Google Checkmates Me, But Reveals Internal Secrets

It’s true. My fight is over.

They got me too. It was crafty, it was cunning, there was nothing I could do, and they made it seem like my fault.

After where I left you on the last post, here’s what happened, in short:

1. The guy wrote back to me as though he finally understood what was going on. He says to me, (and I paraphrase)

“If you are able to fix up these sites: X, X, X, X, I can submit your account for re-review”

2. I get ecstatic. Particularly so because 8-10 sites he mentioned weren’t any longer active so I didn’t need them, And the other 2 I wanted, but could live without. This is it, I thought, I’ve won!

Simulation Of My Expression While Communicating With Google - And My Orange Juice
Simulation Of My Expression While Communicating With Google - And My Orange Juice

I went and simply deleted all the campaigns he mentioned, leaving only my most important ones (that they didn’t have a problem with)

I wrote to him and said “Ok, all the problem sites you mentioned, I have deleted them from my account. Most of them were inactive, I never need to use them again and I won’t ever advertise them on Adwords in future.”

3. He writes back and tells me that deleting the campaigns of those sites isn’t enough. If I want him to submit the sites for re-review, I need to go back through and fix all of them, even though their campaigns are deleted, even though I don’t want to use them or advertise on them ever again. If they are in my account history and still look the way they do, my account won’t get accepted on the re-review.

4. I write back and say “So you’re telling me that I have to go back and change 10 inactive sites, change every page, (some sites had as many as 30 pages of content), based on guidelines that are completely ambiguous, just so you can CONSIDER re-activating my account?”

5. He replies (in more words than this): That’s correct.

Pretty good huh?

Now it seems like I could have gotten the account back if only I wanted to jump through the ridiculous hoops of fire and waste half my life in the process. It’s my fault now, you see.

So that’s it for that Adwords account.

Now here’s what we can learn.

I’m going to paste here what he pasted to me. I believe this information is online somewhere, I just hadn’t seen it before.

Basically, they said that some of my sites were Arbitrage sites, and some were Bridge Pages. The 2 big No-Nos for affiliates. They define these as below. See my notes in bold.

=========================

ARBITRAGE SITE

Google’s position is that high ad quality and landing page quality are important for providing a positive user experience. Therefore, Google AdWords doesn’t permit ads directing to landing pages that were specifically made to show additional ads (a practice known as “arbitrage”). Furthermore, we’re extending the definition of arbitrage to include websites that are primarily occupied by display ads.

The ratio of ads to unique, non-ad content is measured to determine if a landing page violates our arbitrage policy. We measure this ratio by looking at content above the fold (i.e. without scrolling) on a display that measures at least 1024 x 768 pixels with a maximized browser window. A landing page is not considered arbitrage if all of the following conditions are met:

1. 30% of the browser display area consists of unique and relevant content.
This excludes search boxes, headers, navigation links, logos, etc.
Specific, well-organized commercial offers (such as those found on retail sites) may count as unique and relevant content as long as they provide significant user value.

2. The browser display area used for ads cannot exceed the browser display area used for unique and relevant content. For example, if 30% of the display area consists of unique and relevant content, there may be no more than 30% of the display space used for advertising. If 50% of the display area consists of unique and relevant content, up to 50% of the display space may be used for ads.

[ANDREW:] I really don’t know about this, because the site of mine they mentioned doesn’t look like they describe here at all.

But what I took from it, is to be careful with banners that sit above your fold, as you could unnecessarily be setting off filters. That goes for Adsense ads too.

That means, if you have a blog, banners above your first post, banners in your header, or at the top of your sidebar.

It also matters then how thick your header is, according to this. If you have a thin header, and more of your sidebar and post content are showing above the fold, it might change your ratios.

In general, I don’t use banners above post content anyway. They rarely get as good CTRs as those integrated into content, or at the end of content anyway. And as for top of the sidebar… Maybe we can move our sidebar banners down a little… put them below one other widget, like a calendar, about me, or recent posts? It’s a shame because this is such valuable real estate on your blog, as I’m sure you know. [/ANDREW]

3. The site must have user value other than providing ads. For example, Google provides web search, news sites provide regularly updated original content, and other services.

To check that your website complies with our arbitrage policy:

1. Open the site in a new browser.
2. Expand the browser to a minimum of a 1024 x 768 pixel display.
3. Make sure you have minimal browser menus and your font is set to medium or normal.
4. Scroll to the very top of the page, as evaluation is based on what appears above the fold.
5. The site is considered compliant if the area of ads is less than or equal to the area of content.

