Do As I Say, Not As I DoMany an affiliate has seen their revenue from AdWords marketing disappear, often overnight. Initially, Google decided that an affiliate running an ad alongside the primary merchant was a “double serving” violation, in which case the affiliate was almost always excluded from purchasing the word in question. Then Google added affiliates Web sites to their list of “types of sites that may receive low landing page quality scores”, which meant that even if an affiliate wasn’t buying the same term as the primary merchant, the affiliate could still get kicked off of AdWords.

More recently, affiliates who run “review sites” have also been attacked by AdWords, with Google alleging that these sites were merely “thin affiliates” – sites that were created predominantly to get around Google’s attack on direct-link affiliates.

Indeed, if you read Google’s QS guidelines today, here’s the definition they use:

We do not allow data entry affiliates to use AdWords advertising, but all other affiliates may participate in the AdWords program. However, we monitor and don’t allow the following:

  • Bridge Pages: Ads for web pages that act as an intermediary, whose sole purpose is to link or redirect traffic to the parent company.
  • Framing: Ads for web pages that replicate the look and feel of a parent site. Your site should not mirror (be similar or nearly identical in appearance to) your parent company’s or any other advertiser’s site.

If you’re an affiliate and are paid to send traffic to another site or a distributor, the company you’re promoting may also require you to comply with their own terms and conditions.

Please note that we’ll display only one ad per search query for advertisers sharing the same top-level domain in the display URL. Learn more about when affiliate ads show.

To make a long story short, it’s virtually impossible to run affiliate marketing through AdWords.

Apparently, that rule doesn’t apply if Google is the affiliate. That’s right, amazingly, Google is now using the Google Affiliate Network to run direct link affiliate ads on AdWords, and the affiliate getting the commission is Google itself.

How does this work? Well, my friend Brian Smith at has detailed it in all its glory – basically Google takes your Google Merchant feed and – if you are running your affiliate program via Google Affiliate Network – they run your feed in AdWords and get commission from any sale.

They even posted a blog about this on the official AdWords blog. The primary benefit of the program, according to Google, is:

Pay only for results: Product Listing Ads are charged on a cost-per-action (CPA) basis, which means that you only pay when a user clicks on your ad and completes a purchase on your site. Because Product Listing Ads is charged on a CPA basis, it offers a risk-free way for you to reach a larger audience on

That is indeed a benefit, but that pretty much sums up the benefit of allowing affiliates to send traffic directly to your site as well, a policy that Google has specifically banned!

I’m shocked by how brazenly Google has entered into affiliate marketing in AdWords, and equally shocked that the affiliate/lead gen space isn’t up in arms over this clear double-standard.


  1. Jeff March 29th, 2010

    The affiliate world is being attached from many different directions and the fact that it is not organized will only help it get dismantled faster. I could not agree with your observations and would add that Google is making it harder and harder for affiliates to be successful and moving more of the money into their own pockets.

    As many affiliates must agree we are all successful in part to Google, which really owes us nothing for the traffic they deliver. But to assume any website that doesn’t actually conduct the sale is inferior to the site where the sale occurs is crazy. A good affiliate website should add value to the user experience and if it properly does it should be rewarded in the same way you would reward one merchant over an other.

    Google is a source for finding information, it is not a direct connection between a merchant and a seller. It is a bit of an insult to the customer that they are only being pushed to merchants who join the GAN network.

  2. davidzhawk March 30th, 2010

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is value in good affiliate sites, and I find it arrogant that Google would conclude that there is no value to direct-link affiliates unless they are the affiliate! Do as I say . . .

  3. Chris Zaharias March 31st, 2010

    Affiliates have never been the type to be up in arms about anything; they just deal with whatever comes their way and move on. I’d bet their bigger issue is new state laws popping up everywhere to tax merchants’ affiliate-based transactions.

    You are 100% correct Mr. Blogation – this is a double standard of the most egregious type.

  4. DavidZHawk March 31st, 2010

    Thanks Chris – it’s amazing that affiliates aren’t outraged but I think you are right – they typically are only concerned about getting that next dollar, not 30,000 foot level stuff like this.

  5. Rodolphe Cote January 3rd, 2012

    I was kicked out of Google ad words for life because people came on my website, clicked on Google ads and didn’t buy anything. I was accused of telling my friends from the US to click on their ads. so I could make money from Google ad words. What a farce! Poor Google owed me 27 cents. Yip see do! Don’t those guys realize that we are into a bad economic situation and that most people look at ads without buying.
    First of all I’m from Canada and do not have friends in the US. I only wished I would not ever tried
    Google ad words. They also trashed my websites until I removed all their ads from my sites. What on earth is wrong with Google? They sure like to grab money but make absolutely sure that no affiliates will ever make money with them. The little affiliate has zero chance with Google and they are getting meaner and meaner toward affiliate marketing everyday. Why? Don’t they make millions from affiliate marketers. Those guys should be put out of business, they don’t deserve to be where they are now. Hopes good solid competition get those guys to become a bit more humble and if possible surpass them. That would be a big improvement for the internet in general.

  6. Eddie January 10th, 2013

    I am considering affiliate marketing and using google adwords as the medium for promoting affiliate products.

    However, I am concerned if using google adwords is any longer a good business model for new affiliate marketers to adopt in order to promote their affiliate products.

    David —- Do you know of anyone they are running successful google adwords campaigns or anyone else reading this post ……… regardless of the changes implemented by google that makes it more difficult to promote affiliate products.

    The question is based on what I am reading – it was easier before to make money several years ago using google adwords to promote affiliate products because i think you were able to do a direct link to the merchants site and now you cannot do that any longer.

    ( So what is the exact problem now that affiliates are having with promotion of affiliate products using google adwords and why should new affiliates forget about promoting affiliate products via google adwords it or should we still persue affiliate marketing using google adwords to promote the affiliate products )

    Should we stay away from google adwords to promote affiliate products period ………

  7. David Rodnitzky January 11th, 2013


    The only people still running affiliate programs on Google are comparison sites like Type in anything like “web hosting” or “wrinkle cream” and you’ll see these sorts of sites. If you want to try to do a straight affiliate program for one product, you will probably be out of lunch!

  8. Dwight December 20th, 2014

    Why shouldn’t a website owner with good content be able to make a profit marketing products that are beneficial to the visitor affiliate or not? How do you make any money then? Beginner to internet marketing just asking……

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.