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How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

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# 1
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If you are currently buying, or are thinking of buying, any paid advertising on YouTube, it’s urgent that you carefully read this warning. We have discovered an extremely dangerous pitfall within Google’s Adwords For Video program.

 

About five days ago, we fell into this pit and it killed us. You need to make sure that you won’t be killed by it, also.

 

If you do not have time to read this entire post, then you can at least come away with this warning: Never, ever, buy any Adwords For Video traffic onto your YouTube channel. If you do not heed this warning, your channel will be at severe risk for instant termination.

 

Here is the complete story:

 

We run a five-person marketing firm which for the last eighteen months has been running a YouTube campaign on behalf of a United States company with about 250 employees. For the purposes of this posting, We must anonymize both our company name and the name of our client. Our client’s product is consumer-facing.  

 

As many of you know, Google offers a wide array of formats for advertising on YouTube. We tested these formats for a few months, spending roughly $100,000. Eventually, we settled on the Trueview In-Display format. This is the format in which ads appear to the right of the video watch page, or above YouTube’s organic search results.

 

Our testing showed that these ‘In-Display’ ads had the best engagement. The caveat -- and this, as you will see, is extremely important, and what killed us in the end -- is that the clicks from these ads did not go to our client’s website. Instead, clicks these ads went to our client’s channel page on YouTube.

 

As far as we were concerned, this was worth the investment because we were gaining brand recognition on YouTube. Users clicked through to the channel, watched a few videos, and sometimes subscribed to the channel. This gave our client a strong brand presence on YouTube which they could also use off of YouTube -- telling potential customers and business partners “Look, we’ve had millions of views on YouTube and people love our stuff.”

 

We felt that we were building our client a brand that would be a sustainable presence on YouTube, and that the marketing investment they were making would pay off in the long term. As it turned out, we were very wrong.

 

We uploaded and tested several hundred unlisted videos over the course of eighteen months. We tested each unlisted video with advertising, and finally we published the videos which had the best response from viewers.

 

Our spend varied with time of year, but grew to about $75,000 per month. By the beginning of October 2014, after a spend of  $1,307,585.88 via Adwords for Video, we had accumulated more than 20,000,0000 (twenty million) views, and over 30,000 (thirty thousand) subscribers. Obviously not the biggest channel on YouTube, but, considering that we were really only advertising, and not producing “entertaining content,” those seemed like good numbers.

 

All seemed well. We had very few problems with our advertising campaign or our YouTube channel -- at one point in February of 2014 one of our videos was flagged down and a strike applied to our account, but we appealed the strike, and the video was reinstated a few hours later, and the strike removed. Our account was in “good standing”. We had no reason to believe that our account was a risk.

 

It was at risk, however -- very much at risk. On October 4th, at 5:15 PST, our client’s YouTube channel and account were instantly, and without warning, terminated and deleted completely from YouTube. We did not receive any kind of communication from YouTube before this, or any warning strike before the termination. If our account was somehow out of compliance with YouTube’s terms, we were unaware of that before the termination, and are still unaware of it today.

 

To repeat: The YouTube channel  went from “all good”, instantly to “terminated”, without any step in between. No warning strike, nothing.

 

Our only recourse, which we have have been attempting to use daily since our termination, was to fill out Google’s “Unable to access a Google product” web form. This form allows for a maximum of 1000 characters per submission. We’ve filled it out, and had no response from Google or YouTube.

 

From our perspective, and probably the perspective of any person or company who had invested $1.3 million into any sort of advertising platform, is that this is completely unconscionable.

 

Be that as it may, Google is a behemoth: They do things as they want, and your job is to get the hell out of the way.

 

So in this post, we need to urgently warn you that Google’s “Trueview in-display” video format is, as far as we can tell, completely and totally unsafe for brand use.

 

If you are paying Google to send traffic to a YouTube channel, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Any paid investment you make in a YouTube channel is completely and totally at risk. If Google decides to terminate your YouTube account, you’ll have no recourse.

 

We should however, in fairness, here clarify that we have no reason to believe Google’s other ad products on YouTube to be dangerous -- in-stream, overlay in-video, 300x250 display, etc. -- these all send traffic directly from YouTube to a brand’s website, which the brand controls. These operate like any sort of display advertising on Facebook, Google Display Network, etc., and we would not discourage anyone from trying these.

 

But remember: You have no control over your YouTube channel. If you are engaging in paid marketing, you will be attracting YouTube users to your channel, many of whom may flag or “report” your channel to YouTube, simply because YouTube users do not like advertising. The more flags you accumulate, the greater the likelihood that YouTube’s algorithm will identify your account as noncompliant, and the greater the risk you will have of instant termination.

 

We’re not sure if this is a “bug” or “feature”, or somewhere in-between, but as far as we can tell, YouTube’s termination algorithm makes no distinctions between accounts -- you could be a kid uploading pirated movies with a day-old account, or a brand like us with two years of history, $1.3 million in spend, twenty million views, and an account in good standing. It doesn’t matter.

