Google Adwords – Mid to Long Tail – Google Doesn’t Care?

One of the hottest stories of the weekend without doubt was Armand Morin revealing that a Google Adwords rep had told one of his affiliates, in an email, that he needed to fix Armand’s site or remove it from the internet for unacceptable business practices, or remain with his Adwords account suspended.

Armand revealed that another client had a sales letter leading to a Clickbank order form get banned.

In both cases the Google Adwords terms being violated was supposedly using a bridge page.

This is crazy stuff, and you can join the 170+ commenters in expressing your outrage.

I will come back to this momentarily.

Google Adwords Elite

The Google Adwords team seem to practice the 80:20 rule, favoring their big advertisers (and themselves).

Adage today for instance has had some advertising data leaked to them by someone.

Lets grab some yummy data to play with:-

June 2010 Adwords Spending

Company Adwords Spend in $ USD Millions
AT & T Mobility 8.08
Apollo Group 6.67
Expedia 5.95
Amazon 5.85
Ebay 4.25
BP 3.59
Hotels.com 3.30
JC Penney 2.46
Living Social 2.29
ADT Security 2.19
GM < 0.500
Walt Disney < 0.500
Eastman Kodak < 0.500
BMW < 0.500
Apple < 1.000
Intel < 1.000
Yellow Pages 1.200

Adage also state:-

While the search-spending document obtained by Advertising Age is not a complete list of advertisers on Google, the accuracy of its data was verified by multiple sources with direct knowledge of spending levels.

Adage’s story concentrates on BP Advertising so I am not going to touch on that at all

Top 10 in document accounted for 5% of US Revenue for the month

Also:-

47 advertisers > $1M
71 advertisers $0.5M to $1M
357 advertisers $0.100M to $0.500M

These are all direct bill not self serve advertisers
Google Total global annual revenue $23000M ($23B)

Lets Do Some Math

I am going to assume totally flat distribution to make my rudimentary inadequate accounting skills look good.

Top10 Total = $44.63M
37 Advertisers also do $1M+ thus 37 * 1.5 = $55.5M
71 advertisers 0.5 to $1M thus 71 * 0.75 = $53.25M
357 Advertisers $0.100M to $0.500M thus 357 * $0.200 = $71.4M
(ok I cheated on that one to flatten the long tail a little $0.3M would be the mid-point)

475 Advertisers spent $224.78M

June would be a fairly quiet month compared to the run up to Christmas, but with total revenues of $23B globally, and allowing for the statement by Adage that this list is not comprehensive, I think it would be fair to assume that the long tail of Google’s total revenue is worth more to them than 20% of total revenue.

You could imagine if 80% of Google’s revenue came from just 100 advertisers that the long tail customers would be less important, but it could well be that 40-50% of revenue from search advertising comes from smaller advertisers – though a lot of those would be managed by agencies.

Back To Armand & Secret PPC

Secret PPC is a training course for Google Adwords Display Advertising teaching how to get clicks that convert into sales for as little as $0.01
I have seen and even paid for similar courses from other marketers (such as one from Alex Goad) thus just by watching the intro video from Armand I can tell that the training is probably a viable method, 100% sustainable and isn’t breaking Google’s Adwords terms of service.

This was being promoted with a launch price back in January 2010 – I don’t know whether the complaint was from that period, or from ongoing promotion at the higher price.

The affiliate sending traffic to Armand’s site would be using a link such as this one

http://www.SecretPPC.com/x.php?af=428465

Here is a clean link http://www.SecretPPC.com/ but you can’t test the redirects yourself with that one.

That is a real affiliate link, I signed up to Armand’s affiliate program years ago and as often happens never promoted anything, but I still have 5 years worth of emails in my archives. Also as I mentioned in my comments on Armand’s post I have seen him speak, I also spent a fortunate 30 minutes with him as a “fly on the wall” in London at a conference with him discussing presentation closing strategies with another notable speaker – I learnt a lot in 30 mins.

