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Running Dropbox affiliate ads cost me my Adwords account (gravitronic.blogspot.com)
158 points by gravitronic on Feb 10, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments

Google AdWords will permanently ban you for anything, and you will have no recourse, nor will any opportunity be provided to you to fix/correct the issue.

Someone lives next door to you, that gets their account banned? Your account gets banned.

You move into an apartment that had a previous resident 6 years ago, whose account got banned 2 years ago? Your account gets banned.

CTR too low on some test you are running? Your account gets banned.

Ad does not pass review and you forget and try it again in 3 months? Your account gets banned.

One day you are going to log in and see this message...


You're only option will be to make as much noise as you can about it, until someone at Google sees it on HN.

For the rest of us, we get screwed.

On a side note, Google cares so much about the communication between the client and the AdWords team, that email coming from AdWords often makes it right into the Gmail spam folder (100% in my case). They don't even bother white-listing it! That's where I found the reply for my plea for un-suspension.

I was banned from AdWords as well, and while very frustrating, I was able to get the issue resolved through email. The customer service along the way is just terrible. But if you petition for re-instatement, recognize the mistake or violation you made and resolve it, you'll probably be allowed back in.

> But if you petition for re-instatement, recognize the mistake or violation you made and resolve it, you'll probably be allowed back in.

That's a nice thought, but is not practical to me.

I ran ads (just some tests for a day or two, every 4-6 months) for one of my websites that provides a software control panel that manages web-server components and allows you to create websites (kind of like CPanel but for Windows).

This was the "landing page" (a PR5/PR6 page, since 2003):


This is the response I received back from AdWords team...

    I confirm that your site has been flagged for unacceptable business
    practices and was consequently disabled. 

    In response to multiple complaints received from users and publishers
    about this category of ads, our policies no longer allow sites that
    promote low-quality affiliate advertisements, the sale of free items, and
    other business models about which we've received multiple complaints. 

    At this time, it's Google's policy to not accept ads that make
    unverifiable, misleading claims about income opportunities for low risk
    and minimal effort. Read more about this specific policy at:

    Thank you for your cooperation.


    The Google AdWords Team
Tell me how that's relevant to me or what that means to me? I sell and support a 100,000-line .NET application that manages tools such as Apache, PHP, and MYSQL.

The best I could come up with was that someone at AdWords decided that my application was immaterial, and that I was instead selling Apache, PHP, and MySQL.

So I contacted them again...

    I do understand your point of view and apologize for any inconvenience 
    this may cause, but unfortunately we cannot provide any further 
    assistance in this matter. Google’s primary objective is to provide 
    safe, relevant experiences for our users. The decision to suspend your 
    account was made after careful review of your account and the low 
    quality landing page experiences promoted through your ads. 

    Please refrain from creating any new accounts, as they will be subject 
    to the same suspension. For privacy reasons, AdWords Support is unable 
    to provide any additional information regarding this account. 

    Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. 


    The Google AdWords Team 
It's a nice letter and I do appreciate Kayo getting back to me, but it's still a f-you, we don't care, we don't change our minds, if we made a mistake it's your problem, letter.

I think you should re-design your site to promote your product because from what you've posted here it does sound like a nice management application that could be really useful. But your page looks very much like you are just re-selling GPL software WAMP.

I think what does it for me - all of the promotional text about "building your own website" which indicates that you want to trick naive people that they need your software to run a web server. Instead you should focus on "advanced configuration tools for WAMP servers" and promote all of the things that your software does, without touting the basic WAMP functionality as your own.

It's a mistake, but your landing page looks like a typical affiliate style long-copy sales letter, so I'm guessing they just thought you were an affiliate of the product rather than the original source.

To me it just looks like a typical, badly-designed product page trying to get you to buy the product. How exactly does one distinguish between an "affiliate" sales pitch and an "original source" sales pitch?

Well, the permanant "special" is a bit of a red flag...

Not really. Many online products have a permanent special, and many offline stores are holding a permanent sale.

What is up with this text on your home page, above the fold:

(*subliminal message - it's like a bright sun rising from the east, shining down rays, giving life to websites)

It is almost invisible text, a strong spam indicator for Google's robot. Maybe you were banned for suspicious web design?

It's a joke, and was made after the fact. My attempt at humor. I think you might be the only person that has noticed it.

