All's Fair In Love And PPC: Understanding AdWords Policy

By Lauren Rosner | @lkrosner | Sr. Production Specialist

I am a rule-follower. I always have been. Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style continues to be my go-to writing guide (which is why I will never say the phrase “I am nauseous” and neither should you). This doesn’t mean I never break rules, but I am a firm believer in understanding why a rule is there before throwing it out the window.

 

Why am I talking about rule-following on the greatest PPC blog around? Well, because my Associate Director has given me the nickname “The Queen of Disapprovals.” And I would like to share with you how I navigate the sometimes murky waters of Google Advertising policy.

 

It is tricky, this business of buying ad space on Google. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that most if not all of you reading this run PPC campaigns for reputable companies. Your product or service provides benefits to those to whom you serve ads. Therefore, complying with Google policy should be a piece of cake. Oh, but wait! There are items to consider:

 

  • Trademarks
  • Punctuation
  • Landing page experience
  • How your site is built

 

The list goes on and on. So before you start to feel like your right to advertise (that’s a thing, right?) is being challenged, let me share my experience on the policy battleground.

 

Editorial

 

Style and Spelling

 

For advertisers using text ads, these faux pas are fairly easy to avoid, as AdWords Editor will prevent you from posting if you have violated many of these policies.

 

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This one is a no-brainer. Don’t try to pull the wool over Google’s eyes. They see all. Basically, if you use each field of the ad for its intended purpose. You should be in the clear.

 

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No one likes gimmicky ads. This is not 1988. You are not advertising for a monster truck rally (or maybe you are?). In my experience, I tend to avoid CTAs with “here.” No “Learn More Here.” No “Buy Here.” To me, the “here” is implied and it just makes for better ad copy without it.

 

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Advertising in English? Use proper English grammar. Here is the thing: Google will not catch all spelling errors. Have you heard the one where the seasoned PPCer pushed through ads with a misspelling? No? It’s a good one.

 

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You have a chance to be much more creative with image ads. If you build images outside of AdWords, you better know what you are doing. Rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop or, dare I say, Paint is not going to fly. If you want to run image ads but can’t produce them in an external program, then I suggest AdWords AdGallery. AdGallery is going to be restrictive (it has gotten better over the past year), but it allows you to create ads Google is going to approve—as long as you avoid grammar mistakes and gimmicks of course.

 

Destination Requirements

 

Editorial guidelines are fairly simple to follow. We were in shallow waters with editorial—we could still see our feet. Now we must swim into the deeper waters of destination requirements.

 

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Destination experience is about as subjective as Google gets. This is my wheelhouse. My client advertises in the sweepstakes vertical. Though being a fast-growing, reputable company that has been featured on the Inc 5000 list, Google, well, Google gets finicky with sweepstakes. Just as they are finicky with supplements, pharma products, rehab facilities, debt and loan companies, etc.

 

Recently, Google suspended my client’s site for violating the destination experience policy. This was quite shocking to both the client and the Hanapin team as the campaign had been running for 2 full weeks without a whisper of any issue. Then one morning I opened my email to find the following:

 

email

 

As you see, besides saying “fix your site by making necessary changes”, the email provides no detail to the specific issue.

 

Here’s what I did:

 

  1. I thoroughly read through the destination experience policy.
  2. I went through each point and compared it to the site, specifically paying attention to site speed (did something happen on the back end that slowed our site load time?), parked domain (did our site go down? Were there any changes made?), and interstitial ads (I paid particular attention to this as “interstitial” is a word I have never used and actually had to look up the meaning).
  3. Once I cleared everything on the list and had found everything to be in tip-top shape, I reached out to the Google policy team for more clarity.
  4. The policy team was able to provide much more detail as to the exact reason for the disapproval and my client was able to make the necessary changes to the site (the issue was due to ambiguous language on a Thank-You page).

 

I left out several steps between 3 and 4. The steps include melting into a pile of despair, shaking my fist at imaginary Google powers that be, about 21 emails, and a handful of phone calls. My point is, don’t give up if you hit a wall with peeling back the layers on policy violation. Keep hounding Google until you understand what you need to do to get back up and running.

 

Working Around Policy

 

As I mentioned at the start, I am a rule-follower. I do not condone being sneaky and trying to trick Google. I do recommend knowing your options and having open conversations with Google.

 

Trademarks

 

Etailers selling products from multiple brand names run into issues with trademarks all the time. Showcasing brand selection becomes a game of hot potato for advertisers. There are times when a branded term sneaks by Google’s system and your ad shows no problem. But don’t rely on being sneaky as it will more than likely come back to bite you later.

 

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If you search for “Nike Running Shoes,” which of the ads above indicate you will be taken to a page that actually has Nike running shoes? The left one! While the right ad is a good ad, as a consumer, I am more likely to click on the ad that is congruent with my search.

 

Do not fret. Google doesn’t want to prevent you from advertising on these terms, you just need permission. So before sending your third party brand term ads into the universe, make sure you fill out these forms for Google. Yes, it is just like having a permission slip signed, except instead of it being signed by your mother, it is being signed by the trademark owner.

 

Proceed With Caution

 

If you are unsure if your ad language, image, or site complies with policy you have a couple options:

 

  • Submit your campaigns or ads with caution and hope it goes through no problem. This is a risk, as it can sneak through at first but become disapproved down the road. Be prepared to react should you run into issues and keep in mind that repeated violations will get you permanently shut down faster than a restaurant with an E. coli breakout.
  • Call Google and ask. Explain your situation and see if you will run into any problems. Google will always tell you that nothing is a sure bet until you actually submit it, but they can guide you in the right direction. Worst case scenario they will tell you no, which is a bummer, but at least you know how to make things right moving forward.

 

Don’t Fight Authority

 

John Mellencamp said it best. If you go head to head with Google and push too hard, chances are, they will push back harder. As much as I want to grumble and complain about Google’s sometimes restrictive policies (what if I want to use three exclamation points? This offer is really exciting!!!), I understand the policies exist to create a fair marketplace for advertisers and an enjoyable experience for searchers.