Friday, 17 February 2012

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma - part 2

So what is it about Google policies that makes them so hard to follow . . . or to understand?  At first glance they seem straightforward and eminently sensible.  If you go to the relevant web page you will see that advertising should provide a positive experience to users, should be accurate and truthful, should comply with laws and regulations, should be safe for all users, shouldn't violate users' trust or privacy and should be compatible with Google's brand decisions.  Surely there's nothing there that an 'honest tradesman' could argue with.

If you dig down a little deeper, you'll find it gets a bit more detailed.  The 'positive experience' means that the link text must accurately describe what users will see if they click the link - in other words, users need to know that if they click a link saying "cheap hotels" (for example) they're not going to be taken to a porn site . . . or even to a site with only expensive hotels.  And under the 'safety' heading we find that if a website collects sensitive personal information, it must be hosted on a secure server that uses SSL (https).  We're also told that billing terms and conditions must be clear and conspicuous to users and that the domain of the display URL must match the domain of the ultimate landing page URL.

So far, so good.  As consumers we can all feel safe clicking on Google adword links.  What's more, the safety of our computers is protected by a ban on infected websites, on websites that distribute harmful or disruptive software and on websites that are misleading or deceptive about the nature of distributed downloads.

In addition, we find that websites that collect personal information (such as email addresses) must have a clearly visible link to the site's privacy policy.  I wonder, though, whether anyone ever reads a privacy policy and whether anyone would actually notice if the policy said "we give no guarantee that we won't share your information".  It seems to happen so much these days - spam appearing on an email address that we gave to a completely different person or organisation - and we're all used to just clicking 'delete' on messages in our inboxes, but we continue to give our email addresses on sites where we're offered something interesting or useful in return.

Somewhat worrying, however, is Google's statement that it doesn't allow the promotion of sites that collect personally identifiable information with the promise of a free item or prize.   This covers every squeeze/optin page on the internet - "give us your email address and we'll send you two free ebooks". I've not heard of anyone being banned . . . sorry, suspended . . . by Google for directing users to an optin page . . . yet.  But if you're thinking of running an adwords campaign and you have an optin page, perhaps you should contact the adwords help desk for advice before embarking on it.

So the question arises again . . . how have so many people been suspended from Google adwords when the policies seem to be so sensible and protective of the consumer?  The answer, I believe, lies in Google's interpretations of its own policies, particularly those covered by the heading "User deception".

To be continued . . .