PSA: Google Ad Compliance Is Cracking Down

November 4, 2015 - 11 minutes read

PSA Google AdWords Compliance

This post probably should have been written Pre-Halloween, because it involves a nightmare scenario for a company I was helping recently.

It’s a Rainy Friday Afternoon

I was doing some last minute checks on this advertisers accounts before the weekend and jumped in to see how they were doing.

Every one of their ads was disapproved!

Why you may ask? For ad policy violations.

Which ad policy violation? Misleading or deceptive advertising.

I. Was. Shocked. I knew that everything we had been doing was above board. I mean we made sure to meet and exceed both FTC and FDA advertising regulations for homeopathic and natural health products. Yet here we were on a Friday afternoon and none of our ads were running.

AdWords Support… really wasn’t able to help (initially)

I immediately called the advertiser to let them know I was reaching out to Google, and to ask them to have staff on hand to get things fixed over the weekend if we could.

Once I got on the phone with Google, they really couldn’t tell me why the account/site was suspended. – as an aside Google, you would make your life and ours much easier if you gave the reasons for a suspension specifically in the accounts that were suspended –

So the rep Lucy (who really was trying to be helpful), took my cell phone number and said she was in a cue to talk to a compliance policy specialist, to try and figure this out. She had looked at the site and couldn’t easily see any reason why this would have happened.

And the waiting began.

An Email and Confusion

Finally an email came in at 4:39 PM.

In complete transparency the full email is included below (with site references changed). I have made bold specific text.

Things to Fix on example.com

Hi Bryant,

I couldn’t catch you on the phone just now and wanted to get you this info before the weekend.  A policy specialist was able to clarify that anywhere there is a claim on the site, there must be a disclaimer.

We found some claims with disclaimers, example is here – http://www.example.com/best-treatment-packs/. But these disclaimers also go against our policy because they are in font smaller than that on the rest of the page which makes it look like the site is trying to hide the disclaimer of *Results may vary.  The idea is right, but the text is way too small and ought to match the font size across the page.

Other pages on your site with claims about the products do not have the required disclaimers, example is here – http://www.example.com/treatment/.  The 5 bullets at the top of this page are just an example of claims that need a disclaimer.  Format the disclaimer like this:

Relief for atopic eczema & dermatitis*
Helps to soothe irritation and inflammation*
Steroid Free! – No harsh ingredients*
For all ages & skin types*
Built in applicator brush for easy application!
*Results may vary; no guarantees.

My suggestion is that you commit to adding disclaimers to every claim made across every page of the site, formatting the disclaimers at the top or bottom of the page in a way that does not hide the disclaimer from our reviewers or your users.  Also, edit the existing disclaimers to follow the format explained above.  Because there are so many pages on your site, I cannot offer a comprehensive list of required changes, it will be up to you and your client to update your site appropriately.

Given that it might be a lot of work to fix this site suspension, can you give me an idea of when you plan to have it all fixed?

Cheers,

As another side note… emails like this should not be ended with a “cheers”!

So what she was saying: Google now requires that all claims, be made with a disclaimer. But that isn’t enough. You must have all disclaimers in the same font size as the rest of your text. Really? Since when did “the fine print”, just become “the print”?

Anyways. We now had our work cut out for us if we hoped to have things fixed by Monday to ask for the site to be reviewed again.

We Asterisked the sh*t out of everything*

When I say everything I mean everything!

There are so many asterisks on the site now, it almost looks like a style choice… kind of like check marks for bullets.

we also hyperlinked all of the asterisks to a HUGE disclaimer in the footer of the site that looks like this:

Results May Vary

Yes the 100% Satisfaction Money-Back Guarantee was my addition, and yes it is linked to the money-back guarantee page.

Even though we are required to say “no guarantee of results”, this company truly believes that if it doesn’t work they don’t want you to have wasted your money!

This was a monumental task across hundreds of pages on the site over the weekend.

Monday was upon us

I called the Google Rep helping me on this situation first thing Monday morning to let her know that we were ready.

Funny thing happened. She looked at the site and told me, we hadn’t added a disclaimer to all of the “reviews” on the site.

WHAT?!?!?

Every review on the site had to have a disclaimer added? WTF?!?

She said she could submit it, but if she did she was sure it would be rejected, which would make it that much harder to get approved the next review.

We dug in and got every single one of the customer reviews” with an asterisk added across the entire site! We are talking thousands of reviews!

– as another aside… I don’t see sites like Amazon disclaiming every single review across their site –

Just before end of day on Monday we sent off an email saying we got it all done, and proceeded to wait to see what would happen.

Hoorah!

Less than 24 hours later, we got the call and email we had been hoping for… everything was approved and the site ban was lifted across AdWords!

What can you learn from this?

  1. Google is God. If you play in Google’s playground expect to abide by their rules! It doesn’t matter if the FTC is cool with the way you are advertising.
  2. It’s better to be safe than sorry! – The rep I spoke with said she is seeing 7-8 sites a week getting hit with these exact site bans. So if you don’t have this type of disclaimer implemented, I would do it, or run the risk of waking up one day to your AdWords campaigns not running
  3. Supplement & Health product companies are particularly susceptible to this policy.
  4. A human is making a judgement call on what they feel is acceptable and what isn’t (this kind of sucks). I asked for the policy in writing so we could make sure to avoid any future incursions and was simply given the support URL – https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/6020955?hl=en nowhere in that article does it say you have to have a disclaimer on every single potential claim
  5. Our conversion rates have not suffered because of this – does this mean your conversion rate won’t be impacted? Of course not. But what it means is it didn’t have a completely negative impact on our conversion rate. (this advertiser just had one of their best days all year)

One curiosity to me, was for some reason even though the site was banned. Their shopping campaigns were still running.

Again to be clear. I am simply sharing this, in hopes that other advertisers do not have similar experiences and loss of revenue. Take it or leave it. But my advice would be to change your sites and comply before the Google God’s randomly decide to shut down your site from advertising.

*(I am not sure asterisked is really a word)

Any Google Compliance horror stories you have experienced?

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