And it wasn't my website that was banned, but rather the AdWords account was permanently suspended. Google's crawlers/robots have no issue with my website.

> (*subliminal message - it's like a bright sun rising from the east, shining down rays, giving life to websites)

I just noticed one day that the boxshot was the color of the sun (yellow), and is displayed on the right side of the website, which is east, and is the direction where the sun rises each day. I thought it was fitting, considering the sun gives life, and the product does the same for websites.

Were you able to convince Google to un-suspend you?

I used to use AdWords on my own site, and my account was frozen because of "click-fraud". A few enterprising users on an unrelated forum decided to click my ads repeatedly, to support my OSS project. As a result I was denied the $10 of "legitimate clicks"

Any attempt to launch an appeal and contact Google seemed like the message was sent to their spam folder, and ignored.

This seems like an AdSense vs. Adwords issue. What the forum users were doing was defrauding Adwords advertisers in an attempt to bolster your AdSense account.

Essentially committing fraud. The issue in this post is his AdWords account was banned because of x,y,z reason but not because of to many clicks. They probably saw the $100 credit beding used for affiliate direct linking and flagged the account.

Just as an aside I have 13GB on dropbox now and got the additional storage by using the technique outlined in the article. My biggest difference was that the account was seasoned and I was spending my own money, not google coupon money.

Thanks for clarifying :) I was actually under the impression that AdSence was AdWords renamed. My issue happened in 2008 after all, I'm still suspended today.

Anyway, I agree that these users were committing fraud, but why ban me? I didn't condone (or even know) what they were doing until after the fact. The correct thing for AdSence to do here is to identify the offending IP addresses, cancel the credit accumulated by said IPs, and let me continue supporting the program on my site.

> Anyway, I agree that these users were committing fraud, but why ban me?

Because, explicitly or implicitly, something you were doing was encouraging people to defraud advertisers through your website. The way to stop this is to eliminate the cause (the person/site encouraging the fraud) not the symptom (today's batch of site visitors). Multiple people don't start engaging in multi-day click fraud behavior randomly -- something sets it off, something as innocuous as a forum post encouraging it or text near the ad that says "this project supported by ad clicks" -- but there has to be a catalyst, and that's the thing they're putting an end to by suspending an account.

> Because, explicitly or implicitly, something you were doing was encouraging people to defraud advertisers through your website.

That's a pretty bad thing to say about someone without any proof whatsoever. If users decide to 'help' you that does not automatically mean that you 'explicitly or implicitly' encouraged them to do so. People will do the strangest things without any prompting.

Technically this exposes a weakness in Google's program, after all any competitor could do this to you resulting in the banning of your account.

You're right. Weaponizing this could be a way to kick vendors off adsense (which is basically what your fans did by accident)

$10 is not enough money for them to care so they just ban you and move on. It's bullshit, IMO, but unless you are making them much more, they will not care.

That's AdSense, not AdWords. Different policies, different teams. At AdWords you can actually call and reach a real human being and resolve your issue, even if it's a suspension for breaching one of their policies. At AdSense, there's no chance of that.

I got banned from adsense a couple of years ago. I had an app I was writing and I had the ads in the corner. I made sure to not click my own ads, but because I was refreshing many times from the same IP, it somehow triggered a perma-ban.

I've tried to sign-up since and I don't get any errors, but I never get my acceptance email and Google won't ever respond to my queries.

Adsense is mostly a ripoff anyway. There are much better ways to monetize your traffic.

While there are (sometimes) better ways to monetize your traffic, Adsense is an easy to deploy, set-and-forget solution. So I wouldn't call it a ripoff :-)

There are many more solutions that are just as easy (and have better returns). Adsense is no longer the only place to go for ad placement.

What are these solutions? I help run a moderately-popular failblog exposing sexism in gaming, but aside from a few isolated cases, the advertising "interest" we get is people wanting to set up link exchanges advertising acai berries or whatever.

I'm presuming this is because the good ad networks don't need to look for sites to display on, but I haven't found anything else that's as good as AdSense. (And due to TOS, we can't run AdSense.)

Well via my ex employer I can get $25 CPM, and ad sense is around $0.40 CPM on average. Its just foolish to use google advertising IMO

Who is your ex-employer?

