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My First Day WIth AdSense: Battelle Gets Busted

By - September 07, 2004

prisonWell, Day one with AdSense has been a learning experience, but that’s why I decided to try it, right? Noontime brought this email into my box from Google:

Subject: Google AdSense – Program Policies

Hello John,

It has recently come to our attention that you’re encouraging your website
users to click on the Google ads you’re serving through AdSense. This
activity – which can artificially inflate AdWords advertiser costs – is
prohibited by our program Terms and Conditions
(https://www.google.com/adsense/terms).

We request that you remove the following language from your website:

“Paying the Bills”

If you wish to keep text above the Google ads on your page, you must
replace the above text with “Sponsored Links” or “Advertisements”.

Thank you for your understanding. Once you’ve made the appropriate
changes, please reply to this email so that we can review your site again.

Sincerely,

Mike
The Google Team

Hmmm, I thought to myself. Was “Paying the Bills” really encouragement? So I replied:

I’m not encouraging anything. I’m clearly labeling the commercial area of my site as such. It’s my voice and my site. I politely request you take another look at this and think about it in context of the site, and review your request.

I then thought about it some more, and added:

And besides, there is no consistency on other sites. Over at Fred’s blog (http://avc.blogs.com/a_vc/), he calls your stuff “Google Adsense” which is neither “Sponsored Links” nor is it “Advertisements”. Can I do that?

Came the rather robotic reply:

Hello John,

Thank you for your questions. We ask that if you wish to place text above
the Google ads on your site, please include either “Sponsored Links” or
“Advertisements”. This wording more clearly describes your association
with these ads, and ensures consistency for your users’ experience.

With regard to http://avc.blogs.com/a_vc/ , thank you very much for
bringing this issue to our attention. I have forwarded your finding on to
our team of specialists for further investigation.

Once you’ve made this change, please respond to this email so that we may
review your site again. This will enable us to update your account records
to indicate that you are in compliance with our program policies.

Sincerely,

Mike
The Google Team

Yikes! I had now gotten my buddy Fred in trouble (and I was not “in compliance,” which I think means I’m not getting paid…). This sucks! So I shot off this (most likely too strongly worded) missive:

“Mike”:

First, it sucks that you’re going to come down on Fred because I told you about it. Please don’t.

Second, did you even review what I wrote? I asked you to review my wording, “Pay the Bills,” as it reflects the voice I use to describe the commercial area of my blog. I really resent the stated assertion that I am “encouraging my website users to click on the Google ads you’re serving through AdSense” – which I am in no way doing. I ask you recant that statement, as it’s rather damning and completely false.

And third, I think you guys could learn a bit about the sphere you currently dominate – blogs. It’s all about voice, and voice means people, and people listen to each other and find compromises. So far, I’m not seeing any of this from you guys.

Please respond to these questions, and give me something that shows you’re a person, not an automated bot. I’d be more than happy to have a phone conversation with you, I imagine one quick call would be a far more efficient use of people time at this point.

Thanks.

John

No response so far, though, as you probably have noticed, I *DID* change the title over on the right to “Sponsored Links.” Why? Couple reasons. One, I don’t want my AdSense learnings to end in one just day, and second, well, I thought maybe if I showed them *I* can compromise, they’ll in fact review my request and be open to my wording, and then I’ll change it back. After all, I suppose I am in technical violation of their policy, as stated here:

Incentives

Web pages may not include incentives of any kind for users to click on ads. This includes encouraging users to click on the ads or to visit the advertisers’ sites as well as drawing any undue attention to the ads. This activity is strictly prohibited in order to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs. For example, your site cannot contain phrases such as “click here,” “support us,” “visit these links,” or other similar language that could apply to any ad, regardless of content.

I guess “Paying the Bills” does “apply to any ad”. Anyway. It’s not that it’s such a big deal, it’s that … well…my interaction so far has made me feel like Google doesn’t really understand who I am, or what my site is about. And that, as I have mused in the past, is what is wrong with most ad networks in the first place.

