Google AdSense made a big push to get some of the bad apple publishers out of the Google AdSense system last year. And of course, many publishers are absolutely terrified of running afoul of the Google AdSense police, and live in fear that they may have taken a slight misstep that will get their account banned. Then there are those that try and push the line to see how far they can go before Google pushes back.
But many violations are simply because a publisher didn’t bother to thoroughly read the AdSense terms and policies before slapping up their AdSense code on every domain they own. And I have discovered while doing audits that often publishers are clearly in violation of the terms and policies, all while trying to convince me they have always done it, didn’t know it was wrong, and are sure Google won’t mind since they have gotten away with it for this long.
So, while not all inclusive, here are some of the more common TOS and policy violation mistakes that publishers make without even realizing they could be jeopordizing their accounts.
Clicking on your own ads
Yes, I consider this one pretty basic, and if you are aware of it, you probably wonder how on earth anyone could possibly think it would be alright to be clicking on your own ads. After all, it isn’t really being fair to the paying advertisers when you click ads you also earn money off of, because it always raises the question of whether you actually clicked because you were interested or if you only clicked because you wanted to earn some extra money.
Now, while many consider this a no brainer, I can’t count the number of publishers who are astounded they can’t click their own ads, and are actually shocked they could get their account suspended over it. The usual excuses I hear are “But I was really interested in the ad!”, “but I even bought something from the place the ad was for!” or “I just wanted to check to make sure the ads worked.” Well, think of it as if you were the advertiser. Would you be happy you just paid $1 for that click, and then learn the person who did the clicking earned a % of that dollar you spent? When put that way, it is easy to see why a publisher’s motives could be suspect when they are earning money when they clicked it. If you were that advertiser, you’d be complaining to Google AdWords about it pretty darn click, and be expecting a refund for it.
And yes, unless you are super sneaky about it, Google will know it was you that clicked. They might let it slide once or twice, but if you are making a habit of clicking your own ads, even if you swear you are truly interested in what the ad was about, you will quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a Dear AdSense Publisher letter. An easy solution is to download the AdSense Preview Tool which will allow you to check out the ads appearing on a certain page – even with geolocation options so you can see what ads are being seen by visitors in other countries – and click away to your heart’s content without costing the advertiser a penny.
Sure, we all would love to put some red blinky arrows pointing to the AdSense ad unit, but again, those advertisers won’t be happy to be paying for clicks so blatantly incited by the publisher. And yes, even though you might not be specifically asking people to click on your ads, blinky arrows and the like are still considered “inciting clicks” in the eyes of Google, and is against the terms and policies.
My favorite example is from someone who posted on the AdSense forum at WebmasterWorld a couple of years ago, claiming that his account was banned for absolutely not reason at all… except when you went to his forum in question (that he so conveniently included in his profile), the cached copy of the forum pages showed a huge 600×600 or so pixel image of the webmaster pointing to the large rectangle AdSense ad unit, and with some added text threatening his forum visitors that if they didn’t click at least 5 ads each and every day, he would take the forum offline. And yes, it is also a classic example of how many of those publishers who claim they are completely innocent are actually pretty guilty!
And those images lined up next to AdSense ad units that were all the rage a couple of years ago? Since the thumbnail images would often be completely unrelated to the ads, and people were mistakenly clicking on the ads thinking it was taking them to a product page for whatever was showing in the item, it also quickly became one of those “thou shalt not” things to do with your AdSense ad units. So leave the arrows and any other gimmicks away from your AdSense ads.
Inciting clicks in any way
Yes, I know for most people this is common sense, but for others it will serve as a good reminder. Don’t ask anyone to click your ads for you, whether telling someone privately or posting it somewhere obvious, like on a forum. First, if you post publicly to get people to click your ads, someone will turn you in, I have seen this happen time and time again. Sure, you might own a forum and think everyone loves you, but someone will have an ax to grind and won’t think twice about clicking on the “Ads by Google” and dishing up to Google all your click inciting crimes.
Likewise, if you tell your best friend to go and click an ad on your site every day, that pattern will also stick out like a sore thumb when one person (and very likely the same IP address) goes and clicks X number of ads each and every day. And since there isn’t really anything in it for him or her, except for your thanks, chances are pretty good all the clicks would be made on the homepage and in under a minute… again, another one of those big warning flags.
