In 2016, Google reports, it removed 1.7 billion ads, the largest number the company has taken down, to date, in a single year. Google also banned 200 publishers from its AdSense network during a period of less than two months, due to the growth of fake news and misleading content.
With Google cracking down on ads featuring illegal products, misleading ads, self-clicking ads, ads attempting to game the system and ads promoting bad sites, it’s high time you reevaluated your own advertising strategy — particularly if you’re still using risky or less-than-honest methods to get more clicks.
You know who you are. And Google is going to get you.
Don’t promote illegal products.
Google has said that in 2016, it disabled 68 million ads for healthcare violations and 17 million ads for illegal gambling violations due to insufficient authorization from regulators in their respective countries.
On Adsense, Google restricts the promotion of pharmaceuticals, in particular. Its policy states that ads may not contain content related to the online sale of prescription medications or the sale of unapproved pharmaceuticals and supplements.
This is a broader view of a more complex issue: If you’re planning on advertising healthcare-related products, you should conduct additional research before moving forward with it. One way to ensure you have the requisite medical proof is to research scientific papers on the subject, such as those from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Google’s terms regrading gambling sites may not be as restrictive, but you still need to adhere to them. If you want to promote your gambling or gaming site, you must comply with industry standards for all locations your campaign will be targeting. You must also meet local licensing requirements, display information on your landing page that encourages visitors to gamble responsibly and avoid targeting minors.
Again, do your due diligence before launching an ad campaign that promotes gambling-related content. A great way to do this: Hire a lawyer, check your local gambling and gaming laws or visit a local law library (look in your local city hall or court building).
Is it illegal to promote your product? If that product is counterfeit, dangerous, alcohol- or healthcare-related, there’s a good chance you can’t market it with AdWords.
Related: Google Set to Ban Payday Lender Ads
Do not create misleading ads.
Google also reported taking down almost 80 million ads that were deceiving or misleading to users. Whether these were ads using scare tactics to promote miracle cures, or weight-loss solutions purporting to help users lose 50 pounds without lifting a finger, those ads driving clicks and views that were using misleading information were disabled.
While Google’s 2016 report makes no mention of fake news, these types of ads also fall under the category of “misleading.” Recode reported that 200 publishers were banned from the AdSense network in less than two months for promoting false stories that looked legitimate but turned out to be fake.
An example? Google search results were hijacked by fake news about aliens caught on tape allegedly sucking energy from the sun. Such stories are proliferating rapidly, but it’s unlikely that Google will go easy on their creators, moving forward.
Google, in fact, is going to be — or already is — dealing with fake news using the following strategies:
- Manually reviewing website reviews. This is an obviously time-consuming process, but it’s quite likely that at a minimum, Google will be reviewing items that make it to its “Top Stories.”
- Demoting fake news algorithmically. At this point in time, Google’s algorithm may not be able to determine fact from fiction, but it’s likely that the company is working on this.
- Eliminating any financial incentive. Fake news publishers gain income and influence from their efforts. Removing this incentive could help curtail their efforts.
- Fact-checking. Google added a “Fact Check” label for stories featured in Google News. It’s possible that the company will be integrating this feature into normal search results, as well.
- Funding fact-checking. Google is already funding fact-checking projects. This should help with tapping into more reliable sources.
Ultimately, advertisers with a long-term marketing plan should avoid the use of misleading ads just to drive numbers up.
Don’t use self-clicking ads.
Google disabled more than 23,000 self-clicking mobile ads in 2016. These ads either brought readers to a site they never intended to go to, or pushed them over to the app store to download a suspicious app they probably knew nothing about. That statistic on the number of ads disabled is a relatively small number compared to the numbers in other categories, but it’s increased significantly since 2015.
Don’t attempt to game the system.
Google removed seven million ads for attempting to game the system last year. These are ads that go directly against Google’s policies, but tried to bypass their detection system, nonetheless. Apparently, trying to fly under the radar doesn’t work with Google
Google observed the rise of tabloid cloaking in 2016 — meaning ads that looked like news stories but ultimately led readers to a site selling a product, like weight-loss pills. Tabloid cloakers are known to leverage timely topics to drive traffic to their sites by any means necessary. So, it’s not hard to see why Google sees these actions as misleading. Indeed, some 1,300 accounts were suspended for engaging in this practice.
In general, many advertisers are using content to promote their business and products. That’s why it’s now more important than ever to ensure that your ad copy matches up with the content you’re promoting. Relevance is key.
Don’t violate Google’s policies when selling goods.
As you’ve already seen, Google isn’t just taking action against specific ads; it’s also banning and suspending accounts that repeatedly violate the company’s policies.
In 2016, the company acted on 47,000 sites promoting weight-loss scams, 15,000 sites for propagating malware and unwanted software and 6,000 sites and accounts for advertising counterfeit goods. Fake and misleading products are also unacceptable.
Google is aware that many advertisers use ads to promote products and make money. But violating its policies will lead to the removal of the ads involved, and even termination of these advertisers’ accounts.
The categories involved? Google has policies on adult content, recreational drugs, alcohol and tobacco, healthcare, hacking and cracking, violent content, weapon-related content and a host of other categories. You should be aware of this list.
Certain themes emerge, in Google’s 2016 report, on how the company is fighting bad ads and scammers: Weight-loss, payday loans, tabloid cloaking, fake news, pharmaceuticals and other healthcare products, plus gambling come up time and again. These are the key categories to be aware of, but that doesn’t mean that your ad — from some other category — won’t also be taken down.
If you’re in doubt, review Google’s content policies, and beware of using fake news to attract clicks and views. There will be more action against fake publishers, especially in the year ahead. So ask yourself if any dubious activity you’re involved in is really worth the risk.