This story is about a first-hand encounter with Google AdSense injustice. It explains why at the moment is might be unwise to try to rely on Google AdSense for your source of income. In short my account was disabled. I had to appeal twice in order to reinstate it. I was never told why the account was disabled. Hopefully this story will help you to regain the access to your account, should it get disabled.
First published: Apr 25 2006 / Last update: Apr 28 2006
I was reading a lot recently about the idea of multiple sources of income, especially passive ones. Working full time as a director of development at a very successful startup (mailchannels.com), that tries to ease the pain created by spam, viruses and phishing attacks, and trying to have a life didn't leave me much time for experimentation with new sources of income.
My personal site was generating about 600 page views a day and a friend of mine suggested that I add Google Ads to my site. As my site's final rendering is autogenerated from templates it didn't take more than a few minutes to accomplish the task. And that's how in December 2005 I've started my little experiment with Google ads.
I've tried using ads programs before but it never really worked, since ads were random most of the time, so chances that someone would click on those weren't very good. Google revolutionised the industry by analysing the content in real time and placing very targeted ads - significantly increasing the chances that those ads will get clicked on.
Since my website didn't have too much content, I've quickly learnt that it's not really going to make any significant addition to my income, since on average I was getting about a dollar a day.
But nevertheless I have kept the ads, hoping that I'd add more content over time and that revenue will become more significant.
Until now I was getting most of the traffic to my site from google's search engine. Recently I've discovered that there is a plethora of social linking sites, so I've run another experiment of bookmarking a few of my pages on those sites. Which had a very good outcome, the number of clicks for those pages has grown by 10 times over just a few days. I can't yet tell if the trend is going to continue, but it was certainly a very positive outcome, considering that I've submitted just two pages.
A few days ago, I've logged to my adsense account to discover to my amazement that I've made $32 in one day, having 169 clicks - that's a 30 times increase in the daily revenue. I said wow! But the next day it went back to the average and didn't repeat again.
A few days later I've received an email from Google, saying that my account was disabled:
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 11:04:53 -0700 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> From: Google AdSense <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: *Google AdSense Account Disabled Cc: Google AdSense <email@example.com> Hello Stas Bekman, It has come to our attention that invalid clicks have been generated on the Google ads on your site(s). We have therefore disabled your Google AdSense account. Please understand that this step was taken in an effort to protect the interest of the AdWords advertisers. A publisher's site may not have invalid clicks on any ad(s), including but not limited to clicks generated by: - a publisher on his own web pages - a publisher encouraging others to click on his ads - automated clicking programs or any other deceptive software - a publisher altering any portion of the ad code or changing the layout, behavior, targeting, or delivery of ads for any reason Practices such as these are in violation of the Google AdSense Terms and Conditions and program polices, which can be viewed at: https://www.google.com/adsense/localized-terms?hl=en_US https://www.google.com/adsense/policies?hl=en_US Publishers disabled for invalid click activity are not allowed further participation in AdSense and do not receive any further payment. The earnings on your account will be properly returned to the affected advertisers. Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
I've realised that that surge in clicks was most likely the reason that made Google disable my account - the only problem, is that I didn't generate those clicks. In fact I was away for 4 days, hiking in the rain forests in Tofino, when this has happened.
So I've followed up:
Message-ID: <4449269A.firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 11:38:18 -0700 From: Stas Bekman <email@example.com> To: Google AdSense <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: *Google AdSense Account Disabled Google AdSense wrote: > Hello Stas Bekman, > > It has come to our attention that invalid clicks have been generated on > the Google ads on your site(s). We have therefore disabled your Google > AdSense account. [...] Yeah, I've noticed the surge in clicks on a single day. But it wasn't me, neither have I encouraged anybody to do that. Think about it - I can go to any website that features Google ads and start clicking on ads non-stop for a few hours - you will have to disable the AdSense account on that website. So any malicious user can make bring someone's source of legitimate revenue down. How do you deal with that? I hope you realise that I'm innocent and turn my account back on. I'm perfectly fine with you having reduced the revenue made on that day from my total. Thank you. -- _____________________________________________________________ Stas Bekman mailto:email@example.com http://stason.org/ MailChannels: Assured Messaging(TM) http://mailchannels.com/ The "Practical mod_perl" book http://modperl2book.org/mp1/ http://perl.apache.org/ http://perl.org/ http://logilune.com/
And a few days later, I've received an email from Google Adsense suggesting to appeal the account closure:
Return-Path: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 09:02:56 -0700 From: "Google AdSense" <email@example.com> To: "Stas Bekman" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: [#54514657] *Google AdSense Account Disabled Message-ID: <#email@example.com> User-Agent: Neotonic Trakken/2.32.2 Hello, As you know, Google treats instances of invalid clicks very seriously. By disabling your account, we feel that we have taken the necessary measures to ensure that invalid clicks will not continue to occur on your site. Due to the proprietary nature of our monitoring system, we're not able to disclose any specific details of these clicks. Publishers disabled for invalid click activity are not allowed further participation in Google AdSense. However, if you can maintain in good faith that the invalid clicks we detected on your ads were not due to your actions or negligence, or the actions or negligence of others working for you, you may appeal the closing of your account. Google reserves sole discretion in considering whether to take any action on an appeal. In order to appeal the disabling of your account, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the details requested below. Please compose a new email and do not reply to this message. We're unable to consider appeals that do not contain all of this information: - Your name - Your company's name (if applicable) - Your publisher ID number (located in the AdSense code on your website with the format, pub-################) - Your website's URL - Date your account was disabled - Your website's audience - The source of your website's content - Frequency of content updates - The primary sources of your website's traffic - The number of people involved with the administration of the site - Any relevant information that you believe would explain the invalid click activity we detected If Google decides to evaluate your appeal, we will do our best to inform you quickly and will proceed with appropriate action as necessary. If we have reached a decision on your appeal, subsequent or duplicate appeals may not be considered. Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
