Google Adwords “Information Harvesting” Policy Changes: An Example

Google announced a change to its Adwords policy late last week that could freeze thousands of advertisers’ accounts for noncompliance. The changes have to do with “Information Harvesting,” which is the practice of asking a user for information about themselves – from as little as name and email to credit card or social security information. Just about every Adwords advertiser does some form of information harvesting. Hospitality companies look for bookings which require credit card and billing information. Retail does the same. Higher education is a major player in information harvesting, asking for name, email, address, programs of interest, and anticipated start dates among other things.

The change will affect a lot of AdWords users, including many of our own clients, but the thing we love about Google is that they keep it simple. Here are the three policy changes which go into effect on May 17th 2011, as explained by Google:

  1. Clear, accessible disclosure before visitors submit personal information
    Our existing policy requires you to clearly describe how any personal information you solicit will be used. Soon, we’ll require that your description must also be easily accessible before site visitors submit their details.
  2. Option to discontinue direct communications
    In the same description of how personal information will be used, you’ll also be required to describe how people can opt out of future emails, phone calls, or other direct communications.
  3. SSL when collecting payment and certain financial and personal information
    Many websites use what are known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections to encrypt sensitive information that travels between the user’s browser and the website’s servers. To help ensure user safety, AdWords policy will require all advertisers to use SSL when collecting payments and certain financial and personal information (like bank account and social security numbers).

An Example:

We already mentioned that many of our own clients will be affected by this change. One such client, The Rabb School of Continuing Studies at Brandeis University, is an AdWords user and, in fact, one of their ads was served to me in a “masters program Boston” search query. I proceeded to click on that link, and here’s where it took me:

This landing page would be in violation of Google’s “Information Harvesting” policy change should it go unchanged as of May 17th. Since learning about the policy changes, we’ve updated this landing page to be in accordance with the new Google AdWords policy. Here’s what that page looks like now:

Because this page asks for personal information, Google’s policy change mandated that we specify what “information ” the user will be receiving by submitting the form, and how they can stop receiving said information, should they choose to do so. We complied with Lord Google’s decree with this little bit of text right before the submit button:

Voila, the king is appeased.

There is a third addendum under the “Information Harvesting” policy change heading regarding the SSL connection, but that type of change is only relevant when requesting highly sensitive information like social security numbers. However, SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is the industry standard for this type of connection, and AdWords users in violation of this new policy ought to upgrade their connection anyway.

So, those are the changes and their implications in a nutshell. Hope the example helped!

Let’s continue the conversation! Talk to us on Twitter @Triad_Ideas and use the hashtag #ThinkSuccess or #HigherEd if you have a more specific question!

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