Google has updating their policies to govern what many in the industry have a major issue with – agencies and individuals making wildly false claims about their association with Google for organic, paid and local listings.
For SEOs, many are upset with the misuse of the Partner badges to imply that Google is either endorsing their SEO services or has certified their SEO skills, as the Partner badges don’t explicitly state they are for AdWords unless someone mouses over the badge and sees it. Early versions of the badge clearly stated they were for AdWords, but it was later dropped for a cleaner “Google Partner” text only, which accelerated the misappropriation of the badge for SEO. Google launched a new version of the badge last year, but misuse continued as there is no real policing of those companies that do misuse the badge – until now.
Google is also addressing some of the concerns that local SEOs and advertisers are seeing, namely “paid local organic placement” and “paid business listing claims”. Many small business owners and website owners are falling victim to the types of claims that these changes to the Partner policies are targeting, as they don’t know enough about Google to know that you don’t need to pay Google to claim a business listing or that you can’t pay Google to get the top organic listing.
This change will have widespread implications, both for agencies and consultants who are Google Partners, but for those who are deliberately violating these policies as well.
I also reached out to Google for clarification on some of these updates as well, and have included their responses within the relevant sections.
- 1 What These Policies Target
- 2 SEO
- 3 AdWords
- 3.1 Guaranteeing Top Ad Placement in Google
- 3.2 Claiming Preferential Discounts, Prices or Positions
- 3.3 Selling Unlimited Clicks or Visits
- 3.4 Bulk Keyword Purchases
- 3.5 Confusing AdWords Express & Regular AdWords
- 3.6 Offering Location Services in Unavailable Regions
- 3.7 Claiming Ads Will Always Appear
- 3.8 Misrepresenting AdWord Cost
- 4 Google My Business
- 5 Misrepresenting Google Relationship
- 6 Company Identity & Qualifications
- 7 Consequences of Violating the Policy
- 8 Reporting Violators
- 9 Are All Partner Accounts Affected?
- 10 Final Thoughts
What These Policies Target
If you are an AdWords Partner, you will want to have a close look at the changed third party policies that Google is bringing into place in an effort to deal with the many partners who are exaggerating their advertising claims as well as those who claim special status with Google for their organic search engine optimization services.
The policies are “Third-party policy: False, misleading, or unrealistic claims” which is guiding Partners with what they can and cannot say about their services. This is a much needed change for many reason. First, some were using their Google Partner badges to imply their status with Google meant they could pass on special perks or bonuses to their clients. And others were using it to state they were Google approved or endorsed for their organic SEO services.
The change will impact Google Partners, and it will covers the “need to be upfront and truthful when describing your company, your services, the costs associated with those services, and the results that advertisers can expect.” In other words, to not mislead potential clients about your Google services.
And, if you have competitors who are abusing any of the policies, you can report those violations to Google.
There are a lot of different possible claims that Google is seeking to police. Here are the most important ones that tend to be abused the most.
Although this is an AdWords policy, Google is also cracking down on SEO companies who are abusing their partner status by making false claims about their SEO services.
Claiming that Google endorses your search engine optimization (SEO) services
This is the one that has upset many SEO agencies, as some are using their Partner badges to falsely claim that Google endorses their SEO tactics. And Google never endorses any SEO company, agency or individual for their SEO skills or services.
And for those wishing that Google would offer some kind of stamp of approval for SEO services, don’t expect one. Google has said repeatedly they have no plans to offer any kind of SEO certification program.
Claiming organic SEO submissions require paid placement
There are still many advertising paid search engine submission services, so this is also an area that Google is targeting. It is free to submit your site to Google to be indexed in their search results, if Google doesn’t find it on its own. Yet many offer search engine submission as a paid service, heavily implying – or downright lying – that you need to pay Google to do so.
Guaranteeing Top Placement in Organic Search Results
Another one of the wild SEO claims that some are making is guaranteeing top rankings in the organic search results. This often actually means that they will be advertising, often for very low competition keywords to claim the “first” listing.
Google is explicitly stating that “guaranteeing top placement in Google organic search results” is a violation of this policy.
Confusing Organic & Ads
Again, the new policy changes clearly spell out that you cannot mislead or confuse customers or clients about what are organic non-paid listings and what are the paid AdWords ads. Even though ads are marked as ads in the search results, there are still those who are either not
Guaranteeing Top Ad Placement in Google
Not surpringly, Google has made it a violation for companies to claim they can guarantee top ad placement in Google. It isn’t unusual for the less quality agencies to tout top placement as a benefit of working with them, but in the world of Quality Score impact, it would be impossible for anyone to claim top ad placement for their keywords to customers.