A television network, so they have a proper sales team etc... and direct dialogue with business and agencies.

The network ran trials of using Google ads on certain pages, and some did OK $10k per page per month (on popular pages). But at the end of the day that barely covers costs of running the network.

Google can't supply the cross medium advertising either, so most agencies are more than happy to pay the extra $24.60/cpm to actually get to the desired markets. The old saying "you get what you pay for" really sums it up really.

Should point out that its not probably closer to USD$20 CPM as I'm not in the states

I'll use this to briefly add my own AdWords horror story.

I decided on whim to try AdWords for a couple of clickbank products. Apparently one of them was against the TOS though I was not aware of it at the time. I haven't read the TOS but since both of my ads where approved I figured everything was OK. I run these two ads for 4 hours and shut them down. One of the ads got maybe 2 clicks and couple of dozen impressions, the second ad had no impressions and no clicks. I paused the campaign after 4 hours. A year and a half later I receive an email from Adwords notifying me that my account has been suspended for running ads against the TOS.

Talking to support was like talking to a brick wall.

I am fairly certain that the only reason I got banned was because I left these ads on pause and didn't actually delete them. They probably run a scan at some point looking for ads that infringe the TOS and picked me up. It's entirely possible that these ads weren't against the TOS at the time I set up the campaign but well, it's Google so there is no one to talk to.

I didn't need to use AdWords since but I probably will at some point so it certainly sucks for me.

We are an active Adwords advertiser with huge budgets for last 5 years. Our account got suspended last month for an ad that was created 4 years ago and was running for few weeks then we deleted it (yes, the ad was deleted for 4 years). What happened is that the domain we were advertising expired and it was serving 404. We were talking for about 1 month with Google reps that it was 4 years ago, the ad has been deleted, website is not even registered any more. Exactly as you are saying - brick wall. As a last chance out of desperation, I decided to register that domain (luckily it was available), then I put a text on it crafted as an apology to Adwords with a link back to google search results for people landing on this site. In few days our account was reinstated... Go figure...only moral of the story is that nothing with Adwords makes sense... you just have to do what they ask you and shut up :)

Thanks for this clue. I've been bashing my head trying to work out why my adwords account recently got suspended.

I haven't used it in 4 years, however one of the domains I was advertising is still mine, but just goes to an error page now. Will check this out!

My own clickbank/adwords story: I had heard good things about clickbank, despite being filled with spammy stuff. I found a product I had personal interest in and was actually pretty cool, signed up for adwords, and submitted an ad to be ran. A day later and I'm banned from adwords never to have an account with them again because I was advertising this product.

Unlike your experience, it happened to me so fast it made my head spin. I called support, and they said they couldn't even talk to me because my account was banned. I emailed an explanation to start their appeals process, and was shot down incredibly fast.

I really need an account now, but I'm not allowed to... So yep--it does suck to be us.

Got the exact same problem as you. Had Adwords for years and I also didn't know the product was against the TOS but they approved anyway just to suspend the account months later...

What was the content/urls of the ads? Hard to gauge if you actually have a legitimate case of complaint without seeing them.

My Adwords account got suspended as well without a proper explanation as to why a few years ago.

After contacting Adwords support I received this response:

"Our support team is unable to provide any further information. Please do not contact us again."

I ran a campaign for a website for medical school students. Absolutely harmless and as far as I can tell in full compliance with the ToS! I can only assume that whoever checked/scanned the ad assumed I must be advertising medical items (which I was not).

Please do not contact us again.

Tell us how you really feel about your users, google...

The way Google deals with AdWords and AdSense, shall we say, quality evaluation and banning is broken. The process looks totalitarian and brutal on the receiving end. The potential to get banned forever isn't conducive to learning and is simply too risky to even consider as a source of income. I for one insists that people ignore AdSense and try to generate revenue through other means. There's nothing worst than a bully cutting off your revenue stream without recourse.

I do understand that they are faced with gobs and gobs of fraud and scam-artists. I get it. However, if the problem is so large that they must hurt honest people on a regular basis in order to deal with the bad guys I think they are in over their heads.

It might be far smarter to have an open process where Google throttles down your account until you fix problems. And, yes, they'd have to tell you what is wrong so you can address it. Some might argue that this will simply give scam-artists and abusers more insight into how to game the system. Another way to look at it is that, if honest people follow the guidelines those gaming the system will become far more visible and, Google would be able to focus on new mutations of the bad-guy gene to stomp them out.

