While discussing the type of sites Google does not like some people may think of the (allegedly) leaked quality rating guidelines that (allegedly) came from the search engine. However, Google does publicly discuss the type of site it dislikes.

There is a document in circulation in the search industry which people claim to be a copy of Google’s 2007 guidelines to their quality testers. Google does use humans to rate the quality of the search results. Google argue they do not use humans to change the search results.

In this document, if it is real, Google encourages its quality testers to mark sites as “Spam”, “Maybe Spam” and “Not Spam”

The search engine includes “thin affiliates” as a type of spam site. Thin affiliates are defined as affiliates which simply link through to the merchant site without offering any extra value.

Luckily for some of the largest brands on the web price comparison is considered a service of value (as are product reviews, recipes and lyrics).

Interestingly, price comparison sites do not do so well with Google’s PPC quality beliefs.

Google openly publishes guidelines on landing page quality score issues. Quality score is that factor, when combined with CPC, which helps determine how much prominence the search engine will give the paid search ad.

In these guidelines Google says three types of sites will always be penalised. In fact, should Google receive complaints about such sites, their ads will be banned.

The unlucky three categories?

  • Data collection sites – those who offer freebies, competition entries, etc, in return for the collection of private information.
  • Arbitrage sites – those which simply show ads back to the visitor
  • Malware sites – those who knowingly or unknowingly install software on the visitor's computer

In addition to these three unfortunate categories there are five types of sites that Google suggests are advertised ‘with caution’. Google suggests these types of sites will sometimes suffer from low landing page quality scores and may be difficult to advertise affordably.

What are these five ‘advertise with caution’ types of sites?

  • eBook sites
  • ‘Get rich quick’ sites
  • Comparison shopping sites
  • Travel aggregators
  • Affiliates

Wow. Some sweeping gestures in that list!

Just a few months ago eBooks may have been the preserve of multi-level marketing schemes but with the growth of Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eBook Reader it is easy to imagine that eBooks will become more mainstream. Will Google continue to harbour doubts about eBooks?

The caution around ‘get rich quick’ sites is understandable. The worst of such sites would likely fall into the ‘data collection site’ bracket anyway and face tougher quality score challenges and the threat of a permanent ban from Google’s AdWords.

Many people will be surprised to discover Google has doubts over comparison shopping sites and travel aggregators. Some of Google’s largest spenders could be classified as one or the other. There’s no explicit mention of personal finance comparison sites but these do fall into the comparison shopping site category.

Finally, affiliates will not be surprised to see that Google suggests they advertise with caution. This is perhaps the worst example of tarring too many people with the same brush that appears in any of Google’s guidelines. The truth is there are very many different types of affiliates.

Is a pizza, car rental or hotel franchise an affiliate? Will a brand using affiliate technology to run a CPA PPC model with an agency be counted as an affiliate? Is a webmaster driving traffic to a content portal that features CPA banner ads an affiliate?

Experience answers these questions. There are certainly techniques to run very successful retail, travel or finance comparison / aggregation PPC campaigns on Google.

The lesson here is that all of us – experienced or not – need to keep a close eye on the list of website categories Google is cautious about advertising. If you are unfortunate enough to run a site that falls into one of these categories then you may just have to work that much harder.

Andrew Girdwood

Published 3 April, 2009 by Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood is Head of Media Technologies at Signal and a guest blogger for Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter here.

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Comments (3)


Simon Wilkes

There are essentially just two types of website that Google wants to punish.

Type 1: Websites that are bad for the user.

This type includes spam, scam and dodgy eBook sites.

Type 2: Websites that are bad for Google.

This type includes affiliate and comparison sites.

It’s type 2 websites that Google is most concerned about because they’re the ones taking food out of Google’s mouth. All those employees and servers don’t work for free.

So if you have a website that is in some way intermediated between Google and a merchant you’re going to have a problem. If not now, at some point in the future.

The only way to protect yourself is to provide something that Google can’t or chooses not to.

Most comparison shopping sites and travel aggregators are just a special type of search engine and Google does search quite well. For them it's a big problem.

over 9 years ago



I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



over 9 years ago

Andrew Girdwood

Andrew Girdwood, Head of Media Technology at Signal

Hi Veiko,

I'm not trying to claim the knowledge that Google uses human quality testers isn't widely known - after all I can think of a number of search agencies who have/do work with ex-Google quality testers on their staff.

I suspect also Google is wise enough only to use native language speakers to grade the results.

That said, I think you point of how easy it is for Google to catch and dimiss spammy sites is very valid. A reason not to do it!

over 9 years ago

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