Claiming Preferential Discounts, Prices or Positions
If you claim that you can offer preferential discounts, ad prices or ad positions to your clients that you state are unavailable to other agencies, that is a violation. While obviously optimization can reduce prices and increase positions, you can’t claim Google gives you preferential treatment in regards to special discounts, prices or positions in ads.
Selling Unlimited Clicks or Visits
Due to how Google calculates advertising, it would be impossible for a company to offer unlimited clicks/visits, yet we sometimes see companies advertise unlimited clicks for a set price, with a heavy set of conditions that mean it is nowhere near unlimited clicks. But for those potential customers who aren’t familiar with AdWords, unlimited clicks can sounds like a great deal, even when it is not.
Bulk Keyword Purchases
Google is also considering “claiming the ability to purchase keywords in bulk” as a violation.
Confusing AdWords Express & Regular AdWords
They also mention specifically referring to AdWords Express as regular AdWords and not including the distinctions between the two. It is likely they want the end advertisers to be aware of the limitations AdWords Express has, especially if those businesses are led to believe that their ads are run through the full option AdWords and not the bare bones Express version.
They also specifically mention that advertisers cannot offer services to clients for location features that aren’t available in those countries. It is
Claiming Ads Will Always Appear
For competitive search results, it is impossible to guarantee that an ad will always appear to all users. While throwing more money at an ad can sometimes overcome things like a low quality score that would supress an ad’s ability to always appear, sometimes it isn’t enough.
Google has made “claiming that ads will appear in Google Search at all times” a violation.
Misrepresenting AdWord Cost
Google is also cracking down on those who willfully misrepresent the cost of AdWords to their customers. This includes both “making false statements about how Google advertising costs are calculated” as well as “implying that AdWords costs are based on the number of keywords selected.”
Google My Business
For those in the local SEO space, they are also targeting Partners that are advertising services through Google My Business, and misleading others with their local services, mostly targeting those who falsely claim local is a pay to play space only.
Claiming Google My Business listings are paid only
They have also made it a violation to claim that Google My Business listings are only available as a paid service. Some Partners claim that all businesses must pay for a Google My Business listing, when they are actually free. Ans
Misrepresenting Google Relationship
Many of the new policy violation changes are meant to crack down on those individuals and agencies who are falsely implying a Google relationship. There has been a lot of problems with companies falsely claiming they are Google when cold calling potential clients, so there’s definitely many companies that fall under this.
Claiming to be Google
Pretty self explanatory, but many SEOs have reported receiving phone calls “from Google” when it is really just a third party selling services. So this change directly targets those doing this as a tactic.
Google notes that cold calling is already considered a violation of their “Harassing, abusive, or untrustworthy behavior” and a Google spokesperson confirmed with The SEM Post that claiming to be Google on those calls is a violation of this policy.
Google has also gone far beyond merely suspending AdWords accounts for those who impersonate Google however. In 2015, Google sued Local Lighthouse for impersonating Google in robocalls.
Working on Behalf of Google
Another tactic similar to the one above where some agencies claim they are working “on behalf of Google” while in reality it is just their Partner status they are using to assert it.
Company Identity & Qualifications
Google is also targeting those companies that are overinflating their qualifications or either misrepresenting their company or claiming a false one.
Impersonating Another Third Party
It isn’t clear what Google is specifically targeting unless some companies are using confusingly similar names to imply they are from better-known companies.
But if you look at this from a local angle, it could be Google is targeting those who leave fake reviews, since those reviews can show as rating in AdWords ads.
It could also cover Partners who are falsely claiming they work for other local/ ad sites, such as YellowPages or Yelp.
Presenting a False Identity, Business Name, or Contact Information
Likewise, Google has made presenting false company info a violation. It isn’t unusual for some of the less-quality companies to hide behind fake info, so this is a nice addition to see, if Google does attempt to verify the information if someone reports it.
Claiming Unearned Awards or Certifications
Self explanatory, but touting awards or certificates that your company has not really earned is a violation.
Consequences of Violating the Policy
Google is taking violations of the new policy changes seriously. Google will suspend violators of the third party policies, which likely means those partners are no longer eligible to display the badge, nor will they be found in the directory of partners on Google’s site.
“As mentioned in the Third Party Policy Page, we may, on a case-by-case basis, conduct a compliance review, notify the third party of non-compliance, suspend participation in the Third party program and/or disable their domain,” confirms a Google spokesperson to The SEM Post. And if you violate this policy repeatedly, expect Google to act accordingly. “For repeat offenders and based on the severity of the violation, we may suspend their ability to advertise on AdWords.”
