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Poll: Were you banned by AdSense? When in the cycle were you notified?
316 points by chrisBob on Apr 30, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments
Lots of people have been banned by AdSense, and for obvious reasons the most vocal are the people who were a few days from payout. Lets try and figure out if there really is a pattern here. If you had an account banned please answer when in the payout cycle it happened to you.
Within 4 days of a payout
189 points
First third
39 points
Third third (minus last few days)
26 points
Second third
17 points

I use AdMob for a mobile game I made. After successfully using it for years I got a notice that Google had bought the company and that my account would now be an AdSense account. I started earning money there and when I reached the 100usd amount, with no explanation at all I got banned. I filled up contact forms but not reason was given to me. They just said that I was not going to have my money since it was going to be refunded to advertisers. After a while, for some strange reason my account was luckily reverted to a classic AdMob account and now I'm back again getting my money through PayPal. I'm really disappointed on Google support on this matter, there are no email addresses or real people to talk to. Amazon and even DX have given me better customer support for 2usd items.

> "They just said that I was not going to have my money since it was going to be refunded to advertisers."

Has anyone ever seen that their AdWords or any other Google-related ads spending got partially refunded?

I wonder how's this feasible given the delay between the ad spending and account asset freeze. This can take years if the freeze validation occurs close to an actual payout.

Is Google sending the amount back to my adwords-associated credit card or does it go as a budget for future ads?

I find it hard to understand how this kind of refunding works full scale to make sure all the account freezes will distribute the spending back to the advertisers.

I work in an agency with several fortune 500 clients. Yes, I've seen ad spending refunds on several occurrences because of alleged fraud.

I had a very similar issue. I signed up for AdMob and right before I was payed out they banned my account for "click fraud". This was a legitimate app, no tricks to try and get people to click the ads. I just displayed an ad banner at the bottom of the Android app. I ended up just rolling my own custom in-house ad system and just cross-promote my other apps. I make more money from selling pro versions of my apps anyways.

Is that completely legal for them to do? I know nothing about ad business, but I would expect that if you provided service (shown ads) they should not be able to withhold your money without explanation. How is that different from refusing to pay for, say, rented car?

Your relationship with them is governed by a contract, which in turn is governed by contract law (probably California's but you have to look at the choice of law clause to be sure).

Without reading the contract it's impossible to say whether or not the reported conduct is in conformance with it, but if I had to bet, I'd bet it is.

There are solid differences between renting cars and serving ads.

In the end, it's would be a civil legal matter and probably not worth anybody's time for $100 coupled with the high chance of losing considering the terms of service agreed to.

In my state (Missouri) Small Claims Court seems to work fairly well for these types of things. It does take a lot of time, so it probably isn't "worth" it in a purely monetary sense, but it is worth it to me in an ethical sense. It is fraud, pure and simple.

It isn't fraud. The legal requirements for such are subtle and numerous, but basically require knowledge and intent which are difficult to prove and unlikely in most or all of these scenarios.

Google has to do it's best to serve it's customers on both sides, those who display ads and those who pay for advertisers. Cheating exists, the mechanisms to mitigate that cheating aren't perfect, and each side loses some as a result. To claim that their imperfect anti-cheating mechanism is fraudulent is quite a stretch, and you'll be hard pressed to find a advertising facilitator which provides better customer service for such small sums of money.

I'm not so much concerned that they may make a mistake and close a legitimate account. I think not paying for ads already served, and not responding to queries about it, is enough grounds to take them to court. If Google wants to respond and make an argument as to why they shouldn't be paying for the ads the publisher has served, then they would be free to do so- the problem is they have refused to do so, and I think it is perfectly legitimate for a a publisher to take them to small claims court and demand that explanation.

So yeah, what I probably should have said is, "It smells of fraud, plain and simple". I am open to hearing Google's side of the story.

"each side loses some as a result"

Side 1: advertisers, budget: millions

Side 2: small content providers, revenue: hundreds

There's no way that's balanced.

This is silly and incorrect. Some advertisers have budgets of millions, some tens or hundreds of dollars. Just like some content providers earn millions and others tens or hundreds.

I think the problem is due to their rules they can really ban you for anything. Maybe ad placement is in a spot where people can click it by accident often. Well those multiple clicks are now click fraud in the eyes of google.

It's definitely true that accounts above some threshold ($1000?) get extra scrutiny, not just from a adsense perspective but also from an seo perspective.

In the long term, Google would be happy to replace the open web with Android or Google+. In the short term if you compete with Google images or other Google properties it is open season.

From what I've read, they do a manual review at certain times right when payout is due. I've seen bank transfers for months on a certain day or within a day or two. But when I had a jump in earnings, it took 3-4 days longer.

That's a fairly common anti-fraud pattern for lots of systems: if a particular account's performance exceeds its long-term trend by a large amount (say 100% or more), it gets flagged for manual review. Once a payment goes out, it's not economic to retrieve it, so you want that extra review to happen before it's issued.

Ideally this would cause a delay in the payout, but if an account doesn't break the threshold until just before the payment date, the review might cause a delay.

This is common on ad platforms, credit card processors and even auction platforms like eBay. I would guess that it's a "standard practice" for risk mitigation.

You are the product, sorry to hear your story. I think situation would be better if there was a competition.

Wow, that's cliche (and wrong). Webhosts are not the product in this situation. This is a supplier-distributor relationship, where Google is the supplier (of ads) and you are the distributor (to end consumers).

No, I think OP has it right. The paying customers are the advertisers. Websites supply "inventory" of impressions. (That's certainly what Google calls it in my Doubleclick dashboard.) Google is a distributor, and they sometimes decide to cut off certain suppliers.

While I don't know if they do, I can see why Google might prioritize review of accounts which are about to receive a payout over ones where that's far in the future: once the money is sent, it's generally not recoverable. That's when Google has the highest quotient of [data on the account] * [value at risk], so that's when it makes sense to review.

