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 Pushfire 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.