This story is going to be all too familiar to people in the supplements business… it goes like this…

A couple of years ago, I had a client selling a range of bodybuilding supplements. Protein powder, creatine powder, l carnitine and so on. Nothing illegal.

Everything was going fine with AdWords – the campaign was making a nice profit… until…

One day Google decided one of the things we were selling was “anabolic steroids” (it wasn’t). So we, and all other advertisers, had our ads taken down for that product.

Fair enough. Everyone got treated the same. The rules that were applied to us were applied to Amazon, Holland and Barrett and so on…

But that soon changed. A couple of weeks later, we had our AdWords account suspended. The reason? They wouldn’t allow us to advertise because we still had the “banned” (though, of course, legal to sell) product on our website.

Adwords’ Double Standards

We replied by pointing out that Amazon sold that product, too. Was Adwords going to suspend the entire Amazon AdWords account?

Of course not. So Google ignored that question and repeated that, in order to have our account un-suspended, we had to remove the product from the site.

Unsurprisingly, we felt this was “one law for the rich.”

So, we removed the product from the site… only to be banned for selling another product (which wasn’t steroids and wasn’t explicitly on the Adwords list of unacceptable products.

Of course, the big companies like Amazon etc stocked those products.

The whole thing went on and on until the client just stopped using AdWords.

Understanding it from Google’s perspective

I know a lot of people look at Google and say, “Dont be evil, my arse!” However, I think they’re generally benign. They don’t tend to do unjust things unless there’s a good reason.

Trying to see this from Google’s perspective, I think there was a reason they did this. The supplements business has a lot of dodgy vendors. If you spend time looking at sites, you’ll see some outrageous claims – claims that, if trading standards saw them, would result in the site being told to change their web copy.

Large companies like Amazon or Holland and Barrett can afford to have legal people review their copy. And, if they were to cross a line, those companies have a lot to lose.

The same isn’t true for small one-person operations. If they deceive customers, there’s very little recourse. There’s less motivation to stay above board (and no lawyers to tell them what “above board” means).

So what are Google going to do to ensure those companies are behaving ethically? Should Google pay to have their own employees review these websites and ensure the copy on the sites is compliant with local legislation?

And, if so, how often should they do that? Any time text on the page is changed?

Isn’t that just a big time and money suck for Google?

Maybe Google looked at that and decided the simplest, safest, most cost-effective solution is to push small companies out of the supplements market in AdWords?

The big takeaways

Firstly, as ever, we need to remember that Google cares about Google, not about you. Closing down a small advertiser on a “better to be safe than sorry” basis is no skin off their noses.

So, takeaway #1: Google can’t be trusted with your business. Use Google to advertise your site – and do what you reasonably can to stay on their good side – but always have a plan B.

Takeaway #2: This is not a level playing field. There’s not one law for everyone.

So don’t expect to be treated the same as the really big vendors*. Google will go out their way to help those companies in a way they simply won’t for you. This is just good business sense from Google.

Steve Gibson

* Ever noticed that, when a big company gets slapped for doing dodgy SEO, they quickly return to page 1 of the rankings?

Categories: PPC