That link redirects through another one of Armand’s websites, generatorsoftware.com which is Armand’s central shopping cart and affiliate management system.


http://www.secretppc.com/x.php?af=428465

GET /x.php?af=428465 HTTP/1.1
Host: www.secretppc.com
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-GB; rv:1.9.2.8) Gecko/20100722 Firefox/3.6.8
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Language: en-gb,en;q=0.5
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: UTF-8,*
Keep-Alive: 115
Connection: keep-alive

HTTP/1.1 302 Found
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 2010 08:11:40 GMT
Server: Apache/2.2.14 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.2.14 OpenSSL/0.9.7a mod_auth_passthrough/2.1 mod_bwlimited/1.4 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635 PHP/5.2.9
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.9
Location: http://generatorsoftware.com/pro/go.php?428465/147
Content-Length: 0
Keep-Alive: timeout=1, max=150
Connection: Keep-Alive
Content-Type: text/html
----------------------------------------------------------

http://generatorsoftware.com/pro/go.php?428465/147

GET /pro/go.php?428465/147 HTTP/1.1
Host: generatorsoftware.com
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-GB; rv:1.9.2.8) Gecko/20100722 Firefox/3.6.8
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Language: en-gb,en;q=0.5
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: UTF-8,*
Keep-Alive: 115
Connection: keep-alive

HTTP/1.1 302 Moved Temporarily
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 2010 08:11:43 GMT
Server: Apache/1.3.42 (Unix) PHP/4.4.9 mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_bwlimited/1.4 mod_auth_passthrough/1.8 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635 mod_ssl/2.8.31 OpenSSL/0.9.7a
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.14
Location: http://www.generatorsoftware.com/pro/track.php?username=gs&affiliateid=428465&trackingid=&productid=147&trackingid=&test=
Keep-Alive: timeout=15, max=100
Connection: Keep-Alive
Transfer-Encoding: chunked
Content-Type: text/html
----------------------------------------------------------

http://www.generatorsoftware.com/pro/track.php?username=gs&affiliateid=428465&trackingid=&productid=147&trackingid=&test=

GET /pro/track.php?username=gs&affiliateid=428465&trackingid=&productid=147&trackingid=&test= HTTP/1.1
Host: www.generatorsoftware.com
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 6.0; en-GB; rv:1.9.2.8) Gecko/20100722 Firefox/3.6.8
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Language: en-gb,en;q=0.5
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: UTF-8,*
Keep-Alive: 115
Connection: keep-alive

HTTP/1.1 302 Moved Temporarily
Date: Mon, 06 Sep 2010 08:11:44 GMT
Server: Apache/1.3.42 (Unix) PHP/4.4.9 mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_bwlimited/1.4 mod_auth_passthrough/1.8 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635 mod_ssl/2.8.31 OpenSSL/0.9.7a
P3P: CP="CAO PSA OUR"
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.14
Set-Cookie: gs_tracking_cookie=0-428465; expires=Tue, 06-Sep-2011 08:11:44 GMT; path=/
Location: http://www.secretppc.com
Keep-Alive: timeout=15, max=100
Connection: Keep-Alive
Transfer-Encoding: chunked
Content-Type: text/html

Thus there is a specific chain

Affiliate Link >> GeneratorSoftware.com >> SecretPPC.com

Then the Google Adwords rep is saying a link from SecretPPC.com to GeneneratorSoftware.com as the shopping cart makes SecretPPC.com a bridge page.

There is even another specific connection between the sites within the legal links at the bottom of the page.

Armand Morin Legal Stuff

Bridge Pages

There are lots of people being pulled up for this… all those small business owners who want to sell something instead of giving away the farm.

This is what Google state

Relevant and Original Content

Relevance and originality are two characteristics that define high-quality site content. Here are some pointers on creating content that meets these standards:

Relevance:

  • Users should be able to easily find what your ad promises.
  • Link to the page on your site that provides the most useful information about the product or service in your ad. For instance, direct users to the page where they can buy the advertised product, rather than to a page on your site with a description of several products.

