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Google being evil with usability of Google Adwords and the Display Network

Posted by john on September 12th, 2012

Oh Google. When did you become so evil? I would like to report on my usability experience with the Google Adwords and their Display Network. It’s my view that Google have decreased the usability of Adwords to make it harder for Advertisers to “turn off” advertising on the Display Network.

The Google Display Network allows Google Adwords advertisers to place their ads on other peoples websites. Where the advertisement is clicked, Google and the other “partner” website share the advertising revenue. If you want to be a “partner” website then you simply need to sign up to Google Adsense and create a space on your website or mobile app for Google ads to run. Obviously this creates an enormous incentive for website/app owners running Display Network ads to click on the ads running on their own website. Google claim to have a system in place to monitor false clicks.

I’ve always had my suspicions on the Display Network (previously the Content Network) after I ran a small campaign and 99% of the spend went on the Display Network with no resulting conversions. I now always keep it turned off. Previously keeping it turned off was relatively simple. Inside an Adwords account, under “Campaign Settings” you could choose the Search Network and/or the Display Network using a simply tickbox system. You could also choose the devices you ran campaigns. I’d love to show you a graphic of this, but of course it’s now disappeared.

Google have recently changed the Adwords interface and made it harder to turn off the Display Network and choose which devices to advertise on. The default for any new Google Adwords advertiser is that ads will run on both the Google Search Network and the Display Network. For good measure, the default also runs ads on all devices (desktop, laptops, tablets and phones).  As you can see in the image below, under “Networks” there are are two lovely big green ticks that indicate you are advertising on both the Search and Display Network. Previously you could turn off the Display Network advertising at this point:

If you do want to turn off the Display Network, then you need to go to “Search and Display Network”. The option to turn off the Display Network then exists under a grey and somewhat nondescript dropdown box which has a different usability feeling to the rest of the site.

To me this a clear example of Google reducing the usability of Adwords in order to confuse and trap unsuspecting advertisers on the Display Network. The logical place to be able to choose the which network to advertise on is under the “Network” tab. Instead it is tucked away under the “General” tab and presented in a way that doesn’t make it obvious. By also taking the choice of which devices to advertise on into another tab, it gets even trickier for an unsuspecting Advertiser who may end up running a campaign on mobile phones without a website that is even mobile ready.

I believe the result is a large number of Advertisers inadvertantly advertising on the Display Network , on mobile devices which have Apps specifically designed to display Google ads. How many times have you inadvertently pressed a link to an ad in a Mobile App that popped up out of nowhere, or was too close to something you did want to press? Very sneaky Google.

When I contacted Google through their contact form to complain, the very nice lady called me and advised that Google had made these “improvements” as she described them and that she would also pass on my comments about the decrease in usability. She also offered me a $150 credit on my account which she quite quickly increased to $200 when I continued to press the point. That was kind of Google, but overall it is poor form and I’m afraid I’ve lost my love for Google after watching them pull off this nasty little heist.

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