Apologies for a long post. This is like therapy and if it helps one person, it was worthwhile. If you're busy, skip down to the TL;DR (Too Long Didn't Read).
As someone that had been using Google Ads (or Google Adwords as it was known) continually since 2007, I'm a major fan. It's instant marketing, you have maximum control, with enough stats and demographics to keep you tinkering for years, and it works. I'm very happy with the return I get and have spent a small fortune over the years.
So imagine my surprise when I got the following email.
I naturally assumed it was spam and was actually very impressed with the quality, as it looked liked like it came from Google. I then logged into my Adwords account and saw I had indeed been suspended
To make it more insulting, I had been on a call with my Google Ads "specialist" three days earlier having a regular account review. So if I had done something naughty, why didn't they tell me?
If you are not familiar with the Circumventing Systems Policy, it's basically one of the most serious policy breaches you can be accused of, meaning you are bringing the network into disrepute by your dodgy dealings, such as cloaking, abusing ad features and repeated violations. You can learn more from this Google link: Abusing the ad network
Even worse, I was being suspended for "egregious violations", which I had to Google, basically meaning I'm conducting in Criminal behaviour "We take violations of this policy very seriously and consider them egregious. An egregious violation of the Google Ads policies is a violation so serious that it's unlawful or poses significant harm to our users"
So now I'm very worried! But genuinely, to the best of my knowledge have done nothing wrong. A quick Google search finds numerous counts of people pleading innocence on various forums, with the common thread of tough, you're busted and will never advertise with Google again. I found very few helpful comments on the forums and just felt sorry for the many desperate business owners begging for help.
So I emailed my Google Ads "specialist" with a mayday message, which received no reply.
I then phoned the Google Ads support line, entered my 10 digit account number as requested, to be met with a message saying your account is suspended and we can't talk to you. Now I'm really flapping.
Action Mode - The site must have been hacked. I'm expecting the Malware messages to start showing in Google search as we disappear out of the search results. But the server is clean, no infections. We start running internal and external tests to quadruple check, but they all say the same.
We then check the Google Search Console, because all Google security tools talk to each other, don't they?
We checked the Google Safe Browsing site
So the server and website are clean. Our developer has gone through system log files and we are confident we haven't been hacked. There are no redirects, no suspicious pages, everything is as it should be. So now what?
Google Appeal 1 - So time to launch an appeal against our suspension. I followed the recommendations, added as much information as I could, explained this was clearly a mistake, and waited for the response, which appeared about 6 hours later.
Hasn't really helped me much, and the learn more links just tell you to do what we've already done.
Google Appeal 2 - Let's try again and request specific information as to what is causing the problem.
Still no further forward! Meanwhile, repeated emails to my Google Ads specialist account go unanswered. Cleary this violation means communication is deliberately restricted.
Google Appeal 3 - I am by now very frustrated and demanding this is escalated to a senior bod who can at least give me some useful information to go on.
Google Appeal 4 - After many Jack Daniels and a nights sleep, I try again the next day.
I'm clearly making zero progress, and on the way to a heart attack. So a new approach was needed.
Plan B - Telephone Google Ads
After a little searching, came across a support number, 0800 169 0409. Although a UK number, it bounced to the US Google Ads Team. This was where my luck changed. The chap I spoke to was sympathetic, reassuring and superb. It took some waffling, but I got passed from the help desk to someone in the Ads team.
Their advice was to liaise directly with my Google Ads "specialist". When I explained I had been trying but was getting no response, they said they would email then, cc'ing me which they did, and also pinged them internally saying I was trying to get in touch.
Suspension Lifted - Malicious Software
This is then when things got weird. I got a notification to tell me my suspension had been lifted. Nothing had changed from our side and we hadn't done anything. I was then emailed by my specialist saying they had heard I was trying to get in touch!
Logging into my Google Ads account, I could see it was unsuspended, but all of my ad groups were showing as disapproved.
Talking to my "specialist", they tell me they can't see the reason for the malicious software, so I need to launch an appeal. Again... We already know the server is clean, but we check again, just in case, and no issues.
Google Appeal 5
Google Appeal 6 - Clarify with them that they are generating a false positive, there are no issues unless they can provide specific information.
Business intent and few other signals?? What doe that mean?
Google Appeal 7 - I am now extremely frustrated and have a bit of a rant (sorry Google) and demand they clarify what exactly is causing the issue. This approach seemed to work!
Who is Nick???? But who cares, finally something tangible we can act on. Maybe we missed something after all and we do have malware. So a full search of the database finds absolutely no reference to the listed dodgy links. My poor developer ends up searching the backup database as well as rechecking the live one.
According to Google, the dodgy links are on our home page. We know 100% that there are no outbound links on our home page, other than to the rest of the site.
The Issue is spotted!!!
Then looking at our home page with fresh eyes, we realised we do have outbound links on the home page, because we are serving Google Adsense Units. In other other words, we are displaying other peoples Google adverts on our website in return for a few shillings.
In an act of almost desperation, we removed the Google Adverts from our home page. 24 hours later, I received a call from our "specialist" to give me the great news that we had successfully removed the infected links and our adverts would now be automatically approved within the next 24 hours, which they were.
I tried to explain what we had done, and that basically Google Ads had blocked our page due to the fact we were displaying a dodgy Google Ad. All I got back was the scans had come back that the site was now clean and we could resume advertising.
The whole process took 3 weeks, was very stressful and I consumed lots of Jack Daniels in the process. We didn't actually do anything other than remove the Google adverts from the home page.
To all the non-employee Google experts who act superior on Google forums and say daft comments like "you shouldn't have broken the rules", "you are now permanently banned, deal with it" or my favourite "you will need to build a new website with a new domain", I hope you all wake up to flat tyres
- Check your site and see if you have been hacked or have malware.
- If your site is clean, persevere, don't give up. Don't be intimidated by armchair experts.
- Try and phone Google and blag/waffle your way through to a human, preferably in the USA or UK.
- If nothing else makes sense, take any Google ad units of your home page!