You can still see how this works on any Politaire game (for example FreeCell). The ad will initially show up on the right or bottom of the screen. After ten seconds you get a close box with which you can dismiss the ad. If you resize the window while the ad bar is still up, you'll see that the ad bar moves around and changes size, but that there is delay so that new ads don't load until after you have stopped resizing the window. (I didn't want to generate a lot of false ad loads while people were resizing.)
Implementing this was a bit tricky. The pages are completely dynamically generated, but Google's rules don't allow you to dynamically generate your own calls to their ads. You have to use them exactly as cut-pasted from their website. So I had four different static documents, one for each ad size/placement. These were loaded into FRAMEs that were dynamically created with the correct size and position. Google bans using IFRAMEs, but not FRAMEs, so this seemed legal to me.
Beyond just strictly following the rules, I think I was more than satisfying the spirit of the rules. I think I created a site that gave advertisers a far better exposure than most more traditional pages would, for the following reasons:
Because the integration of ads with Politaire was a complex task, I did it early. Ads started appearing, and they seemed to be appropriately relevant to the expected user base for Politaire, mostly gaming related things. So it appeared that. in spite of my frames and the fact that the pages the ads appeared on contained very little text, Google was able to sense the content of my website effectively. Pretty clever of them, really. I never clicked on any of the ads, that being against Google's rules, but I presume they opened in a new window and not in the frame or something gaddawful like that. That seems like too much of a noob mistake for Google to make.
I pointed the website out to some of my friends and to the users of another of my game websites (Web Paint by Number). I posted links on my web page and on FaceBook. In time it became possible to find Politaire.com via search engines, if you didn't mind looking a a ways down the search results. I started to get a very small number of users, some of whom gave me useful feed back and bug reports, some of whom I had no contact with. I continued to work on improving the site in my spare time. Google AdSense's reports started showing some money being earned, rising up slowly to the neighborhood of twenty dollars. Still not enough to induce Google to pay out any money, but more than the previous site had ever made. I didn't plan any big advertising campaigns. I just hoped that if I kept improving Politaire it would gradually build up a following. It's worked for me before.
It should be noted that her recipe website and Politaire are hosted on the same Pair.com server, which also hosts the pages for our his-and-her web development businesses, Unixpapa.com and Unixmama.com, and several other low traffic domain names for other projects.
Then, a couple days later, I tried to log into my AdSense account and found that it was disabled. The message said that an email had been sent to me, and digging through my spam bin I found it. My account had actually been disabled a couple days before my partner's account was disabled. I just hadn't noticed.
Here's the email:
So the first problem is obvious. They won't tell me what I did wrong. I'm required to guess and defend myself based on my guess. Under these rules it is much easier for the guilty to defend themselves than the innocent, because the guilty are more likely to know what they did wrong.From: email@example.com To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Google AdSense Account Disabled Date: 05/10/2013 11:19:25 AM Hello, With our advertising programs, we strive to create an online ecosystem that benefits publishers, advertisers and users. For this reason, we sometimes have to take action against accounts that demonstrate behavior toward users or advertisers that may negatively impact how the ecosystem is perceived. In your case, we have detected invalid activity on your site and your account has been disabled. We're limited in the amount of information we can provide about your specific violation. We understand this can be frustrating for you, but we've taken these precautionary measures because intentional violators can use this information to circumvent our detection systems. In some cases, publishers can make significant changes to correct the violation and are willing to comply with the AdSense program policies (google.com/adsense/policies). For this reason, we offer an appeals process as an opportunity to work with you to resolve the issue. To help you with the process, we've created a list of the top reasons for account closure for you to review before submission at http://support.google.com/adsense/bin/answer.py?answer=2660562. Please be sure to provide a thorough analysis in your appeal, which you can submit at https://support.google.com/adsense/bin/request.py?contact_type=appeal_form and we will follow up accordingly. Thanks for your understanding, The Google AdSense Team
The second problem is less obvious, and, in fact, I didn't know about it until after I sent in my appeal, which, in retrospect, I did way too hastily. The bit about "working with you to resolve the issue" is a lie. You can submit an appeal. They will read the appeal and reply with a form letter that basically says "yes" or "no". After that, to the best of my understanding, there is no chance for a second appeal. The decision is final.
The third problem is also not so obvious. I've read that not only is your current AdSense account disabled, but any future ones you might take out will also be quickly disabled, even if they are for a different website and under a different name.
Furthermore, the AdSense accounts of relatives and other associates may also be disabled if your account is disabled. It's possible that my partner's AdSense account was disabled because they thought she was me or was colluding with me or something. That certainly makes more sense than disabling her account because there was something wrong with the non-existent traffic on her website, which was what the email they sent her suggested (she got exactly the same message that I did). But since neither of us knew yet that my account had been disabled, she didn't address that in her appeal, and her appeal was denied. And that was the only appeal she'll ever get.
Of course, there isn't any possible way for me to prove I didn't.
My logs don't show anything like that, but then, they wouldn't necessarily. Typically a site's log files would show when the ad frames are loaded from a site, but they don't show when people click on the ads. Those clicks go straight to Google. They don't register in my log. There is no reason why some person or bot couldn't load my ad frame once, cache it, and click on it a million times. I'd only see the one load. Only Google would see the million clicks. If my AdSense account still worked, I'd probably be able to see this in the reports generated there, but my access to those reports went away when my account was disabled, so basically, I've got nothing.
Nevertheless, I don't think this was the problem in my case.
I certainly didn't do that. But again, if there was something that looked like that to Google, it would be impossible for me to tell from my logs.
I didn't do either. But there are some oddities on how ads appear on my pages, as I discussed in the first section.