In other words, tell me what I am doing wrong and restrict my account to n ads per day/week/month for three months until I fix x,y,z. Don't hit me over the head with a sledge hammer and wave good-bye forever.

After more than a decade of using and supporting google, now today for the first in my life, I am feeling that this search and ad monopoly is bad. It's very much understandable that these type of algorithm overlook will happen. But being the large organization that google is, it doesn't have the infrastructure or a working process to take feedback from it's customers and provide a level of support that its users expect.

Imagine what would have happened if there were 40 competing companies in the market looking for user support.

> But being the large organization that google is, it doesn't have the infrastructure or a working process to take feedback from it's customers and provide a level of support that its users expect.

I'm not sure why you are giving Google an excuse (too large to work with clients). The amount of money they make from serving ads is in the billions and they've had ample opportunity to spend some of that to improve their client relationship and feedback loops... But choose not to.

The biggest mistake Google has made, is behaving in a way such that so few people really really like them as an organization or company. It almost guarantees they're going to get drilled by the Feds on anti-trust concerns, sooner rather than later. There will be few defenders in their corner, ala Microsoft before them.

This seems like a pretty general statement. In most every survey I've seen, Google is a top ranked brand around the world, either by enduring value or consumer sentiment. It may indeed be that how they treat certain customers is problematic, but I find it hard to say that "so few people really like them".

That being said, no one stays on top forever, and as they grow, even a small bit of discontent can grow even faster.

Just a couple of links from a couple of different angles: Integrated brand measurements, consumer NPS, best place to work

http://www.interbrand.com/en/best-global-brands/best-global-... http://www.brandz.com/output/brandz-top-100.aspx http://www.satmetrix.com/company/press-and-news/pr-archive/p... (In the online search and information category, Google and Facebook led again with scores of 53% and 52% respectively) http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2012/f... (Top of the list of best place to work for)

In the end, Microsoft basically got slapped on the wrist. So, what does Google have to fear?

Monetarily they were just slapped on the wrist, but operationally they were not. Talk to people who worked or work at Microsoft. They've been restricted from many (arguably good) moves with their software because of the Justice Department's lawsuit.

Many are hopeful that Microsoft can start to really innovate again now that the consent decree has recently expired.

I have indeed heard the whiny, victimized rants of some low-level employees ("Woe is us!"), however by and large I think it's nonsense. The restrictions and oversight the DoJ put on Microsoft were well known and are public record. They aren't secretly restricting them beyond what we all know.

Microsoft did get but a slap on the wrist, and rightly so. Though it's worth noting that had Microsoft received the punishment so many sought -- the breaking up of the company -- the parts would almost certainly be worth much more than the whole right now.

Microsoft's problems are Microsoft-created. Like RIM, Microsoft was more focused on entrenching the status quo than planning for the future.

Imagine what would have happened if there were 40 competing companies in the market looking for user support.

Popunders, exploits, bring-your-browser-to-a-crawl ads that spurred a massive move to ad blockers.

This submission is poised to bring out everyone with a chip on their shoulder about Google or Adwords, but the reality is that Google's ad quality control is one of the primary reasons they have been successful. Further I am skeptical of the innocence of so many.

In this particular case, the outcome seems obvious -- it was an abuse of the free ads coupons. Simply thinking through it made the end result inevitable.

I have to agree that were google not doing this we would be constantly exposed to a lot of spammy, low-quality ads. Anybody who has run any kind of similar service knows that you spend 95% of your energy keeping spammers out of your system and unfortunately it is the legit users who wind up jumping through hoops.

Lifehacker has been suggesting using AdWords coupons to get free Dropbox space. http://lifehacker.com/5854955/how-to-max-out-your-dropbox-re.... That's probably why many people are trying this.

I ran my own ad a while back (4 to 6 weeks ago?) and faced no issue. I also think I might know why: I didn't use a coupon to run the ads for free.

I put my OWN money into the account. I also didn't set low bid limits. Actually, my bids were high enough that they came in much lower than I anticipated.

The reasoning was simple: I was paying Google for some benefit. Using a free coupon is simply taking advantage of Google for your own benefit, and that's not fair to Google -- it's absolutely one-sided.

