Summary: My AdWords account was suspended after ten years of continuous advertising. I was told that hyperlinking from my domain to any another domain was a breach of Adwords policy. This is clearly ridiculous and not what their policy says. But I had to appeal higher up and it took 11 days to get my suspension overturned.
I have been advertising my PerfectTablePlan seating plan software continuously on Google AdWords since the 7th March 2005. Just shy of 10 years. Google emailed me on the 20th Feb. But it wasn’t a thank you for 10 years of loyal custom. It was to tell me they had suspended my account.
We wanted to alert you that one of your sites violates our advertising policies. Therefore, we won’t be able to run any of your ads that link to that site, and any new ads pointing to that site will also be disapproved.
Here’s what you can do to fix your site and hopefully get your ad running again:
1. Make the necessary changes to your site that currently violates our policies:
Display URL: perfecttableplan.com
Policy violation: Software principles
Details & instructions: https://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/answer/50423?hl=en
2. Resubmit your site to us, following the instructions in the link above. If your site complies with our policies, we can approve it to start running again.
There was no detail about what I had done wrong. As far as I was aware, I complied with their policies. I had a look through the linked page, but it was about “Malicious or unwanted software”, “Low value content” etc. I couldn’t see anything that obviously applied to my website or software. My software is bona fide. I’ve been selling it for 10 years. It was used to help plan the seating at one of the official events for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee, don’t you know!
I went to the AdWords support page to try and work out who I could talk to. A chat pop-up appeared. So I did an online chat with a Google AdWords employee. He told me that I needed to:
- Add a link to the uninstall instructions on my download page. I told him that my uninstall was completely standard for the platforms I support (Windows and Mac). But he insisted.
- Remove some links that were ‘redirections’ from my reviews page.
- Explain the value of what my software did. I pointed out that this is what the entire website is for. He backed off on that one.
Google doesn’t put uninstall instructions on the download pages of its own software (exhibit A). I was annoyed by the hypocrisy. Also their policy says you mustn’t:
[make] it difficult for users to disable or uninstall the software
It doesn’t say you need to include uninstall instructions. However I wrote a page of uninstall instructions and linked to it from the download page.
I looked at my reviews page. There were 16 links pointing to genuine reviews of my software on various blogs, download websites, magazine websites and Amazon. However some of the links pointed to pages that no longer existed and a few were redirected at the other end. All the redirections seemed completely harmless (for example one was just a redirection to the the same page, but http instead https). But I removed all the links except this one:
This link just pointed to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0017YOSE2/. No redirection at the other end.
I then emailed AdWords support on the 21st Feb to say that I had complied with their requests. I heard nothing for several days. I tweeted them on the 24th and they asked me to fill out an online contact form with my details. I did that on the 25th.
The next day I was woken around 8am by a phone call from AdWords support. I think it was the person I did an online chat with. The line wasn’t great, English obviously wasn’t his first language and I hadn’t had my morning coffee. So it wasn’t a great conversation. But, as far as I understood it, he told me that he couldn’t remove the suspension because I was ‘redirecting’ people from my review page to amazon.com. I tried to point out that it was just a hyperlink and it went exactly where it said it would. But he seemed to be saying that I wasn’t allowed to hyperlink to any external domain from my perfecttableplan.com domain. That is obviously ludicrous and I just about managed to stay civil. Surely I had misunderstood. Soon after I received this email:
As per the conversation we had over the phone. I would suggest you to remove the link from your website wherein it redirects me to a different website.
If I click on the link it is taking me to Amazon.com, which is a redirection from your website.
The policy says it has to be on the same website but I guess it is deviating a bit from it.
You can provide information about your products and services in the website but ensure those are not clickable.
Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.
Once the changes are done, please write back to me so that we can consult and get this done for you at the earliest.
Have a lovely day ahead.
I emailed back:
I have now removed the link to Amazon.com from this page, as directed:
> Please see the link for policy forum for bridge page here.