Originality:

  • Feature unique content that can’t be found on another site. This guideline is particularly applicable to resellers whose site is identical or highly similar to another reseller’s or the parent company’s site, and to affiliates that use the following types of pages:
    • Bridge pages: Pages that act as an intermediary, whose sole purpose is to link or redirect traffic to the parent company
    • Mirror pages: Pages that replicate the look and feel of a parent site; your site should not mirror (be similar or nearly identical in appearance to) your parent company’s or any other advertiser’s site
  • Provide substantial information. If your ad links to a page consisting mostly of ads or general search results (such as a directory or catalog page), it must also provide additional, unique content.

It’s especially important to feature original content because AdWords won’t show multiple ads directing to identical or similar landing pages at the same time. Learn more about this policy.

That seems simple in practice, but I love this quote Curt Snow paraphrases

According to Google, you need to give John lots of relevant information about blue shoes. You need to tell John all about the history of blue shoes. You also need to do some market comparisons of different brands of blue shoes. And, while you’re at it, you might as well tell him how to lace up and tie those blue shoes. Then, and only then, will Google begin to think that you’re giving their precious users a good experience.

Here’s how Google defined it to me on the phone and in an email.

A user should want to visit your site even if they are not buying something. If a user visits your site and you give them something of value, such as information, then the user will be happy and Google says that this is a good user experience.

Note: That article from Curt is almost 2 years, so some of these issues are not in any way new.

But in the past these rules were typically directed and thought to be intended for “thin affiliate” sites that purely existed to drive traffic to a vendor’s sales letter.

Google is attacking otherwise legitimate vendors now

What is new is this interpretation that a vendor’s own sales page can be looked on as a bridge page to their own shopping cart on another domain.

You Are Not Safe With A 3rd Party Solution Either

Armand has a private affiliate management system, but one of the cases he highlighted was someone selling a cat product through Clickbank, and my friend Lee Duncan recently received a warning maybe related to this… but possibly more because of a lightbox/thickbox style popup.

The problem is that Google are frequently ambiguous in their notifications – small business owners are constantly looking to improve their conversion rates, and rules are constantly being applied differently to them compared to larger competitors.

Data Collection

Google have this fun rule about data collection – they don’t want advertisers sending traffic to squeeze pages. That is why in many cases someone might use a blog, but also use some kind of DHTML popup.

Ian Brodie came up with a cracker of a comment on Armand’s post which I just have to highlight here.

Re: Google’s prohibition of “Data collection sites that imply delivery of free items, etc., in order to collect private information”

When I google “local customers” I get an ad for this thing called Google Places.

It offers me a free local listing in exchange for me giving my private imformation (email address, etc.) to create an account.

So I take it google are going to ban themselves?

Ian

Lets look at that in detail:-

local customers

Lets pretend to be Google Adwords Reps

Google Places

  • That is a bridge page driving traffic to Youtube
  • That is a bridge page driving traffic to Blogspot
  • There is a link to a really unfriendly for browsers PDF file for the testimonials link
  • It seems the primary intent of the page is for data collection, not providing information
  • No postal address or phone number

Google obviously should be driving paid traffic to their content on Blogspot or Youtube directly, not to a landing page possibly in breach of their own rules.

The criticism is a little tongue in cheek – of course we trust a major brand like Google thus they can have different rules to the rest of us, and of course it is their rules, so they can interpret them any way they want to.

Solution

  • Drive traffic to a content site
  • Prepackage the content over a number of pages
  • Use Google Checkout

Maybe with Google their interpretation of a “bridge page” is more to do with the amount of free content spread over multiple pages than the link to a 3rd party shopping cart.
If that is the case, they need to get a lot more specific with their guideance to Adwords advertisers.

Not what they say in emails or on the telephone, but print in public for everyone to read.