Google doesn't just ban accounts for no reason. Sometimes accounts can be suspended due to false positives in their ToS violation detection algorithms, but there is a good reason this account was banned.

Google does not like affiliate marketing via their advertising services. This is because they feel the best user experience is one whereby the user goes directly to the merchant without an intermediary padding out the middle of the process, and/or competing with the genuine advertiser and artificially inflating the number of ads attributed to a single end-merchant.

So in a nut shell, if you don't want your account banned, advertise your own unique thing that is of value in and of its own right and can stand alone without any further affiliate links. If you're offering something of value and it indirectly may lead a visitor to an affiliate link, that's ok, but it can't be the point of the ad. Google were burned by this early in the days of Adwords and customers were routinely led down the affiliate path, which caused serious quality issues in the ads they served up, hence the current ToS.

I had the exact same email. Never used adwords before and only had the one account. Adwords support were unable to provide me with a straight answer as to why I was banned and just kept linking me to the terms of service.

Did you use the coupon, or did you pay real money for your AdWords ads?

I ran AdWords ads with real money to advertise my Dropbox referral code, and everything went dandy (cost about $20 in ad credit).

One comment in this interesting thread includes the statement "I haven't read the TOS" and other comments imply that users began Adwords activity without reading through the ToS in detail. That goes back to Business 101: if you sign a contract, be prepared to fulfill the terms of the contract that apply to your behavior, and know what trade-offs are set up by the terms of the contract that apply to the other party's behavior. You don't leave yourself with any legal recourse if the other party follows the contract, you do not follow the contract, and the other party uses one of its remedies (for example cancelling the contract) under the contract terms. Freedom of contract is one of the key ideas that has made the developed world more prosperous and free. You have the right to tell your friends, "I don't like the contract terms offered by [name of company]" but there is little use in supposing that a company will operate otherwise than by its most favorable interpretation of the actual words of the written agreement. Read the fine contract before agreeing to it is a general business principle that it is helpful for hackers to learn. (Yes, I am a lawyer.)


It is, of course, unusual for most people to read in detail most contracts they agree to. When you buy an airline ticket, you agree to a contract that is in very small print on the ticket itself or on the webpage where you agree to buy the ticket, and much of the small print refers to national laws or international treaties that you probably don't bother to read. But if a particular business sets up terms that are off-putting to customers, a smart competing business may be able to figure out ways to offer better terms (more megabytes for less money, no restrictions on reselling, or whatever fits the transaction) and then advertise those terms to customers to gain market share from the first business. As long as new market entrants can set up their own agreements in a free market, the equilibrium of actual setting and enforcement of contract terms will be expected to provide consumer utility and opportunity for the business to profit. Again, that's freedom of contract. You don't have to do business with any business that offers you terms you actively dislike. If you don't think the terms are perfect or "fair," but the trade-off offered in the terms helps you do what you want to do, you may still agree to the terms.

In principle, of course you are correct. In practice, however, this viewpoint ignores a key fact of modern life.

The ToS for most services nowadays are extremely draconian and one-sided. The vast majority of the time, service providers don't bother exercising the rights they've reserved to themselves. If you try to live strictly within the safe zone of the ToS of every service you use, you'll be crippled. You either live a little bit dangerously, or you go home and hide under the bed. When someone does run afoul of Google's wrath (or whatever other service provider), often it's not because they did something unusually bad, it's simply that they had the bad luck to get noticed.

Let me use speed limits as an analogy. It's not uncommon (speaking for the U.S.) to find a highway with a posted speed limit of X MPH, and most traffic driving at X+5 or so. A police officer typically won't pull you over for driving X+5 in that situation, but technically you're breaking the law, and if they do pull you over, you'll probably wind up paying the ticket.

The situation with common ToS's is that the road is safe for up to 80 MPH, and most people are going 60, but the posted speed limit is 3 MPH. The police (service provider) can, at their whim, nail whoever they like for going 20 times the limit.

What's sad about this is that the situation does not incent good behavior, it incents keeping your head down.

I think there's a difference of kind, and not degree, between the services that you use for financial gain, and the services you use because you like them. I can understand if you don't read Facebook's TOS. I haven't. But if I used Adwords, and I depended on it as a part of my business, I would read the TOS.