AdWords and AdSense policies tell advertisers and publishers that advertiser spending on evicted publishers are refunded for the preceding 60 days. Because this policy has to do with revenue recognition, it's presumably under SOX control, so it would be difficult and very risky to willfully violate it.

So Google faces a larger cash loss if they cancel a publisher just after a payout than if they do so before. And they have no incentive to cancel publishers just to keep the money: they refund the advertisers, so they lose not only their share of the advertising spend, but they have to pay the publisher share of any unrecoverable previous payout out of their own pockets.

Disclosure: I used to work for Google.

The problem with that, IMHO, is that payout is always for the previous month, so if they ban you right before payout, they're taking ~2 months worth of ad revenue from you.

I don't understand how 3 weeks before payout is not enough time to analyze the previous month's clicks/impressions for fraud.

Tested out Adsense, saw it performed better. Switched all our ads to Adsense, big mistake. We got banned right before the payout date and ended-up making almost zero for the entire month. Big lesson learned.

Edit: To further clarify, we were expecting to receive a payment in the low five figures. Also, during that month I was invited to a special Google event where I spoke one on one with AdSense employees on how to optimize the site for revenue. Then two weeks later I received notice of our account suspension.

So ... what happened when you followed it up?

Emailed the contacts I made at the AdSense event, they said they'd look into it but never responded. Contacted my friends at Google who referred me to other AdSense employees, those contacts also ended up no longer responding to emails.

Going through the usual appeal process just returned automated messages, which also ended up in a dead end. So eventually we just moved on.

Funny enough, I was able to dig up an old blog post by the AdSense team with my photo: http://adsense.blogspot.com/2011/09/continuing-adsense-in-yo.... There's me holding up a big chalkboard, two weeks before getting banned off their platform. That was years ago, so I've since moved on but it was a good lesson learned.

That sounds extremely bad business. The display network, I presume, must be a sizable source of revenue. Basic email support with a turnaround time of say a week for accounts which have already earned some money is the least a publisher can expect. We need more competition.

It's common knowledge among SEOs that AdSense tends to be disabled a few days before the supposed payout. I haven't lost any big sum - only $2000 but I know one person that lost $40,000. It was all legitimate traffic coming straight from Google themselves, no click fraud no bought traffic etc.

PS: I was using AdSense from 2008 to 2013 - over 5 years so it's not like only new users got banned.

Sue them in small claims court. The filing fee is usually low so you're not risking much. Just because the contract says "Google can fuck you in the ass" doesn't mean that will actually hold up in court.

I hope the person who lost $40,000 consulted an attorney as well, as that easily passes the "worth paying for an hour of one's time" threshold.

So you lost $2,000 because of Google. Would you do more about it if the sum suddenly disappeared from your bank account or the cell company overcharged you? I find most are afraid to stand up to Google because they're so omnipresent.

You'd have recourse if those things happened, whereas you don't have recourse if Google terminates your account. You enter into a contract where you agreed that they had this right and that payments would be forfeit. If a cell company overcharges you, you have a legal case for recovering that money. If Google terminates you, you have none, and going to court to fight a contract you agreed to is likely going to result in further losses.

Why can't you challenge the legitimacy of the contract? Not every contract stands up to court scrutiny.

Google has good lawyers, and their terms are both brief and written in plain English with no "fine print". Printed, the AdSense terms are less than two pages long. The part about termination and forfeiting unpaid commissions is two sentences long. There's not much to argue or for a court to "scrutinize".

The fact that a large number of people have had five-figure payments forfeited under this agreement (sufficient to afford and warrant evaluating options like this), yet none of them have invalidated the contract in a courtroom thus far AFAIK, is pretty good evidence that there's nothing so unconscionable present that a court would void the contract.

Google has good lawyers, and their terms are both brief and written in plain English with no "fine print".

It doesn't matter how many lawyers they've got. For one thing, in most places in the West, if you're in a small claims court or the equivalent then professional lawyers probably won't be allowed. And if your case is large enough to be heard in full court, it's worth hiring your own lawyer, and they're going to drive a pretty obvious hole through any contract of adhesion where the terms are essentially "We can decide arbitrarily that you're in violation and thus refuse to hold up our end of the deal".

...none of them have invalidated the contract in a courtroom thus far AFAIK...

Are you familiar with the case of Aaron Greenspan?



The key facts as reported appear to be that he did take them to small claims court after they shut down his account and wouldn't explain why, and he won. They then appealed, and they won, but only after identifying two specific ways in which they considered one of his sites did violate their terms (at least one of which is explicitly identified in the wording they use today, though I don't know whether either or both was at the time) which is all he was asking for in the first place.

Net result: Google were probably out far more in time and money than he was, and got a healthy dose of bad press for their behaviour throughout. The lawyers might call it a win, but I bet neither the accountants nor the PR guys did.

> It doesn't matter how many lawyers they've got.

I said that as evidence that their contracts are likely written to be enforceable.

> Are you familiar with the case of Aaron Greenspan?

To summarize, the contract was entirely enforceable and Mr. Greenspan suffered further losses to bring and defend on appeal a fruitless case. He also proved that Google is not willing to walk away from even small losses.

The answer to "if your AdSense account is terminated, who not just sue?" has little to do with plaintiff/defendant cost ratios, or who looks worse in the media. Most AdSense account holders are just trying to earn a living, not personally finance a negative PR campaign. Few have the resources or inclination for that kind of thing.

To summarize, the contract was entirely enforceable

That's not a very fair summary. They didn't succeed in arguing that they could drop an account and keep the money without justifying it, which was the point here.

Mr. Greenspan suffered further losses to bring and defend on appeal a fruitless case.

His losses appear to have been about $40 of court fees and whatever he valued his time at, for a suit over about $700-800 in withheld revenues. Presumably the time was by far the more significant cost.