Please use the instructions above to evaluate your entire website and, if necessary, bring it into compliance with our arbitrage policy. If you’re not in compliance, you may receive a low landing page quality score, which can negatively affect your Quality Scores, cost-per-clicks, and ad positions.

[ANDREW:] Pretty interesting huh? I never knew THAT was how they analyzed it.[/ANDREW]

BRIDGE PAGE

Google does not permit ads for bridge pages that are solely intended to direct the user to another website with the same or similar information. We’ve found that when a page has multiple ads that to the same site, the results are less relevant and users have a lower-quality experience.

[ANDREW:] See “Multiple ads to the same site” – That is a big one. That doesn’t even say not too many affiliate links it means not too many links to the same URL regardless. That means unlike some people think, that putting up no-follows will make Google ignore your aff links… that might not be the case.

In general it means whatever you’re doing, don’t use too many affiliate links. That means careful with a sidebar banner and an affiliate link in the post going to the same product etc.[/ANDREW]

To comply with our policies, the options below are available:

Option 1: Refine your web page so that it contains a substantial amount of original content.(ANDREW: We pretty much knew that right?) This content should be related to your ad text and should stand independently of the links on your page that redirect users to other sites. (Stand independently – like position wise? Not having affiliate links blended in to your content? It’s hard to tell what that means) This includes any affiliate links on your site. In addition, the site should have an overall unique look and feel.

Examples of original content include, but are not limited to:
- Tips and information for consumers considering the product or service
- Competitor pricing and feature comparisons
- Unique and informative reviews and customer feedback
- Links to relevant articles

This content shouldn’t be derived directly from other sites or a parent site.

Option 2: Redesign your web page to offer multiple, competing offers from different companies for related services. For example, a webpage promoting a specific book could have links to four online bookstores from which one could purchase the book.

[ANDREW:] (So they’ll like you more if you take a review style approach and include information about multiple products… maybe…)[/ANDREW]

Option 3: Link directly to the end site, using the appropriate display URL.

[ANDREW:] They are talking about in YOUR content here. Use the appropriate display URL on your links. This COULD be referring to using affiliate links that are redirects but we don’t exactly know.

As you can see, the frustrating thing is that it’s both more specific, and less specific at the same time.

Finally, here are some points that this brought to my mind, particularly when I think about the sites that they DIDN’T have a problem with based on these guidelines.[/ANDREW]

What I Learned:

1. I think the days of being able to send traffic (free or paid) to a site with just one piece of content, one “landing page” are pretty much over. Alot of sites still do it in the organic listings, but with paid search, it’s over. The more unique content your site has, the better you’re going to be viewed.

2. Too many links to the same place. I’ve even thought about adding in some blended colour links to other websites just to mix up the ratio of affiliate links to other links on my site. I’ll let you know how that goes.

3. Affiliate links: One thing I came near to concluding was that linking to a page on your own site, which is a redirect to an affiliate link (like yourdomain.com/go-now) is better than linking to the aff program direct. It means your page code doesn’t have an affiliate link in it which MAY cause Google to view you less suspiciously. The site that they didn’t have a problem with was using this strategy. BUT, ONE (just 1 of 10) of the sites they listed as bridge pages, had this format too… so I can conclude nothing. In any case this is only for Adwords at the moment but it’s not hard to imagine Google employing these standards to view sites in the organic SERPS at some point in the future.

4. Longer articles: Considering that G tells us that they are analyzing the ratios of content to advertising on your page, it seems to say that, at least if you’re an affiliate and using affiliate link, up to a certain point a longer article is better.

This is important for conversion too. A longer article with more of the information that the prospective buyer wants, the better you’ll usually convert. I think the days of slapping up 300 word articles on your affiliate site and hoping for conversions are pretty well over.

Anyway, that turned into a bit of a “think out loud” ramble, but I hope it’s given you some food for thought.

I’d love to hear if any of you have experience with any of these factors and can tell us how they influenced your campaigns, traffic or conversions.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Andrew,

    You have given us some really valuable information here. I’ll have to have a look at the sidebars on some of my blogs.

  2. says

    And I just finished reading an AP news article this morning that Google is giving a 10% raise to the entire workforce (23,300 employees) next year.
    http://apnews.excite.com/article/20101110/D9JDJ1180.html

    I get so tired of Google’s “you ask for it, here it is” updates – like the new AdSense interface they just rolled out. How many times have AdWords users asked, no, BEGGED for clear and concise AdWords Guidelines. I mean, come on, put a frickin’ .pdf together so it all in one place. Organize it in a blueprint, checklist-type format. Instead, we’re left to hunt and peck looking for subjective rules that only Google knows where they are and what they REALLY mean by them. pfft!

