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Editorial

If you have to pay attention to one online business story this year…

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If there is one story in online business you have to pay real close attention to, it’s the one that’s been breaking over the past week with allegations against Google by an anonymous (alleged) former employee.

Hands down, if true, this would be one of the biggest internet scandals of all time but I digress, let’s get back to the basics.

An anonymous figure posted the following on Pastebin:

I am a former Google employee and I am writing this to leak information to the public of what I witnessed and took part in while being an employee. My position was to deal with AdSense accounts, more specifically the accounts of publishers (not advertisers). I was employed at Google for a period of several years in this capacity.

Having signed many documents such as NDA’s and non-competes, there are many repercussions for me, especially in the form of legal retribution from Google. I have carefully planned this leak to coincide with certain factors in Google such as waiting for the appropriate employee turn around so that my identity could not be discovered.

To sum it up for everyone, I took part in what I (and many others) would consider theft of money from the publishers by Google, and from direct orders of management. There were many AdSense employees involved, and it spanned many years, and I hear it still is happening today except on a much wider scale. No one on the outside knows it, if they did, the FBI and possibly IRS would immediately launch an investigation, because what they are doing is so inherently illegal and they are flying completely under the radar.

It began in 2009. Everything was perfectly fine prior to 2009, and in fact it couldn’t be more perfect from an AdSense employees perspective, but something changed.

Google Bans and Ban Criteria

Before December 2012:

In the first quarter of 2009 there was a “sit-down” from the AdSense division higher ups to talk about new emerging issues and the role we (the employees in the AdSense division needed to play. It was a very long meeting, and it was very detailed and intense. What it boiled down to was that Google had suffered some very serious losses in the financial department several months earlier. They kept saying how we “needed to tighten the belts” and they didn’t want it to come from Google employees pockets. So they were going to (in their words) “carry out extreme quality control on AdSense publishers”. When one of my fellow co-workers asked what they meant by that. Their response was that AdSense itself hands out too many checks each month to publishers, and that the checks were too large and that needed to end right away. Many of the employees were not pleased about this (like myself). But they were successful in scaring the rest into thinking it would be their jobs and their money that would be on the line if they didn’t participate. The meeting left many confused as to how this was going to happen. What did they mean by extreme quality control? A few other smaller meetings occur with certain key people in the AdSense division that furthered the idea and procedure they planned on implementing. There were lots of rumors and quiet talking amongst the employees, there was lots of speculations, some came true and some didn’t. But the word was that they were planning to cut off a large portion of publisher’s payments.

After that point there was a running gag amongst fellow co-workers where we would walk by each other and whisper “Don’t be evil, pft!” and roll our eyes.

What happened afterwards became much worse. Their “quality control” came into full effect. Managers pushed for wide scale account bans, and the first big batch of bans happened in March of 2009. The main reason, the publishers made too much money. But something quite devious happened. We were told to begin banning accounts that were close to their payout period (which is why account bans never occur immediately after a payout). The purpose was to get that money owed to publishers back to Google AdSense, while having already served up the ads to the public.

This way the advertiser’s couldn’t claim we did not do our part in delivering their ads and ask for money back. So in a sense, we had thousands upon thousands of publishers deliver ads we knew they were never going to get paid for.

Google reaped both sides of the coin, got money from the advertisers, used the publishers, and didn’t have to pay them a single penny. We were told to go and look into the publishers accounts, and if any publisher had accumulated earnings exceeding $5000 and was near a payout or in the process of a payout, we were to ban the account right away and reverse the earnings back. They kept saying it was needed for the company, and that most of these publishers were ripping Google off anyways, and that their gravy train needed to end. Many employees were not happy about this. A few resigned over it. I did not. I stayed because I had a family to support, and secondly I wanted to see how far they would go.

From 2009 to 2012 there were many more big batches of bans. The biggest of all the banning sessions occurred in April of 2012. The AdSense division had enormous pressure from the company to make up for financial losses, and for Google’s lack of reaching certain internal financial goals for the quarter prior. So the push was on. The employees felt really uneasy about the whole thing, but we were threatened with job losses if we didn’t enforce the company’s wishes. Those who voiced concerned or issue were basically ridiculed with “not having the company’s best interest in mind” and not being “team players”. Morale in the division was at an all-time low. The mood of the whole place changed quite rapidly. It no longer was a fun place to work.

