Google AdWords: evil?

Saturday 29 October 2005

To help promote Susan's book, I signed up for Google AdWords. I thought it was a great program at first. Then Google pissed me off.

If you don't know what Google Ad Words are, do a search on Google, and look at the right-hand column titled "Sponsored Links". There you will find small text-only ads. These ads are paid for by AdWords customers, who pick the search terms they'd like their ads to appear with.

The program is nicely constructed: you pay only when someone clicks on your ad, not for each appearance (what the industry calls an impression). You bid on clicks: the ads for a search are listed with the highest bidder at the top. You set a budget for each month. Google divides your budget by 30 and limits you to that amount each day, so when you've had enough clicks to reach your daily limit, your ads no longer appear, and your budget is enforced. Google will even help you decide what to bid, based on the current bids for the same words, and their Budget Optimizer tweaks your bids for you to maximize clicks within your budget.

All in all, I was very pleased with the program when I was first signing up. It seemed like Google was doing a good job helping me along. The administration site has an impressive array of statistics about your ads. You can create a bunch of different ads, and Google will track how each performs, so you can twiddle them obsessively.

Once I had finished setting up my ads, I sat back to watch what happened. To my consternation, I was getting no impressions. Not just no clicks, but no impressions. I thought maybe I hadn't bid enough. But I had used Google's bid advice, so I didn't think my bids could be far off. The admin page had no indication why the ads weren't showing. The help page suggested a half-dozen reasons why the ads might not be showing, none of which applied.

So I started an IM session with the support people. I was promptly helped, and the person on the other end had a great bed-side manner. But in the end, she couldn't figure out why the ads weren't showing either. She forwarded my question to technical support.

A day later, I got an email from technical support. It explained that my account was "under review", and that Google does this to ensure quality ads. I was a little miffed: if this was a regular occurence, why not:

  1. Put an indicator on the admin page that clearly indicates my account is under review?
  2. Send me an email telling me that my account is under review?
  3. Teach your IM support people that this might happen, and how to know that it is happening?

Miffed though I was, the ads started showing, and I even got a few clicks. Now I could begin the fun of adding new keywords, and playing with the bids, and so on. All was well. That is, until a week later when my ads stopped showing again.

Another IM session, another baffled support person, another email a day later explaining that my account was under review! The ads started showing again, but a week later, they stopped again. Keep in mind, I never received an email about any of this, not when the ads stopped, and not when they started up again.

This time, I got pretty bitchy with the support person. I asked why I kept coming under review, and why they couldn't be proactive about notifying me, and so on. I was frustrated. The support person cheerfully told me that she would forward my question to technical support.

The next day, I checked the admin page, as I had learned to do, and discovered this message:

This account has been canceled. It will not be possible for you to reactivate your account. Any edits made to your account while it is canceled will not be implemented. Please contact us if you have questions about this account.

WTF? Of course, I contacted them. I was told that my question ("why the hell has my account been cancelled?") would be forwarded to technical support. It's now a week later, and I've received no reply. I had used a virtual credit card number to create the account, so it was easy for me to cancel the number. I sent them an email:

It's now been a week since I asked why my account was closed, and I've had no answer. I find this unacceptable. Someone or something decided to cancel my account. They knew at the time why they were doing it. Why not send me an email explaining it?

I've done nothing wrong, why am I being treated like a criminal?

I've canceled the credit card number on the account. I owe you $29.87 and you owe me an explanation. I'll give you the money when you give me the reason for the cancellation.

Respectfully,

--Ned.

I don't expect I'll ever get an explanation. There's not a lot of money involved here, maybe Google will just forget about me.

The whole thing has put a bad taste in my mouth. If I had to guess, I'd say that I fell victim to an over-zealous anti-spam or anti-fraud heuristic. But shouldn't I be able to get someone's attention? I'm starting to think that Google is getting too big too fast, that their growth has outstripped their ability to attend to their motto: "Don't be evil".

Update Nov 13: the account has been reactivated.

Comments

[gravatar]
Damien Katz 7:58 PM on 29 Oct 2005

> Google is getting too big too fast

That is definitely my general impression, but I'm a little surprised they're dropping the ball on Ad-words. Isn't that where the bulk of their revenue comes from? Maybe they don't quite have the whole long-tail thing figured out.

[gravatar]
Ben Poole 8:32 PM on 29 Oct 2005

Google is now big business. I guess now there's your answer. Sad, but true.