This has a major effect on driving traffic to any product launches certainly in the Internet Marketing space where you might have a series of content made available to visitors for the “launch event”.

Google are killing the concept of sales funnels

Ultimately I need to get back to my headline for this story…

I think these are the issues

  • Lack of clear communication from Google
  • Different rules for different players
  • Different penalties for different players

I actually have my own stake in this as well..

I sent a very reasonable question to Google Adwords a couple of months ago regarding remarketing, and I immediately received a reply that my account had been compromised and limited.
It took me a week to get my account reinstated, but that killed momentum for me, and they still haven’t come back to me with a reply to the questions I asked.

Whilst I should really chase Google for an answer to my questions, to be honest I am scared to death of recommending anyone does anything even slightly adventurous with Google Adwords and actually pay me for the training and tools I might provide.
When someone is paying you for information there is a threshold you cross of additional trust – they are paying for expertise.

If someone pays you money and you get your account with Google Adwords switched off there is a certain additional level of responsibility/liability.

Some of the strategies would certainly have problems with Google’s bridge page interpretation, because they have an effect on the way you can present a sequence of “content events” within a sales funnel, and severely limit what can be achieved by a smaller business owner compared to bigger rivals.

via Techmeme

Update

I have been digging into some more coverage of Armand’s video.

Ryan apparently was sent a final warning by Adwords – he has tons of content on his site an apparently all that content was available navigating from the page.
The final warning apparently was the first warning he ever received.

In the comments there is a comment from Shawn Lebrun who apparently had a similar warning last week, the first warning being a final warning – his lifetime Adwords spend he say is over $1M

I’ve spent over a million dollars with google up to this point. I’ve always used straight forward, direct response techniques with all my sites I’ve run on adwords.
I got the same “final warning” email last week… and they canceled the account the next day without any other warning and without telling me ANYTHING about what I did wrong.
It was a crippling issue, since almost all of my business is from referrals… but clients of mine that had this happen to them… their businesses have been greatly effected.

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Comments

  1. says

    Andy – Thanks for digging up more information about this issue. The fact that Google has different rules for different people — and even different application of those rules — is very disturbing.

    There’s a concept called “equal weights and measures,” which is the idea that everybody gets treated fairly, that there’s fair judgment no matter whether you’re rich or poor, etc. Clearly, Google doesn’t believe in equal weights and measures.

    The big multi-million dollar corporations get the short stick while the small business owners get the long stick (and get beaten with it). Let’s hope Google becomes more fair in their rules and their application of them.

    Ryan

    • says

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Ryan. Google is now just a big bully in many senses. I’ve suspected for the last year that their rules were different for the average small business owner, as opposed to the major brands. I can HARDLY EVER get a straight answer from an Adwords rep… many times vague with their replies.

  2. says

    Andy,

    I admit to having been utterly bewildered by the Google email I received. I’ve used a dhtml popup on my site for ages in one form or another, Aweber has it as a standard popup form type and there are countless others using it.

    I don’t do any serious affiliate promotion (about half a dozen Amazon links buried in my site somewhere) and just use the site as the top end of my marketing funnel.

    Having received their “Final Warning” email, which was the first email I ever got from them, I have sat and wondered what the hell to do, disabling all my campaigns in the meantime. I’m still pretty unsure how to proceed and whether or not I’ll ever get the Adwords back again, but ah well, thats the value of having eggs in several baskets I guess.

    I think you’re right about the spread of customers – I think they’re now taking it upon themselves to police the quality of sites that they deliver in search results.

    If that’s the case, watch out for the organic listings being hit in just the same way at some point. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

    Unless, of course, they’re keen to flip things so that paid results give better quality landing pages than organic. Ooh, now there’s an interesting way to boost that £23Bn!

    We’ll have to wait and see. I do wish they would give some really clear guidance to us small guys so that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of figuring out what they really expect from us.