Lastly, I also sent a technical email to the AdSense folks late last night, as some of the ads are not showing up on my permalink pages. No response on that so far…

Net net, my AdSense experience to date has been less than good. But I’m optimistic it will get better. I’ve read many posts about folks grumping that AdSense is inflexible, and now I kind of understand what they’re talking about. On the other hand, I grok why Google must have policies in place – and why allowing exceptions is difficult. Sometimes, however, it’s the policy that must change.

In any event, this is great fun, learning what it’s like to be an AdSense publisher. Can’t wait for the next response!

UPDATE: Got a response, which makes me quite convinced that I’m talking to a robot:

Hello John,

Thank you very much for making the requested changes to your account in
order to comply with our policies. This will contribute to your ongoing
success with Google AdSense and ensure consistency for your users’
experience.

Please feel free to email us at adsense-support@google.com if you have
additional questions or concerns. For technical support, please email
adsense-tech@google.com.

Sincerely,

Mike
The Google Team

Thanks for all the comments. Yes, I should be nicer, and yes, I should realize I’m dealing with the front line troops here. Will do.

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  • ID:entity

    John (if I may) – suggest it might be “more fruitful” to “go easier,” on the support folks as they are probably only 1st line assessment – and I guess this will no doubt land on the PR desk sometime today (because they do realise who you are – you’ve had the invites to the Plex.)

    Come on there is more than one way to skin a rabbit.

    Caveat – any company using any form of auto repsonder or “template” email response deserves a public flogging.

    Now don’t bite my head off :)

  • http://www.kbcafe.com Randy Charles Morin

    There’s plenty of alternatives. If you don’t like Adsense, then try one of the alternatives. Right now, I’m trying Adsense and I’m disappointed in the CPM

  • http://boingboing.net Cory Doctorow

    There is so much in the AdSense ToS that amounts to editorial control rather than commercial arrangement that I was permanently scared off of them — it’s the big reason I didn’t want them for Boing Boing, despite my generally warm feelings about Google. I think that turning over even a modicum of editorial control to harrassed, front-line tech-support people is a really scary idea.

  • http://elysiansystems.com/ Lea de Groot

    You need to remember the size of market they are dealing with – I would assume there are millions of pages showing Adsense ads. I don’t see how they can field responses to all the queries that would generate without automated responses.
    I expect a 1st level responder read your message, selected the appropriate template pieces and hit send, without any notion of who you specifically are (not that that should matter).

    I have a probono site where the ads simply arent appearing. The original click rates I was originally getting made me expect a nice little $100-check every quarter-to-half year, which would support it nicely and mean I dont have to hit the community for donations, but the ads are down to appearing on about 1 page in 100 at the moment – makes it hard for people to click on them :(
    I havent bothered asking google becase I have just assumed that I will get an automated response and no service.

  • http://boingboing.net Cory Doctorow

    Lea, that’s exactly right — anything the scale of Google is way, way too big to be involved in editorial decisions…

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    When AdSense first came out, much was made of the careful editorial control. But then I heard stories of sites being approved within ten minutes of submission, almost as if even the acceptance procedure was automated. The inner workings are anyone’s guess.

    Certainly, much as with AdWords, it don’t matter who you are, if an editorial staff person has a rule to enforce, they must enforce it.

    Sometimes though if you’re a long time AdWords client they might now phone you on an issue rather than, say, disabling all your ads for the long weekend. :) In some areas I think things might be improving.

    Google’s DNA is to automate as much as possible. It’s also a source of their profitability. And it will also be the cause of ongoing incidents like this one bubbling to the surface!

    Clearly, they have to make some attempt to enforce their policies evenly (even on high profile bloggers), or we are all lost.

    Any ad service that uses a click as currency has to be extremely careful about anything that changes the user’s incentive to click.

    I admit that since I report directly on these programs on my site, I technically break the TOS as well, perhaps, but maybe because I don’t literally talk about paying my site’s bills… it’s been OK.

  • Mike

    John, I have an altogether different opinion on this issue. As a Google shareholder from the auction, I am a little irritated that the company didn’t have the foresight to assign a rep. to your account. I can understand them treating my brother who has a real estate website with auto-responses, in fact I expect they would.
    Your account should have been flagged for personal attention. You have a high profile blog. Good business for you is good business for them. They could have and should have picked up the phone!
    Did I say phone?