“Landing pages that are solely designed to send users elsewhere
# /Examples/: Bridge, doorway, gateway, or other intermediate pages”
The review page isn’t a landing page. It isn’t linked directly from any of any of my Google ads. To get to it the user has to:
1. click on the ad
2. click on ‘customers’ in the navigation bar
3. select ‘review’
4. click on the Amazon.com hyperlink (there is no automatic redirect)
Also I am only linking to that page so they can read independent reviews of my product. I don’t [want] them to buy it from Amazon!
Please re-review my site at your earliest convenience.
The reply by email was:
I understand your point, but from your website the link is taking to Amazon.com. When I click on the link I am taken to this page.
You can write in as for further information please visit this link xyz.com/reviews.. 
The link should not be clickable. It is taking from your website to a new webpage.
Request you to change it so that we can review and get it enabled.
Awaiting your response.
Have a great day ahead.
I was phoned by someone from Google this morning and have now removed that link.
Can you clarify the situation regarding links to other sites. Does the AdWords policy mean that no site advertising on Adwords can ever hyperlink to another site (surely not)? Assuming that isn’t the case, what hyperlinks are allowed and what hyperlinks are not allowed?
Thanks for writing in, hope you are doing great.
With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links that are taking a user to a new website is not allowed.
You can provide links, which are not clickable.
The user must not get redirected to a new website.
Hope this answers your query.
I have bolded the offending line for emphasis. There it is in black and white. No hyperlinks.
So I can’t have a clickable hyperlink to *any* non http://www.perfecttableplan.com page from *any* http://www.perfecttableplan.com page without breaching AdWords policy? Is that correct? Please clarify.
Thanks for writing in again.
With regards to your email I would like to confirm that any links which are taking a customer to a different website are not allowed.
If the link is taking the advertiser to any specific page of your website then it is alright but it should not redirect any other website.
Hope this helps.
Feel free to drop in your questions or queries. I will be glad to assist you on them.
Have a great day ahead.
There it is again. A world wide web without hyperlinks between domains? This is clearly absurd.
I approached AdWords expert Aaron Weiner from Software Promotions. He agreed that this was a complete misinterpretation of their policy and kindly offered to talk to his Google contacts in the US to see if they could help resolve it. On the 28th Feb he forwarded me this email from Google:
I have taken a look at the site and the previous interactions that your client has had with our team. I apologize that the communication has not been very clear for your client – I am going to take ownership of it from here and make sure that we get this site back up ASAP.
From what I can see now, the site appears to be compliant with our policies. I have contacted our policy team to have them review it right away. I have also asked them to clarify the issue with linking to third party reviews. Obviously we would not want an ad to direct to a different domain, but I do not see any problem with linking to reviews once the user has landed on your site. I am going to get some clarification on this to see if we are missing something,
Thank you for your patience and please let me know if you have any questions. I will be in touch soon.
On the 3rd March I got an email from Google:
Great news! We’ve re-reviewed your site and determined that the following site complies with our Advertising Policies
Followed by this email forwarded by Aaron:
Thank you for your patience while our policy team reviewed your website. They confirmed that the site is compliant with our policies and you will see that it is now re-enabled. I checked the ads this morning and I can see that they are serving.
I also confirmed with them that there is no policy against linking to third-party reviews on your website. You can add those links back to the reviews on your site.
I read through the chat that you had with ******* and I think that there may have just been some misunderstanding as to the specific problem with the site. I sincerely apologize for the confusion caused by that. I have reached out to ******* to clarify the policy with him.
It’s pretty shocking that a Google employee (or contractor) should have a such a poor grasp of the policy they are enforcing. It shakes my faith in Google. Previously I thought that, even if they were a little bit evil, they were at least competent with it.
Also the entire situation was handled badly. They could have sent me an email clearly stating the policy violation and giving me a few days grace to fix it. Surely I deserve that much after 10 years as a paying customer?
My account was suspended for a total of 11 days and I wasted quite a lot of time and mental energy. For what? I removed a few hyperlinks from my reviews page and added a link to some uninstall instructions. How is that going to help anyone?
