Google Overhauls AdWords Policies – Are You Ready?

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

ljh images / Shutterstock.comIt’s easy for marketers and advertisers to forget the tremendous pressure on ad networks. Besides the effort of finding the best ad spots for millions of ads across a vast distribution network, they also have to policies and guidelines to protect consumers from advertisers and at times, vice versa. For advertisers and marketers who use Google AdWords, new ad policies will go into effect in September that will change the types of content allowed and the techniques that can be used. This article will explain the upcoming changes to Google AdWords and what they mean for marketers.

For the most part, these changes are just additions and simplifications of previous rules.

“We want to make our AdWords policies more user-friendly, accessible, and engaging for both advertisers and users,” the company wrote in the AdWords Policies Answers section. “We hope that these changes will give you a clearer picture of what Google cares about and why.”

The first major change comes to the guidelines for ad content. Four new categories have been added to the list of prohibited content. Counterfeit goods, such as fake designer purses or clothing, can not be marketed through Google. This was the case before the change but counterfeit goods weren’t specifically listed in the Prohibited Content section. Google has always had rules against promoting illegal drugs and tobacco, but they’ve expanded that by adding a rule against “Dangerous Products or Services.” This is a broad category that will now restrict ads for item such as “recreational drugs (chemical or herbal); psychoactive substances; equipment to facilitate drug use; weapons, ammunition, explosive materials and fireworks.” Similarly, they’ve added a rule against “Products or Services that Enable Dishonest Behavior” such as hacking software and instructions, tools to artificially increase SEO performance (which you should never use), and fake document services. Finally, the ad guidelines also restricts content that could considered offensive or threatening to certain individuals.

Google has always had guidelines to promote honesty and transparency among advertisers, but the new guidelines make it clearer about what practices would not be allowed. The company wants to stop ads that attempt to abuse the ad networks by selling malicious ads, sites, or apps; promoting sites that offer little unique value to users and are focused primarily on traffic generation; and businesses that attempt to gain an unfair advantage in the ad auction or attempt to bypass the review processes. There is also a section explaining that advertisers must use the data collected responsibly. As examples of irresponsible data collection and use Google cites obtaining credit card information over a non-secure server and promotions that claim to know a user’s sexual orientation or financial status. Companies must also accurately represent themselves and the costs of their services.

The last two sections of changes are things marketers should review on their own because it would take too long to explain in-depth here. Besides all the content that is flatout prohibited, there’s a lot of content that is restricted so it can be advertised but with certain conditions. For example, some alcohol ads can be run, but Google lists more than half a dozen rules and expectations that must be adhered to. Marketers should check the Restricted Content changes for themselves to make sure their ads haven’t become unusable after the change.

Lastly, there are some technical and editorial guidelines changes. Many of these are rules Google has in place to make the ad experience better for users which in turn makes them more likely to buy. Using these guidelines will ensure that ads work properly across the ad network and will have maximum effectiveness with target audiences.

Though this is speculations, some of the new changes may relate to the recent settlement Google made to three Google shareholders who sued the company in 2011 following a $500 million settlement Google made with the Department of Justice. The company was sued for selling ad space to foreign pharmacies that were illegally selling drugs in the U.S. The settlement to the suit by the three shareholders would force the company to take more proactive action against rogue ads.

According to the settlement from earlier in August, Google agreed to:

  1. Make content about prescription drug abuse more visible and work with legitimate pharmacies to counter marketing by rogue sellers.

  2. Allocate and spend at least $50 million a year to the internal effort for at least five years under the settlement.

“We’ve been investing very significantly to fight rogue online pharmacies, and have stopped millions of ads from appearing,” a Google spokesman told Reuters via an email. “This settlement will continue and expand these ongoing efforts to keep users safe online.”

Whether the upcoming changes to Google AdWords is related to the settlement or not, the situation underscores the fact that Google has every reason to take a tougher stance on the improper use of their ad network. The drug ads ended up costing Google more than $750 million dollars (not including their own legal fees). Even Google can’t afford to lose the lion’s share of a billion dollars just because their ad reviews weren’t up to snuff.

Business owners and marketers need to realize that Google is serious about improving their ad review process and in the coming months, marketers may discover that ads they used in the past no longer meet the guidelines. AdWords users should check the new guidelines for themselves to see everything and the examples. It’s best to get the basic issues handled before the holiday season when marketers are going to want to heavily use Google AdWords to reach new consumers.

For more information on recent changes to Google AdWords, read this article about new features added this year to make it easier for marketers to promote their apps.


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