    End rant.

  • http://socialarchitect.typepad.com AJ Kim

    >>> I havent bothered asking google becase I have just assumed that I will get an automated response and no service.

    Damn right – that’s exactly what you’ll get.

    I had a meeting a few weeks back with a highly-connected technical advisor at Google who wanted to pick my brains about how to convince the Google powers-that-be that actual live tech support is valuable. This conversation – plus others I’ve had with Google employees – makes it very clear that Google’s culture (AKA The Founders) de-value technical and/or customer support in a BIG way.

    Google is clearly arrogant and dismissive about community management and customer support issues – and will likely remain so until they encounter serious competition in the marketplace. It’s typical of young, successful companies – they do what they’ve always been doing until they stumble, badly.

  • http://www.prleap.com/ Merrick Lozano

    John,

    It looks like you forgot to rebuild the whole site in MT, I still see the “Paying the Bills” on this post but not on the home page.

    Good luck with the experiment, your blog merits much more than beer money. Look at what Beal is looking to charge for advertising on SEL.

    Merrick

  • http://www.prleap.com/ Merrick Lozano

    Looks like it is fixed now. I did clear my cache before posting earlier :)

    Merrick

  • http://gen.kanai.net Gen Kanai

    I have a hard time imagining that these AdSense troopers don’t visit the sites in question. If they did, wouldn’t they see right away who you are and what your site is all about? I agree with Mike that they need a way to escalate VIP sites out of the front-line support.

    I do hope that they get their act in gear. This is a poor reflection on AdSense.

  • http://www.livingroom.org.au/blog Darren Rowse

    interesting – I’ve enjoyed watching your experience. I think most Adsense users have had similar emails to yours above.

    As you and your readers above have stated – I’d encourage you to have a bit of patience and try to understand the scope of what Google is doing with this program. There must be millions and millions of pages for them to monitor and as a result I can see why they wouldn’t allow too much flexibility in their rules.

    I’d also say that in my experience with other affiliate and advertising programs that the Google system is the easiest to use by far. I’ve also found that every time I’ve had questions of Google that they have been answered quickly and comprehensively.

    I’ve used Adsense for around a year now on my blogs and have found the system to be quite amazing – it has given me a good income source and changed the way I view the web. (Its done likewise for my wife who used to dislike my blogging – of course this changed the first month I paid our rent with the Google cheque! :-)

    Anyway – I’d suggest hang in there with it – there is loads to learn about using the system. I’ve written up what I’ve learnt if you want to use it.

    Good luck!

  • http://battellemedia.com John Battelle

    Thanks for all the comments on this, folks. I wanted to respond to the idea that Google should treat me like “a VIP”. I certainly hope they do not, I want to be treated just like anyone else. So far, it certainly seems that I am! No answer on my tech question, no answer on my larger “are you a human being” question. Oh well!

  • http://boingboing.net Cory Doctorow

    “There must be millions and millions of pages for them to monitor and as a result I can see why they wouldn’t allow too much flexibility in their rules.”

    And this is precisely why it is a bad idea to put them in charge of editorial decisions on your blog.

  • Ash Thakur

    Google Adsense ads are generic and impersonal – they’re the best way of making your site look just like any other. The only effective way for publishers/bloggers to make money without compromising editorial or look and feel is to get paid (on a PPC basis) for GENUINE product and service recommendations – relevant to the content or readership – WITHOUT having to say that it is a paid advert. It could be a requirement that the recommender has actually tried the product. I think most publishers have the common sense to work out exactly what they can recommend and to what extent without annoying their audience. It means the publisher has to do a litte more work but both the click rate and QUALITY will be higher because somebody has put some thought into it.

  • http://www.shore.com Janice McCallum

    Hi John,
    Google does offer personal service–if your site gets more than 20 million pageviews per month, or if you are top national advertiser, then you qualify for “cusomization services” (from the S-1). In their high-tech/low-touch world, special treatment is purely algorithmically assigned. It’ll be interesting to see what changes occur when technical admin of AdSense is handed over to Bertelsmann (presumably their Arvato sub).