Yes, good advice. But you're likely to find some large grey areas, and also some things that the ToS seems to forbid but seem reasonable / ethical, and lots of people are doing. If you avoid all of those grey and pseudo-black areas, you're hamstringing yourself. If you don't avoid them, you're vulnerable to being shut down arbitrarily. Which path do you choose?

"You don't have to do business with any business that offers you terms you actively dislike."

In the really-real world you often do have to use businesses whose terms you actively dislike due to de facto monopoly, collusion between big players, etc.

I hate Time Warner, but they are the only viable ISP that serves my area -- what am I going to do in protest of hating them, go Internet-dark at home? Yeah I could do that without, you know, dying or anything, but I'm not going to, so I grin and bear it and hope they don't "alter the deal any further".

They're regulated by your elected officials then right? call up your local representatives and discuss your concerns. Seriously. I mean it's not likely to get you any immediate results - but if nobody complains, why would any elected official do anything about it?

I like your spirit, but let's be real: it's not likely to get you any results whatsoever. Other than cathartic release, maybe.

Then talk to the opponent; unless there's de facto collusion, monopoly, etc?

One problem is that even with a good knowledge of these terms you are agreeing to a lot of stuff that is far to vague, sure they will tell you that certain things will get your banned but it is up to their interpretation of these things.

As many in the comments have said, bans have often come from AdWords either misunderstanding or disagreeing with them on the nature of their business.

Hm, that multiple adwords account thing worries me. I actually try to be honest about it, but I have serveral GMail accounts and Google keeps spamming me with 100$ adword coupons for each of them. I am not even sure anymore if I caved in once and used a second account for some adwords experiment.

How about it, Google, if you don't like me using several adwords accounts, don't spam me with your coupons?

I also had the same "problem".

What I did was leave a comment in their feedback asking that they stop sending me the coupons. "All you're doing is tempting me to use them against TOS"

A few months later I received in the mail a $100 voucher usable with existing accounts.

I guess it's not related to whether google were wrong to cut off your adwords account or not, but I can't get past the part where you used a free $100 coupon to buy adwords to get referral credit on dropbox instead of paying dropbox for a premium account.

It seems clever, but ultimately dishonest. More dishonest to google than to dropbox I suppose.

Dropbox wouldn't have made the 10GB/affiliate deal if the trade off of more free storage for more users wasn't profitable. I doubt they care.

Interesting thing about Dropbox is that, owing to their reliance on S3, you estimate pretty accurately what they spend on their users. People who go to extreme lengths to max out their referrals, etc. are outliers. I'd guesstimate the average free account consumes 1gb of overall storage, which costs Dropbox a whopping $0.06 a month. Even those maxed out, 16gb, pay-nothing accounts are charged at $0.80/month. When you consider that a 50gb account goes for $9.99 and costs them $2.75 in raw storage fees (probably less since who uses their full allotment?) you can see how easy it is for them to make money: one paid account subsidizes hundreds of free accounts. Granted this ignores transfer and request costs, so the margins are lower, but even with those, I'd guess they need a ridiculously low conversion rate to turn a profit.

Also, it has been suspected previously on HN that Dropbox have negotiated a better deal since they are apparently Amazon S3's largest customer so your numbers are likely on the high side.

Although account storage overhead could be a large factor (eg full version history with binaries etc)

I don't really know his intentions. It might just have been a way to learn adwords. From Google's point of view, if he really did learn and get good results, then it's likely he will use adwords for another project, and this time paying out of his own pockets.

From Dropbox's point of view, yes people seem to be exploiting them in a way - but I think that the space they give away is not significant to the number of people out there who are doing this marketing for them on their behalf.

This is true. I didn't invent the method but I did do it and it's not as honest to Dropbox as paying them (although I brought them >10 new customers)

To Google though I don't think I did anything wrong: - I learnt adwords and would have considered using it again as I learnt the reach was tremendous for the price. - Even using a coupon, my bidding on adwords keeps the value higher so the overall market price of ads is higher. This has been a theorized reason why $100 Google adwords coupons are so easy to get.

honesty has nothing to do with it..... referral programs are a way of marketing your product..... getting others to do yourmarketingfor you in exchange for something. sometimes cash, in this case axtra services. bringing in new customers is farmorevaluable than one subscription ( as those customers may go the referral route, etc). many online services got hugr this way..... the referral markets are big business.

taking advantageof referral programsis not dishonest unless youaretrying to scam fake referrals or something. referral programs are marketing activities with a calculated cost per acquisition... as long as the referrals met the terms of the referral program, no harm done.

that said, many marketing departments dont think things through thoroughly enough...

