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Google Crushes Childrens’ Dreams

May 8, 2019

For those who don’t know, as well as Theatremonkey, I’m one of the founding admin team members for theatre discussion board Born after the closure of a beloved discussion board over at Whatsonstage, for the past three years six volunteers have built the board to the point where it gets over 2 million page views each month.

Initially, those same six people dipped into our own pockets to meet the simple start-up costs. As popularity grew, we saw an opportunity to do a little good – giving back to the theatre community we love, as well as putting the site onto a more stable financial footing.

We achieved this by first paying our discussion board hosting service a (traffic-dependent) fee to let us choose our own advertising for the spaces they usually filled on our board.

Kind help from theatre industry experts and friends of mine lead us then to partnering with an advertising media company, who placed paying advertisements on the board’s pages for us.

For almost two years this went so well that we were able to not only cover the costs of keeping the site going, but far more wonderfully, use the surplus to make (board member voted on) donations at Christmas of over £1000 to tiny organisations helping the community through theatrical techniques.

On 12th February 2019 this year, it all came crashing down, when an email arrived from our marketing company informing us that,

“your site has been removed from any of their advertising demand due to invalid account activity. This can be anything from bot traffic, incentivised traffic, manipulation of ads, encouraging users to support the site through ad interaction or deceptive ad placement. It really can be any of these and unfortunately they do not tell us any specific information why they have blocked the site (nor will they) and there is no right of appeal.

Google has the sole discretion to determine instances of invalid activity. We treat invalid activity very seriously, analyzing all clicks and impressions to determine whether they fit a pattern of use that might artificially drive up an advertiser’s costs or a publisher’s earnings. If we determine that a network partner account might pose a risk to our advertisers, we may disable that account to protect our advertisers’ interests”

Our hosting service is long established and very well known, it does everything to comply with known rules and so of course did the marketers and us administrators. The email passed down to us by Google was a bolt-from-the-blue, a total shock… and fatal.

The marketing company’s “account manager” at Google proved a stone wall, and nothing our marketing friends (who fought valiantly for over a month) nor ourselves tried, in order to make up for that blockage, could make up for the loss.

Google is “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to online advertising it seems. An algorithm decides; and conviction followed by death is without warning or appeal. Along with other cases I later found online, we were terminated without reason, warning or opportunity for discussion.

Fall foul of Google, nobody else will touch you. It is the end.

The upshot of it all is that, thanks to Google, and solely to Google, there will be no more donations to charity. Strong financial management (basically, making Scrooge look like Bob Geldof) means theatreboard itself has enough basic funds for the board to continue for many years to come, provided the essentials don’t increase exponentially in price.

Theatreboard’s admin team can still “rent out” advertising spaces ourselves if we wish to. However, it means that organisations who want to target our theatrical types specifically will have to pay far more to do so as those advertising spaces will be far more expensive for us to rent on the “as required” basis, rather than the previous happy system.

Outside of those times, theatreboard readers will be bombarded with advertising way outside of our control, for products and services we wouldn’t wish them to be exposed to. We won’t earn anything from that – the chance for good things to come of it all… lost.

For those who think “do no evil” is a pretty cool company slogan… it is… trouble is, they don’t believe it, and absolutely everybody else suffers as a result.

Last Christmas, at theatreboard reader’s vote, received £500 from Theatreboard’s advertising surplus. 10 underprivileged children – some even from hospices – got a year’s place each, thanks to our scheme.

Google will now directly deprive other disadvantaged children of such life-changing places. Certainly, they have stomped with Herculean might on the tiniest flames of hope our chosen charity kindled within those kids. It’s even quite possible they deprived the world of great actors of the future.

How evil is that? I think we all know the answer.

  1. uncleofrees permalink
    May 8, 2019 11:11 am

    Devastating news. I agree, it’s not right. Warning you first and specifying what the actual issue is would be more helpful. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bundled warning systems in their ads sections and left those out of Webmaster tools. I don’t know if they do that, but they just downgraded user experiences for strategy planning SEO by killing their old Keyword Planning Tool, in favour of a new one that is only available in ads manager. WTF? You should not need to run ads to get strategic information for organic/ad-free inclusion on their results. But now you almost kinda have too. That should be illegal. They’re making punishment a result of not using all their systems and that’s a dominant player abusing it’s position. The EU will sue them, cause they only paid tax in one little part of Europe for the last 20+ years, and it’s Juncker’s 90’s taxes scheme that enabled that… so instead of the EU moving to change laws to break their ad network up from their search engine… they’ll just sue them for shocking amounts. Problem is we may not ever benefit from those actions for years, and in them meantime local communities and sites that serve them get lost in the cross fire and it’s unacceptable, immoral and wrong.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      May 8, 2019 12:28 pm

      Thanks for the sympathy, it’s appreciated so much.

      I agree, it’s possible they did sneak it somewhere. We at theatreboard didn’t have direct contact – our highly experience marketing company did, and as it came as a shock to them too… well… I think something is amiss and you are right. It isn’t even that we were not using their systems – we were!

      An answer would be wonderful, but alas. Oh well, thanks so much again for reading and replying, it means a lot.

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