Isn't that rather the point he was trying to make, though? The whole case could have been avoided, saving everyone time and money, if Google had just answered a simple question in the first place. Fighting these cases, even if they win a Pyrrhic victory every time, is not a sustainable strategy.

> The fact that a large number of people have had five-figure payments forfeited under this agreement (sufficient to afford and warrant evaluating options like this), yet none of them have invalidated the contract in a courtroom thus far AFAIK, is pretty good evidence that there's nothing so unconscionable present that a court would void the contract.

I'm curious if it hasn't happened or if Google has simply settled them all to avoid having their contract challenged in court.

I don't know if it's afraid as much as just knowing that you are entering a one sided relationship when you use them and knowing there is nothing for you to do if this happens.

It's the current sad state of the online advertising market.

I am one of the many victims of an adsense ban. One of my sites was picked on, and I was blanket banned. When I appealed using their form I got an automated response saying that they had considered my request and it will not change (within 30s of submitting the form). I've been trying to get in touch with someone at Google for almost a year now to discuss the issue and find out why I was banned. Not only did it knock out my revenue for that site but all my other sites now cannot benefit from Adsense revenue.

What do you mean by "picked on?"

Say you don't agree with a particular site that's using adsense. You could (for instance) have you and all your friends click over and over again on the ads on that site, which Google will quickly flag as fraudulent.

Any site that attracts a large number of fraudulent clicks is going to get their AdSense account banned. The site owner has no recourse if this happens to them: they agreed to it when they signed up in the first place - Google can drop them for whatever reason they feel like at any time.

Say you don't agree with a particular site that's using adsense. You could (for instance) have you and all your friends click over and over again on the ads on that site, which Google will quickly flag as fraudulent.

Is it really that easy to put a gun to any random adsense user's head?

Yeah, it's called clickbombing: http://empireflippers.com/clickbombing-and-click-fraud/ (NB, Have no idea whether that's a reputable site, but the analysis in that blogpost is reasonably in depth).

If you're lucky, you catch it, report it to Google & they just take the income away (as it should be). If you're unlucky, Google decides that you're trying to defraud them & their ad clients and kills your entire AdSense account for all the sites you have registered with them. A scorched earth policy being the best possible policy apparently.

so far nobody has listed how they actually got in contact with google. Is there a certain email? method?

Only recourse that I have seen work is public shaming on a forum that someone high enough in Google notices (like mcutts).

Yeah, and guess what? You can "purchase" clicks and traffic in order to achieve this.

If you get on the tor network, you should be able to find a few places where you can pay (for example) a $100 for 30,000 views/clicks from a random country in the world to hit a site.

I'd imagine 30,000 false adsense clicks would do it.

Yes, I had it happen to me about 5-6 years ago. Fortunately I had some evidence at the time, and after weeks of trying, I got my account reinstated. But it is very easy to do and probably happens more often than people realize.

I have lost respect for Google in the sense that they are incapable of responding to people in a timely fashion on bans that could be potentially wrongful.


I don't know exactly what he is talking about but I can speak to my experience:

Once you receive a warning notice, your site enters the scopes of the policy enforcement team. When you make changes to your AdSense code, possibly other relevant code on your site, they send human reviewers to reevaluate your site.

I believe this because I received a warning for encouraging unintentional clicks.

I received this warning because in-content ad units had links blended to site link colors.

Additionally, I was aligning ad units with images.

After making these changes, the issue was resolved.

They never ceased serving ads, which was nice.

This occurred around the 7-8k monthly mark for those wondering.

After making these changes my revenue dropped about 1/4. This was disappointing.

A few weeks later I tried to revert to the in-content ad units with the blended link colors. I tried to use a light gray background color, literally one shade away from white, to distinguish the ad unit from content.

Within 30 minutes of making these changes, I received two new warnings,

one for encouraging unintentional clicks, and another for having content over ads.

This is because I had a hover drop down menu for navigation that dropped over ads in some parts.

I made the changes and ad serving has continued.

I make less now, but as someone who depends on AdSense income to provide for my family, I am happy to continue serving ads in the first place.

The reason there is no competition is because everybody else is scared shitless to open themselves up to publishers.

Click fraud is a thriving and sophisticated business, and nobody else (major) has had the chops to explore that black box.

I found my experience with AdSense enforcement to be fair, but the process is frightening.

I am excited that Facebook is experimenting with their ad network.

Competition is good for everybody.

Poor turn of phrase. I meant that one site was given as the reason for the ban. No warning. Ban email not highlighting the policies that were specifically violated and only automated appeal rejections.

I am in the exact same boat as you.

I was first banned back in 2010 a few days before the payout date. After that I made numerous attempts at getting the account reopened, via their support forms. Then in the fall of 2013, it was reopened, after yet another support "ticket". I didn't start using it again immediately as I had to prepare my sites to at least partially go back to Adsense, after years of using other services. Guess what? A month after I was back on Adsense, the account was shut down again, without warning, and my money was gone.

I would not be surprised if yesterday's "leak" is indeed true.

Edit: I should add that I had been using Adsense since ~2006, when I was first banned. No big changes had been made to my website (one at the time), in the time before the ban. I never got an explanation other than the standard "illegal activity" message everyone seem to get.

All it takes is someone who has 5 minutes to lose to writes a shitty bash script that will curl your ads in an infinite loop. That may be the 'illegal activity' reported. As for the bans occuring a few day before payout, I'd be prone to think that the automated checks for such activity are not run in real time, but at a scheduled time close to a payout. That would explain why so much bans happens before payout (well, excluding malice from google)

I made a bit of money in the early 2000s by writing Flash games and putting Google ads around them. Google eventually banned me citing a "no flash games" policy in their T&C, which (if it existed) was very selectively enforced.

At the time I didn't fight it, just said "OK, I'll just switch providers, please close my account." Google did actually pay me the rest of the money in my account.

But, since then, I've been disallowed from using AdSense on any new sites, Flash games or not, and, weirdly, been banned from Google Code too, so if I want to use a project on there I have to log out first.