The bans of April 2012 came fast and furious. Absolutely none of them were investigated, nor were they justified in any way. We were told to get rid of as many of the accounts with the largest checks/payouts/earnings waiting to happen. No reason, just do it, and don’t question it. It was heart wrenching seeing all that money people had earned all get stolen from them. And that’s what I saw it as, it was a robbery of the AdSense publishers. Many launched appeals, complaints, but it was futile because absolutely no one actually took the time to review the appeals or complaints. Most were simply erased without even being opened, the rest were deposited into the database, never to be touched again.

Several publishers launched legal actions which were settled, but Google had come up with a new policy to deal with situations such as that because it was perceived as a serious problem to be avoided. So they came up with a new policy.

After December 2012: The New Policy

The new policy; “shelter the possible problem makers, and fuck the rest” (those words were actually said by a Google AdSense exec) when he spoke about the new procedure and policy for “Account Quality Control”.

The new policy was officially called AdSense Quality Control Color Codes (commonly called AQ3C by employees). What it basically was a categorization of publisher accounts. Those publisher’s that could do the most damage by having their account banned were placed in a VIP group that was to be left alone. The rest of the publishers would be placed into other groupings accordingly. The new AQ3C also implemented “quality control” quotas for the account auditors, so if you didn’t meet the “quality control” target (aka account bans) you would be called in for a performance review. There were four “groups” publishers could fall into if they reached certain milestones.

They were:

Red Group: Urgent Attention Required

  • Any AdSense account that reaches the $10,000/month mark is immediately flagged (unless they are part of the Green Group).
  • In the beginning there were many in this category, and most were seen as problematic and were seen as abusing the system by Google. So every effort was taken to bring their numbers down.
  • They are placed in what employees termed “The Eagle Eye”, where the “AdSense Eagle Eye Team” would actively and constantly audit their accounts and look for any absolute reason for a ban. Even if the reason was far-fetched, or unsubstantiated, and unprovable, the ban would occur. The “Eagle Eye Team” referred to a group of internal account auditors whose main role was to constantly monitor publisher’s accounts and sites.
  • A reason has to be internally attached to the account ban. The problem was that notifying the publisher for the reason is not a requirement, even if the publisher asks. The exception: The exact reason must be provided if a legal representative contacts Google on behalf of the account holder.
  • But again, if a ban is to occur, it must occur as close to a payout period as possible with the most amount of money accrued/earned.

Yellow Group: Serious Attention Required

  • Any AdSense account that reaches the $5,000/month mark is flagged for review (unless they are part of the Green Group). All of the publisher’s site(s)/account will be placed in queue for an audit.
  • Most of the time the queue is quite full so most are delayed their audit in a timely fashion. The second highest amount of bans occur at this level.
  • A reason has to be internally attached to the account ban. Notifiying the publisher for the reason is not a requirement, even if the publisher asks. The exception: The exact reason must be provided if a legal representative contacts Google on behalf of the account holder. But again, if a ban is to occur, it must occur as close to a payout period as possible with the most amount of money accrued/earned.

Blue Group: Moderate Attention Required

  • Any AdSense account that reaches the $1,000/month mark is flagged for possible review (unless they are part of the Green Group). Only the main site and account will be place in queue for what is called a quick audit. Most bans that occur happen at this level. Main reason is that a reason doesn’t have to be attached to the ban, so the employees use these bans to fill their monthly quotas. So many are simply a random pick and click.
  • A reason does not have to be internally attached to the account ban. Notifying the publisher for the reason is not a requirement, even if the publisher asks. But again, if a ban is to occur, it must occur as close to a payout period as possible with the most amount of money accrued.

Green Group: VIP Status (what employees refer to as the “untouchables”)

  • Any AdSense account associated with an incorporated entity or individual that can inflict serious damage onto Google by negative media information, rallying large amounts of anti-AdSense support, or cause mass loss of AdSense publisher support.
  • Google employees wanting to use AdSense on their websites were automatically placed in the Green group. So the database contained many Google insiders and their family members. If you work or worked for Google and were placed in the category, you stayed in it, even if you left Google. So it included many former employees. Employees simply had to submit a form with site specific details and their account info.
  • Sites in the Green Group were basically given “carte blanche” to do anything they wanted, even if they flagrantly went against the AdSense TOS and Policies. That is why you will encounter sites with AdSense, but yet have and do things completely against AdSense rules.
  • Extra care is taken not to interrupt or disrupt these accounts.
  • If an employee makes a mistake with a Green Level account they can lose their job. Since it seen as very grievous mistake.

New Policy 2012 Part 2:

Internal changes to the policy were constant. They wanted to make it more efficient and streamlined. They saw its current process as having too much human involvement and oversight. They wanted it more automated and less involved.