And it goes without saying that click circles, click bots and anything else along those lines is also against the terms too, especially if you don’t want to find yourself on the receiving end of a Google lawsuit (yes, Google won).
I think I have seen just about everything a publisher can do when it comes to creatively changing the AdSense code. So you can’t change the size of your iframe to be slightly smaller to hide the Ads by Google, or change the color scheme so that any part of the ad unit text is blended right into the background of the ad unit. Basically, the code you get from your AdSense control panel is EXACTLY the code you should paste into your webpage, without alterations, and the end result should be exactly what is shown on your website.
You also cannot change the code to open ads in a new window when clicked, run AdSense from within an application (I know at least one ebook publisher who ran afoul with this one)
Drop down menus can be both a navigational and an SEO nightmare. And when someone combines fancy drop down navigation system with AdSense, more often than not, the end result is menus that drop down over the AdSense ad unit. Having anything go over top of an AdSense ad unit is again the policies… this includes navigation menus, pop-ups and even newsletter slide in ads. If anything covers up any part of the ad, it is in violation. This is one of the more common AdSense terms and policies violations I come across in site reviews. If you are wondering why it is a big deal, think about how frequently you use a drop down menu, and right when you go to click, you slightly move the mouse and it collapses on you as you click… and if the AdSense is placed front and center, the visitor will accidentally click the AdSense unit instead. Sure, it’s good for your revenue (at least until you get caught!), but it makes advertisers cranky when they are paying for clicks by people who had no intention of leaving your site at that moment.
And while on the topic of on-site behaviours, pop-ups and unders that could obscure AdSense ads are also not allowed.
Pre-Filling the Search Box
Yes, we would all love to put payday loans or mesothelioma as a prefilled search into the AdSense for Search box, but alas, it is against the terms. Likewise is direct linking to a results page.
1,000,000 visitors for $19.99!
If you are tempted to buy traffic that promises a million clicks for next to nothing, run far, far away. First of all, the quality of the traffic, if there is even a real person behind the click, is very, very poor. Second, Google has warned publishers to be wary of getting poor quality traffic. So you are much better off throwing your $19.99 into PPC or advertising, and gain quality visitors that way.
Blabbing Your Stats
Except in specific circumstances, Google does not allow you to share details including your CTR, eCPM, etc. You are only allowed to share your gross payment amount. So if you ever wondered why people show off screenshots of their AdSense stats with a bunch of the info blacked out, this is why 😉
Sure, it might be obvious that you can’t put ads on certain types of content, yet I also see this rule being broken all the time. And it is worth noting that this means it applies to the entire site, and not just individual pages. So if you have a section about gambling, for example, it would technically mean you cannot run AdSense on the entire site. So here is a refresher of the types of content not allowed in AdSense, because I often hear “I didn’t know you couldn’t put AdSense on ____.”
That said, it is quite easy to email Google to ask about it. If you have 1000 pages of unique content but happen to have a section on gambling, they might allow you to run AdSense on the rest of the site as long as you ensure you do not run AdSense on those pages in question. It never hurts to ask!
Following the Webmaster Guidelines & Landing Page Guidelines
This is a tough one, since it can be open to interpretation, but one of the policies is that all publishers must adhere to both the Webmaster Guidelines and the “spirit” of the Landing Page Quality Guidelines. The Webmaster Guidelines are mostly there for spam sites and arbitrage sites that might be running Google AdSense, but it doesn’t hurt to have a quick look to make sure you aren’t doing anything that Google could penalize you for, either in the natural search results, or your status in the AdSense program.
If you messed up…
That said, Google is pretty lenient to a certain extent. This means if you have made a minor mistake, they will send you an email letting you know what you’ve done wrong, and give you a few days to fix it (usually three). However, if you are blatantly trying to push the line, they could be far less forgiving, depending on how far over the line you went.
Likewise, if you are a repeat offender and Google is constantly policing your account and sending you warnings over a variety of things you are violating, there has to be a point where Google decides you are more trouble than you’re worth, and will suspend your account rather than having to watch you and making advertisers mad about whatever it is you are doing. I often think of this as a three strikes rule, so if you have received one or two warnings previously, it is worth going over your account with a fine-tooth comb and make sure you aren’t violating anything else you weren’t aware of.
I will post part two and three later this week: What to do when you have received a warning letter and what to do if your account is terminated.