I've since stopped using Google services, even learned about postfix & dovecot so I could host my own email. Never looked back.

Shame about the lack of viable alternatives to AdSense, though. I did use AdBrite for a while, though their ads were sleazy sometimes. Now they're gone.

I was making $1-3k monthly. I logged in at the end of November (*edit: 2012) to see what my Xmas bonus was going to be. Turns out it would be a big, fat zero. Account suspended/canceled.

I submitted a claim and they said: sorry, no - you're done.

There was zero reason to do it. No ToS violations, no fraudulent clicks. Just $30k less in my bank account for the next year. The second most frustrating part, aside from the loss of revenue, is that they won't tell you why or what caused the cancellation.

Edit 2: RIP AdSense account, ~2006-2012

You didn't try switching to other ad networks?

I lost an entire Google account like this. Email, calendar, etc - poof, no explanation, no recourse.

I dont recal when in the cycle it was, but I've gotten temporarily banned a few times because of user-generated content that violates their rules. Each time they've given me an example and stated that there a might be others. I clean it up, check for others, submit an appeal, and get advertising turned back on within a week or two.

I never show ads on the pages with UGC, and I used to point out that I wasn't technically in violation of the rules in my appeals. They then changed the rules to support their behavior of banning a site for content anywhere on it even if not on the same pages as the ads. I've since stopped showing AdSense on sites with UGC and I haven't been baned since.

Edit: I didn't vote in the poll but I just checked my email history and these came in on 11/7/2011, 5/15/2012, 10/29/2012, and 6/19/2013

Payments are usually issued to me around the 23rd or 24th of the month. So one ban within 4 days and 3 bans that weren't. However it was the most recent one and the only one within the past year, so perhaps this is a new occurrence.

I'm in the same boat. What are you using for UGC sites instead of Adsense?

I tried out a few different networks, but they were all so spammy and/or low-paying that I just gave up. I think I have one or two amazon affiliate links and the rest don't have anything to generate revenue.

I run a network for community forums. My forums have been spammed a few times with objectionable content.

When this happens, usually I get warning from adsense asking me to remove the objectionable content with in 48 hours. Sometimes, they block adsense on my website and email me about it. I promptly removed the content and reverted back. Adsense was restored on my website after a few days.

This has been going on with my forums for many years. Mostly users spamming objectionable content, but sometimes I get slapped for having ads on login/404 ("contentless") pages and other rule violations.

I get disabled, Google lets me know, I fix the issue, appeal, and get Adsense restored. My forums have Adsense incomes that range from $100/mo to $1800/mo.

Google has been great so far. It does feel precarious to have all my eggs in the Adsense basket, but the payout from other ad networks is abysmal in comparison.

I find it hard to believe that a multibillion dollar company is plotting to steal hundreds of dollars from publishers.

Perhaps a more productive activity would be to post the reasons Google cited for ceasing the ad serving on your site and then explain what you changed.

Linking to your site would also be helpful.

In this way we can determine more reasonably whether they were right in suspending your account.

Surely it is not the number of accounts that were banned that is important but rather the reasons why they are banning them and the fairness of the review process.

Maybe they're not plotting, maybe they're just overlooking an overzealous ban-bot.

That seems to be their pattern, considering on YouTube they readily ban and remove NASA published content once other news stations or publishes like SONY share some of it.

I agree. I do think there is a problem with the system. But I don't believe it is a "plot" by Google specifically. I think it is more, like you say, overzealous algorithms that are resulting in the problems Adsense publishers are seeing. I do think there are some other areas of the algorithm that are just not working properly such as the PPC & CPM calculations.

I don't think Google is necessarily doing this on purpose, but I do think, as with most Google products, they don't utilize their resources properly to gather feedback from the publishers to identify exactly where the problems are and what is occurring in order to properly resolve them. Instead they see a fire internally and attempt to put it out which just pushes the problem to another area. Adwords, and in turn Adsense, are the bread and butter for Google earnings, and while I understand it is nearly impossible to handle every publisher issue they must receive, Google has a bad reputation when it comes to dealing with any problem at all. I do know that when your Adsense account reaches I believe $100 a week (not positive on the exact amount but that is what it was at one time) in earnings you do get direct email access to their support team, but even this is not enough in most cases.

It doesn't take long to do a quick Google search to see that these issues are not isolated to one or two users. It is a systematic problem that has been occurring for several years now. Some larger publishers have even identified specific IP addresses for click bots and reported them to Google, yet Google does nothing to ban these IP addresses causing more users to experience the problem.

You don't get billions of dollars by ignoring small change.

Sure ... mind the pennies, but don't risk your dollars to do so (aka penny wise and pound foolish). Ads are a trust business, and a lack of trust erodes their entire business away.

When you're banned they don't give you a reason. It's a template email which explains how they CAN'T give you a reason because then it would allows others to start gaming the system.

I've not confirmed this at all but interesting it's a lead topic here... http://pastebin.com/qh6Tta3h

Lengthy previous discussion on HN


Including Matt Cutts' response to the text in the pastebin:


Thanks for the links. I was uncertain the context for this HN post. Also, Matt's reply is really helpful.

Matt's reply (or denial) is useless to this conversation. I have a great deal of respect for Matt and his contributions to the SEO community but he's quite possibly the last person I would expect to confirm, or even give credence to a claim like this given his connection to Google.

Asking the ad department if they've been stealing money from thousands of publishers over the last several years? Of course they're going to deny, no matter the truth as confirming would essentially be an admission a very serious crime.

By this measure, the comment of every single person who says that they were cut off innocently is just as useless to this conversation. Are people going to admit that they thought they could click ads on their site endlessly through Tor proxies?

confirming would essentially be an admission a very serious crime.

Serious crime? It is actually a problem (there needs to be more competition in this space), but Google can tell any publisher to stuff it at any time. They don't need to have a reason. Now generally that doesn't make sense if they're making money on the relationship, but we know that in many cases they aren't -- that a lot of shady sites undermine the trust advertisers have in the platform.

