When Can Google Maps / GMB Content Cause Google Ads Disapprovals?

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Any restricted terms that find their way into your website’s source code can cause Google to disapprove your Google Ads (AdWords) ad – even if you didn’t personally add that content to your site.  That’s the short answer.

“Banned” terms that show up on your Google My Business page (like in your description) or on Google Maps (in the form of Google reviews) won’t prompt Google to pull your ads, as long as that content stays on your GMB page(s) or in your reviews.  You run into trouble only if a person or piece of software puts even one of those restricted terms onto your site.

 

By the way, I find it tiresome to call them “restricted terms” or “disallowed content” or whatever constitutes Google’s huge no-fly list of search terms in AdWords.  So from now on I’ll just refer to them as BAdWords.

Beware review widgets – at least the kind that “streams” online reviews (like Google Maps reviews) and sticks them onto your site in any way.  That was the toe-popper one of my clients and I stepped on recently.  The widget automatically embedded the content of my client’s patients’ Google Maps and Facebook reviews onto his site.  The content of the reviews wasn’t visible ON his site, but the widget would update the star rating and review count as patients wrote new reviews.  I never cared much for the functionality of that widget, but it didn’t seem to do harm, so we kept it around on the site.

This particular review widget wasn’t a problem for several years, until a patient mentioned a certain medical procedure by name in his (5-star) Google review of my client.  The BAdWord in this case was the name of a therapy that everyone has heard of, but that some people have held objections to for many years, and that some shady characters have given a bad name in recent years.  Places like the Mayo Clinic (what do they know?) offer the procedure, but that didn’t matter to Google.  Soon after the patient wrote the Google review, the widget picked it up, the BAdWord showed up in the site’s source code, Google detected a BAdWord in the source code, and 11 of our ads went to nap time.

The solution was to remove the review widget.  If you run into the issue I described, that’s probably the solution for you, too.

Also beware the difference between what’s indexed in Google and what’s in your site’s source code.  A “site:” search operator won’t necessarily turn up the phrase(s) over which Google has pulled your ads.  The source code can contain a BAdWord that isn’t in Google’s cache, but that the Ads department knows about anyway.  I found that out when a site:exampleclientssite.com search didn’t turn up the BAdWord that caused our ads to be pulled.  It was only when I viewed the source code that I found the term in the review widget that pulled in the Google reviews.  So if you’re a “local” business that just got hit with an AdWords ad disapproval you can’t figure out, and you’re checking your site for BAdWords, don’t assume a site:yoursite.com search will turn them up.  You’ll need to scour your Google Maps reviews, too.

By the way, this isn’t too related to GMB or Google Maps, but also beware your outbound links.  One of the BAdWords that caused Google to disapprove my client’s ads was in the URL slug of a site my client linked TO.  In other words, Google didn’t like the name of a page on a site we linked out to.  For Google, everything in your site’s source code is fair game, and one BAdWord anywhere can trigger a disapproval.

 

If you’re corresponding with a Google Ads support rep (as I imagine you are), be sure to ask for the specific pages on your site where restricted terms supposedly lurk.  Then view the source code of those pages.  From there, finding the culprit should be pretty easy.

Once we got rid of the review widget that pulled the BAdWord into the site, and we removed that one pesky outbound link, Google reinstated our ads (after some back-and-forth, of course).  Didn’t change a thing on the Google My Business side.

The link between GMB / Google Maps content and Ads disapprovals is your site.  Any GMB / Maps content that doesn’t find it’s way onto your site (destination URL) won’t result in an Ads slap.  I can tell you first-hand that including restricted terms in your Google My business description and “services” section doesn’t trigger a disapproval.  I assume that is also true of GMB “products” and posts, though I haven’t tempted the gods by testing out either of those.  BAdWords in Google Maps reviews also don’t trigger ad disapprovals – again, as long as those reviews don’t make it onto the website you use for Ads.

What about location extensions?  Enabling those can get your GMB page into the “paid 3-pack,” courtesy of Google Ads.  In that way, you’re pretty clearly associating your GMB page, Google reviews, website, and ads with each other.  You’d think location extensions would instantly trigger an ad disapproval, but they don’t.  At least in my experience so far.  So even if your GMB page or Google reviews mention Ads-disapproved terms, you don’t have to turn off your location extensions in Ads.  Again, Google only cares what’s on your site and in your ad text.

Last but not least, a Google Ads disapproval won’t cause a Google My Business suspension or other penalty.  Of course, it’s always possible to do something that’s against both Ads and GMB policy (like promoting an illegal product or service), in which case maybe you can manage to get yourself in trouble in both places.  But a Google Ads slap by itself won’t provoke a GMB slap.

 

As Google continues to smoosh pay-per-click and GMB together and push more “local” businesses into advertising, I expect more business owners to run into infuriating problems like this one, where you’re in the odd position of being able to promote a service or product on GMB but not in Ads, or vice versa.  On the plus side, I’ve long found the Ads support staff generally helpful , whereas GMB “support” ranges from useless to nonexistent.

Have you run into any Google Ads problems that seem to tie in with GMB, or vice versa?  Leave a comment!

Google Local Services Reviews Not Showing in Google Maps? Why That Happens and What to Do

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Many businesses use Google’s Local Services Ads (AKA “Google Guaranteed”) program to show up at the very top of the local results – above all the other ads, and above the local map (AKA the 3-pack).

Local Services Ads (LSAs) are still not an option for every business, and they’re not a good option for everyone, but they often earn their keep for the businesses that do use them – if my clients’ experiences are good indicators.  By which I mean people see the ads, click on them, and in some cases become customers.  (If you’d like to know more, Tom Waddington did a great overview of LSAs.)