As an aside, we started noticing people running ads for their Dropbox referral links about a year ago at MixRank: http://mixrank.com/a/dropbox.com. I'm sure Dropbox loved this behavior at first, but then there were several people that started running unreasonable/false ads, like "16GB Free Storage Space. Access your files from everywhere" .. which is clearly setting Dropbox up for unhappy customers.

The title is misleading. It should read; "Using free adwords credit to extend dropbox accounts doesn't work"

Google is trying to attract real customers not people who want to game the system at Google's expense. No money was ever paid, it was all done using a promo voucher.

The adwords account was specifically and exclusively set up so a dropbox account could be extended.

I am sure if you wanted to do some real advertising Google would reinstate the account.

But was it set up so that the person could participate in the dropbox affiliate program according to dropbox's affiliate ToS? I'm not saying right or wrong here, but I don't see the evil part yet on the part of the poster.

You run a site, you offer stuff to people to go out and market your product for you, they do so - as long as they didn't do it by creating fake accounts, what's the problem?

is affiliate marketing banned in googles ToS?

This banning of AdWords accounts that run traffic for Dropbox referrals is simply a reflection of Google's known hostility towards affiliate marketers. AdWords has been know to mass ban affiliate accounts and this is just another version of affiliate marketing without cash payment.

For those who still want to use PPC for Dropbox referrals, consider Microsoft adCenter, which has a much friendlier policy towards affiliate marketers.

All those $75-150 free coupons makes legitimate customers have to pay much much more per click.

About 4 years ago, I made a mistake to show some ads via Google Adsense on a forum for gamers. Couple months later I got banned for 'suspicious activity'. I supplied questions and possibly offending data on multiple occasions, but I didn't get a single reply back from them. No offense big-G, but you can take your service and shove it.

Honestly, the ToS and whatever access-wall Google puts up to make the process actually work is quite astonishingly bad, but as long as everybody sucks on that teet, there will not be an improvement.

Does Google not restrict their coupon codes to one use? (This seem especially important since they appear to be gift certificates rather than discounts.)

Why don't they limit the supply of the "free $100 of advertising" coupons if they don't intend to follow-through?

There's one easy method (which I won't disclose) to increase free space in a Dropbox account. However, I wouldn't mind paying them since they provide such a wonderful service, and I've been using their service since the beginning.

The main problem I face to actually pay for something is that is that I don't have an international credit card, and I live in Argentina. I won't pay my bank $300 AR$ a year just to get one, which I'll barely use.

This happened to me, too. Here's my experience with how unresponsive Google was (and is):


I think the easy way around that would be a landing page that wasn't at Dropbox. It would decrease the number of signups due to the extra click required, but it wouldn't cost you your AdWords account either.

Let me get this right, you signed up for Adwords with $100 free credit they gave you, used this credit not to advertise your own website as intended, but to advertise another businesses affiliate link for your benefit. They then cancelled your account and you're complaining?

The whole point of the free credit is so that businesses can try our their service with the possibility of buying their own credit afterwards. You're not using it as intended so they would appear to me to be well in their rights to block you.

There seem to be a lot of 'horror stories' cropping up, most seem to be from obscure blogs or websites, where they are going against the TOS or abusing the system to some degree. As someone who spends money on Adwords I like the fact they are filtering these types of users out.

He doesn't mention using an adwords coupon. The mail from Google states that some of the accounts advertising dropbox did that, but not necessarily OP.

He also doesn't complain about it, but explains how it makes sense from Googles point of view.

Keyword: Suspended.

They simply haven't banned your account. You've been suspended, happens to many people. If you appeal to them and start following their TOS, you'll be fine.

Suspended = banned in adwords. You can try appealing if you want to waste your time talking to a chat bot and them rejecting your appeal a few days later.

Really? Thanks. I will attempt to appeal.

I don't think they make the distinction between "suspended" and "banned". As they seem to only use the former... As suspended (which can also mean permanently suspended).