That post reads like a complete fake, not least the absurd "don't be evil" nonsense. It reads like fan fiction, or rather hater fiction. Like someone got the ban hammer and is doing what they can to try to get some sort of amnesty.

A lot of people engage in click fraud. A lot of people completely break the advertising agreements (the ads that try to solicit accidental clicks, the apps and sites that implore you to click on ads to help support them, etc). These might seem fine in isolation -- Google makes lots of money and little guy just wants a bit of chump change -- but if it isn't controlled it seriously threatens the entire advertising model. One of the reasons Google has succeeded in a cutthroat industry is that they take measures to prevent and control this.

The people caught out will always claim innocence.

Google needs publishers. They aren't going to cut off their nose for a short-term gain. But for those scam sites and users, it is better to be rid of them.

Google needs publishers. They aren't going to cut off their nose for a short-term gain.

For the sake of argument, I'll take a contrary position (I agree that the post smells like it belongs on snopes.com).

They haven't faced a risk of losing publishers yet. There are plenty of them. IF publishers called BS on Google and quit playing Adsense with them, then they may be forced to take care of the publishers they have. But as it stands, they can very well get away with using publishers until it's time to pay up, then dismissing them without explanation.

I faced this kind of stuff from them as an advertiser. One of my apps throws a red flag every time I advertise it- then I have to wait for human intervention to review, and always without explanation of what I need to fix.

This went on for years- I modify an ad, the ad is banned until review. Every time the ad was allowed, after review, because I am not doing anything immoral.

I implored them to give me the benefit of the doubt, after all these years, and spot-check if they need to. Hell, my grocery story lets me check out my own groceries with only occasional 'audits.'

But not Google. Not even after years.

It's been an hour, and a very clear trend is emerging: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=bar+graph+13%2C+5%2C+10...

Is there any reason why 4x more people would be banned within four days of a payout than any other part of the cycle?

(This presupposes the poll results can be trusted, which seems dubious at best. But if this survey is trustworthy, then I wonder what it implies.)

It's a voluntary poll, hence not reliable. I would never trust an HN poll for something as significant as this. If the results were true it would be worrying, but we need much stronger evidence than this.

Hmm... possibly. It seems strange that this particular poll would attract so many trolls, though. Surely there are some troll results, but most of the results are showing that people are getting banned within 4 days of payout. As long as >75% of participants are honest voters, then it doesn't seem like the trolls could skew the results to the extent that we're seeing.

People who had their account banned in the last few days before payment may be more likely to feel victimized, and therefore more likely to answer a poll to express their grievance.

People who were banned are probably pissed off and chose 4days.

That's probably true, and in hindsight it's exactly why polls (and statistics in general) are so difficult. Thank you (and also robryk) for pointing that out!

It's why voluntary polls are meaningless. A true random poll would not have this bias.

There may be a selection bias too: people who were banned just before payout may be more likely to respond to the poll.

Outside of having actual proof of suspension, I'd view 80% of these as troll results. finding that users with suspended accounts in an hour is unlikely.

Going by http://ycombinator.com/newsnews.html HN was seeing 120k uniques as of 2011. This post has been up for an hour, and attracted 105 poll respondents. (120k / 24) is 5000 users, 105 respondents represents about 2% of that.

So either 2% of all HN readers have had their AdSense account banned, or the poll results are a bit noisy :)

(Obviously this is extremely rough math, but allowing for a huge error margin, 0.5% of HN readers would still seem too high, at least to me)

On saying that, AdSense is an enormous program

HN was seeing 120k uniques as of 2011. This post has been up for an hour, and attracted 105 poll respondents. (120k / 24) is 5000 users, 105 respondents represents about 2% of that.

Actually, HN has grown exponentially since 2011. You'll have to extrapolate this chart: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5253773

Also, the traffic fluctuates depending on which part of the day you measure. There are comparatively few people here during 3AM - 7AM in the US.

Thats true if the results are close, but when one of the options clearly trumps the rest, even assuming there is some fraud ,a disturbing pattern emerges.

IMO, even if it isn't true that Google has banned people for illegitimate reasons, it's entirely possible that when they do find a reason to ban you they sit on your account so they can take what you would have made and keep it along with their normal cut. It seems pretty iffy overall, but in their TOS for Adsense there is the line "If we terminate the Agreement due to your breach or due to invalid activity, we may withhold unpaid amounts or charge back your account."

I think it's also worth noting that it can be trivial to get an account banned if you just get a few people to keep clicking the same ads all day. So 'legitimate' bans could happen even when there was no foul play from the person showing the ads.

Yes, it seemed obvious to me that when I got banned, they run some kind of check on the account just before they pay it out. That much I believe is obvious.

Now, as to whether or not their check is valid - that's the real question.

I got banned because someone posted some insults/porn words in a title. There was no pictures/videos... it was just words.

They sent me the link where the words were and gave me something like 4 days (or was it more? It was a pretty scary amount of time anyway).

I went to that url and didn't find anything, so I sent them a mail asking for more info. Never had a reply. Got banned.

I discovered later that it was in the english version of my website and I didn't think about changing the language to check the content there.

Can't remember how much money I lost, wasn't a huge amount.

ps: I just got a domain banned, my other domain were still bringing me money without any problem.

Can you really get banned for "insults/porn words in a title" on your website? Could you provide the email they sent you? That sounds so strange.

Violation explanation


COMMENT SPAM: As stated in our program policies, AdSense publishers may not display Google ads on pages with adult or mature content. We understand that it may be challenging to monitor user-generated content on your site including comments, forum posts or compromised content. Nevertheless, to participate in AdSense you must ensure that pages containing your ad code comply with our program policies. More information about this policy can be found in our Help Center: http://support.google.com/adsense/bin/answer.py?answer=13556....