So the other part of the new policy change was to incorporate other Google services into assisting the “quality control” program. What they came up with will anger many users when they find out. It involved skewing data in Google Analytics. They decided it was a good idea to alter the statistical data shown for websites. It first began with just altering data reports for Analytics account holders that also had an AdSense account, but they ran into too many issues and decided it would be simpler just to skew the report data across the board to remain consistent and implement features globally. So what this means is that the statistical data for a website using Google Analytics is not even close to being accurate. The numbers are incredibly deflated. The reasoning behind their decision is that if an individual links their AdSense account and their Analytics account, the Analytics account can be used to deflate the earnings automatically without any human intervention. They discovered that if an individual had an AdSense account then they were also likely to use Google Analytics. So Google used it to their advantage.

This led to many publishers to actively display ads, without earning any money at all (even to this day). Even if their actual website traffic was high, and had high click-throughs the data would be automatically skewed in favor of Google, and at a total loss of publishers. This successfully made it almost impossible for anyone to earn amounts even remotely close what individuals with similar sites were earning prior to 2012, and most definitely nowhere near pre-2009 earnings.

Other policy changes also included how to deal with appeals, which still to this day, the large majority are completely ignored, and why you will rarely get an actual answer as to why your account was banned and absolutely no way to resolve it.

The BIG Problem (which Google is aware of)
There is an enormous problem that existed for a long time in Google’s AdSense accounts. Many of the upper management are aware of this problem but do not want to acknowledge or attempt to come up with a solution to the problem.

It is regarding false clicks on ads. Many accounts get banned for “invalid clicks” on ads. In the past this was caused by a publisher trying to self inflate click-throughs by clicking on the ads featured on their website. The servers automatically detect self-clicking with comparison to IP addresses and other such information, and the persons account would get banned for invalid clicking.

But there was something forming under the surface. A competitor or malicious person would actively go to their competitor’s website(s) or pick a random website running AdSense and begin multiple-clicking and overclicking ads, which they would do over and over again. Of course this would trigger an invalid clicking related ban, mainly because it could not be proven if the publisher was actually behind the clicking. This was internally referred to as “Click-Bombing”. Many innocent publishers would get caught up in bans for invalid clicks which they were not involved in and were never told about.

This issue has been in the awareness of Google for a very long time but nothing was done to rectify the issue and probably never will be. Thus if someone wants to ruin a Google AdSense publishers account, all you would have to do is go to their website, and start click-bombing their Google Ads over and over again, it will lead the servers to detect invalid clicks and poof, they get banned. The publisher would be completely innocent and unaware of the occurrence but be blamed for it anyways.

Their BIG Fear

The biggest fear that Google has about these AdSense procedures and policies is that it will be publicly discovered by their former publishers who were banned, and that those publishers unite together and launch an class-action lawsuit.

They also fear those whose primary monthly earnings are from AdSense, because in many countries if a person claims the monthly amount to their tax agency and they state the monthly amount and that they are earning money from Google on a monthly basis, in certain nations technically Google can be seen as an employer. Thus, an employer who withholds payment of earnings, can be heavily fined by government bodies dealing with labor and employment. And if these government bodies dealing with labor and employment decide to go after Google, then it would get very ugly, very quickly ….. that is on top of a class-action lawsuit.

TechCrunch posted the Google rejoinder to the points made by anonymous:

“This description of our AdSense policy enforcement process is a complete fiction. The color-coding and ‘extreme quality control’ programs the author describes don’t exist. Our teams and automated systems work around the clock to stop bad actors and protect our publishers, advertisers and users.

All publishers that sign up for AdSense agree to the Terms and Conditions of the service and a set of policies designed to ensure the quality of the network for users, advertisers and other publishers. When we discover violations of these policies, we take quick action, which in some cases includes disabling the publisher’s account and refunding affected advertisers.”

To which the alleged leaker responds:

I have communications. I have documents, I have files, I have lists, and I have names. I have all of it. Like I said from the beginning, I have carefully waited and carefully planned everything out.

So you ask why haven’t I released it? The answer, if I release everything I have now, it will give Google too many possible avenues to discover my identity. Also doing thing such as publicly naming people and giving Google a pre-emptive look at what I have will only make them prepare for the class action lawsuit that will hit them. They won’t be caught off guard and they will have time to come up with excuses and explanations in attempts to rid themselves of this issue. I do not want that to happen. I want the people to win. I want those who had money they earned, that was stolen from them, to get the right to fight for it on equal grounding.

That is why I have chosen to only release it to the legal representatives of the class action lawsuit against Google in regards to AdSense. (…)

If several months go by and no class action lawsuit manifests, then I will have to selectively release a few key pieces of evidence to the public at large.

