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Bureaucracy Can Kill Once Nimble Companies: What’s Up with Google?

I’m in the middle of an e-mail “discussion” with Google AdWords over an arbitrary decision to disallow an ad I’m running for a treatment center within our company.  The ad is for the exact search phrase “prescription drug rehab” – because the treatment center treats prescription drug addiction and has been doing so for two decades, this would seem to be a perfectly legitimate ad to run. I’ve run them in the past for other treatment programs. I always got the special “pharmacy exception” request form because it is illegal to advertise online prescription drug sales.  In the past, the exception was always granted for obvious reasons – we were trying to help people addicted to prescription drugs, not sell them more.

This week the exact same ad was disallowed, and the exception denied.  I was sent a link to the policy – Google loves to send links to policies.  I read the policy and could find nothing in that policy that indicated my ad would or should be disallowed.  I sent a follow-up email and was told by one of those people who just follow a script (you know, the ones on the phone you want to scream at because you know they are following a script and not actually thinking for themselves or listening to the nuances of your question) told me this:

“The Google advertising programme is managed by a set of policies which we develop based on several factors, including user and customer experience and legal considerations. We review our policies regularly and make changes to keep them current and effective. Our goal is to have policies that are fair, consistent, and adaptable.”

First off – programme?  Is Google now so snotty they want to use British spelling?  But I digress.

The point is I made a very reasonable and specific argument as to why they made a mistake, and even included examples of three current live ads running that were exactly like mine – treatment centers advertising that they treat prescription drug addiction – and instead of giving a thoughtful response such as “You know, what you say makes sense, let me run it up the ladder again,” I get – thems the rules!  Oh, and they will look at those ads to see if they are violating policies as well.

Clearly, Google has been wrestling with online pharmacies for some time now, but for a search engine that is able to figure out organic results and what should show up in the top of the SERPs without showing these illegal pharmacies, it seems impossible that they couldn’t have the same skill in determining what PAID ads should be allowed.

The truth is, these sort of odd, unexplainable things have been happening with Google’s paid advertising for years.

Great example:  in organic results Google is very good at figuring out what you want based on previous searches you’ve made – and sort of “gets it” if you type in a generic phrase such as “treatment centers.”  If you have been searching about drug or alcohol addiction and visiting sites related to drug addiction treatment, then you search the generic phrase “treatment centers,”  Google organic is pretty good at delivering relevant results.

Not so with Google AdWords.  The advertiser can have a site that clearly states they are an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center, but if you advertise on the phrase “treatment centers” you better darn well put in a list of 1000 negative keywords or your ad will show up on totally unrelated searches, such as lymphoma treatment centers, diabetes treatment centers, myasthenia treatment centers, vein treatment centers, and my all-time favorite, paraphilia treatment centers.

My negative keyword list actually includes words such as bariatric, cosmetic, urinating, stroke, ivf (yes, infertility treatment), tattoo, breast, acne, autistic, and garden.

Did I arbitrarily come up with this crazy list of negative keywords? No. I regularly review how Google is serving my keywords that are phrase matches to make sure I’m not paying for clicks on anything irrelevant.  Let me tell you, it’s like Google isn’t Google when it comes to irrelevant ad clicks.  They forgot everything they learned in organic searches and just shrugged their shoulders – I dunno. Maybe it’s relevant?

Of course, I am sure that a good percentage of their advertisers are quite naive and do not even put in any negative keywords.   Unless you regularly run reports on the actual phrases you are being clicked on, you could be paying for advertising that is absolutely meaningless to your business.

I’m waiting to see if someone (who isn’t “on script”) will talk to me about this new arbitrary and absurd policy of not allowing drug rehabs to advertise that they treat addiction to drugs that are the leading cause of drug overdose admissions to hospitals today  ( prescription drugs surpassed illegal drugs some time ago).

I’m not holding my breath.

I remember when Yahoo! got all arrogant and thought they ruled the world.  They had a crappy directory but made you jump through hoops to be included, then acted as if you were trying to pull something when you wanted your description to be more accurate in the results.  Yahoo! believed no one could ever challenge them.  They learned a lesson that is painful – as soon as you start acting as if you can do whatever you want without consideration for your clients or customers, some young upstart will figure out how to create something better, more nimble, and more effective.

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