How to resolve:

If you received a notification in regard to page content, please either remove the content from your site or remove ads from the violating pages. If you received a notification in regards to the way ads are implemented on your site, please make the necessary changes to your implementation. We will automatically review the site again after 72 hours. You do not need to contact us if you make changes. Please be aware that if changes are not made within the required time frame, ad serving will be disabled to the affected website listed above.

Additionally, please be aware that the URL above is just an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of this website or other sites that you own.

The problem is that advertisers don't want their brands associated with that kind of content. In order to keep advertisers happy, Google needs to police for content wrt to ads. It's a different set of rules than things like search results or YouTube.

The thing is, it's not appropriate to tell a website to check its user generated content in 72 hours because some of it contains spam words. I had a huuuge amount of user generated content posted every day and I def. couldn't check all of that. If they provided all the bad links it might have been possible.

I had the same problem with another site and I was scared to get in more troubles since I had another one banned. So I just disabled google ads on it.

If you have lots of UGC, then AdSense is probably not for you. A lot of companies shy away from UGC specifically because it can risk advertising revenue from higher end brands that will pay more.

Fortunately, there are many different ad networks for many different publishers. Reddit is using Adzerk ... maybe they will work for you. There's also a bunch of ad networks that specialize in different areas, including porn, gambling, etc -- stuff that Google won't ever touch. You may still be able to use AdSense if you segment where the ad is shown in places where you're less likely to have negative UGC, such as non-UGC portions of your site or forum topics that are more moderated.

Funny considering one of the original kings of user generated content is Youtube, which is owned by Google, and presumably runs Google ads.

That's the best situation, since they know the content and can segment their content very effectively. YouTube Partners and VEVO can get premium pre-roll ads because it's considered to be premium content. Content that gets flagged or has negative keywords in the title, desc, or comments may get no ads at all.

Any publisher can do this on their own. They can sell their own ad space at a premium, and use an ad network throughout the rest of the site -- it's called "remnant" inventory. If someone writes profanity or uploads something for that page, them switch the ads off, or use a different ad network that will tolerate that. High traffic sites frequently use multiple ad networks to maximize revenue yield.

Honestly, this kind of automated banning with no appeals process is a huge problem. I don't usually opt for the government to step in - but giving Google the power to essentially take away hard-earned money with no recourse is reprehensible.

Banning an individual from a service without clear proof that they committed or colluded to do fraud or otherwise malicious behavior -should- be illegal. And when you ban that individual, you should be responsible to tell them why and be willing to defend yourself in court.

This would, I suspect, rather than cause a large amount of litigation, cause Google to reform from a banning mentality to a permissive one. There will be individuals who try to abuse it, the same way SEO does for Google Search, but Google could easily route around this issue if given a reason to do so.

I could say similar things about other services that employ automated banning/freezing that's way too aggressive with no recourse: Paypal is a good example. It's wrong, and needs to be fixed.

> Banning an individual from a service without clear proof that they committed or colluded to do fraud or otherwise malicious behavior -should- be illegal.

I disagree. It's Google's service, Google has a right to decide who gets to use the service. They are under no obligation to make their banning process transparent. It's not illegal to kick someone out of a store you own (unless you're systematically refusing to serve certain types of people), so the same should be true here.

Also, making the automated banning system transparent essentially teaches people how to circumvent the system. This is why games companies so jealously defend their anti-cheat systems, if word got out on how they worked they would be done for.

I do agree that it's unacceptable to withhold earned or paid money as a result of the ban. If you're an advertiser, you should get a refund, if you're a site/app administrator, you should be paid any non-fraudulent earnings up to the time of the ban.

Kicking people out of a store is a really poor analogy. AdSense is a business relationship (governed by contract terms) between two professionals, that may operate over the course of months or years or even decades. During this time one party offers services (displaying ads) in exchange for monetary compensation from the other party, under established rules.

Arbitrarily terminating an account immediately before the payout date - after services have already been rendered - without any recourse or information is not 'kicking someone out of a store you own', it's fraud. Plain and simple. Companies like Google and PayPal mistreat and defraud customers like this because they know they can get away with it - they're too huge and well-lawyered to ever get punished for breaking the law.

I was banned 4 days before payout, and not only was my $120,000 taken and "refunded to advertisers", but they retroactively debited my account for an additional $200,000 leaving me a negative balance that I had to pay off (basically show free ads) once they re-enabled me about a month later after many appeals. All told this cost me roughly half a million in their "refunds" and my month of not being online.

And the reasons for my ban could not have been flimsier. Since then it has even been admitted to me by adsense policy team members that it was basically a mistake, though not in those words, as they could never give me a concrete reason, so they blamed it on an older implantation of some of their code... An implementation that an adsense support rep had suggested I use just a few months prior.

That's enough money to sue over.

I had AdSense on my blog for a couple months, and then was banned just before I earned $100 and qualified for my first payout.

Now, when I see Google ads, I click on a couple just to mess up their statistics. I really should write a browser extension that does it automatically.

So, because you got banned you set yourself to make the problem worse... Well played... NOT!

I was banned a long time ago, it was just before my 2nd payout. My guess is they just do the verification of the account before the payout, rather then just randomly throughout the cycle.

Right. It may not be that it is done maliciously, It could be related to the time it takes to notice strange activity, and then act on it. It also makes good business sense to review before a payment. If there really was fraudulent activity it would be a bad idea to pay based on that.

One important issue that is also missing from this discussion is how Google refunds advertisers. I know I have heard from advertisers who got money back from click fraud.

I never used AdSense, yet my repeated attempts to do so over the years lead me to believe that I'm banned as well.

They don't say so explicitly, but for some reason the signup process always ends in an endless loop or in a "stand by for review" message. I can't for the life of me figure out what the problem is and messages to support have - of course - gone unanswered.

Same here ... gave up on Google years ago.

