Even prior to clicking the little blue magnifying glass, searching for keywords like “cheap escort” or “riding stripper” conjure unmistakably N(ot)SFW results pages and links that demand an eradication of browser history. PPC ads are roundly avoided in deference to Google’s simple banned advertising policy, but should they be?
Of course when you Google such terms today, you don’t find text ads for hired companions or less-than-legal adult entertainment, but you will find sponsored ads for reduced-price Ford cars and ride-on machinery for removing tile and laminate flooring. Granted, each search also generates a wide array of offensive organic search content. Still, the decision to advertise a pre-owned car on a term oft-considered to be banned illustrates an underused approach: Lifting the blanket suppression of “banned terms” to uncover keywords with low competition and high profit opportunity.
In reality, Google doesn’t ban keywords or terms at all; it bans advertisements that shill products or services from certain categories. In fact, thousands of terms exist that could trigger ads for legitimate products/services or the questionable ones Google seeks to ban.
Google’s position and a categorical perspective
Google can choose which types of advertisements it wants to sell, but it’s important to remember that it is banning ads, not search terms. What seems to be a nuanced difference can affect a wide range of search marketing campaigns.
We rely on a combination of people and algorithms to monitor the most volatile of Google AdWords' 74 Disapproval Policy items, and include 10 additional in-house filters – everything from Alcohol to Escorts, Counterfeit Goods to Miracle Cures, Gambling and Soliciting Funds.
Keywords searches associated with these ads consist of two types: trademarks (essentially brands), and content that is illegal or found to be objectionable to common decency (or to Google decency, which may or may not be the same). In the category covering Alcohol, for example, banned terms include Skyy (trademark) and vodka (content), but don’t include keywords for ads touting related accessories like shot glasses. Banned terms can also span many languages.
SEO and the direct value of banned terms
Plenty of overlap exists between ads banned by Google and products that are legal to purchase. Firearms, alcohol, fireworks and pornography represent just a few examples. Companies that offer these products must focus on a highly competitive slice of the SEO industry. For them, keyword research should include the banned terms that align with their inventory and the search trends that reflect demand for their products.
Opportunities for paid search advertisers
Paid search advertisers, on the other hand, must educate themselves on the categories of banned advertisements that matter to their businesses and avoid running those advertisements whenever possible. Doing so will keep them in Google’s good graces – repeat offenders have been known to have their accounts deactivated. After a survey of the banned landscape, advertisers can make their work with banned terms more effective by following three other tips:
1. Don’t acquire banned terms in your priority categories during keyword generation and research. This not only wastes advertising spend, it wastes time and resources on the back end to sort them out. Think critically about any research projects or tools and address the issue of banned term suppression before integrating into your workflow.
2. Avoid a blanket suppression of all banned terms: Many brands do a great job marketing shot glasses, as we’ve seen. Removing any keyword phrase that contains the word “shot” – especially if you can’t disambiguate its meaning as a Weapon, Violence, or Alcohol term – could represent lost revenue for certain search advertisers.
3. Cross-check your portfolio against banned keywords in categories not core to your business. Advertisers pursuing these keywords may find a less than crowded competitive set, attractive CPC rates and profitable additions to their portfolio. Shot glasses and cheap Ford Escorts are just the tip of the banned iceberg.
How do you put intelligence about banned advertising categories to use in your campaigns?