I’m Permanently Banned from Google AdWords

By Hugo Shi

I had a friend who is a software engineer at google file an internal ticket to address the situation. He said it made it past the first layer of customer service. So far so good right? Well, he told me today (2018/11/09) that the ticket has been killed internally. If even an internal employee can’t fix this situation, I can only conclude that this really is permanent. It’s a real shame because I planned on using AdWords to buy up advertising on common error messages for Open Source Answers which I thought would be a great way to fund open source developers and solve problems for corporate developers, but this channel is closed.

I recently quit my hedge fund job to pursue entrepreneurship. My hypothesis is that in the long term entrepreneurship outperforms high paying jobs, and that most risk of failure can be minimized when starting a business by choosing conservative (easy) problems, and applying rational thinking as well as creativity to business problems. I started chronicling my success and failures here, this is article 3.

My first project is a group email business. I’m going to go into how I tried to advertise GroupMail and how I accidentally (and permanently) got myself banned from Google Adwords.

So I had just finished building GroupMail, and I wanted to start marketing it. I was lost, I posted links on hackernews, facebook, got some clicks but not much. I started reading about SEO, and long tail keywords. SEO is split into on-page SEO (setting up html properly on your website to make google happy), and off-page SEO (getting links from other well established domains so that you rank higher in google searches). There used to be some shady tricks for SEO that no longer work. Conventional wisdom is that creating good content, which people naturally link to, is the best way to get good SEO. However SEO takes time, It takes time to produce content, it takes time for people to link to your site and for search engines to trust you. So SEO isn’t really good for rapidly testing whether new ideas will work.

The idea behind long tail keywords is that as a startup, you’ll never rank for really popular phrases like “group email”, however more specific phrases that are less competitive like “free group email from gmail contacts” you can probably win. Fewer people will search for long tail keywords, but there are more of them, so by casting a wide net you can get traffic. This also carries over into adwords, the less popular phrases are much cheaper per click.

I don’t have time to wait for SEO, so I decided to get started¹ with adwords. I created this advertisement.

It was approved in a few hours and began running. If you’ve done online marketing before, the no no with this ad is obvious to you. It didn’t even register to me. I had a few questions about when my ad was going to start running, so I contacted customer support. Google assigned me an account representative! A real human that would help me get started and help me optimize my campaign. He called me the and seemed very helpful, but I decided I wanted to play around a little bit before asking him for help. Thins were looking pretty good. That day, I got some clicks and I went to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, I got 2 emails about my account being suspended. One for “suspicious payments”, and one for circumventing systems. When I logged into adwords, this is what I saw.

woah

This is strange — my ad was approved, and I was using a credit card I had used forever, so I thought it had to be a mistake. If you click on CONTACT US you are taken to a page where you can appeal to google. I had no idea what could be wrong with my ad — it was approved before I began running it, and I knew my credit card was good, so I figured there was a glitch in Google’s automated system, and that when a human reviewed it, I’d be all set. I got the response:

Hello,
We’re sorry to hear that you’re experiencing difficulties with your Google Ads account.
What happened?
We’d like to let you know that your account is currently under review and we’re prioritizing this over other issues you may have written to us about.
Our Specialists already know about this issue, and an investigation is underway. We periodically review accounts for security purposes and to verify billing information.
What should you expect?
We’ll send you an update after the investigation is complete, typically within three business days.
Once we provide you with an update, please feel free to reply to this email if you have any questions regarding your Google Ads account or contact us through https://support.google.com/google-ads/contact
Sincerely,
The Google Ads Team

Ok, that sounds pretty good. Wait! I have an account representative. Surely talking to a human will be able to sort this out! Calling my representative went straight to voicemail every time. Once your suspended, Google does not permit anyone to talk to you. I called 10 times!. I left messages explaining the situation — no response. I tried calling the support line, if I entered my account number, I would get disconnected. If I act like a brand new customer, I get a customer service agent, but once I brought up the suspension, customer support says they cannot discuss it, and cannot help you. Oh well, hopefully our new robot overlords will fix things for me. Later that day, I got back a response from Google.

Dear advertiser,
Thanks for your continued patience during this process. We’ve confirmed that your account is in violation of our Google Ads policies. Since this decision is final, the account will not be reinstated. Please avoid creating additional Google Ads accounts, as they will be subjected to the same suspension.
Our support team will not be able to give you any more specifics on the suspension.
We appreciate your understanding and cooperation.
Sincerely,
Elizabeth
You may receive an email survey regarding your interaction with Google Ads support. We value your feedback.

I knew nothing about online marketing. Ironically back when I was looking into affiliate marketing, and looking at Amazon, I was very careful. I always thought of Amazon as a cutthroat master who would discard affiliates at the first opportunity. I read many articles on how to avoid getting kicked out of Amazon’s affiliate program.

I thought Amazon was the scary one

I had always thought of google as a vaguely positive, don’t be evil, omniscient mega corp. It turns out google is just as hard to deal with. I asked reddit what I did wrong. I am evidently a moron.

Dude you can’t put an email in the ad hahaha

and

I am surprised that they even approved to start with

Ok — I can understand that, I admit that I made a mistake and committed a no no, and I’ll never do it again. However now I’m banned from google advertising forever. It’s not just that account. It’s not just GroupMail. A week later, I decided to do a bit of experimentation in real estate, so I bought the domain watsonvillehousesforsale.com, threw up a landing page and bought some ads. Within 3 days, my account was suspended due to “suspicious payments”. I used a different credit card, but that credit card was also in my name. I’m cutoff, and I can’t even talk to a person to fix the situation. There’s actually another Hugo Shi out there who is an artist. Sucks to be you! you’re probably banned too! I hope you never need to advertise on google!

How I Feel

This made me realize just how much I don’t like one entity having so much power on the internet. You may be thinking, well if you weren’t an idiot in creating your ads, you wouldn’t have this problem. That’s true, and if you guarantee you’re never an idiot in the eyes of google, then I guess it’s fine for you. But consider the following

  1. Maybe you hired a cheap SEO firm, and they employed some black hat strategies, and now your page is banned from google search
  2. Maybe you hired a bad marketing firm and they did some bad things with AdWords
  3. What if your gmail account is compromised, someone uses it to send spam, and your gmail account is shut down.

Bing only has 10% market share, and it’s the top contender for #2. So in terms of getting paid search traffic — there really are no alternatives. I’d encourage everyone to think about what would happen if you lost your GMail account

In summary, I’m super uncomfortable with Google controlling for all intents and purposes what the internet is. But it’s kind of too late now. Maybe the new decentralized internet will save us. I do think that you should have a serious look at your corporate dependencies, and figure out what you can do to minimize your risk. For me, I’ll probably just have to figure out how to hire a company to advertise for me on AdWords, or focus on businesses where other advertising channels are more worthwhile. Or maybe one of these companies can get me back on to adwords

I also think it’s kind of crazy that you can buy AdWords advertising for a company to get people back onto Google AdWords², but what I did, got me banned for life.

Thanks for reading!. My past projects are about simple easy email groups, and getting help for open source projects. My current project provides cloud hosted Jupyter notebooks. In the next article of this series, I write about building GroupMail.. In the next article of this series, I write about how I optimized the GroupMail landing page with the help of Mechanical Turk.

Footnotes

  1. Ok so I actually created my first adwords account in 2013. I spent 5$ on it before I got distracted and started working on something else. That account is still there, but I bet if I started using it, it would get shut down.
  2. If anyone can get me back on, my contact is hugo.r.shi@gmail.com