So there nothing else I can do but to appeal, following their guidelines:
Message-ID: <444D0D2C.email@example.com> Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 10:38:52 -0700 From: Stas Bekman <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Subject: appeal for pub-8889692424303178 Hi, I'd like to appeal the disabling of my account. - Your name Stas Bekman - Your company's name (if applicable) Not applicable - Your publisher ID number pub-8889692424303178 - Your website's URL http://stason.org/ - Date your account was disabled 21/04/06 - Your website's audience Miscellaneous, mainly programmers and computer enthusiasts - The source of your website's content Articles and links collections that I've created. - Frequency of content updates On average weekly. - The primary sources of your website's traffic Google search engine and other linking services - The number of people involved with the administration of the site Just 1 (I). - Any relevant information that you believe would explain the invalid click activity we detected I've noticed the surge in clicks on a single day (169 from the average of a few). But it wasn't me, neither have I encouraged anybody to do that. I was suggested by several people that someone who either hated the ads on my site or wanted to burn some advertiser's funds could have done that. Since you don't provide the details on where those clicks came from, I've no idea what has happened. I've read about similar cases online and it seems like trying to build your business based on Google ads is very unsafe bet - since anyone can go to any website that features Google ads and start clicking on ads non-stop for a few hours - you will have to disable the AdSense account on that website. So any malicious user can make bring someone's source of legitimate revenue down. How do you deal with that? Do you have any tips on how to avoid such cases happen in the future? As far as I can see, there is nothing a publisher can do about protecting themselves from this evil. Can you? Thank you. -- _____________________________________________________________ Stas Bekman mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org http://stason.org/ MailChannels: Assured Messaging(TM) http://mailchannels.com/ The "Practical mod_perl" book http://modperl2book.org/mp1/ http://perl.apache.org/ http://perl.org/ http://logilune.com/
And Google Adsense replied the next day that I'm guilty as charged, w/o supplying any additional information:
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 09:20:15 -0700 From: "Google AdSense" <email@example.com> To: "Stas Bekman" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: [#54822692] appeal for pub-8889692424303178 Message-ID: <#email@example.com> Hello Stas Bekman, Thank you for your appeal. After receiving your response, we re-reviewed your account data thoroughly. We have reconfirmed that invalid clicks were generated on the ads on your site in violation of our Terms and Conditions and program policies. https://www.google.com/adsense/terms https://www.google.com/adsense/policies We have these policies in place to help ensure the effectiveness of Google ads for our publishers as well as our advertisers. According to our policy on this matter, we are unable to reinstate you into the program. Please bear in mind that subsequent or duplicate appeals may not be considered and you may not receive any further communication from us. We appreciate your understanding. Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
Well, it seemed that there is absolutely nothing that I can do about the situation. And that's when I've published this article.
But read on as the story goes on to a happy Hollywood ending (so far).
While researching similar stories online, I've found a few suggestions on how to restore the disabled account. (see the "related links" section at the end of this article.) So I decided to give those suggestions a try. I've posted a second appeal:
From: Stas Bekman <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: appeal for pub-8889692424303178 Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 11:39:23 -0700 Hi, I'd like to appeal the disabling of my account. - Your name Stas Bekman - Your company's name (if applicable) Not applicable - Your publisher ID number pub-8889692424303178 - Your website's URL http://stason.org/ - Date your account was disabled 21/04/06 - Your website's audience Miscelaneous writing, mainly programmers and computer enthusiasts - The source of your website's content Articles and links collections that I've created. - Frequency of content updates On average weekly. - The primary sources of your website's traffic google search engine and other bookmarking services - The number of people involved with the administration of the site Just 1 (I). - Any relevant information that you believe would explain the invalid click activity we detected I've now read hundreds of stories of people who got banned, most claiming that they think they got banned because of the clicks coming from their IPs. Since you have not stated what was the reason for banning, I'll take a chance and hope that this was indeed the case. I didn't realize that even if I didn't click on the ads on my site, someone else in my office could have done this. Some of the folks per-use my site for finding information. Our network is seen as single IP to the outside world. And no I have never encouraged them to click on any ads. I'm sure though that the surge of links coming on a single day (169) wasn't generated by anybody in my office nor me, at least everybody I've asked said they didn't do it (but I could be wrong). Please help me to prove my innocence - let me know if I can assist with providing you with information, logs or whatever you ask for. As I've mentioned before I'm not interested in the amount of money that was earned via the illegal activity. Thank you for your consideration.