 

Play it safe: You must never, ever, ever pay Google to promote a YouTube channel. If you don’t heed our warning, you may end up in the same boat as us.

 

If you have any questions, we’ve set up an anonymous email address where we will respond to all reasonable queries: schroderbean@gmail.com


Thanks for your time.

2 Expert replyverified_user

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Top Contributor
# 2
Top Contributor

This is a very interesting case;

A few follow up questions:

  • What  was suspended (in your words - "terminated")?- the YouTube channel or the Adwords account promoting the channel? (Or both)
  • Google - upon suspending - sends a suspension email - what was said in this email?
Moshe, AdWords Top Contributor , Twitter | Linkedin | Community Profile | Ad-Globe
Did you find any helpful responses or answers to your query? If yes, please mark it as the ‘Best Answer’

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 3
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1) The YouTube account was suspended/terminated. Not the Adwords account. In fact, just days before the YouTube account was terminated, we received a standard email "Hey, I'm ______ with Adwords for Video, and I want to help you optimize your campaigns, please call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx" .... although that is is not surprising.... any experienced Adwords advertisers know that these sales calls are algorithmically driven, and the specialist on the other end (usually in India?) just wants to read you a script about how to optimize your account. They don't have any knowledge about the policy stuff or certainly anything about YouTube.

2) Standard language about vague violation of YouTube's TOS.

Again: We must emphasize that advertisers should not use this 'In-Display' product. I'm sure Google will figure it out, but right now, it's a ticking time bomb. Or, better said, it's a ticking time bomb that you have to keep feeding money into to keep it ticking. Stop feeding it money, now.

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Community Manager
# 4
Community Manager
Hi Schroder B,

This doesn't sound like an ideal situation, to say the least. I'd like to look into this issue for you. I'm going to reach out to the email address that you listed.

Kathleen,

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Top Contributor
# 5
Top Contributor
OK ; I escalated the case to Google asking a specialist to recheck the case.
Moshe, AdWords Top Contributor , Twitter | Linkedin | Community Profile | Ad-Globe
Did you find any helpful responses or answers to your query? If yes, please mark it as the ‘Best Answer’

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Top Contributor
# 6
Top Contributor

Ohhh... While I was rereading your post @KathleenG took over the case.... Smiley Surprised

Moshe, AdWords Top Contributor , Twitter | Linkedin | Community Profile | Ad-Globe
Did you find any helpful responses or answers to your query? If yes, please mark it as the ‘Best Answer’

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 7
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Thanks for reaching out. Our attorney is advising us not to discuss this directly with any Google employee at this time, until we figure out how we're going to handle recovering this significant financial loss. We posted this today simply as a warning to other advertisers who might be tempted to try this display format. Again: Don't do it. Your channel is at risk.

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 8
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Also, I do have some further info today.

The video that got our account flagged down had only about 150 views, and furthermore was an unlisted video -- this means that the only people who could have possibly seen it were YouTube users driven to the video via Adwords advertising. This cements in my mind that we were not 'attacked' or 'flagged' by someone who wanted to take our channel down.

It's simply a matter that Google does not differentiate between paid views and organic views, and if one of your videos fits the termination algorithm -- "poof" -- you're gone. It doesn't matter if you've put $10 or $10m into paid advertising.

Anyone who does any kind of YouTube marketing needs to read this very carefully:
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973?hl=en

Note this text:

"If the main purpose of your content is to drive people off of YouTube and onto another site, it will likely violate our spam policies."

Certainly, the main purpose of the $1.3m we spent on YouTube advertising was to drive users off of YouTube and onto our website. We can't deny that. But, on the other hand, generally that is the purpose of buying Adwords advertising of any kind.

Yes. You've read that correctly. Anyone who uses Adwords for Video to drive traffic off of YouTube can be taken down.

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

[ Edited ]
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# 9
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I should clarify that. Again, the "off-youtube" formats -- 300x250, in-video, streaming, etc. -- which lead a user to a company's website -- these are undoubtedly safe. Because in this case, you're just showing an ad, you're not creating content for YouTube. You're no more subject to YouTube's TOS than an advertiser on a newspaper website is subject to that newspaper's TOS.

But any kind of "brand channel" or "branded content" or any situation where you are actually uploading videos to YouTube, and then paying Google to show those videos to YouTube users -- completely, totally, utterly unsafe, and clearly in violation of YouTube's TOS.

Re: How We Lost $1,307,585.88 With YouTube Advertising

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 10
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Ouch, I am thankful I only lost 30$.

This definitely should be reviewed by Google, adwords for video is actualy is a ticking bomb.

I have seen other complains about it in the adsense forum, and I am pretty sure thats why I got my adsense account disabled, cause it lead lot of traffic in short time to my channel.

The only difference is that in my channel I was creating youtube content, not trying to sell anything.

But seems that Google bots dont distinct those things, and you maybe will be lucky and since the amount spent is considerable, "humans" will review your case, but unimportant channels are just checked by other bots Smiley Happy

But yeah, adwords for video must be disabled until everything is sorted out.