    Lee

    • says

      Lee, it’s becoming more and more clear that Google wants only content-driven sites. The moment you ask for optin — mostly in popups but even on the sidebar — on a landing page, they consider these “data collection site.”

      The video on AM Khan’s website from the Google Exec:

      http://www.adwordsbuzz.com/2010/09/googles-final-slap.html

      … Says it all. They don’t want sales or marketing sites (unless you’re a big-budget brand). They want relevant content. While that makes sense, ideologically, it’s killing small businesses who need revenue to continue paying for ads.

      So I agree that this move is really all about squeezing out the little guy.

      Just my 3 cents.

      • says

        Michael,

        Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that. Make the landing page pure content with enough to engage their interest and use an image/text ad in a sidebar or the header to get them to click through to a report signup page.

        Or is the landing page then seen as just bridging to the data collection! My head spins with this – oh for a little more clarity!

        Lee

      • says

        So true, Michel… The small business will soon be ousted from Adwords completely. I don’t agree at all with their “data collection” guidelines either. Very sad with what is happening…

    • says

      Lee,

      I received the email telling me that the main option I had was to remove the site from the web. It was my “final” (yet first) warning as well.

      The thing is… the pages they were complaining about had been disabled for the better part of 7 months. In fact, I simply used them to test impressions and clicks while I was evaluating affiliate products to promote.

      I brought that to their attention and they told me:

      1. It doesn’t matter if your ads are paused, disabled, deleted, etc. If they’re in your account, you’re on the hook. PERIOD.

      2. Regarding the sites I have no control over, their solution was to set up my own websites, populate them with content and then change all the ads, display URLs, and landing page URLs. (which I’m having a hard time finding time to play their game while actually running a business, so I’ve not gotten around to having original content created in niches that I was just toying with).

      Just wanted to let you know so you weren’t still violating terms with the disabled ads, not knowing that they don’t seem to care!!!

      • says

        Heather,

        Thanks for this – my email from them actually states that disabled or even deleted ads don’t fix it. Bizarre, big-brother unpleasantness. I guess it’s to keep their admin costs down low, but having spent many thousands on ads, I do feel pretty pissed at them right now. I just need to suck that up and get on with it I guess.

        Cheers,

        Lee

    • says

      Michel – yep I read the Adage article and thought it would be worth trying to leverage it a bit to get attention to a more important story than just a leak.

      Mashable were very slow on this story :) I think I had them pipped by 6 hours – pity they didn’t tackle the bigger issue.

  3. says

    Sadly Google ads is becoming a joke for many smaller marketers. It’s barely worth discussing anymore because Google is making it clearer and clearer every day that they just don’t care.

    Try it out, use it, but don’t count on it because it could be taken away from you, for no apparent reason, with no warning and based on ambiguous rules and the interpretation of the day…

    There is no appeal to be had, in nearly all cases, Google won’t even reply to your emails or contacts.

    In other words, it’s a one way street and one of the biggest discrepancies you can see online, aka, this huge company some many people think well of treats the vast majority of its advertisers like unwanted pests that don’t even deserve an answer or explanation.

    Unless you are spending 6 figures a month, you have no value to them, and are completely expendable. Be ready when the axe falls on YOU.

  4. says

    Google is, and will continue to be a digital bully. Period.

    Google doesn’t care about you or me. And for a company that is so huge, they really have no real sense of business or marketing.

    Some of the hoops that they require advertisers to jump through never cease to amaze me. Most of it is just plain stupid and although they say they are looking out for their users, they really no clue at all as to what their users really want.

    Seriously… do they really think that someone looking for a “Nevada car insurance quote” wants to be presented with a page full of original content that they have to wade through before they can actually get their quote?? C’mon Google. You have to be just plain stupid or have your heads buried somewhere very dark to really believe that.

    The last time I checked, web surfers were among the most impatient people on the planet and if they’re looking for prices on car insurance, the last thing they want to do is read about the history of car insurance before they actually get their price quote.