As I mentioned, the website was new and I had promoted it mostly to friends and users of another free game website I'd built. When I mentioned it on my Web Paint by Number site, this conversation occurred in the forum there, user names having been redacted:
#21: Jan Wolter (jan) on Aug 27, 2012 I'm working on a new version, which will have it's own domain name, even more games, google ads, and, hopefully, fewer bugs. The ads will be readily dismissable, but I want to see if I can actually earn some money from all this free software I keep writing. #22: USER-A on Aug 27, 2012 great idea Jan.... i wish you luck :) #23: USER-B on Aug 27, 2012 i'll even click through the ads for you! #24: Jan Wolter (jan) on Aug 29, 2012 Don't overdo it. Weird behavior patterns will get me on Google's black list. They really don't like being scammed. It's actually against their rules for me to encourage people to click on the ads on my pages. #25: USER-B on Aug 29, 2012 nothing weird, i promise. #26: USER-C on Aug 29, 2012 Also, most ads are paid per view, and per purchase. Click-throughs don't count for much anymore unless you buy something on the site. #27: USER-A on Aug 29, 2012 I'll honor your request, JanSo possibly I didn't stomp down on that idea quite hard enough. Or possibly some misguided person was clicking on ads as a favor to me without ever seeing this discussion. It's an intrinsic hazard with having users who like you. But nobody has confessed to clicking excessively on ads, and there is, as previously mentioned no way to tell from my log files.
If your screen size is just exactly right, it's possible that the close button that dismisses the ad might appear right next to the ad. The close button is pretty big, but on something like a touch screen it might be possible to fat finger the the ad instead of the close button. I don't think this is very likely to be a large problem, but it's possible. I didn't think of this possibility until after I'd sent in my appeal though.
So this list of possible reasons for being shut down didn't really help me much.
I had never actually looked at Politaire's web logs before this occurred. After all, it was still under development and I wasn't that concerned with how much usage it was getting at that stage. But after this happened I did check my logs.
The first thing that was obvious about my web logs was that they weren't very useful. Not only are clicks on ads not registered there, but neither are ad views. That's because politaire.com uses a technology called AppCache that encourages browsers to cache resources. That means once the browser has downloaded my ad frames, it will use them many times without checking back with my web server, so I can't tell how often they were viewed. I can tell how often the manifest file was checked, but that's not really the same thing. So I only really had incomplete data to look at.
Based on that incomplete data though, traffic on the site was unquestionably odd. There wasn't much usage yet, but about 2/3 of it seemed to be coming from a single user. Someone with an iPad, possibly in Ohio. I have no idea who. Well, cool. After all, I was trying to build an addictive, enjoyable game site, and it looked like I'd already addicted someone.
But I can see where that might look odd to Google. There isn't really much I could do to change that, except keep improving the site till more users show up.
After I wrote the appeal, it occurred to me that something else could have been happening. Some solitaire games are hard to win. A player might deal a hand, inspect it, decide it was too hard, and reload to get a new deal. So we'd have the same user loading the same page over and over again in rapid sequence. That could look weird to Google. Of course, I won't be able to see that in my log files because of the caching.
Except I don't really think many users would do that. There is a "New Game" button on the screen that deals a new hand much faster than a reloading does, and that would not load a new ad. So, though it's possible that that was the problem, it seems unlikely.
Still, there are probably a lot of odd traffic patterns on a website that is a game rather than a traditional website. Since all 350+ games on Politaire are served from the same web page, I undoubtedly have lots of users visiting that one page over and over again, for hours at a time. That's just not normal for typical web pages, and it might look weird to a dumb statistical analysis program.
And if your usage is low, so that the odd behavior of one user could substantially skew things, that too could result in odd traffic patterns.
In the end, I really have no idea what I did wrong. My appeal was rejected and I'm banned from the Google AdSense program forever, and my relatives and associates are too, and I still don't know why and probably never will.
I hope the ban doesn't extend to my clients, because that might prevent me from ever being employed as a developer by any website supported by Google ads. I don't think it does, but Google's process is not exactly what you'd call transparent, so I don't know. Just posting this message could be costing me future customers based on that uncertainty alone.
If this were a real court of law, it would be the worst kangaroo court imaginable. The average tin pot dictatorship does infinitely better. But it's not, of course. It's just some company, looking out for its stockholders (come to think of it, I'm one) and we should be glad for what little justice we are offered.
A pretty good argument against privatizing public services though, isn't it?
So Google is probably not being evil. They have simply been driven insane by the absurdity of their business model. Paying people for clicks is nuts, and leads down a path of endlessly increasing nuttiness. Rules like the one about putting ads on my site for people to click on, but not encouraging them to click on them, are already fundamentally schizophrenic. The idiocy of their procedures for disabling accounts is simply the logical consequence of the business they are in.
Anyway, I was stuck with a website designed for ads and with no ads to put on it. There are other ad providers, but I can't believe they are any less crazy than Google, and even if they weren't it probably wouldn't be wise to put their ads on my site until I've built up some traffic.
So instead I've started putting a mixture of Amazon ads and my own ads up on my site. Amazon ads are fundamentally different from Google ads because they pay based on purchases, not clicks. The possibility of fraud is much, much less, (though not non-existant) and Amazon should therefor be much less likely to go completely wacky.
But I really don't have much expectation of earning much money through Amazon ads, certainly not enough to repay me for the work I've put into Politaire. So my plan is mostly just to advertise things I like. After all, as long as I'm not making any money, I might as well have fun doing it. And I never really like seeing other people's stupid ads on my carefully designed websites anyway.
If you have a charity or something else cool that you'd like to have advertised on Politaire.com, a website which admittedly doesn't have a lot of traffic at the moment, feel free to send me an email. If I like it, maybe I'll put it up.