Avoiding Google’s Crackdown on Misleading Ads

Jan 17, 2017

Avoiding Google’s Crackdown on Misleading Ads

In 2016, Google removed over 1.7 billion ads worldwide, the largest number the Internet giant has ever taken down in a single year. Google also banned more than 200 websites from the company’s AdSense network during a two-month period late in the year due to the growth of misleading content and the so called “fake news” phenomenon that emerged from the latest election cycle.

With Google demonstrating a renewed interest in cracking down on ads they believe violate their Adwords Terms of Conditions policy, it’s time for businesses to review their own advertising strategy, especially if you’re still using less-than-honorable methods of earning more clicks.

If you traffic in ads that promote poor quality sites, ads that attempt to exploit holes in Google’s ad policy, misleading ads, or ads that feature illegal products, Google will eventually catch you. Here’s what you can do to help ensure your business’ ads don’t find themselves in violation of Google’s policies.

Don’t Run Ads for Illegal Products

Google reported that it disabled over 68 million ads in 2016 for healthcare violations and 17 million ads for violations regarding legal gambling.

Google specifically limits the promotions of pharmaceutical drugs on their AdSense network. Their AdSense policy states that ads cannot contain content related to the online sale of prescription drugs or the sale of unapproved supplements.

As of last October, eight states have made recreational marijuana sales legal, with another 17 having approved the use of medical marijuana. However, advertising the sale of legal drug paraphernalia or marijuana itself is firmly against Google’s ad policies.

The lesson here is this: When deciding which products to market through Adwords, the legality of the product isn’t as important as whether it meets Google’s ad guidelines. You need to do your due diligence when launching any campaign on Adwords to make sure that your product meets Google’s national or global ad policies.

Google is historically slow to react, and typically operates on a macro rather than micro level when setting its ad policies. If a product or service isn’t universally accepted in markets everywhere, then there’s a chance it might not meet Google’s ad policy.

As a general rule, if your product is counterfeit, could be considered dangerous, or alcohol- or healthcare-related, there’s a very good chance you can’t market it on Adwords.

Don’t Write Misleading Ads

Google removed nearly 80 million ads the company cited as misleading or deceiving to users. Whether the ads promoted miracle weight loss drugs, unscientifically proven cures to diseases like cancer, or predatory lending practices, ads that were receiving clicks due to providing misleading information were taken down.

While Google didn’t specifically mention “fake news” in its report detailing the actions taken in 2016, these types of ads also fall under the category of misleading. Of the 200 websites removed from AdSense during the end of 2016, the majority trafficked in promoting false new reports that look legit but turned out to be fabricated to spread misinformation.

Late last year, Google was embarrassed when a fake news story purporting to report on aliens sucking energy from the sun made its way into the “Top Stories” search result. With a growing sense of outrage coming from the most recent presidential election and a desire to ensure aliens never hijack their search algorithm again, Google has moved fully into hunting down and eradicating sources seeking to spread misinformation.

Google has already taken the following actions to eliminate these sites by:

  • Manually reviewing websites that make it to their “Top Stories” section.
  • Using its algorithm to demote fake news websites.
  • Removing the financial incentive for creating and spreading fake news.
  • Fact-checking stories found in Google News.
  • Funding additional fact-checking projects that seek to eradicate fake news from the web.

Ultimately, you’re better served being honest about your products of services. If you feel the need to mislead or exaggerate your product to gain clicks, you’re probably promoting a poor product to begin with.

Don’t Try to Work the System to Your Advantage

Google pulled over 7 million ads last year for trying to work the system. This category includes ads that directly violated Google’s ad policies, but were created anyway in hopes that Google wouldn’t catch them.

Google first observed the trend of “tabloid cloaking” in 2016 – a term that refers to ads created to look like actual news stories but would take readers to a site selling a product – like a weight-loss supplement – when clicked on. Businesses that engage in tabloid cloaking leverage relevant news stories to drive traffic to their sites by any means necessary.

This practice of casting the largest net possible to capture clicks resulted in the suspension of nearly 1,300 accounts.

The majority of advertisers use content to promote their business and products. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to make sure your ad copy matches the content found on your website. Relevance is vital for not only meeting the demands of Google, but ensuring you honestly receive a high click-through rate.

Don’t Break Google’s Rules

Google has drawn a line that means taking action not only against specific ads, but outright banning websites that repeatedly break the rules.

Last year, Google banned 47,000 websites linked to weight-loss scams, 15,000 sites for spreading malware, and 6,000 sites for selling counterfeit goods. Misleading or fake product websites have also been met with a Google ban.

While Google isn’t in the business of preventing companies and websites from making money, it has shown a willingness to defend the integrity of its search results by removing ads and terminating accounts that break with established policies and procedures.

Google has policies in place that limit or prohibit the advertising of violent content, hacking, healthcare, tobacco, drugs and alcohol, and adult content. If you’re marketing these types of products or content through Adwords, don’t be surprised if you join the list of banned ads and websites in 2017.


That Google has taken a hard line stance against misleading ads and websites should come as good news to businesses that market honest products to the public through Adwords. It means less competition and a better chance of ranking highly for relevant keywords. The policy should also help increase the faith users have in Google search results, making them more willing to click on an ad when they feel confident their time isn’t being wasted.