I talked to a number of other software authors and found that quite a few of them had also had their AdWords suspended for policy violations, such not having uninstall instructions. Oliver Grahl of PDF Annotator, who has also been suspended previously, commented:
“Every day, live your life as if it was your last day (getting traffic from Google). One bit in their databases can ruin a whole business and all the lives behind it. Pretty scary.”
I understand that Google is engaged in a continual battle with people trying to game the system to their advantage. But they need to be careful that legitimate businesses don’t end up as collateral damage. Training their staff adequately would be a good start.
Oh my :) At first I thought they ban them completely :) Glad everything is ok now!
Shocking to hear how Google treat someone who has been a good customer for nearly 10 years
OMG. When I read the headline I thought that it was April fools day already. This is – as you said – totally absurd. But Google obviously gets what it pays for.
Shocking stuff – makes you realise our livelihoods depend on people who, in some cases, have no understanding and an awful lot of power. Glad they “reached out” [shudder] to that particular employee, but it’s a very basic thing to misunderstand.
Lets hope they “reached out” at high velocity. ;0)
I had my own similar experience with their Adwords support. They are friendly and all, but they don’t seem to have any idea what they are talking about sometimes. It is good you got that ‘contact’ to have it resolved. Google should give the user the possibility to talk with different support staff when things like this happens.
Scary… One guy from Google can ruin your whole business because he doesn’t even know how to handle their own policies. You had luck you knew someone who knew someone at Google, now imagine you didn’t know that guy. You’re screwed.
This is scary for sure, but this is nothing compared to what some of Google spokesmen tell, say in the SEO field… You had Matt Cutts saying something about a criteria that could improve your website’s ranking and now John Mueller saying the opposite… They play hot and cold, and frankly they don’t care, because they own the whole damn internet.
It is worrying. On the plus side, imagine what it would be like if Comcast, BT, Oracle or Apple ‘owned’ the Internet!
Always good fun to deal with Adwords “reps” who are clearly a day done with training and halfway through a call you’re showing *them* how something works.
Is there no grounds for a compensation claim here?
Thanks for sharing.
Like you, we have been an Adwords customer for almost a decade and are now going though similar unwarranted and unfounded “drama” regarding mysterious “policy violations”. So far we have had one vacuous response from an Adwords rep; hopefully it won’t take 11 days to sort it out. But then we don’t have an expert in our back pocket like you do!
That sounds absolutely obnoxious. Also, Kudos for actually getting ahold of someone.
This is what happens when you lower the bar because of societal pressure. Companies should hire people based upon their level of qualification, period.
Thanks for sharing. If you follow the Google support guy’s logic, we wouldn’t even be able to use Adwords if we link to our ecommerce providers to take orders.
There’s a old saying that with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, Google has never grasped this concept.
Google loves to throw their weight around, I’m glad everything got straightened out.
I feel your pain.
My site was suspended about a month ago, because it has a link to downloadable file! Really! Basically, when the visitor (that landed from Adwords to my site) decided to give my software a try and clicked on the Download button, the download started and people were redirected to the “Thank you for downloading” page. That was a violation.
After few phone calls with google rep (who obviously had no idea how the web works or what is downloadable software) I redesigned the site so the download button will not start downloading, but will lead to the download page. Where people will click the Download button one more time.
Still failed in complying. Now it turned out the download page has to have clear uninstall instructions visible, and also the EULA visible, before people download the software. I re-designed again the entire download page (and did that for 2 other products too). Re-submitted the review request and my site was now live again.
I am also a long-term Adwords customer (over 10 years) and my budget may sound small, but there are months were it’s well over a thousand bucks. I seriously considered stopping my adwords account(s) but decided to give it a try. So I complied and will see if it affects my general conversion. Probably it does. So at the end I will decide if I will revert back and close my Adwords account, or keep everything as it is.
Ouch. I am obviously not an exception then. They obviously aren’t properly monitoring the quality of the people who are monitoring the quality of our websites!
