Throwing axes, military knives, paintball guns, gun scopes. These items have are among the banned products listed in Google AdWord’s Policy Center, a list that in the past has had spotty enforcement at best. Last month, I looked at examples of supposedly banned dangerous products showing up in ads. Below is a look at how things have changed since Google AdWords’ new Policy Center went live last week.
Most of the policy center changes were minor, but several new product categories (including paintball guns and gun scopes) were added to the list of banned items in the dangerous weapons section and descriptions changed for categories that were already included (such as dangerous knives).
It used to be easy to find ads for on search results for queries like switchblades, military knives, assisted opening knives and other items explicitly listed among the list of banned weapons on Google.
Still, there were multiple stories of advertisers wondering why their ads were disapproved when other sites like Cabela’s, Walmart and Amazon got a pass. And, it wasn’t always the big sites that were able to get their ads approved. Policy enforcement seemed haphazard at best, deliberately unfair at worst.
Below is what the dangerous knives policy says now. (You can see the old and new versions side-by-side in previous coverage here.)
Surprisingly, yes, results have changed pretty substantially from what they were on a wide set of head terms. That said, there are still glaring exceptions of what one would think would be banned products showing up in ads.
Items like gun scopes and paintball guns are new additions to the banned items list. There used to be a plethora of ads for those types of products showing up earlier this month.
Here’s a look at a search result for “gun scopes” in early September. Both text ads and Google Shopping product listing ads appeared at the time.
Today, no ads are showing at all for “gun scopes”.
Similarly, there are no longer ads displaying on search results for “paintball guns”.
So how about the knife products that should have been banned already, but ads continued to get through? Here’s what the SERP for “military knife” looks like today:
Search results for “assisted opening knife” are also now ad-free. Same for “ammo belts” — no ads show where a series of Google Shopping product listing ads once appeared.
While there are cut-and-dry examples like those above, on other searches things get fuzzy. Google leaves product intention up for interpretation. Is an axe a dangerous weapon, or handy tool for chopping wood? Is a tactical folding knife an ideal weapon for close combat, or great to have on your next fishing trip?
Is a throwing axe dangerous per the AdWords Policy Center? Yes. How about a tomahawk axe? Apparently not.
Throwing axes are listed among the examples of products not allowed under the dangerous knives section of the AdWords policy center. A search for “throwing axes” shows no ads, but go to Google for a “tomahawk axe” and you’ll find several options presented in Google Shopping ads.
Another example of this gray area: no ads show on a search for “tactical knives”, but search on a variation and you’ll find ads on results pages for “tactical folding knives” and “tactical fixed knives”.
On some queries — “tactical fighting knives” and “combat knives” for example — the ads don’t necessarily match the query. For example, the first ad below is for a Law enforcement carbon tactical glove, not a “tactical fighting knife”.
There are two ads for a tactical knife called the 5.11 Tactical C.U.B. Master 2.0 in the result above. A tactical knife, right? One that I would assume wouldn’t be allowed since its manufacturer describes it as “designed to provide fast and effective defense in any operational environment”. I searched for that product specifically on Google and found that the product gets a knowledge panel-style ad treatment with Google Shopping listings.
I searched for another knife that shows up in ads on a search for “tactical fighting knives” and found the same thing.
No, I don’t envy Google in trying to decipher what constitutes a dangerous weapon, but they put themselves in this position by creating ambiguous definitions. There is undoubtedly improvement across many queries, but the seemingly haphazard interpretations and applications of the policies can wreak havoc for advertisers.
I asked Steve Musumeche, CIO at Internet Retail Connection, if they did any preparation for the change and if they’ve seen an impact. He says Google was helpful in working with them to ensure their Knife Depot site would be compliant with the new policies.
“Since we had advance notice of the policy changes, we were able to get a representative from Google to review our site to make sure that were were going to be in compliance,” said Musumeche, adding, “The main thing we learned is that the policies are being applied at the LANDING PAGE level, and not the site level. So, we adjusted all of our landing pages so that they do not display any of the prohibited items.”
Musumeche told me that their text ad performance saw little change because of the prep work they did. However they’ve run into problems with products getting disapproved in Google Merchant Center. Looking at the screenshots above and the abundance of PLAs, you can gather the importance of Google Shopping ads for advertisers in this sector. Musumeche says they are working with Google to try to remedy the problems. “Our Product Listing Ads drive significant traffic and revenue, so this one hurts.”
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