    Regards,
    Janice

  • http://cruftbox.com Michael

    Hrrm. I dunno.

    It’s Google’s game and if you want to play, you gotta play by their rules.

    Being snarky can be fun, but it doesn’t get you far in the business world.

  • http://www.seobook.com aaron wall

    In the past I had AdSense on all the pages of a site. I also had a page about AdSense explaining what the program was. Like 5 paragraphs into the page I mentioned that the ads off to the right were AdSense ads … just like that with no “click on those ads” type of stuff and they emailed me saying how I violated their TOS.

  • http://www.ensight.org Jeremy C. Wright

    I’m kind of surprised John doesn’t get more than 1M pageviews per month. The problem is that blogs aren’t like traditional sites. In a traditional site yeah, 20M pageviews/month means you’re big and influential.

    Not so in the blog world. Most bloggers who break the 1M pv/month barrier (hoping to this month, fingers crossed) would be considered influential (with the exception of me, obviously).

  • http://blog.outer-court.com Philipp Lenssen

    While I think John your wording was still OK, it was pointing in the wrong direction, and I guess the AdSense guys just don’t want any of the authoritative sites to lead by “bad” example. I guess it’s all about advertisers paying the bills, and first of all they need to be protected from any “be nice to me I need to pay my server” scheme (note: I do pay my server via AdSense) — even though I don’t think your wording fell into this category, others might see the line blurred. As for the robotic voice, sometimes, that’s just the way Google support is like (in other areas too, not just AdSense). I can’t jump into their defense, I just guess they get *loads* of emails…

    PS: When will you tell us how much your AdSense is making you? :)

  • http://thomashawk.com Thomas Hawk

    I worry about a company like Google if they treat a blog like yours the same as everybody else. I know that you want to be treated just like everyone else but what you want is not the way a company with a smart PR department should work. They are obviously completely out of touch with how PR should work. Although Google is not your average publically traded company, they still are a publicly traded company and should have a PR department that makes a distinction between their Adsense customers.

    Somebody should be reviewing the Adsense clients and filtering out high profile blogs (especially high profile blogs who write about search) and handing the correspondance from these accounts to more senior bots than “Mike.” This is just good common sense. Having you blog about them and putting them in a negative light is far worse than the cost associated with having a human being with an actual brain respond responsibly to your emails.

    I’m not saying that in the end that they should just cave into your or anyone’s demands, but you should at least get an intelligent response given the visibility of your site in the tech and search community. I totally would have understood if they blew off my little blog but it doesn’t make business sense to treat you the way that they did. Frankly, they should be kissing your ass.

    I thought the guys at Google were smarter than this. Maybe this is why I’ve yet to foray into purchasing their stock as of yet.

  • Peter U

    I think as a blog on one hand you are entitled to earn money, then again “paying the bills” was a bit of an insane idea. How could you justify that ridiculous argument because ppl are stupid and they would click the ads on purpose. But you know actually what that would do?? You would ROB advertisers of their money because those surfers never had any intention of being interested in the product of service they had on offer. I think you are very lucky you were not banned, in the real world what you had done would be considered fraud. If i had been given 10,000 flyers to hand out and all i did was give them to my friends, would that really help the advertiser?? Would they want to deal with you again after doing that? Most people forget that adsense is about SELLING things and providing targetted leads or branding , not about screwing advertisers out of their money.

  • Dexter Westbrook

    It’s tough to summon any sympathy for somebody who gets bent about using the terms “Sponsored Links” or “Advertisements” instead of “Paying the bills,” and acts as if the distinction is a major blow to editorial freedom.

    This is the great blogger sense of entitlement — Let me do as I please. Pay me for it. Suck up to me. And to hell with the advertiser.

  • http://divedi.blogspot.com/ Dimitar Vesselinov

    Today’s chatbots seem to be stupid, right? But in 10 years? What could we expect?

    Agents of change
    “Autonomous agents could one day play a key role in everything from setting market prices to creating more resilient networks.”