When you do contact them, and you use gmail, make sure to check your junk/spam folder for their reply (mine was there).

Where did you get the $100 promotional coupon? I ask because Google's email makes it sound like you reused someone else's coupon.

You could always run AdWords traffic to a blog talking about how awesome Dropbox is and include the affiliate link there.

if you had created your own landing page you would have been fine. using a promo code on someone else's domain? bad idea

This is just Google being a jerk. It's an extremely common behavior from them when it comes to their ad platforms.

Most businesses prefer to actually work with their customers, listen, and have a dialogue. Google's insular behavior goes all the way up the food chain to how Page behaves and operates.

I went through the sales processes for AdWords and Bing adCenter simultaneously and the difference was night and day. I could tell from the start that Google had zero interest in customer service and if something went wrong I'd be SOL.

Really? To me this is Google going 'why are dozens of accounts advertising the same URL with free coupons?' I imagine it happens quite frequently where people try to use free coupons over and over to never pay for adwords. They are cheating the system and ripping Google off. There is legitimate gripes about their non-responsiveness and poor customer support but their logic here is pretty cut and dry. It's also not malicious.

I don't think the terms of Google's coupon are that 'you can only use this credit if you intend to spend more than $100 long term advertising on our platform'.

If it were a matter of 1 user creating multiple accounts then they'd have a legitimate reason for closing the account. However, it doesn't sound like that's what's happening. It sounds like they're punishing people for using their coupon in a way they hadn't intended.

What's the difference between 1 user and multiple users creating accounts to advertise the same URL with free coupons from their perspective? It looks very fraudulent and appears to be cheating their system. It seems reasonable to ban such behavior when it's cheating.

Does Google let one account use more than one coupon? Certainly the terms of the coupon say one per account (I have read that because I did want to use more than one).

Isn't the problem then the free coupons?

I've been blackballed by Google just for using an affiliate system. Unfortunately their near monopoly puts them in a position where they can get away with strongarming customers and users into obeying. But they're not going to make any new friends with this kind of attitude.

Reading the various horror stories in here, clearly there is an opportunity for a startup to make lots of cash and clean house in this space. It sounds like Google arbitrarily are jerks just for the fun of it. Displacing them should be a piece of cake -- post your new ad network on HN and see the network effect kick in as it takes over the net.

Or maybe Google actually has a difficult problem they are dealing with, which is a market with endless ranks of scammers and shady con artists (some of whom will colour their story to make them a victim, posting it in HN).

It looks like opening multiple Adwords accounts is what cost you your accounts.

It sounds to me like lots of Dropbox customers opened a single Adwords account each to run Dropbox ads, and Google mistakenly concluded that they were all the same person.

I don't think Google has any illusions that it's the same person. Instead they see it as the same beneficiary.

If this weren't a problem we could have a Hacker News "free ad" board (with "free" meaning "at the cost of other advertisers". Due to the bid system free ad coupons cost Google next to nothing) where people could post their pet site and hundreds of people could use some or all of their "free" $100 to yield tens of thousands in free ads.

Not exactly. If you read his post closely, he claims to have only had a single account. It's Google which is claiming that he "maintains multiple AdWords accounts simultaneously serving ads for similar or related keywords and/or businesses."

This makes me wonder if we are hearing the whole story. Did he have multiple adwords accounts, or only just the one?

I only had one adwords account.

Did you run multiple campains with the same target link?

This can't possibly be a violation -- this is standard operating procedure in the SEM world.

One campaign, multiple ads. Which as the other commenter says, is totally the norm.

Much easier: Install any Linux distro in VMWare/VirtualBox, and use the CLI to download and install the dropbox daemon. Rinse and repeat. This only works for the CLI installation.

I went from 2.2GB --> 10.2GB in a few days doing this during my break.

This is also very much against the Dropbox ToS whereas the google adwords method is at best 'grey area'. I brought Dropbox more than 10 new customers. You didn't.

So rather than using a couple of free services in a way they didn't predict, you just commit outright fraud?

And might get banned for it... thats blatant referral program abuse..... it isnt "free if you are clever" its "free if you bring us new people in the door"

And this is why we can't have nice things...

There's plenty companies who deserve your abuse. Dropbox is not one of them.

Can you explain this please? Never heard of it.

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