Google has updated its AdWords policy today (Monday, October 15), to encourage more quality PPC advertising. The change will see Google focus on AdWords campaigns which don’t meet guidelines on relevancy, clarity or quality – with penalties for ads which don’t comply. Here, ClickThrough Marketing’s content manager Ali Harris explains the AdWords policy, marries PPC updates to Google’s recent search engine updates and algorithm tweaks, and ponders how a more convergent future between SEO and PPC may involve a lot more work for his department…

Poor old Google. It’s hard work policing the world’s most popular search engine – a global beat which requires eternal diligence and a keen eye for trouble. The scale of the task is immense: almost impossible to comprehend, in fact.

Imagine, if you will, just how much horrific spam gets uploaded and optimised for search on a daily basis. Add to that a mix of template websites full of adverts, sites which steal or scrape their content from elsewhere, or sites that deliberately set out to trick searchers. Now, double that imaginary estimate – and you might be close to the actual amount of spun, nonsensical and poor-quality gibberish Google has to sift through on a daily basis.

Google’s product is reliable search results. Trust and accuracy are cornerstones of this: and spammy results or poor quality ads denigrate the product.

Therefore, it’s imperative that Google keeps ahead in the battle against the spammers: whether they’re targeting organic rankings, or PPC ads.

In the past 18 months, Google has taken great strides. The introduction of both the Panda and Penguin search engine updates have resulted in punishments and penalties for sites that don’t obey Google’s organic search guidelines.

Now, Google’s beady eye is turning to PPC.

And with the new Google AdWords policy update going live today (Monday, October 15), PPC managers must ensure their AdWords campaigns comply with the guidelines to avoid potential penalties.

The policy update doesn’t really change the guidelines – and in the most part, is aimed at those sites which deliberately mislead searchers.

However, one or two of the points covered in the policy update are, essentially, relatively easy mistakes to make: especially if you’re new to pay per click advertising.

What’s happening to PPC with the Google AdWords policy update?

Well, PPC is essentially going to improve for everyone: search users, PPC managers and Google themselves – for whom PPC is a huge breadwinner. In fact, the only people who won’t benefit from the changes are nefarious spammers using paid ads to trick searchers. And, possibly, sloppy PPC staff who fail to double-check their campaigns.

The update should result in more trustworthy ad links, better-quality adtext and more relevant, concentrated landing pages.

For PPC managers, this is something of a future bonus: by instigating wholesale improvements across an AdWords account, you’re likely to see your Quality Score rise, and your click costs drop as a result.
Theoretically, it’s win-win.

The big change here is that Google is concerned about the clarity, relevancy and quality of paid search ads.
Where content has become crucial for successful SEO strategies post Panda and Penguin – both of which place huge value on original, relevant and well-presented content – it is likely to now be even more important for PPC.

It’s not enough to auto-generate adtext, send traffic to a one-size-fits-all landing page or try to keep your PPC ads short and sweet.

Google’s guidelines are there for a reason: and that means dipping into AdWords to ensure every word is correct, every landing page sings quality, and every adtext is logical, grammatically sound and truthful.

These are obvious things: but Google’s not really been enforcing on these specific elements until now.

What rules are being enforced by Google after the October AdWords policy update?

  • Ads and keywords must directly relate to content on the landing page or the topic/business model of a site
  • Products or services mentioned in an ad must be featured on the landing page
  • Generalised call-to-action phrases, such as ‘Click Here’ or ‘Click +1’ must not be used
  • Ads cannot have missing lines of text or extreme spacing
  • Poor grammar or illogical adtext will be punished
  • Sites with interstitial ads which create unexpected pop-up pages are prohibited
  • Sites built solely to display ads won’t be allowed to use AdWords
  • Irrelevant, unclear keyword campaigns could be punished
  • Stock template websites with duplicated content will be penalised
  • Scraped content will be penalised
  • Landing pages featuring ads must ensure the ads are distinguishable from actual content
  • Site navigation must be clear – deceptive structures could be punished
  • Malicious or frustrating websites won’t get paid ads
  • Phone numbers must not be used in sitelinks
  • Ads must not simulate email inbox notifications

What are the penalties for failing to comply with Google AdWords guidelines?

The update is unlikely to have a far-reaching effect immediately: it is slightly different to the algorithmic updates applied to organic search results. Over time, though, Google fully intends to weed out the baddies and prevent them from spoiling the search experience.

The penalties for sites vary.

Google will contact all affected advertisers to explain the update. Advertisers who feel their ads have been punished unfairly can resubmit their ad for review.

  • Initially, AdWords campaigns which don’t comply will be disapproved. The ad won’t run until it is changed and approved.
  • Domains could be suspended. Websites violating the policy may be suspended from running AdWords campaigns.
  • In extreme cases, with multiple or serious violations of the policy, accounts will be banned completely – all ads stopped and Google may choose to disallow further AdWords usage in future. Related accounts may also be suspended, permanently, and new accounts could be suspended immediately.

The clear message here? Google is getting tough.

What can I do to protect my PPC campaigns from penalties?

Any good PPC manager will have already paid close attention to key PPC metrics and implemented actions to ensure the highest-possible Quality Scores for each campaign keyword.

That said, sometimes minor things can slip through the net.

So, if you’re worried, carrying out a wholesale PPC audit could be the best place to start.

There are PPC tools available to automate PPC reporting, investigate keywords and display Quality Score ratings across an account – such as our very own BidCops, which can help identify areas for improvement.

Our general PPC advice, though, is always to focus on Quality Score, as this can help to massively reduce your click costs, keep your business ahead of competitors – and, in principle, should result in an engaging, satisfying experience for your customers.

There are a few things you can do now, though, to help ensure your campaigns meet the Google guidelines.

  • Review your ads and keywords: do they directly relate to your landing page content? If a user clicks your ad, will they see something related to that ad, or just a general company landing page? Relevancy is key.
  • If you’re advertising services or products in your PPC ads, be sure that the user sees these products or services on your landing page after clicking your ad
  • Look at your adtext: are there any gaps or missing lines? Do any of your adtexts run into your URL? Are there spelling mistakes, or examples of bad grammar or poor formatting, like excessive spaces? Have you left any general ‘click here’ calls-to-action in your adtext?
  • If you display phone numbers alongside PPC ads, be sure they use the call extension and not hyperlinks or sitelinks.

My Google Ads have been suspended! How can I get Google to review my AdWords account?

If your ad has been disapproved, you can ask Google to review it. Edit it, remove offending rule-breakers, and save it. If you’ve removed offending items, the ad should be approved. Google aims to review all ads within three working days: there may be a lot of reviews needed in the coming days, so be patient with this if you leave tweaks to the last minute.

For more information on Google’s AdWords policy, and to track updates, visit the AdWords Policy Change Log.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.