    “Over the past year, NASA has been uploading software into the Earth Observing-1 satellite, turning it into a testbed for autonomous agents. The agents — software programs that are able to learn and can function independently — are used to manage experiments and operate the spacecraft.”

    http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/software/story/0,10801,95672,00.html

    See also:
    Immaterial Girl Speaking of the Future with Ramona

    “Surprise, embarrassment, and misunderstanding are all hallmarks of a real conversation, a journalist notes after conversing with KurzweilAI.net’s chatbot host, Ramona.”

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0617.html

    Chatterbot – Wikipedia
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatbot

    Robotic Nation Evidence
    http://roboticnation.blogspot.com

  • http://www.netsense.info Greg

    John,

    You might want to read “Triple Your AdSense CTR In Three Easy Steps”

    http://www.related-pages.com

    Best money I ever spent for basic research:

    Cost $99
    Daily AdSense Profit Boost: $70

  • Daniel

    This has been very interesting John and a little surprising. I always wondered why sites, particularly the more home-grown blogging sites, didn’t encourage more aggresively the clicking of Goggle ads. Now I know why.

    What surprises me though is that I kind of thought that Google WANTED people to click on the links, whether they were genuinely interested in the ad content or not. For example, when they made the entire ad clickable instead of just the underlined title, this had to increase the amount of unintentional clicks – I know I have activitated them accidently. So what’s the big deal about saying “Hey, do me a favor an click on the ads – it will help pay the bills”?

  • http://blogamania.blogspot.com/ McFox

    Actually, strictly speaking, you are breaking the Terms of Service by discussing Adsense at all.

    Encouraging people to click steals money from the advertisers since the inflated traffic generated is not genuinely interested in the sites they click on.

  • http://www.neuroinsights.com Zack Lynch

    This discussion should be “Dilbertized”…Especially, McFox’s comment…

  • http://www.digitalstakeholders.org Paul

    I tried adsense and they quickly shut me down with no explanantion, no recoruse and no check. They represent the best and the worst of the web.

    The only thing I can figure out that happened is that I clicked on some of the links. I mean my site is about something that interests me. So if Adsense works correctly the ads should interest me as well? Am I not a legitimate consumer? I certainly understand if one click on links just to get revenue , but because one has a legitimate interest? Come on. I e-mailed them several times and all I get are canned responses.

    In my personal opinion Adsense is a great technolgy that is very poorly administered. They are making too much money from it to care one bit about customer service…to the publishers. Try any other service possible and avoid adsense at all costs!! I am trying CrispAds right now and the nice thing is that I have e-mailed a real person with a real e-mail address.

  • http://www.azoogleads.com/az/new/agreement.php?i=5487 AdSense Sucks

    Google burned me good with AdSense.

    I had been running their contextual text links on a half dozen of my sites.. after I had earned about $400, they sent me an “invalid clicks” email which looked like it wasn’t even written by a human. I had no idea what they were talking about, and I promptly asked what was up, and nicely offered to fix the problem..

    They ignored my responses and I never did see the money.

    I would suggest that folks avoid AdSense like the plague. I searched around about this “invalid clicks” issue, and it seems to happen to a lot of people, and it always seems to happen when it’s getting close to payout time. Maybe this is part of a plan to increase their margins?

    I’ve since swapped out all my CPC Google AdSense ads with CPA ads from AzoogleAds. I’m making WAY more money with them, and the checks show up on time every month when they’re supposed to. No lame excuses or reps hiding under their desks.

    I have earned over $200,000 USD lifetime with them, and I’ve been paid on time every time. I would strongly suggest that folks check them out, and stop running Google AdSense ads on your sites before you get burned too. It seems to be standard protocol. It’s quite unpleasant to drive in thousands of legitimate clicks over the course of a few months for an advertiser, and then get screwed by them when it comes time for them to square up.

    I’d also like to mention that I’m NOT an employee of AzoogleAds, nor am I trying to just spam their name out. I have had great personal experiences with them, and I think they’re a rock solid Internet marketing agency.

    …and they’ve never burned me like Google AdSense did.. even on 5 figure checks.