    As I have said before, “Get a clue Google”.

    Curt Snow

  5. says

    Google doesn’t care about you or me. And for a company that is so huge, they really have no real sense of business or marketing.
    But google is good.
    thanks,….

  6. faq bay says

    AdWords can be a real waste of money if you bid too high for too wide or irrelevant keywords. What I always do when starting a new campaign is to select a few, but I really mean FEW, highly keywords that are highly relevant to both your ad title and text as well as your target page, and bid them as low as you can until they stop displaying.

  7. says

    How ironic when you think about it. Google is probably one of the biggest “data collection” sites on the web. They talk about user experience. How irritating is it to log into your YouTube account and have them want you to connect your gmail account with it. Or log into your Google reader and want you to connect your account with other service they offer. That is an attempt to horde all my info. When they do this my experience suffers. They are a very hypocritical company that changes and plays with the rules when it is convenient for them.

  8. X says

    Andy,

    What’s the plugin you use to show the social network buttons when I scroll to the end of the article?

    Thanks, X

    PS – I think you guys are looking for a curveball when you should be looking fastball. :-) Too much doom and gloom on this issue – people are thinking too hard and it’s a simple matter of shifting the paradigm. It’s time for our industry to grow up, drop the hype and recognize what *is* working. Google revenues aren’t down fellas . . . this should be telling us something.

      • X says

        Andy,

        My experience is that bans are not instant. I’ve received a warning letter on one of my accounts and, although VERY slow, I’ve resubmitted sites and asked for feedback – which I’ve received. As for money spent, I think people get arrogant and think that what they’ve spent entitles them to special favors.

        I empathize with any business/individual suffering from Google’s enforcement, but I think they’re pretty clear about what they want.

        Rather than go into it here, if you’re interested you can read what I think about Armand’s situation here:

        http://affiliateblackbook.com/back-in-black/this-is-why-you-must-be-careful

        All the best to you – X

        PS – Thank you for sharing your plugin source. I appreciate it.

  9. Mattman says

    I was banned as well with no warning, BUT I did NOT use squeeze pages, pop-ups, duplicate content, weak landing pages, affiliate cloaking or any redirects. I am a direct business owner, with only original content, privacy policies, contact pages, etc. I emailed several times to all adwords contact emails available but never got ANY feedback, just template email responses that didn’t even match my correspondence, then eventually ignored.

    Also a heads up, if you have EVER done ANY advertising in Adwords that they don’t like, no matter how long ago, it could likely be banned (Google keeps all ads in your account, even deleted ones, indefinitely). I had an associate that 2 weeks later had an account banned that hadn’t even been used in over a year, but they listed an old site that they said was a problem “in recent advertising”. Even after REMOVING THE SITE FROM THE INTERNET they still banned it with only generic email template responses (BTW- This was not some gray or black hat site either). From what I’ve seen, once you get any email, warning or not, its too late.

    Before this I thought Google was good company and figured advertisers probably brought it upon themselves; not anymore! Watch your data folks, Google is watching.

    Apparently when Google said, “Don’t be evil” that (like their policies) applies to everyone but them.

  10. says

    Hi Andy, & all you good people

    It was my interaction with Google AdWords admin that Armand pasted below his original video.

    After 7 years I was banned without warning for ‘landing page violation’ including linking to SeretPPC.com

    This strikes me: I quote directly from Googles own policy pages regarding their definition of unaceptable ‘Get Rich Quick’ webpages …

    “Websites that promise an exaggerated payout for low risk and/or minimal effort”

    OK, but look at their example of such an ‘exaggerated payout’ …

    “A claim that you can make $10,000 a week via email marketing … with only 2 hours of work”

    Thats a week, not an hour or a day

    The very idea you could make $10k in a WEEK with 2 hours of email activity is to them clearly ridiculous

    In my humble opinion, this shows just how disconnected AdWords Policy Dept are from the real world of online marketing.