[gravatar]
Jkx 9:42 PM on 29 Oct 2005

I have another issue with Google. They send me a mail saying that I won't be paid because of fraud. I ask them for additionnal information but nothing. They can't explain why they drop me because of there "Super-Mega-Secret"(and siucks) algo.

Ok, maybe someone have done some weird stuffs with my account. But the main thing, is that Google wait until they have a pay you (here ~ 110 $). By this way, they have a bunch off free-until-drop ad users.

[gravatar]
oojee 9:52 PM on 29 Oct 2005

all bad experiences at my end as well.

sucks when companies go public... they turn to shit very quickly

[gravatar]
Mark Haliday 10:31 PM on 29 Oct 2005

Yeah it sucks...but in the end this is how Google was going to start going. Its the same well laid path that boneheads like Microsoft, IBM, HP, and other "we don't care about the actual person" mentality, we just care about the bottom line.

Your a drop in the ocean to them, lost in the beaurocratic maze of red tape building up in Google. They'll need to change their slogan soon.

[gravatar]
brian 12:05 AM on 30 Oct 2005

My parents experienced the same thing from eBay. My father had started an eBay account to sell some of his photography. A few weeks later he got an email saying that his account had been cancelled and that he would not be able to reactivate it. He sent an email questioning why. eBay responded that he had violated the terms of his agreement. The problem was, he hadn't done anything except open the account. He hadn't even had a chance to post anything for sale. He then called the cust. service number where he was told that they wouldn't disclose the violation due to security concerns. He then started receiving letters saying that he had an outstanding balance of $6 for a while. This went on for months and only stopped after my mother sent a registered letter explaining that my father had passed away.

We never found out why the account was cancelled or what the $6 was for. Yep. Big business...

[gravatar]
Jarno Virtanen 1:39 AM on 30 Oct 2005

Not too surprisingly, albeit a bit ironically, your article now has an advertisement for Google Adwords at the bottom.

[gravatar]
Ned Batchelder 7:42 AM on 30 Oct 2005

Yeah, I wondered as I was writing it if Google would serve its own ads at the bottom... Heh.

[gravatar]
Marc 1:22 AM on 1 Nov 2005

Have you tried Yahoo's Publisher Network? Only problem is that it's currently in Beta so you have to apply and hope to be accepted.

[gravatar]
Uwe 7:42 AM on 22 Dec 2008

This what happended recently to me:

My campaign suddenly stopped working after several month. No more impressions, although I did not change anything.

Disabled Account

After contacting the (very good) Google Support, they told me the following (in German, translation follows):

...
Ihren Angaben zufolge können Ihre Anzeigen nicht angezeigt werden. Dies liegt nach unseren Erkenntnissen daran, dass ein unberechtigter Zugriff auf Ihr Konto stattgefunden hat. Als Vorsichtsmaßnahme wurde Ihr Konto daher zeitweilig deaktiviert. Es findet eine Untersuchung statt, die mehrere Werktage in Anspruch nehmen kann. Nach Abschluss der Nachforschungen aktivieren wir Ihr Konto wieder und erstatten Ihnen alle Kosten, die aufgrund des unberechtigten Zugriffs entstanden sind. Das Ergebnis unserer Untersuchung wird Ihnen anschließend per E-Mail mitgeteilt.
...


Roughly translated to english this reads:

...
According to your e-mail, your ads can not be displayed. This is according to our findings that a unauthorized access to your account has taken place. As a precaution, therefore, your account has been temporarily disabled. There is an investigation, which several working days can take. Upon completion of the investigations we activate your account and you reimburse all costs incurred because of unauthorized access arose. The result of our investigation will be followed by e-mail.
...


The interesting part is that I, as the administrator of the Google AdWords account did not see any indicator to this disabling.

I.e. I could work with the account just as I did normally, only that my ads (which where shown as "active", too) had no impressions.

After a few days and some e-mails between the Google AdWords support team, they activated my account again.

Until now I have no clue what was their indication of the "unauthorized access", since in my eyes, such an access never happened.

Bank Account Error

One more side note: When I tried to modify my payment settings (bank account or credit card), an error message always told me:

"Invalid account"

Maybe this was due to the disabling of the account. I did not try this anymore since then.

Cheers
Uwe


(Free Google AdWords Keyword Generator, maybe you like it)

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