    Two Thumbs Up!
    Whammy

  • http://magnusthelife.blogspot.com magnus

    over the weekend i reconsidered appealing google kicking me from adsense for “invalid clicks” – (was it that i bought magnets from an advertiser on my page or like in john’s case a line reading “click here..” [i had not read the ToS closely]? they did not specify)
    there’s too much pissing me off in their robotic way to tell me and answer my first reply ..
    as i read this thread i realize i am not the only one being cheated by adsense this way.
    not that i feel like cryin over about 60 bucks accumulated over 2-3 months, what really makes me mad how i am being accused of wrongdoings by an algorithm that understands nothing of me or my site.
    i actually started an appeals-email (which i’m not going to send), in which i humiliated myself to give possible reasons for their misjudgement!
    screw adsense: half of their ads weren’t contextual anyway (but e.g. about cheating adsense professionally, can you believe it!)

  • http://magnusthelife.blogspot.com magnus

    p.s. i feel like specifying:
    in fact i had not read the ToS at all initially, otherwise i wouldn’t have used the line “click here to generate € for shifz” – which was intended as a joke. i did not expect a single visitor to obey this. i hope this is obvious to any non-bot who happens to visit my page(s).
    but, actually, unlike in john’s case, they didn’t give that as a specific reason, but rather ominously hinted at invalid clicks that might be generated by blah, blah. that’s when i read the ToS and felt silly for my naive use of irony. so far so “good”.
    but of the three examples in their mail the gave like three examples of “invalid click activity”, number one of which blows my mind. “- a publisher on his own web pages”
    i thought i had two good reasons to click ads on my page.
    #1 plain curiosity. #2 genuine interest! as mentioned in above posting i did buy stuff from advertisers on my page. that’s not allowed? come on!
    what i don’t understand at all about this: if google detect those clicks – why don’t they just not NOT count them?
    besides their machinic reply to my reply, and their attitude of “If Google decides to evaluate your appeal, “(!), that’s one more reason why I don’t want to continue this relationship.

  • http://www.thilak.co.nr Thilak

    Google did the same thing with me. I had earned 308 $ without cheating and at 28 th April 2006 (2 days before sending the cheque), They supspended me.

    I feel that this is the way google does it with smalltime publishers

  • cakesy

    You are kidding? You think that google should make it self intimately aware of what your site is? What an inflated sense of ego you have. Firstly, why? They provide advertising on your site, nothing more. Secondly, how could they even conceivably do this with any reasonable number of sites, without hiring 100s of people just for this?

    Then you report someone else who was erring, and get upset when they say they will follow this up?

    I am sorry, your emails and arguments to google appear at the level of a school yard argument. Google stated there rules – whether you like them or not, they make them and they are not that unreasonable. But you feel that they should change them for you?

    I myself haven’t read your blog before, so I don’t know your site that well either – but unless you are a teenager, you really have no excuse for this mindless exchange.

    There are plenty of things wrong with google, this is not one of them.

  • drjon

    Alternatively, cakesy, you could consider that if Google’s AdSense Police are going to come crashing down on John, it’s hardly an “inflated sense of ego” to want them to A) have a look at what they’re crashing down upon, and B) listen to what John was saying in response, as opposed to unleasing a ‘bot on him. Your criticism is unwarranted and immature.

  • http://elysiansystems.com/ Lea de Groot

    Whoa, coming back to followup on a comment I left almost two years ago! Thats something I haven’t done before!
    I said that I wasn’t seeing ads on a site but hadn’t bothered asking Google for help.
    Eventually I did – I got what seemed to be a human response and a quick fix; the ads started flowing again straight away :)
    Sometimes they are human!

  • http://jmhz.net jaslor

    “Paying the Bills” – IMHO is not neutral, it does imply that clicking will help you pay them and elicits sympathy.

    Why should google grok your whole blog and what it is about especially as you are new user. This would seem real costly? Unless you deserve special treament?

    Appealing to authority by grassing someone else up, d’oh, c’mon man – you called them on this and they are obligated to check it out, this is beyond obvious.

    Seems like you got a lot of responses pretty quick that helped you deal with the issue at hand.

    I will be intersted in your analysis when you have collated more data but this analysis strikes me as a little bit petulant, as they say: “get over yourself”.
    I am only dissapointed in this article because of your usual excellence so keep up the good work.