Google even makes it extra easy to ask customers for reviews: Google gives you a special “write a review” link (different from the Google My Business one) and encourages you to use it to ask for reviews.  If you use that link or otherwise encourage your LSA customers to review you within the LSA interface, you’ll get reviews that show up with your ad.  Those reviews are great, as far as they go.

The trouble is your Local Services reviews don’t show up in Google Maps.  Even though your Google Maps reviews show up just fine in your ad, so you assume they’re the same thing (“a Google review is a Google review”).

You can be pretty sure you’ve run into that problem if the number of reviews you see in Google MAPS (including the right-hand sidebar) is lower than the number of reviews you see in your Local Services Ad.

So, for instance, if your ad says you have 35 Google reviews, but your Google Maps review count shows only 25 reviews, then now you know why: About 10 of your customers wrote a review exclusively in Local Services Ads (probably from your custom link), rather than on Google Maps for everyone to see.  Now would-be customers see those 10 reviews if they click on your ad.

Especially in these tough times, you need all the reviews and local SEO mojo you can get, you want would-be customers to see all your good reviews, and you’d like to minimize the amount you need to pay Google along the way.  What in tarnation is going on?

It’s not that your reviews have been filtered, or you did something wrong, or your customers/reviewers did something wrong.  Rather, LSA reviews and Google Maps reviews are not the same thing, and they don’t end up at the same place.

 

The buckets are only somewhat separate, because Google pulls customers’ Google Maps reviews into your ad and counts those reviews toward the total number displaying in your ad.  So in that sense there’s overlap: a review that someone wrote you in Google Maps shows up everywhere, including in your Local Services Ad. 

Why doesn’t Google simply pull LSA reviews into Google Maps, or just have ONE kind of review?  I wonder the same thing.  My guess is it’s some combination of 3 reasons:

1. Reviewers’ privacy. Maybe someone is willing to write a review of a Local Services Ads business, but doesn’t want his or her review to show up publicly on Google Maps and in his or her Google user profile. Google needs to balance privacy (so they don’t get sued more) on the one hand with monetizing reviews on the other hand.  If Google accepts business owners’ advertising dollars, tells them to ask for reviews, encourages customers to click on ads because of those reviews, and then makes it hard for customers to write reviews or makes them squeamish about it or filters the reviews, then that’s a problem for everyone.  Having reviews that show up only in Local Search Ads is a compromise.

2. Google probably wants to make the LSAs slightly more attractive to click on by making the total review count higher. If a customer who’s shopping around can see 25 reviews of a business or see 35 reviews of the same business, which set of reviews probably gives him or her a better snapshot of the business? I’m guessing the bigger pile of reviews gets the click much of the time.  If the person who clicks the Local Services Ad ends up booking the service via Google, of course Google gets a cut of the transaction.

3. It’s an engineering problem built up over time. Google Maps reviews were around long before Local Services Ads. Starting when Google introduced the latter in 2015, Google has had to slide the ads into the search results to do a long-term test, without screwing up the local results so much that nobody uses them or wants to advertise in them.  Also, because of that, most businesses’ Google reviews were and are left in Google MAPS, and not through Local Services Ads, yet somehow Google has to make the review count in LSAs higher than the one in Maps.  That’s why they’re not two completely separate buckets of reviews.  Eventually, if more reviews are left through Local Services Ads than in Google Maps, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google concludes, “Cool – the LSA reviews aren’t the runt of the litter anymore” and then completely separates them.  Of course, separating elements doesn’t always work.

 

The main reason Google Maps reviews are so powerful – and fudged and spammed constantly – is that almost everyone sees them sooner or later.  They show up in the 3-pack.  They show up in Google Maps, including in the app.  The review count, average rating, and little excerpts of the reviews show up in the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel) whenever someone searches for you by name or clicks on you in the search results after finding you for the first time.  They’re nigh unavoidable, and Google often adds features to Google Maps reviews and sticks them in more places in the search results.

Not so with Google reviews left through Local Services Ads (via the special link).  They’re visible, but still avoidable.  For now, they only live in your ad.  Their main function is to get more people to click on your ad, so they book through Google, so Google gets its vig.

What’s my advice?  Ask customers to review you directly on Google Maps, rather than through Local Services Ads.  Those reviews will still show in your Local Services Ad, but won’t be limited to your ad.  Usually all customers need to do is Google your business’s name and click the “write a review” link.

The Google Maps route is only slightly harder for them and for you, and there’s still a chance their reviews will get filtered, but that’s an acceptable trade-off.  I suspect you’ll find that Google Maps reviews – the kind everyone sees – pack more of a wallop than the Local Services Ads reviews.  Partly that’s because (in my experience) LSA reviews are more likely to be dashed-off, short, and not too helpful.

By the way, what should you do about the reviews people already wrote through Local Services Ads?  Consider asking those customers to re-post their reviews in Google Maps.  At least on Maps the review will be more visible to more people.  If your customers find it easier, they can just copy and paste the review they already wrote you through your LSA request.  Now you’re thinkin’.

 

If you’ve found it tough to get people to write you Google Maps reviews, here are some economical ways to make it easier:

Especially if you also get reviews on other sites online, those Google Maps reviews can help you bring the thunder.  They can help your rankings and help you get more customers, no matter how invisible or visible you are now.  To work on getting Google reviews right is worth the heartache, and it’s about the highest-payoff use of your time I can think of. 

How do you balance Google LSA reviews and Google Maps reviews? 

Any questions?  

Leave a comment!

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Google My Business Category Not Showing for Service-Area Businesses with Hidden Addresses

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