  3. says

    Thanks, this is a great read.

    Google has to do this because the advertisers are giving them heat. Their ad prices are premium priced and advertisers want ads shown on content rich websites. That is what a rep told me. I called Google last week and asked them to clarify something for me – technically you are not allowed to put adsense if your site is an amazon affiliate and only has Amazon links. If it has multiple affiliates (and the other criteria are met, then you can put ads). A site that aggregates specs, reviews and opinions, and displays feeds from various merchants is good to go. THat is giving value to a consumer. The rep pretty much told me if its a site YOU(as a visitor) would realistically spend about a minute on if you were looking for info then it should be fine. Lets be honest, some of the MFA sites around are far from that.

    If you are making 20cents a day, google isn’t going to care, but when you reach say $100 day, your sites are certainly going under the microscope.

    Content and quality are king now, but if you create a site to be proud of you should have no issues.

  4. says

    Andrew,

    Sorry to hear about you losing your adwords battle. I have been reading a number of other marketers complaining about losing their accounts for similar reasons lately so thats a good reason for everyone to be more careful. I shall have to go through my own sites and and try to increase the ratio of good quality content that i have on them so i dont have the same problems.
    Thanks for warning us about these difficulties that you have been having.

  5. says

    Thanks for the info Andrew. About 3 months ago google disowned a simple landing page I had. I had little user content, just a redirect. I built a more substantial site with unique content and they did not like this either. So what I did was take the index page of the new site with the affiliate link, purged it of internal navigation links to the 4 or 5 other site pages, (but left privacy, terms, etc.) and put it as a static html page on a WP blog with other wp pages with unique content from the more substantial site I made. They loved it…problem solved. PPC is going fine.
    Take care,
    Kirtg

  6. says

    That was a very interesting read. Do you think Google use similar criteria to determine rankings in the organic search results as well?

  7. says

    Great insight man, sorry to hear about your account. But hey at least you got a reply from them. All I (and many others I know) got was the same canned message over and over again. It’s ironic that they are cutting back on affiliates, at the same time they are trying to launch their Google Affiliate network. I guess in big companies, different departments just end up working against each other..

  8. says

    Think about it from the Google point of view. Advertisers are paying them major money. Adsense publishers are a cost center, and are a dime a dozen. Advertisers (the payers) are concerned where their ads are going.

    Google does not care about publishers, that is why there aren’t clear guidelines. They make it confusing on purpose to weed out the people who aren’t serious, authority webmasters.

    Adsense cost google money, and can even cause them to lose business if advertisers don’t like where their ads are shown. Also, for every one “offender” there are thousands of others to take their place.

  9. says

    Quote:Google does not permit ads for bridge pages that are solely intended to direct the user to another website with the same or similar information. end quote.

    Does this put my site at risk, as all posts are made with the sole purpose to get the reader to click through to Amazon.com with the same information?

  10. says

    Andrew,

    Sorry to hear about your adwords issue and thanks for sharing with us. What I would like to know is what are you going to do now (use the Bing, Yahoo versions of adwords)?

    Paul

  11. says

    Regarding Option 3 under bridge pages, I think he probably means that instead of placing multiple ads for the same website, just use a single direct link. That will cut your ads-to-content ratio way down.

    @Art: I don’t think you have to worry if you’re not using AdWords, but eventually the Google bot may spank you if you’re not adding value to the Amazon pages you’re sending your traffic to.

    @Best: I think Google does care about publishers — they want to see high quality sites that will give their search traffic a good experience. However, what do you think would happen if they published a point-by-point checklist for publishers? We’d get millions of cookie-cutter sites that followed the checklist to a “T” and nothing more. Publishers would fear to be creative and most would agree that would be a bad thing for the Internet.

    There is only one rule that an Internet marketer needs to follow:

    DON’T BE LAME!

  12. says

    Sorry to here about your troubles Andrew, like Gobala Krishnan said at least you got a reply to learn what the hell it is they want, even if it was unclear.

    I lost my adwords account just months after getting into IM, ignorance is NOT bliss! After many, emails and only getting the same canned response everyone was getting at that time I gave up.

    Diversify, diversify, diversify!!

