During the recent elections here in Florida, I learned a few things about Google AdWords, vital to any political campaign, that may be of interest to candidates and campaign staffers. AdWords can be an invaluable tool for getting the word out, online, about a candidate. It can also break a campaign and lead to ruin if used incorrectly. Conversely, of course, if your opponent makes a mistake, you can watch for and capitalize on it.
To give some perspective, as a consultant for various local campaigns, I spent about $40,000 over six months with AdWords on behalf of candidates in Florida leading into the recent elections. I spent tens of thousands on other online advertising as well, of course, including Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. Yet only with Google did I run into such ludicrous issues.
Most of these problems have to do with arbitrary Google policies and a lack of customer service or capability of overriding those policies when the advertising campaign requires timely action. I'll explain as I list out the ways Google AdWords can kill your campaign, in my opinion.
1. Policies May Mean Shutdown At the Worst Possible Moment
Most political campaigns create a big push in the last two or three days before an election. Online advertising is usually no different, ramping up in that last week, which can be critical to a campaign's success at the polls. Yet if you update your AdWords campaign(s) to go along with this, you will possibly (likely) get closed down for "review." This review can take 96 or more hours and is a measure of fraud protection on Google's part. The trouble is, you cannot override this, even after speaking with your advertising representative at Google or their customer "service" line someplace in a foreign land. Not even a supervisor there can override it. It's set in stone.
2. Their Customer "Service" Is Outsourced and Offers Little Service
When you have an issue, like this one, you will likely call your Google advertising representative, as I did, and find out that they are powerless and can only recommend that you call the customer service hotline. That hotline takes you far away, and beyond boilerplate answers and cookie-cutter scripts they can read to you, you'll find out that an account temporarily suspended for review is suspended until they get around to reviewing it, which will take days.
In my case, I upped one campaign's ad spending three days before the election and the account was immediately suspended for review. This means ads stop showing and the whole account is basically dead until it's reviewed. Despite my repeated calls and history of high spending, the review took, get this, six days. The account was reinstated three days after the elections. This was even though my campaigns were set to expire in AdWords the day of the actual elections. I got a nice, chipper email from Google informing me "Congratulations" that my now-ended campaign was "approved" and ready to go... three days after the elections. Gee, thanks!
Even speaking with a so-called supervisor at the customer service line got zero results.
3. The System Is Automated and There Is No Intervention
As mentioned in the above, there is no intervention (apparently) possible when Google's computers shut down your AdWords campaign for review. A four- or five-day delay might be okay if you're running ads for Joe's Bait Shop, but if you're doing ads for a time-critical federally regulated thing like political campaigns, it's disastrous.
What all of this means for political campaign managers and consultants is simple: use AdWords carefully and spend more elsewhere. Checking our result metrics showed that our Facebook ads, for example, were far more targeted and had better returns. To a point, AdWords has more reach, obviously, and when people search, they search on Google. So it cannot be ignored. Yet our strategy going forward is to put more into alternatives and never, ever touch an AdWords account within the last week of a campaign's run.
If Google is truly catering to political campaigns, as they have said they are, then why is this policy in place for them when it's so obviously a death knell?