It’s Not About What You Say, It’s How You Say It.

Learning. It’s an organic thing that comes in swings and roundabouts. Like being back at uni, you find nuggets that are absolutely useless and others that rival the value of a gold bar. When you’re in the throes of building, or re-building your brand, the value of updating things like Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is so high, because it’s an immediate face-value introduction between you and the customer.

Before you dive headfirst into SEM and refreshing your brand with new, relevant keywords, take the time to understand Google’s ad policies. Why, you ask? Because one wrong step will result in Google blocking your content and this will drastically reduce your online visibility. Just like the debacle where Café Moto shut their doors due to the closure of Carrum’s train station, if people can’t access your business the impact can be devastating.

It can’t be that bad, surely? When you violate Google’s policies, the retaliation can be one of four reactions:

  1. Ad or extension disapproval
  2. Account suspension if you have several violations or one serious violation
  3. Remarketing list disabling
  4. Compliance review with the Customer Match policy

Google’s policies are extensive – naturally – and range from gambling, healthcare and adult content. First off though, let’s look at what is deemed inappropriate, so you can actively avoid it.

Inappropriate Content

In the words of Google, “We value diversity and respect for others, and we strive to avoid offending users, so we don’t allow ads or destinations that display shocking content or promote hatred, intolerance, discrimination or violence.”

In other words, inappropriate content examples include:

  • Dangerous or derogatory content (promotion of hate speech, discrimination, harassment, self-harm, blackmail and extortion)
  • Shocking content (promotion of graphic or gruesome imagery, obscene language, suggestion you may be in danger)
  • Capitalising on and lacking sensitivity toward tragic events
  • Animal cruelty


Adult Content

If you were to look at adult content, Google first advise that “Ads should respect user preferences and comply with legal regulations, so we don’t allow certain kinds of adult content in ads and destination.”

So, you want to ensure you avoid text, imagery, audio or video of sexually explicit content, promotion of mail-order brides or the exploitation of minors, as well as adult themes in family content. So, the rules are pretty clear. Don’t be obscene, talk about sex, masturbation, oral sex etc. You do though have wriggle room around topics including strip clubs, sex toys, lubricants, aphrodisiacs, plastic surgery and sexually suggestive poses.

Remember too that each country has its own overarching set of rules. What’s acceptable down under (forgive the pun) may not be acceptable in Algeria, India or the UAE. If you’re seeking to expand internationally, be sure to reference the country-specific requirements.


What about something more “normal”, especially for Australian’s, like alcohol? Google “abide by local alcohol laws and industry standards” so they don’t allow certain kinds of alcohol-related advertising. The advertising of online sales, brand and informational content for alcohol is allowed, however it is heavily guarded by the countries you hope to show It in.

So basically, when it comes to alcohol, you have a greater level of liberty in what you can create, compared to adult content. Keywords are not heavily restricted, so you’re free to get creative, assuming that alcohol advertising is permitted in your country.

Gambling and Gaming

This theme continues when it comes to gambling and gaming. In the words of Google, “Gambling-related ads are allowed if they comply with the policies below and the advertiser has received the proper Google Ads certification.” So, under certain conditions Google will allow the promotion of offline gambling (brick and mortar casinos), advertise online gambling (once your certified), internet games where money or prizes are won, and social casino games (excluding offers of winning real money).

As long as you’re certified with Google to advertise gambling, adhere to your countries gambling restrictions and you avoid content that promotes “real money gambling” destinations, you can continue on your merry way!

Healthcare and Medicines

When it comes to healthcare and medicines though, the rules ‘down under’ might surprise you. Google “appropriate laws and industry standards” and the advertisement of prescription drugs is only allowed in Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Note how Australia is not included in this list? Can you a recall a moment when you’ve been browsing online and seen these sorts of ads? Surprising, don’t you think?

Over the counter medicines though are more widely allowed in nations including Australia, however all pharmaceutical manufacturers must be certified by Google before serving ads, just like gambling and gaming brands.

Google also restrict the use of drug terms in ad text, landing pages and keywords, which means that if you’re outside of Canada, New Zealand and the USA you cannot use prescription drug terms or you risk your ads being blocked.

There are also strict and specific restrictions on topics such as experimental medical treatments, HIV home testing, abortion, birth control and addiction services. Like alcohol, many of Google’s rules stem from which countries allow the advertisement of these topics, however interestingly enough, Google “only allows ads for addiction services in the United States”.

Political Content

With all the daily updates from Trump and ScoMo, your ears might prick up at the topic of political content and Google’s policies. As per Google, they “support responsible political advertising, and expect all political ads and destinations to comply with local legal requirements, including campaign and election laws and mandated election ‘silence periods’, for any geographic areas that they target”.

Starting from January 6, 2020 Google introduced restrictions (where advertiser verification is required) for election ad targeting, whereby only the following criteria can be used to target viewers:

  • Geographic location
  • Age and gender
  • Contextual targeting (ads placements, topics, keywords against sites, apps, pages and videos)


Interestingly, Google also now require election ads in the EU, India and the USA to “Show a disclosure that identifies who paid for the ad. For most ad formats, Google will automatically generate a ‘Paid for by’ disclosure, using the information provided during the verification process.”

CNBC reported on this change, recognising that “Ultimately, the debate over political ad targeting and transparency has highlighted how the digital advertising market has been left to regulate itself.” So, what happens here in Australia? Based on Google’s policies, it’s up to the advertiser to uphold their own regulations and ethics.

The rules and policies are extensive, as they should be. And yet, they lack specificity, particularly in regard to political content, right here at home. But we digress. Whilst you work on strengthening your brand, keep these tips in your back pocket to ensure your success is optimised, rather than challenged.


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