    Thanks for sharing

  13. says

    Andrew,
    Sorry for your troubles. From what you have shown regarding Google’s rules, (guidelines), they are making them ambiguous so they can do exactly what they did to you, with impunity.
    You have to “fix” sites that they do not like, instead of doing as you did and remove them, is simply their way of telling us that it is their ball and bat, and we must play by their rules, which can be interpreted any way they wish. So if the reviewer has had an argument with his or her partner, and they are in a bad mood that day, we are screwed, because just like NASCAR, when they make a ruling it is cast in concrete and will never be changed.
    You provided them with entertainment with your futile attempts to get their decision changed.. I believe they feed off of this kind of interaction, and were laughing all the way to the toilet..
    The bigger an organization gets, the farther from reality they stray, until the only reality is what they say it is.
    Ken Seal

  14. says

    WOW – sorry to hear you were Google Slapped and grateful for you to be passing on some of your learning about G. Lots to learn about their views here and will bear lots of study.

    Main thing that surprised me was the review page info.

    And yeah I think their views about Adwords landing pages will mirror their views on all web pages in the Index.

    Seems to boil down to…

    Is it unique content?
    Does it add value?
    Is there enough of it?

    With a loud message to all of us to diversify!

    :-)

    Alex

  15. says

    Given that you’ve had your botty spanked by the big G, can we now presume that you’ll let us know how to use other ad networks for our blogs and landing pages?

    Media buying for Niche Blogs?

    The termiology Google uses doesn’t help anyone who is not an expert in the field. What beginners need is a google produced guide they could give away as an inducement for the Google University program.

    A simple PDF checklist in laymans terms would be really helpful.

  16. says

    I can only imagine the number of sites that you have to spar with “G” about. If there was another major moving browser that could compare to “G”, that would save many of us a lot of grief.

  17. says

    This is fantastic information. I don’t generally use Adwords except for testing purposes, but this is great to know as I’m sure they will eventually start looking at organic rankings in the same way.

    Thank you for sharing. Your posts are always helpful.

  18. says

    I have basically run into the same problem you have or had? I believe they will eventually do away with affiliate marketing altogether. G is looking for YOUR own product(s) to sell not someone else’s. The more unique content pointing to YOUR product the better. PPC is a very tuff nut to crack…but, there are alternatives such as microsofts ad-center which has now partnered with yahoo. I’ve had some success with them.

    Facebook might take over as the next best thing – at least that’s what the latest IM guru’s are saying. I haven’t tried them but will wait until things settle down before jumping in.

    Paulo

  19. says

    I agree that G should have a checklist-style pdf doc for us to use for compliance to their guidelines, but this is also a good lesson when we sign up for ANYTHING…carefully read and study the user guidelines, the policies, etc. that we have to click a check into the box indicating that we have ACTUALLY read them!
    So next time we sign up for anything, and click the box that we agree with their policies, let this be a lesson to all of us.
    (Andrew I’m not lecturing you; I feel very sorry this had to happen to such a great guy and a great marketer, but all of us need to be more careful so this doesn’t keep happening)
    Thanks,
    Peggy

  20. Clint says

    Excellent post Andrew,

    I do have a question about what you said here:

    “See “Multiple ads to the same site” – That is a big one. That doesn’t even say not too many affiliate links it means not too many links to the same URL regardless. That means unlike some people think, that putting up no-follows will make Google ignore your aff links… that might not be the case.

    On a number of my sites, I do have great content, but am generally promoting one affiliate product for the entire site. I have the product in the sidebar, but I also have a link to the same product if someone clicks on a picture (there is one picture per page). As well, there will be a link to the product within the content. Are you saying that I shouldn’t do this, even if I have a “no-follow” link with the all of the links?

    Thanks.

    Clint

  21. Steve says

    I have had the same issues with bridge pages and from my discussions with a Google rep I was led to believe that bridge pages referred to a page that was a ‘bridge’ from your ad to the merchants sales page. What Google are trying to get away from is 7 of the 10 ads listed in adwords all ultimately ending up at the one merchants sales page.

    I am not sure if I have it right but that was my understanding and it fitted in to what I have learnt about Google wanting to give searches a unique experience. They considered 5, 6, or however many ads which led to the same merchants sales page as not being a unique experience – Ideally they want 10 ads leading to 10 different merchant pages.

    I could not see how an affiliate could operate under those rules and realised that if that was the case affiliate marketing had a limited lifespan.

    Not sure if I have it right but that was my ‘learning’ and I was encouraged by the Google rep to develop my own products to get over the problem. The fact they slapped me again 12 months later, after I had written ebooks and designed new sites and did some copywriting, because they didn’t like my natural health niche just made me like Google even less – is that the polite way of saying you think a company is arrogant.

