Google Double Standards, Opaque Advertising Policies & Bias

Google Double Standards, Opaque Advertising Policies & Bias Against Smaller Advertisers

Update 20/2/17: Searching today shows that over 10 weeks later, nothing has changed. Some “loophole”!

We recently started working with a company that provides supercar driving experiences. You know the type – someone buys you a voucher for a driving experience as a gift, you call up or go online and book your choice of date, venue and perhaps the specific car you want to drive. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty busy (and important) time of year for these guys.

A quick search on Google reveals plenty of options in the Shopping ads:

Supercar Driving Experience SERP

Unsurprisingly, we saw this as an obvious route to take with our client’s PPC – Shopping ads for the vouchers. Imagine our surprise, then, when our client received this notification in their Google Merchant Centre:

Google Merchant Centre Account Suspension Notice

Naturally, we clicked the link to review Google’s policy on these matters. It isn’t immediately obvious that “experiences” fall into this category of “Unsupported Shopping content”, so we spoke to Google directly. Twice.

On both occasions, we were told that vouchers for experiences are definitely not allowed under the Shopping Ads policies. We pushed for more information – why are so many advertisers allowed to run ads for exactly the same thing our account was suspended for? “A loophole” was suggested, but no suggestions as to what that might be. Our client sells vouchers for the experiences, just like the other advertisers. What other possible loophole could there be?

We got nothing. Very pleasant people to deal with at Google, but no useful information as to why our account had been singled out for suspension whilst others merrily advertise away as they have for years.

So is it just a case that Google will eventually ban the accounts of every one of the advertisers you see listed in the Shopping ads when you search for some kind of “experience”? You see the same sort of ads for hot air balloon experiences, flying lessons etc.

Do we have to report every one of these advertisers for violation of the Shopping Ads policy to even the playing field for our client?

It feels very much like Google is turning a blind eye to allow big spenders to continue unabated (the likes of Argos, House of Fraser and Prezzybox frequently appear in these kind of ads), whilst totally excluding a smaller new player without explanation or a solution.

It’s pretty much the definition of double standards, it’s completely opaque (how can some advertisers with exactly the same product be OK whilst others are banned?), it’s biased towards the big advertisers and if you had the time and money, I suspect you could make a legal case out of it.

The craziest thing is that Google are losing money as a result and all it would take is a slight alteration of their policy on advertising “services” to allow these ads to run for everyone.

Ian Lockwood About the author

Ian has been optimising websites since 1998 and founded Boom with Rob in 2010. If not in front of a computer, he’s likely to be behind the wheel of a car or holding a guitar. Not simultaneously.

Learn more about Ian Lockwood

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