The information and evidence I have is extensive and quite detailed, it will also paint a very different picture of what Google is really like to the public.

Now let me state this plainly here – THIS IS ALL VERY MURKY and NO ALLEGATIONS HAVE BEEN PROVEN and this may all be a hoax.

What it has done though, is open up a really big can of worms.

More on Monday…

Onuora Amobi is VP of Marketing at Learn About The Web. He has an extensive background in both Online Marketing and Enterprise Technology solutions.

1 Comment
  • Patricia Ev

    Hahah finally! Google have been bending us over for years! It’s about time we got even.

Editorial

Who approved never get Hulu as an ad slogan?

I’ve seen some DUMB ad campaigns in my life but Never Get Hulu is by far the worst one I have ever seen in my life.

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Never get Hulu

I was watching the Emmys last week and then an ad came on.

It had a ton of celebrities who were serious and telling me to listen and pay attention.

They start to talk somewhat comedically about a bunch of things I should never do – never fly first class, never get a king size bed, never get a walk in closet etc etc.

At this point, there are hints of comedy creeping in…

Until the final punch line “..and most importantly Never Get Hulu”.

My wife and I are marketing professionals and immediately looked at each other thinking the same exact thing.

Who at Hulu gave the green light to this ad?

Why would you get people’s attention and use the words “Never” and your brand name in the same sentence? From a marketing perspective this seems extremely stupid.

Yes, it gets people like me writing about this and talking about it and sharing the ad. Got it.

HOWEVER, it imprints very negative keywords next to your brand name into people’s psyche’s forever.

Never Get Hulu.

I absolutely don’t get it but hey what do I know, maybe they know something I don’t so I should probably take their advice.

I DEFINITELY won’t get Hulu.

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Digital Marketing Training

13 Steps To Building A Profitable High Traffic Technology Blog – Part Three – the baby business plan

This is part three of my blueprint that will help you begin the process of building a high traffic profitable technology blog.

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Baby business plan

This is the third post in the series.

In part one, I talked about some of my experiences with some of the successful high traffic websites I actually built.

In part two, I shared a little about my belly of the whale strategy, a methodology I use to identify potential software niches to get into.

This is part three of my blueprint that will help you begin the process of building a high traffic profitable technology blog.

Today I want to share with you the importance of creating a business plan but not a regular business plan.

I call this…

The Baby Business Plan

Anyone who has written a business plan knows that to do it properly, it’s exhausting and requires a certain level of expertise and sophistication.

There are businesses and vendors who specialize in helping entrepreneurs write business plans. They are that complex.

Here’s the problem.

For most online entrepreneurs, at this stage in the process, that’s too much work. It just doesn’t make sense.

IMPORTANT – I’m not trying to say that entrepreneurs don’t need a plan, I’m saying at this stage, digital entrepreneurs don’t need the formal rigor of an exhaustive business plan.

You need a baby business plan.

What is a Baby Business Plan?

A baby business plan is a scaled down vision of your plans for your business. Simply put, you need to think about how this website or web based app will make money.

This is different from a real business plan because at this point you simply don’t need all that complexity.

So, let’s get to the meat and bones.

What are the elements of a Baby Business Plan?

A Baby Business Plan has 9 elements:

  • Business name ( and URL)
  • Business concept (Full description)
  • Technology components (list and price)
  • Labor costs to start
  • Ongoing labor
  • Marketing plan
  • Marketing costs
  • Monetization plan
  • Maintenance costs

Like I said, this is a scaled down version that you can put together real quickly.

Let’s do a quick example. Let’s do a Baby Business Plan for a fake domain – http://myloveofstamps.com/.

So if I was the entrepreneur, I would create a plan that looked roughly like this.

  • Business name: My Love Of Stamps (http://myloveofstamps.com/)
  • Business concept (A website that will bring together fans and stamp collectors all around the world. We will have forums, lists and …..)
  • Technology components:
    • Hosting: WP Engine
    • WordPress
    • Thrive Themes
    • etc. etc.
  • Labor costs to start:
    • 99 Designs web design – $899
    • Web Development to build – $500
    • Outsourced SEO – $200
    • 100 articles writer: $1000
    • etc. etc.
  • Ongoing labor:
    • Monthly writer – $400
    • Monthly SEO – $50
    • etc. etc.
  • Marketing Plan:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Pinterest
    • etc. etc.
  • Marketing costs
    • Facebook ads $50/month
    • Twitter Promo: $20/month
    • etc. etc.
  • Monetization plan:
    • Adsense on site
    • Stamp ebook that we will develop
    • Amazon ads
    • Stamps.com affiliate
    • etc. etc.
  • Maintenance costs
    • WP Engine $35/month
    • Clicky Analytics $9/month
    • etc. etc.