I got my Adsense banned, but I was lucky to get it appealed after a second try...I ranted on my blog post about how YouTube then started sending copyright content notifications on my videos which retroactively removed my finalized earnings (keyword: finalized), this was like 4 months AFTER my Adsense was reinstated. That happened within 4 days of the payout cycle.

[1] https://medium.com/p/6caf19d2c542

I think your history with Google (and other large corps) being what it is makes you less of a good example here. I wouldn't be surprised if you're on a Google internal watch list.

I'm one of the publishers whose account got nixxed (just a few months ago), and also within a few days of payment. It wasn't a big account; I only made maybe $100-200/month on it, but it was a nice bit of extra change. (I'd also had the account for a long time... since the early days of Adsense.)

I think the biggest frustration is having the account pulled with no explanation as to why. I assume it was click fraud, but it wasn't my doing - I generally just ignored the site. Was I clickbombed? Don't know. But it feels like Google punished me for something beyond my control.

One curious thing - I noticed in my analytics account that the site had gotten about 2x the usual traffic for the day before, so when I emailed my appeal I said maybe that had something to do with it. But a few days later (after the appeal was denied) I looked at analytics again and that traffic spike no longer existed. I wish I'd taken a screen shot the first time. (Or saved some server logs.) Didn't do either though, so oh well.

Still don't know what happened, but the experience definitely makes me bitter towards Google.

Someone seems to be systematically downvoting posts like this. Just wanted to let you know that I feel your pain - I had an entire Google account shut down without explanation or warning. Lost all access to email, calendar, contacts, etc with no recourse and only a form to fill out that is never answered.

I believe the account was banned for a ToS violation that occurred 2 years prior. But I'll never know, just like I never got any of my data back.

I don't understand how this poll could accurately reflect anything.

Other than it being anonymous and open to anyone, the given options are still wide open to interpretation: Waiting until an account accumulates funds does give them a more complete picture to make judgments about the validity of the accrued funds. Also doesn't Google refund advertisers? then what's the motive here?

Google refund advertisers? I find it hard to understand how this kind of refunding works full scale to make sure all the account freezes will distribute the spending back to the advertisers.

Admob - 28k+ in earnings for Android, I received every cent up until the day of suspension. The suspension was due to inappropriate content for their advertisements to be placed beside. I received every payment in due course, it wasn't as bad as I expected. The traffic & clicks were completely genuine and I believe this is why the earnings were honored

The problem isn't when you get banned, it is the fact that Google refuses to clearly communicate the reasons when there is real money at stake.

Google: "you delivered 30k worth of ads but I don't owe you anything because you broke the rules. I will not tell you which rules you broke or the URLs of the offending pages though, you will have to trust me"

I was banned about a third through the month. Cost me about $1,000 at the time if I recall correctly. Google was completely unreasonable. When I used their appeal form I was pretty sure the "no" response I received back was automated. I plead a very good case and received a boilerplate negative response very quickly.

They claimed I was gaming adsense for extra clicks, but I had actually gone significantly out of my way in order to follow all the adsense rules to the letter out of fear of being banned. I additionally told all friends and family who knew about my site to never click my ads even if they were interested in one (I told them just google the ad in a new tab).

I then found out that at the same time this happened to me, this happened to many other honest adsense users (being banned for what seemed to be no reason). I received my ban on Jul 10, 2012 for those who are curious (just looked it up in my email).

I'll just leave this right here: http://pastebin.com/qh6Tta3h

Two other people on this thread have previously linked this.

Lengthy previous discussion of it yesterday on HN


Including Matt Cutts' response to the text in the pastebin:


Yes, a few days from a $400 payout. I was 15 at the time. All attempts to get my account unbanned have been completely ignored.

Adsense has an age requirement. You have to be 18 or over to use it. From the terms of service:

By submitting an application to use the Services, if you are an individual, you represent that you are at least 18 years of age.

If you are 18 now I would try again. That they ignore requests from underage people is understandable, when their terms of service state that they are not allowed to join.

Did you not know this or did no one ever notify you of this? It seems that this phenomena does play a role in the online debate. People will say they've been banned and that they have no clue as to why, and that Google gave no reason or ignores their plight. Perhaps some of them did not read the terms of service too?

I see the same cognitive dissonance on SEO forums. People are most vocal when their site got hit with a manual penalty ("for no reason"). They'll ask why their SEO does not work as well, and then you see their sites and everything seems to violate a Webmaster Guideline.

It is not too nice to lose your payout days before you'll receive it. But it is also not too nice to steal money from Google and its advertisers with click fraud. I do not think that Google ONLY bans the fraudsters, never making any mistakes. But I also find it hard to believe that more than 50% of banned users are innocent. This tactic of killing accounts days before payout is to discourage the fraudsters and TOS-breakers, and I still think that is the majority of bans.

Interesting. I actually didn't know this. Even so, I have since attempted to appeal a few years ago (I am 23 now) and was ignored again.

As for the reason why I was banned, I'm confident that one of my competitors was clicking my ads intentionally to get me banned.

Mine was banned a month ago with around $300 in the account, I haven't tried to get it back due to how difficult they make it to understand why you were banned - how am I supposed to fix what they don't tell me is broken? Such a shame there aren't really any other good ad CPM providers for small or medium sites.

I had a personal website with AdSense ads. I was banned JUST BEFORE the payment (120 euro), which was money I took 1 whole year to pile up.

A shame, but something I should have anticipated.

The thought of getting banned is one of my worst fears. The other fear is a change in algorithms that severely affects search engine referring traffic. It's a weird feeling to be able and have your business destroyed overnight due to circumstances completely out of your control and without any recourse.

tl;dr: For what Google giveth, it may taketh away.

As someone who formerly worked for a company who built Facebook apps...this is precisely how we felt.

I recently had my account disabled over a policy issue. The thing regarding that policy was I had written permission and verbal permission in person to go ahead with my web properties directly from multiple google representatives. I was encouraged and every step of the way and even given ideas that I implemented directly from adsense reps themselves.

