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March 05, 2006

Safeguarding yourself when purchasing a site for AdSense

When you are buying a website from someone for the sole purpose of putting AdSense on, it can be a catch-22 about whether to ask the site owner if he or she has ever used AdSense on the site, and if the site has been banned from AdSense. But you don't exactly want to outlay the cash and then discover the site has been permanently banned from ever running AdSense.

On the one hand, you don't want to invest in a site that you can never show ads on. But on the other hand, you don't want to give a struggling hobby webmaster who might have never heard of AdSense think about signing up and trying AdSense before he goes ahead and sells it to you... because you want the best possible deal on buying the site. And yes, there are still publishers scooping up websites for a song and making back the purchase amount within days after putting on AdSense.

So what can you do to protect yourself against purchasing a website that has been banned? There are a few ways.

Use the AdSense Preview Tool

When you go to the website, use the AdSense Preview Tool on a few different pages. If you see no ads and an error message such as "e:-2146697208" then the site has been banned from showing ads for some reason.

This is what it will look like in the Preview Tool:


However, if you don't see this error code, the site may still be banned - it seems to take about a week (possibly two) after a site has been suspended for this error code to show up in the preview tool.

Sometimes ads will not display in the preview tool and show this message instead:

We are unable to show ads on this page. Possible reasons include:
  • No ads are currently available for the selected geographic region.
  • Page has not been crawled. Please try again later.
  • This page contains sensitive content. Google AdSense filters ads from pages containing sensitive news items or content.
This is not neccessarily a bad sign, although some people believe it is a sign that a website has been suspended. It is generally exactly what the message says. When it comes to serving ads, the preview tool doesn't seem to have the same priority as those ads being viewed live on the page (and rightly so). You can often check back and see ads a few hours later, if the issue isn't a robots.txt or stop word filter issue.

You are not authorized to view this page

When a site has been suspended from AdSense, yet the AdSense code is still live on the site, instead of ads or PSAs, you will instead see an error of "You are not authorized to view this page". This is actually an "HTTP Error 403 - Forbidden" error page that will show up in Internet Explorer. It shows within the iframe, so you may only see a portion of the message, but here is what it looks like full screen:


It is worth noting that you will NOT see this error message if you are using Firefox or Mozilla (at least not in its normal configuration), you will simply see a blank space instead. You would need to use IE or set up your browser to display an error message for any 403 errors generated.

However, if the site owner has already removed AdSense from all the pages, you will not be able to detect a suspended AdSense account through this method.

Google / Yahoo / MSN Cache

If you catch someone as they are trying to offload sites quickly, check the cache in various search engines to see if there are any iframes showing "You are not authorized to view this page", especially on internal pages that might have not had the cache updated recently (Google includes the date of the cache on the cached page).

Internet Wayback Machine

The Internet Wayback Machine is a tool many webmasters use when purchasing a site, to make sure it hasn't been used for anything that might have flagged it for future ranking within Google or Yahoo. But it is also a great tool for checking for suspended AdSense accounts.

Even if an AdSense account was active during the time the archive.org archived copy of the site was taken, it will display (in IE) the "You are not authorized to view this page" error when viewed in archive.org after the account has been suspended. So this is another big way to discover about a site's wrongdoings in AdSense. However, a webmaster can easily exclude their site from archive.org by using robots.txt, even if they allowed their site to be included before.

While none of these methods are foolproof, they will definitely enable you to try and safeguard yourself against purchasing a site that has been previously been suspended from AdSense.

What if you have purchased the site and then discovered it has been suspended? In a few cases, contacting AdSense will help and the site will be unblocked depending on the nature of the original suspension. However, few people have been able to get accounts unblocked using this method, because it could so easily be abused by unscrupulous publishers looking to get their money making sites re-enabled into AdSense after committing fraud.

Alternatively, some are including clauses in website purchasing contracts where the seller swears that the site has never been suspended by AdSense. Of course, unless the seller is already using AdSense, you could run the risk of alerting the seller to the AdSense program, if they are not already aware of it... and yes, especially with hobby-type sites, there are still webmasters who do not know AdSense exists ;)

Following these steps can help prevent buyer's remorse when it comes to purchasing websites that would be perfect for putting AdSense on.

Posted by Jenstar at March 5, 2006 08:41 AM

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Hey Jen, great post - as usual.

However, I don't understand one thing:

If the Google Adsense Preview Tool displays ads, then the site is definately not banned from Adsense, right?

Posted by: Bob at March 5, 2006 07:13 PM

What about going the easy way around and just contact Google's Adsense team to check if a site is banned or not? I think this is the best way to confirm.

Anyways, thanks for the tip. I'l be sure to use it and let others know about it too.

Posted by: mark at March 5, 2006 07:18 PM

Just a further point: the "You are not authorized to view this page" also occurs on sites that have been suspended, not just accounts. An account may still be in good standing, but a particular site owned by the account might contravene one of the AdSense rules (such as using Google trademarks in the domain name) and so is not allowed to display AdSense ads. Still something to be wary of, of course.

Posted by: Eric Giguere at March 5, 2006 07:24 PM

Mark - there are privacy considerations regarding why you usually cannot just contact AdSense directly. What if you were suspended from AdSense for some reason, would you want your competitor to be able to email AdSense and ask "Hey, has Mark's site been suspended from AdSense? I am thinking of buying it but want to know the nature of the suspension first..." even if that competitor had no intention of purchasing it and just wanted to be nosy? I would guess you wouldn't really be happy if Google responded with details pertaining to your suspension ;)

Added: I do know a couple people who have asked Google and gotten a response, but it was more due to an ongoing relationship they had with an account rep.

Posted by: Jenstar at March 5, 2006 07:32 PM

Bob - it can take a week or two to display that error message in the preview tool, and it will continue displaying ads for a week or two after the suspension before you see the error.

Posted by: Jenstar at March 5, 2006 07:33 PM

I've also seen "You are not authorized to view this page" displayed on my own sites on occasion. At the time it apparently was some sort of technical glitch, as the ads were running again in an hour or so. So even that method isn't foolproof.

Posted by: Michael Hampton at March 5, 2006 07:39 PM

Great info. I really like the Wayback site. I had never seen that before. Thanks. Ot is fun looking at the sites like ebay or even google.

Posted by: Jake at March 5, 2006 08:09 PM

Great post and very informative. I'll need to try this out on some sites.

Posted by: Bruce at March 5, 2006 09:17 PM

Great post!

Can you point us towards any resources for reliably identifying sites for sale?

Posted by: Larry at March 6, 2006 12:08 PM

Well, I've been banned because of "invalid clicks" and also been told that my site isn't suitable for AdSense - yet the preview tool shows adverts, implying that it's valid.

Posted by: Paul Wells at March 6, 2006 12:44 PM

The most common reason given by google is "fraudulent clicks" ... Is the more easy and quickly for them.


PD: Yes sir, great post.

Posted by: Maximiliano De Muro at March 15, 2006 05:17 PM

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