Google is known for big numbers: billions of searches, billions of users, and billions of dollars. But a lot of that revenue comes from ads, and Google has standards for what ads they’ll show. That means they have one other very big number to deal with: how many ads they ban. It turns out there were more than half a billion in 2014.
That number and many others were just released in Google’s Bad Ads Report. Given that Google is self-policing the ads it may be startling that they’re willing to ban so many, but Google has made its reputation based on delivering only high quality content to users, and that extends to paid ads. Most of those banned attempted to use deceptive practices, which simply resulted in their ads being blocked altogether. In other words, on Google at least crime doesn’t pay.
So what does it take to get your ad banned by Google? We know that none of our clients would use any of these practices, but we thought it would be fun to show some of the tactics that get the ax. Here are some of the top offenses:
- “Trick to Click.” The biggest chunk of deceptive ads were banned for so called trick to click practices (43 million total). The types of tactics used by these ads varies, but can include things such as provocative political statements (“Should Obama be impeached? Yes – No”) or fake system errors (“Virus detected on your computer! Click here to fix it”). Often these types of ads lead to very dubious websites, but even if they take you to a legitimate business they are manipulative and violate Google ad policy.
- Copyright infringement. Do you wish you could watch the latest Game of Thrones episode without an HBO subscription? So do millions of other people, and they’re searching Google for a place to do it. Pirates, however, cannot take out ads offering the episodes they want. Over 4 million ads were banned for copyright infringement.
- Illegal drugs. Taking out an ad to sell illegal drugs is pretty blatant. Usually, however, these ads masquerade as being legal, offering online prescriptions or drugs from countries where laws are more lax. Regardless, Google isn’t going to let it happen and nearly 10 million ads were removed for medical-related infractions.
- Outright lies. Sites that sell counterfeit or bootleg goods can’t advertise on Google, but plenty tried anyway. About 7,000 ads were taken down for counterfeit products.
- Phishing. Personal information remains valuable and identity thieves aren’t above paying for ads to try to reel people in. About 5,000 ads were banned for lining to phishing schemes and other scams.
What’s interesting is that so many advertisers keep trying to run these ads in the first place. 33,000 merchants were banned in connection with the ads, and the psychology behind their campaigns is fascinating. Most of them knew exactly what they were doing an expected some or all of their ads to be banned. But they also knew that a rare ad would go live before it was detected and banned, and even just a few minutes of exposure to Google users could get thousands of clicks. If you’re selling illegal painkillers or stealing users’ login information, a few thousands clicks may be all you need to make an ill-gained profit.
The numbers from Google do come with a positive message, however. The number of ads banned in 2014 is up almost 50 percent from the year before. That’s not because of an increase in the number of scammers, but because Google has gotten better at thwarting them.