a Affiliate marketer does. You should do your research a little better before you make generalized comments

    Reply

  23. avatar
    Dave Davis Says:
    November 5th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Jumping the gun a little there John? I know you run an affiliate network so I’ll forgive your oversight.

    How exactly did I generalize what an affiliate marketer is? I know what an affiliate marketer is, I am one.

    Unless your comment wasn’t directed at me (in which case, that’s my fault for not having threaded comments yet)then I think you fail to grasp what my point is.

    my point was that Google hates affiliates who use AdWords. This point was proved by them PUBLISHING IN THEIR OWN GUIDELINES just DAYS after this post was published exactly what I was saying.

    I am NOT saying that affiliates don’t add value (although many do not).

    In Google’s own words: “Website types to avoid: Affiliate sites that the primary purpose of which is to drive traffic to another site with a different domain”.

    Reply

  24. avatar
    Magnus Nilsson Says:
    November 15th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Enjoyed the post. Have the same thoughts on affiliates in particular.

    Reply

  25. avatar
    SEO Talk Forum Says:
    November 20th, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Nice Article again Dave, RSS feed added for sure.

    I particularly liked the update of TOS with the comment you highlighted :

    Another notable addition is: “Poor comparison shopping or travel sites whose primary purpose is to send users to other shopping/travel comparison sites, rather than to provide useful content or additional search functionality”

    Reply

  26. avatar
    daya Says:
    March 13th, 2010 at 5:34 am

    Thank-you for the useful info as I am just starting to learn more about internet marketing myself.

    Reply

  27. avatar
    Michael Says:
    October 10th, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    And if other sites stopped showing crappy, flashy, unbelievably intrusive ads, I might, as a searcher, stop relying on Google to be my shopping mall, but until then, I advertise with them for the same reason I use their service, it works and it’s not annoying.

    Reply