Scott Adams should pick this up in a new Dilbert strip
I can feel your pain.
Once I was asked to run an AdWords campaign for a new website, and a couple of days before that I had received a coupon, so I started with it just to show the website owners that the ads were actually working.
After the coupon money had been spent, we started a full-scale campaign. After two or three months my account was suspended and they forbid to buy ads for this site, because I was using a wrong coupon!
In fact, now I can’t remember the wording exactly, as this happened around two years ago, but they thought I used a coupon that was sent to another user, which wasn’t okay with their policies.
I said that I used a coupon that was sent to my email. They asked for a confirmation! And I realized I deleted the coupon email after it was done. They couldn’t look into their mailing lists and see that they sent me the coupon and that is was actually mine!
After chatting with the support guys and explaining that it was unfair to block me for such a reason, they allowed me to buy ads for this site, but suspended my account.
I understand it was my fault to delete the coupon email, but the whole situation was completely unfair. I couldn’t understand why I was responsible for the fact they didn’t track people they were sending coupons to!
That is poor. Especially given that these coupons fall out of every copy of PC Pro magazine I open!
A bit off the target but Googlish, anyhow.
The other day I noticed that the SSL certificate for my bank had become invalid. So, amused, I grabbed a screenshot and copied the information (partial screenshot) to an image and uploaded it to my server to show a couple of colleagues. The image was .jpg. Just to see whether it was OK I opened it using Chrome. Then, after an hour or so I rechecked it before sending to my colleague.
I immediately got warning “Phishing attempt”. WTF? It was a private directory and the image had been only accessed by me. And only once.
After having a look at the server logs I noticed that 20 seconds after I had checked it using Chrome a Google bot had accessed it! So Chrome must have given the link to Google. After processing the image or the link Google had obviously automatically figured out it was a phishing site and informed flagged Chrome about it.
So the informer was Chrome (=Google). The inspector and the judge was Google and the executor Google as well. Very, very nice.
I had a very similar problem Andy, last year. I in fact *have* uninstall instructions on my site. Clearly they don’t know how to use Google, to look that up !? The link is available on the download page and various other pages as well. I responded and pointed that out so they told me to rename the link to “Uninstall / Install”, just to save face I suppose. I named it “Uninstall & Install” and suggested they can write the content for my website as well, since they seem to want to have full editorial control as well now.
Heh. Maybe they should write our software as well?
That mirrors my own experience as well. I was banned because a “reputation” site said I was distributing malware. It was a free version of my paid service. Rather than argue with ignorant noobs, I simply pulled the free version. Forget about don’t be evil, they are struggling with don’t be stupid..
I think the contractor did not understand what “redirecting” me in the Google policy. This is referring to the automatic transfer (aka, 30x redirects and meta tag refresh) of the user to another site without explicit action such as clicking.
I’m so glad you posted this. I have been having a TERRIBLE time with Adwords for many of the same reasons. The people I spoke with had no clue of the policy violated and escalated it. I was promised it would be resolved in 24 hours but it took a month. And even then, after they gave me the green light, the site remained banned on Adwords. Two months later I’m starting over entirely. I am also a 10 year customer of Adwords. It has hurt my business.
The GOOD NEWS is that I am learning that I can live without Adwords. I’ve been forced to shift my adspend, and I’m getting good results on Bing, and CNET, and doing targeted download campaigns on Brothersoft, Softpedia, Snapfiles etc. If I ever do return to Adwords, I promise my spend will be a lot lower, and I will refuse to continue any unprofitable campaigns, whereas before I might be content to just let them go.
You owe them nothing, and quite clearly they believe they owe you nothing for your customer loyalty. At any second they can drop your site from the organic listings or on a whim toss you off of Adwords. Screw Google.
The Google Adwords “unwanted software policy” went into effect in mid-December 2014. I am fairly sure they are now making their rounds verifying software companies.