It seems unfair especially in my case when they give you the go ahead and you end up investing alot of time and effort only to have one person not like your site and completely disregard all the work you have put in. When the reason for disabling your account is exactly the same reason they encouraged you to create your site in the first place it makes it all that much more frustrating.

My sites were not small either, they had heavy daily usage and brought over 800k in overall advertising revenue in the last 2 and a half years.

I think you are better off going with affiliate-based advertising. The payouts are larger and there is no click fraud issue as you are paid for conversions. Shareasale.com or BuySellAds.com are two of the more popular ones.

I was banned inexplicably from Adsense after several years. Really frustrating, particularly as it was two days before payday and they seized my earnings. Appeals were fruitless (and obviously it's difficult to appeal when you have no idea what they think you've done wrong). If Google continue down this flawed path and blocks publishers that haven't done anything wrong, they'll make a bad name for themselves. Hopefully unable to sit on their laurels for too much longer.

I used AdSense on my Facebook App inside iFrames (which was the only way to do it back then in (2009->2010) I made around $2k to $4k monthly, got banned a couple of weeks before the payout cycle, I contacted them and filed two appeals, both were rejected and no reason was given besides that I wasn't complying with the rules, that was back in 2010'ish as I recall, right after Facebook forced the approved list of advertisers (Adsense wasn't in the list)

For those being banned without explanation, can there not be any sort of legal action taken? IANAL, and I've not gone over their ToS with a fine toothed comb, but I can't believe they can essentially eliminate a primary source of income (for some people/businesses) without an explanation, especially when no ToS violation is known.

Wouldn't this almost be equivalent to being terminated from a job without reason (and isn't that also subject to legal action)?

Re: terminating a job, in many states employment can be legally terminated without reason (both by the employer and the employee).

See "at will employment".

Even in cases where you are terminated for no reason, you have recourse for things like unemployment benefits if no valid reason can be provided in court.

If I have a paper company, and you're my only customer, should it be illegal for you to drop me as a supplier? I don't think it should.

I don't believe AdSense actually has contracts with any of their publishers but even that wouldn't make it illegal, just easier for the publisher to win a lawsuit.

You can sue for any reason including this but it's expensive and unlikely to succeed because Google can pretty much out-lawyer anyone. The case would probably get thrown out immediately.

I was banned in May 2011. I was banned within 4 days of payout which caused me to lose two full months of pay. I was making about $1300 per month from Adsense at the time so it was about a $2600 loss for me and epic amounts of lost time because I updated those adsense sites almost daily with fresh content. Very painful. I was really depending on that money at the time. It hurt.

I'm interested in these refunds to advertisers. I've never received a refund, but if accounts are being banned constantly, some with tens of thousands of dollars, then it should have been noticed, especially since most of the time I hit my daily spend, then move onto the next day, you cannot just make that up 2 months later. Retroactive activities must take place.

I was using AdSense for a few years on my websites. My account was banned out of the blue and without warning in 2012. I had over $6000 waiting to be payed. They took that away. It was within the week the payment was supposed to happen.

So I believe it. I know other webmasters that had the exact same thing happen to them too.

This is not some outlandish freak occurrence it happens all the time.

Are there any good alternatives to AdSense?

We were running a blog that added AdSense around February 2012. We had received one payout. On the second payout, it was the DAY we were supposed to get paid when they said our account had been flagged. Didn't see a cent. Funny to see this article come out that April 2012 was when they stopped paying out.

Does it matter much what the Adsense is on? I've had a couple of blogspot blogs that I've built up to around $50 on average per month. I've had them for years and never been banned, although it took me over a year to get my first $100 payout.

I use admob. I was banned inexplicably after I made about 20$ for "click fraud." They never responded to my emails. I stopped development on that app after that - it wasn't just that, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I used Adsense for a blog i made and then got banned before a payout as well. However, I was clicking my own ads unaware that it can get your account banned. It's been a few years not and they still haven't reenabled my account.

I got paid by adsense every month. It has been a few years. No problems at all.

My account was suspended years ago with around $300 in my account. No clear reason for the ban was given and even though I gave them the logs the ban was never lifted. Needless to say that I closed my website.

happened to a mate of mine several years ago. he was within week of a payout and they banned him. could only get auto responses. they accused him of clicking his own links. he was really gutted at the time.

this was his site. i see he no longer has ads. http://www.iojoe.com/

What are the best alternatives to Google? I hope they're not using the same kind of tactics as Google.

At least I'm never ever going to use AdSense again.

I was banned too. No explanation given. I didn't do anything sketchy and I have no idea why they banned me. I appealed and lost.

Never found out why. Was told if I could explain myself they'd reconsider, but I didn't know what to explain.

That was more than ten years ago.

I am wondering about this:

Why not paying out expected clicks according to a forecast based on click data prior to the alleged fraud?

That should be a fair compromise IMO

A few days before they were just to pay me.

This was back in 2008, we were banned from adsense and lost $120k (1.5 months of revenue).

Here is a bar chart for this poll result using HNChart - an app I built to visualize Hacker News Polls: http://hnlike.com/hncharts/chart/?id=7672910

So what's a good alternative to AdSense?

Yes. That is what prompted this discussion.

Is it possible/against policy to create multiple AdSense accounts for a single website?

Banned numerous times. Most of them near the end of the cycle or right after payment confirmed (but before it was sent). All under separate legal entities (name, company tax id, etc).

Had one account that used to do 15k a month which never got banned. Lucky me! Made about 150k before that site was sold.

Had an account that was rapidly growing and was doing near $1k per day when it got banned. Site started exploding and within 2 weeks we had gone from $40 a day to $700+. Cycle ended and was banned.

I never violated the TOS on any of my accounts. Never bought traffic or clicked my own ads. If you have half a brain you'd realize its pointless unless you're trying to make a few dollars per day if you're gonna click them yourself.

I got banned too, lost $100, and would like to see google go to hell just for that.

Never fuck up with my money.

ruh roh

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