Commentary

How Google Is Stealing Your Ad Budget Without Your Knowledge

Own a small- or medium-sized business and use Google Ads (formerly AdWords)? Watch out. 

Google has turned its AI loose on unsuspecting Google Ad customers. Unfortunately, the results are exactly what you’d expect from a tech company whose main bread and butter is not in AI but in converting ads to clicks: a quickly draining bank account and ads apparently written by a random word generator. Neither is good news for your brand -- or your bottom line.

OK, Google: What’s going on, and why?

Google is playing defense in an increasingly Amazon-dominated world. The Google Ads network accounts for a massive 70.9% of Google’s revenue – or $95.4 billion, according to Statista, but others are moving in. It’s anticipated that Google’s ad stake will drop by 1.7% in 2018 despite national ad spend growing by 19%. 

Google has a problem, and like so many others, it’s banking on AI to solve it. In Google’s case, this involves auto-generating machine-written ads for its unwitting customers -- and billing them for the pleasure. If the ads weren’t terrible, this might not be so bad. But they are, and they’re being expensively rolled out to customers without their knowledge.

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How Google crashed our conversions

My company began advertising on Google in 2010. But Google’s unilateral decision to help us promote our business through its “ad suggestions” has seriously undermined our efforts.

Google Ads rolled out Ad Suggestions on some unsuspecting accounts in the U.S. and U.K. this past August. 

According to Google, Ad Suggestions are “variations of your existing text ads that may boost performance of your Search Network campaigns.” We found out we were among the guinea pigs when our ad metrics dropped by 47% in just three weeks.  Our own carefully honed ads had been supplemented with 50 new “suggested” ads that obviously hadn’t been written by a copywriter and definitely didn’t pass the Turing test.

We quickly discovered Ad Suggestions are nothing more than AI-written ads. And while we appreciate Google’s confidence in its Natural Language Generation abilities, as a 20-year veteran of NLP technology, I can tell you that language generation is one of the hardest text-processing problems out there. Not only did Google generate dozens of nonsense ads tied to our brand name, but they diverted resources away from our high-converting, tested ads as well. 

We’re a fairly heavy technology player, so we were able to dig in and figure out what happened before too much damage was done. But what if you were a restaurant or a plumbing company that only dabbles in Google Ads?  All you would have seen was that your ad budget was being chewed up -- and that the phone had stopped ringing. 

Say goodbye to your hard-won brand equity

Here’s what the new normal apparently looks like:

1.     We are paying Google to serve ads that we have no control over.

2.     Google is serving as many ads as they want, spending our budget quickly.

3.     Google’s ads are atrocious and are destroying our conversions.

4.     Google is destroying our brand equity by tying our name to useless, low-quality ads.

But surely Google has realized that all of this has been an unmitigated disaster and that it’s time to switch off Ad Suggestions? Sadly, that’s not the case. 

The feature is still out there, spending your money without your input, and turning it off involves a seven-step process that in Google’s words is “not recommended." (We, however, do recommend it -- here’s how.)

Since Google has no qualms about telling other people how to do business, we’d like to return the favor by making an Ad Suggestion of our own: that Googleroll back this disastrous “improvement” and leave our ads the way they were: effective.
6 comments about "How Google Is Stealing Your Ad Budget Without Your Knowledge".
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  1. Keith Huntoon from LiftEngine, November 6, 2018 at 3:51 p.m.

    This is an unconscionable abuse by Google.  I can't see how they avoid a class action lawsuit. Kudos, Jeff, for informing the marketplace about this 'improvement'.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 6, 2018 at 4:54 p.m.

    Don't advertisers investigate how"their ads" are created in this fashion before buying into such a ridiculous system? Is this completely Google's fault or shouldn't those forking over their ad dollars bear some responsibility?

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 6, 2018 at 7:07 p.m.

    How is this system being sold to adverisers ? Is false advertisers involved to advertisers involved ? It seems that a broader investigation needs to be ensued. Advertisers need their money returned.

  4. James Bilello from US Marketing, Inc., November 7, 2018 at 1 p.m.

    You don’t have to adopt Google’s Ad Suggestions! And there is a setting you can and should turn off for “auto apply ad suggestions!”

    Further, the entire “Recommendation” Section in Google Ads are just that recommendations and suggestions which are heavily disclaimed with notations about why they are being suggested, that they are estimated, that actual results will vary and you don’t have to adopt them!

    Jim Bilello
    President, US Marketing, Inc. / a Google Premier Agency Partner
    D. 847-574-6940 | M. 847-951-1819 | JimBilello@USMarketing.bz
    www.usmarketing.bz
    100 S. Saunders Rd., Ste. 150, Lake Forest, IL 60045

  5. Jeff Catlin from Lexalytics replied, November 7, 2018 at 4:38 p.m.

    I see your point Ed. However, the problem here is that we never bought into the system in the first place! Google auto applied this feature to our account without us realizing it. If you’re a smaller advertiser, then changes like this can go unnoticed until it’s too late. To wit, our conversions began dropping by the third week, tipping us off to an issue. I never asked for this feature, I never opted into this feature, and therefore I shouldn’t bear any responsibility for the outcome of this feature. Instead, Google should allow me to opt in to auto suggestions at my own risk. I shouldn’t be forced to try their new technology at the expense of my business.

  6. Jeff Catlin from Lexalytics replied, November 7, 2018 at 4:39 p.m.

    James, if, as you say, “I can and should turn off Ad Suggestions” then it’s on Google to not auto-enroll me into the program in the first place. The fact that it takes seven unintuitive steps (which I mention in my article) to opt out of Ad Suggestions is equally upsetting. Don’t you think that Google should invite its paying advertisers to play with their new technology, instead of forcing it on them at the risk of the advertisers business? The point of this article is simple: Google messed up by auto-enrolling accounts in this program and it stands to hurt small- and mid-sized advertisers.

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