A few weeks back, I posted an article giving Search Marketing Standard readers some “unfair advantages on AdWords.” Of the tips I mentioned, the one that received almost all the attention was the last one on “custom 404 redirects.” Here’s what I wrote:
“The advantage of custom 404 redirects with respect to AdWords is that you can create any display URL you want in your ad text. For example, let’s say you have the URL “mortgage-finder.com” and you buy the keyword “San Mateo mortgages.” With a custom 404, you can buy ad text with a display URL that looks like this: San-Mateo.Mortgage-Finder.com. As long as this page doesn’t redirect to a blank 404 page, Google will allow you to buy this ad, even if the sub-domain “San-Mateo” doesn’t technically exist on your site.”
Several comments from readers suggested other methods to achieve the same effect, such as using a “status 200 in the header” or a “wildcard for your subdomain.” One comment claimed that none of this was necessary in the first place, claiming “U can have any URL in the “display URL” field…no redirects, subdomains and 404 pages.”
In any event, it appears that some or all of these tricks could soon be banned by Google. My friends at WebAMG sent me a post from PPCHero leaking changes in the Google display URL policy. The post notes:
“As of April 1, Google will be making significant changes to their enforcement of display URL policies. The “Policy Team” has taken a stricter stance on the relationship between display URLs and destination URLs — and they will be allowing few exceptions to their rules. In short, if your destination URL is www.example.com, your display URL must be www.example.com.”
The post goes on to give some specific examples: you can’t use “display.com” if you are redirecting to “display.co.uk”, nor can you use “display1.com” if you are redirecting to “display2.com.” Nowhere in the post is there any reference to subdomains or sub-directories (which was the point of my AdWords tip), so I can’t say for sure whether this AdWords update will in fact ban this technique. Still, the fact that the policy team is increasing their focus on display URLs would suggests to me that sooner or later Google will prevent advertisers from using “Keyword.Domain.com” and redirecting to “Domain.com.” And I will take credit (probably undeservedly) for writing a post that prompted a Google policy change!
One final (and tangential) point about this Google update. I immediately went to the AdWords blog to get additional information on this update and was surprised to find no mention of the change. Upon reading the comments in the PPCHero article, I then saw that the author “received this information in an update from my Google Agency Rep.” Having once worked at an SEM agency, I recall getting these “advanced warnings” from my reps. Of course, when I was on the receiving end of advance notice, I loved it.
Now that I’m just your average SEM blogger, it irks me that Google is playing favorites. Shouldn’t all advertisers have an equal amount of time to respond to policy changes? And if agencies are getting special change alerts, is it possible that agencies also get special Quality Score exceptions, promotional credits, and organic search bumps? Maybe I’m just naturally paranoid. But hey, if someone at Google does read these posts (AdWordsAdvisor? SearchMarketingStandardAdWordsAdvisor?), feel free to refute this ‘double standard’ argument in the comments.