For those Partners who advertise on third party sites outside of AdWords, those ads must also be compliant too. I asked Google about this situation specifically, and the Google spokesperson told The SEM Post that “This policy applies to all third parties that purchase or manage Google advertising on behalf of their customers. If the ads are not compliant they will be governed by the AdWords Policies.”
For those with violations, there does seem to be a grace period, but the corrections need to be made within the time frame given or further action will be taken.
Google can check for compliance at any time, it doesn’t require a reported violation. They can also contact your customers in order to verify that you are in compliance, although I suspect this would likely only happen if they had reason to believe there was a violation.
Notification of Non-Compliance
Google will notify about the compliance violation and ask that it be fixed within a set amount of time. They don’t state how long the grace period is for, so for larger websites that have racked up multiple false claims on multiple pages, or even multiple sites, this could take time to bring into compliance if a warning is issued by Google. But as Google confirmed, Google could “suspend participation in the Third party program and/or disable their domain,” according to the Google spokesperson, even for first offenses.
Third Party Program Suspension
Google will suspend participation in not only Google Partner but also other Google programs such as Google AdWords. They don’t specify any other programs that could be impacted, but it does say “in Google third-party programs.” I asked Google for clarification, and a Google spokesperson said “This will only affect Google Partner and Google AdWords.”
Google could also prevent the site from being used for advertising, including AdWords and other ad related products. This can happen for both first and repeated offenses, depeding on the severity of the violation to these policies.
AdWords Account Suspension
For serious violations, the entire AdWords account could be disabled, meaning not only could their own advertising be disabled, but ads for clients as well, if they are run under the agency’s AdWords account. Google clearly says this is for a “serious policy violation” but agencies will want to ensure they aren’t doing anything that could seriously jeopardize this policy.
Recovering from a Violation
If you do violate the policy, there is a review policy in place. You need to make the appropriate changes to your website and/or ads, and then apply for the review. Google doesn’t specify the time frame to make the changes, but unless it is blatant and repeated violations, there will be a time frame to correct the issue.
For those who repeatedly violate this policy, Google will act tougher, which means they could bypass warnings and just immediately suspend without notification. So be prepared if you do willfully disregard warnings.
“If we believe that an entity is violating the Google third-party policy, we will contact that entity to request corrective action,” confirms a Google spokesperson to The SEM Post. “But if such requested corrective actions are not taken within the time period given, we may take enforcement action. In cases of serious or repeated violations, we may reserve the right to take action immediately and without notification.”
Impact on Organic Non-Paid Search Results
Google confirmed to The SEM Post that there is no impact to the natural organic (non-paid) search results for any sites that violate this policy. “This will only affect Google Partner and Google AdWords advertising activities,” said the Google spokesperson. This isn’t really surprising, since Google tends to keep the SEO and AdWords teams pretty far apart internally.
This isn’t really surprising, since Google tends to keep the SEO and AdWords teams pretty far apart internally. But it is still great Adwords is willing to take on the SEO claims by those abusing their AdWords Partner badges.
You can report the violations of the policy directly to Google. You do need to include relevant information about the violator and how they are violating the policies, by choosing from one of the following six, or select “other” to include more details.
- The third party isn’t transparent about AdWords performance.
- The third party misrepresents its relationship with Google.
- The third party misrepresents Google products or their capabilities related to Google products.
- The third party engages in unclear, deceptive, or harassing sales practices.
- The third party violates Google’s branding guidelines.
- The third party improperly uses AdWords accounts.
They also make it clear that clients themselves can also report these Google Partners, by including copies of reports or other documents with the false claims on it. So not only do violators need to be concerned about their competitors reporting them, they also have to be concerned about disgruntled clients doing the same when the promised results aren’t delivered.
However, they do state the content of your complaint may be shared with the third party, so anyone reporting violators will want to keep that in mind.
You can report a violation here.
Are All Partner Accounts Affected?
While the support document is on the AdWords support pages, it is part of the overall Partner program’s list of requirements for next steps to become a part of the program. I asked Google for clarification on this. “This policy applies to all third parties that purchase or manage Google advertising on behalf of their customers,” a Google spokesperson confirmed to The SEM Post.
This was a long time coming. Many SEOs have been complaining about the fact agencies were misusing their Partner badges to claim or imply that Google endorsed or verified their SEO skills, as it made an unfair playing field for those who were using their badges properly. After all, for someone looking into getting SEO services, without the knowledge to back it up, you can easily see why that person would choose the company that was seemingly endorsed by Google over one that was only endorsed for AdWords and/or Analytics. So while this won’t stop agencies from doing it, at least there is now a way to report those in violation as well as having them faced with the possibility of losing their Partner status and ad serving privileges with these changes.
The full policies can be found here.
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