Regarding the policy, I do applaud the efforts of cleaning up the cesspool of malware etc. But it is an OUTRAGE when the policy which clearly wasn’t supposed to target upstanding software publishers hits someone like this.
And you are not alone in dealing with google problems. We have been using adwords since it was launched and just two weeks ago their bank in London lost track of our check. It was clearly a mistake on their side, but they started sending threatening emails about how our account would be shut down if they didn’t receive their payment. We provided all information but the threats continued. All the workload was pushed over to us to produce all the documents of the transaction etc. And the auto-email threats just continued during the whole process.
To all software publishers, it may be a good idea to understand what this policy is about as I am sure this isn’t the last we hear about this. Here are details (maybe I can’t link google as they will shut down this blog for linking…)
Google unwanted software policy:
Congrats to dodging the bullet Andy.
Thanks for sharing the horror story (Ultimate Moment of Truth bites back!) and thank goodness you had the tenacity and know-how to get back up and running. Imagine the 9 out of 10 who would have given up.
Overall, this appears to be a major training problem among moderators of AdWords and we have experienced this with our PPC clients on separate issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly the sales staff of AdWords (help you set up, help you spend more) are really knowledgeable.
You really do not understand what is going on here. Linking to other domains and having them link back to you is a SEO practice to build your sites credibility. Most understand that inbound links work great which is true if they come from a reputable site. However a website also gets credibility by linking to other sites like Amazon which is a very reputable site. If a website thinks that your link is detrimental to its reputation then they ask for them to be removed.
Now you cannot get inbound links to your site without linking to others. With that basically what Google is saying you either do Adwords or you do SEO not both. In the last 18 months many sites are moving toward SEO because in the long run it is cheaper. This is removing $$ from them. I run Adwords campaigns on websites till I get the SEO going to replace the revenue stream and I have done that to several sites with one had a 10K budget a month. I get a call everyday from Google wanting my client back so just to be safe I never really stopped the Adwords but just reduced it considerably. Thanks for the info just in case they start messing my clients SEO. I certainly hope that my fears come true but Google has had anti trust suits before .
Thank you for your story, I think your experience of dialogue with Google Adwords will be useful to many.
Thanks for the information. I received the same email from google this morning. I have almost the same story, I’ve had basically the same web site selling my software since 2007 and today they decided that my site violates their Software principles. I hope I can get it resolved quickly.
We just had a similar experience – https://blog.httpwatch.com/2015/04/20/the-day-google-decided-httpwatch-was-unwanted-software/
At least they didn’t stop us using hyperlinks!
Happened to me as well. Been advertising my watermark program for 10 years and suddenly they deactivate my campaign. They asked me to include uninstall guidelines which I did, now they are insisting I add them on my homepage because it has a Download button. I redirected that to the downloads page which has the instructions but still they are insisting. I told them I am NOT doing that. Sent them a link to Google Chrome home page. Can’t find any uninstall instructions on that page. Double standards.
If they don’t activate my account I will divert those funds to FB ads. Enough of their nonsense.
Same problem here, only worse. I got an email indicating our campaign had been shut down for “Policy violation: Unwanted software”. We have been publishing this software for more than 10 years! No malware, fully signed, with EULA, uninstaller, etc. A phone call to Adwords only became more comical: they refused to tell us which application was in “violation” and why. How are we supposed to fix something we don’t even believe is broken or violates any policies?
>they refused to tell us which application was in “violation” and why
It reminds me of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’.
See the screenshot at the bottom of this page:
Seems that some developers let Google know in a different way :)
I tried to find it on Google maps by Google has removed it by now it seems.
I’m glad you got your account restored. We got hit with the same nonsense ‘unwanted software’ policy violation but our account is still suspended.
Just a warning to everyone, get ready for round two of AdWords bans. New ‘Free Desktop Software’ policy was introduced in April 2015. According to Google this policy applies to _all_ downloadable software including trail/demo versions of commercial software. You can find more information at http://blog.traysoft.com/2015/05/google-will-disable-ads-for-your-commercial-software-soon/.