The Google AdWords Trap


Back in 2004 when Google had just moved to the Googleplex, had less than 1000 employees and did its unusual IPO for $85 a share, I was in the United Kingdom pulling my hair out because Google AdWords was ripping me off. I couldn’t believe I was the only small business with click rates on my ads that exceeded the number of ad representations I was getting. I spoke to some colleagues in my industry. They confirmed they were having the same issue, so I contacted the press.

I’m pretty sure my experience revealed the world wide issue of Google AdWords ‘click fraud’ when on December 6, 2004, the article Advertisers’ budgets hit by growing cost of ‘click fraud’ was published in the Financial Times, authored by IT Correspondent Maija Pesola.

I’ve had a love hate relationship with Google AdWords ever since. I’ve recently dusted off my rusty AdWords skills, in my capacity as a marketing consultant for a client. Yes, AdWords has certainly grown up a great deal since I last used it but I’m afraid to say I’ve confronted a whole new set of challenges and one of my quotes back in 2004 still rings true,

“When it works, it works really well, but the whole system is based on underlying honesty. Once that is undermined, the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.”

However this time the ‘honesty’ issues, or perhaps competency issues, are due to Google’s unimaginable success.

I set up a new AdWords account earlier this week. Slick. I got a short list of keywords and phrases together and knocked up two ads. That’s when my difficulties began. Not slick. Both of my ads were rejected for various capitalization issues. I addressed these but then both ads were disapproved because the destination site, to which the ads were connected, threw up the following issues ‘site violates policy’, ‘site not working’ and ‘malware’. I reviewed the policy and our site. I could not for the life of me see where, or how, we had fallen foul of the rules, so I called AdWords support.

A pretty standard automated routine took my details, including my AdWords Customer ID. I was then routed to a call center in Manila, where I spoke to Lizzy in her hard to understand English, I had to go through the whole process of providing the details I had just proffered during the automated process and gave her details of my issue. Lizzy then told me her job was to get me to the right person to help. Arrrgggghhh…

After being placed on hold for a few more minutes, I was connected to Balla in India. Guess what? I had to provide all my details again and explain my issues. By this time I had been on the call for over 20 minutes. Balla told me that our site contained the word ‘Guarantee’ and because Google was trying to ‘cut down of gimmick site promises’ this word was not allowed. Rather than argue the point with a contractor in a call center in India, I resolved to edit our site.

Frustrated with the service I received I decided to leave feedback in the ‘short automated survey’ I was offered at the end of my call. As a native Aussie I have no problem with the Aussie accent, but the female Aussie voice that greeted me, and walked me through, the survey was so thick and shrill I had difficulty understanding her instructions and really did just want to hang up and end my Google call torture. I was brave and held out. ‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’ I hit 2….. ‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’…. I hit 2 again……‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’. I gave up.

Upon checking our website, there was no instance of ‘Guarantee’ in our copy, images or code. A previous version of our site, which had been replaced over a month ago, did contain ‘Guarantee’ so I realized Google was probably reviewing a cached version of our site. I then went through the online process of getting a site review. The site review resolved that we still violated Google’s policies and we were no further forward.

I took a break for a day getting my energy back and courage up to deal with Google AdWords support again. That time I had Bella in India to begin with….You can see where that went and I still had two suspended ads and no way of navigating this insane situation.

You’d hope that companies that allow this sort of customer service nightmare would be subject to market forces and go the way of the dinosaur, but what are the chances that will happen to Google? I’m glad I have the weekend to gather the strength to have another go at sorting this out on Monday.

Google set out to disrupt the search market and in so doing has changed the world. As a company it has historically advocated interest of the little guy, but tellingly at the end of last year, the company dropped its “Don’t Be Evil” mantra from its code of conduct. Should we be worried about a soon to be 21 year old Google reaching the legal drinking age?

Of course any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Author: Oscar Jenkins

Dynamic entrepreneurial leadership career as a Senior Executive of successful technology start-ups, turnaround situations, and high growth companies. Combines astute strategic, business, and financial skills with a 20+ year track record of multi-million dollar profitable revenue growth. Progressive, decisive innovator, highly valued for insightful corporate vision and strategy development. Expert at translating board-level strategy and objectives into actionable plans, and then providing decisive leadership to multi-functional teams. Highly regarded for developing relationships and developing executive teams and staff. Key professional attributes include: • Financial Management • Technical Product Development • Complex Negotiations • Corporate Leadership • Turnaround Management • Recruitment / Retention • Start-ups & High Growth • Mergers & Acquisitions • Fundraising • B2B & B2C Sales and Marketing • Multifaceted Digital Marketing • Stockholder Relations Specialties: Start-ups, fundraising and technology.

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