And a few hours later I was surprised to receive a reply that my appeal was successful:
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 17:11:43 -0700 From: "Google AdSense" <email@example.com> To: "Stas Bekman" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: [#55343692] appeal for pub-8889692424303178 Hello Stas Bekman, Thank you for clarifying your situation. We have reviewed your circumstances and have reinstated your account, effective immediately. Based on the findings of our investigation, we have deducted $30.82 from your account. This amount represents the earnings previously credited to your account from invalid clicks. The deduction should occur in your next scheduled payment. For your reference, we've included some short guidelines to assist you in preventing invalid clicks in the future: It is against our program policies for website publishers to click on the ads on their own web pages, or to encourage others to do so. In addition, the use of automated techniques to generate clicks, such as robots or scripts, is prohibited. If you would like to visit the destination of an ad to view its content or to add it to your filter list, you can use the AdSense Preview Tool, available here: https://www.google.com/support/adsense/bin/topic.py?topic=160 The Google AdSense preview tool is an addition to the right-click menu for Windows Internet Explorer 6.x, allowing you to preview the ads that may show on any web page. Clicks and impressions from the preview tool are not applied to the advertiser's account. You can click through to the target site without worrying about invalid clicks being generated on your account, and without costing the advertiser for your test clicks. Finally, please be sure to review and remain in compliance with our Terms and Conditions and program policies: https://www.google.com/adsense/terms https://www.google.com/adsense/policies https://www.google.com/support/adsense If you have any questions, please feel free to respond to this email. Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
As you can see they have deduced those $30 that were generated during that surge of 169 clicks (versus the normal average of under 10), which is totally fine with me.
Give it a try, hopefully it will work for you too.
While I understand that there is a lot of click fraud going on, and realise that Google needs a way to fight it, this study case clearly shows that:
Innocent are much more likely to be hurt because there is justice system in place. Google plays God here - sorry, we can't tell you why you are guilty and we don't need to prove it to you. Good bye.
It's darn easy to bring someone's AdSense account to a closure by Google - just arrange a surge of clicks on someone's site. You've already heard of botnets, right? And you've heard of people cracking captchas by making other people do the typing, right? And probably 10,000 other ways. It's probably much harder to make a dent in bigger sites with a lot of traffic, so smaller sites are much more vulnerable, since it's much easier to create a burst of clicks and get it on the Google fraud team radar.
I'm wondering about the following: Google prohibits the publishers to click ads on their own sites - but that's silly: what if I see an ad that I'm genuinely interested in? It's so easy to forget about that prohibition and click on the ad - and boom, you get banned. Or your co-worker sitting on the same IP clicks some ads - how could he know about the prohibition? I'm not talking about going all day around and click on your site's ads, I'm talking about clicking a few of them here and there - it won't make the publisher more than a few dozens of cents. Why Google Adsense can't just not account for those few clicks, rather than count them as a fraud? Simply change the contract to say: any clicks coming from your IP will not be accounted as a revenue. That'd certainly help a lot of people: both the publishers and the Google AdSense team.
Another problem is that when Google disables your account you lose all your earnings so far, even those that have happened before the illegal activity (which hopefully wasn't done by you, which was the case with me). i.e. if my account wouldn't have been re-enabled those $100+ dollars would have been lost.
So, the next time you get excited by all those books and sites touting Google Ads as your greatest source of revenue, think twice before you waste your time and energy on something that is *not* under your control and can be taken away by a malicious user in co-operation with Google AdSense team.
Google AdSense is undeniably a great tool when it works, but I'd definitely love to have a better control over it.
Once Google AdSense has re-enabled my account, guess what ads did it start to serve on the very page you are looking at? "Get Google AdSense" of course.
Tracking Studies for Better Ad Placement and Website
Paying AdSense Keywords Hoax
Hillenbrand's Adsense Decoded Review
are alternatives to Google AdSense? (http://www.internet-search-engines-faq.com/google-adsense-alternatives.shtml)
They cancelled my account (http://marc.perkel.com/archives/000056.html)
to ensure your AdSense account will not be cancelled. (http://www.jensense.com/archives/2005/08/how_to_ensure_y.html)
Myth of Building A Software Business on Google AdSense Revenue (http://www.onstartups.com/Home/tabid/3339/ctl/ArticleView/mid/4112/articleId/457/The-Myth-of-Building-A-Software-Business-on-Google-AdSense-Revenue.aspx)
Common Mistakes by Google Adsense Publishers that Violate Terms of
long thread about the ways Google AdSense deals with publishers (http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum89/12761.htm)
Adsense Bowling (http://www.thegooglecache.com/?p=5)