  22. says

    “This content … should stand independently of the links on your page that redirect users to other site”

    I’ve heard this from Google before, alternatively defined as:

    If you removed all the affiliate links from your page, would it’s content still make sense to the average visitor? If so, then you’re good to go. If not, then it could be viewed as junk by Google.

  23. says

    Very interesting, considering I’ve seen emails that Google have sent people after a review/recommendation on their Adsense usage, specifically telling them they should place ads at the top of the page to get a higher CTR. I don’t think G even knows what they want – all I know is they have zero respect for their customers (us).

  24. says

    A really interesting post Andrew.

    I went through something very similar with Google when they suspended both my Adwords and Adsense account within days of each other.

    The Adwords account was suspended for similar reasons to yours, and like you I removed the offending sites.

    Strangely enough on the sites they complained about all I was advertising was another of my own products on a different site.

    Then days after I queried their decision the email arrived telling me my Adsense account was suspended… coincidence?

    At about that time they stopped answering my emails, etc. End of story.

    In hindsight I wish they had suspended my account years before as my sites have now been converted to programs that pay far more than Adsense ever did.

    As as for my paid advertising?

    Ditched the majority of it as as soon as I removed Adsense from my sites my organic listings jumped on just about every site… do they really have a clue what they are doing?

    Phil

  25. says

    Your whole back and forth with Google has been very interesting. I think it underlines what has been said in quite a few places — Google does not like affiliates and would like to kill off affiliate marketing. For very smart people, they sure are behaving very stupidly.

  26. says

    I’d be careful about including links that are “blended” in color. Google penalizes sites that “hide” links and this could be interpreted that way. Matt Cutts, aka googleguy, has spoken about this. The google spiders can parse code and stylesheets and if they see links that are hidden via the code in this way, it could send up a different sort of red flag and tank you in the organic listings. I dunno if it’ll tank you with adwords, but I’d assume it might send up a red flag there too.

  27. says

    Well mate, as the saying goes: “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    History is filled with various empires that perished because they became rotten from the inside. Maybe that will eventually be the case with Google as well?

  28. says

    Hi, Andrew,

    Very interesting article; one thing to confirm: you mentioned that the banner on the top of the article does not convert as well as one within the article.

    Please confirm this; other people said that the best is to have a banner between the title and the content. How do you comment on that?

  29. says

    My ads were dissaproved for site policy recently and found this info when searching as to why…? It expands on what you have mentioned Andrew, particularly relating to “bridge pages”. Seems as Google has it in for us affiliates. “No more sites who’s funtion is to drive traffic to another domain”… Is that not the core of our business? See more here… https://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/static.py?hl=en&guide=28439&topic=28441&page=guide.cs&answer=190435

  30. says

    Sorry to read about your Google problems Andrew. I haven’t started promoting affiliate sites with Google Adwords so I wasn’t aware of this issue. Having read your analysis I think that I should be extending the length of my blog posts. ‘Original’ content seems to be king.

    John

  31. says

    I’m going through this right now but only for one site. I recently decided to use the coupon they give away like candy to restart my Adwords account. The first ad I put up to a lengthy, original review of a product got disapproved as a bridge page. After more than two weeks of going back and forth they finally gave me their “proof” of their claim.

    You won’t believe what they said.

    The guy cited 25 sites that had scraped my content and claimed that’s why my site wasn’t unique and original. No, I’m not kidding. And he didn’t search with keywords. He used the entire first paragraph of one of my reviews to search.

    I just wrote back explaining scraping and how he should know what that is. I kept it professional as best I could.

    What do I think will happen? Nothing. I’ll probably end up direct linking to the merchant’s site or moving on to Adcenter.

    I’m just amazed that so little training can make such decisions. Of course, I don’t spend 1000 bucks a day either. I think it’s quite different for those folks.

    Am I wrong?

  32. says

    Sorry,I forgot to mention I had sent him a CopyScape report on the landing page/review they cited as in violation showing no duplication and the above was his response.

  33. Stefan says

    Nice that they told you exactly what they are looking for. They never bothered to answer any of my questions when they banned me more than a year ago. They just want to keep you guessing and trying..

    @Creative Webs: Which type of ad did you put on your sites after getting rid of Adsense? You said they make you more money.

  34. says

    Any new updates with the new google? I want to learn more information. I think I am penalized by panda. Wanted to figure out what to do to get back my website ranking.

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