And so on and so forth…

Baby Business Plan – The format

Real simple. Word or Excel file. No presentation no graphics nothing too formal.

At this point you just want to have something that is a living document that you can continue to update as needed.

Why is this step critical?

Simple.

Because a lot of online tools are free or cheap and easy to use, it’s really easy to get started on an idea and build a proof of concept that can turn into a real site quickly.

This step helps you avoid two critical mistakes:

  1. Overspending on an idea that you have. Once you have all these costs listed you can start to plan and make sure you actually have the money to support this business.
  2. Validation – sometimes an idea sounds good in theory but when you actually write it out you start to see that it makes no business sense or requires too much money to be a viable business.

This step is a good step to keep you disciplined and focused. You need to write down you plan and start to internalize and share it with friends or people you respect so they can pick it apart and criticize it.

Better for an idea to die here than after you have spent lots of hours and lots of $$$ on it.

In the next installment in the series, I’ll show you how to quickly get a logo done.

Let me know if you think I missed anything here.

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Editorial

A Failure of imagination – Apple release new iPhone XR iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

Apple have taken the easy way out, avoided innovation and are dependent on incremental upgrades

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Apple iPhone XS

I have an iPhone and I love it so I absolutely hate to be THAT guy.

I hate to be the guy who’s going against the grain, who seems to be contrarian where others celebrate but unfortunately, this is one of those articles.

Apple released their new iPhones today.

They released three new models – the iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

The new iPhone XS and XS Max are priced at $999 and $1,099 and start shipping out at the end of this month. The iPhone XR starts at $749 and begins shipping out in October.

Apple iPhone XS

Apple iPhone XS (Image Credit – The Verge)

The iPhone XS has a 5.8-inch OLED display with a 2436 x 1125 resolution. Meanwhile, the iPhone XS Max has a 6.5-inch OLED display with a 2688 x 1242 resolution. The iPhone XR, which you can basically think of as this year’s lower-end offering, has a 6.1-inch LCD display with a 1792 x 828 resolution.

At the end of the day, the screen size is the main difference between these three new models.

  • The XS is smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus but the screen is as big as the screen on the 8 Plus.
  • The iPhone XS Max is as big as the iPhone 8 Plus, and its screen is larger.
  • The iPhone XR has a larger display than the iPhone 8 Plus, while its overall size is just slightly smaller.

The iPhone XS and XS Max have dual rear 12-megapixel cameras and improved True Tone flash, and a front 7-megapixel camera. The iPhone XR, as the more budget option, has one 12-megapixel camera on the back, with True Tone flash.

All the new phones are powered by a new seven-nanometer A12 Bionic chip which can handle 512GB of storage. The iPhone XS and XS Max also have faster Face ID, True Tone display, and 3D Touch. They have support for Dolby Vision and HDR10 video.

The iPhone XS and XS Plus come in gold, silver, or space gray. The iPhone XS starts at $999 for the 64GB option, and has 256GB and 512GB options as well. The iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099, with the same storage options. The 512GB option goes for $1,449.

The Apple iPhone XS Promo Video

My opinion

Unfortunately, this is just more of the same.

Apple have made a larger phone, added more storage and made the camera better. The phone OS will be improved as well but that is really all that happened.

As someone who has an iPhone 7 Plus, I will upgrade at some point but the truth is there is STILL no rush.

I have been waiting for a compelling upgrade from Apple that would force me to head to the store and/or pre-order a new phone and the truth is, this isn’t the one.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 seems way more exciting from a consumer point of view because of the screen, the pen and the TONS of innovative new features they bring to the table.

When Steve Jobs died, there was a fervent argument among the faithful that innovation at the worlds most valuable company would start to slow.

Unfortunately I fear this is the case.

The most exciting features of the iPhone (IMHO) are FaceID and the upcoming multi-user FaceTime. Beyond those two features, it seems like Apple is just keeping up with the competition.

Let’s be really clear, these are REALLY GOOD PHONES.

But unfortunately, Apple is in a Michael Jackson type situation where they seem to be unable to do anything better than their greatest hit.

Apple continues to live in Steve Job’s shadow and unfortunately, his genius is really the anchor against which the company’s level of innovation will be measured. Using that yardstick, the company fails to measure up.

Preorders for both phones begin on September 14 and ship on September 21st in select countries, with rollout in other countries to follow.

What do you think? Will you buy an iPhone XS?

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