Google Poland: Scam Ads in Polish AdWords

Nov 18, 2009 • 7:36 am | comments (4) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google AdWords

This site rarely ever has guest posts, but I wanted to make an exception for a long time reader and SEO who often sends me tips and advice. Kasia Bauer, a search marketer from Poland, author of Magiczne SEO & SEM blog and co-owner of has written a guest post on Google AdWords scams in Poland. We hear about Google AdWords scams in the U.S. often enough, to the point where Google took action. In fact, just yesterday we reported how Google is getting stricter, but does this apply to outside the U.S.? What type of scams are occurring on Google there? So we have this guest post just on that topic.

Scam Ads in Polish AdWords

Recently, scam ads gained noticeable presence in Google AdWords across Central and Eastern Europe. Polish AdWords is currently experiencing a wave of campaigns that are preying on naive users. It has been at least 11 months since we have noticed first suspicious ads appearing on Google Network. It looks like Google is doing very little, or even nothing, to prevent them from showing.

How Do These Scams Work?

All the scams are based on premium SMS service. A user is lured to fill up a test and, in order to see it's results, has to send a text message to number provided on the landing page. After getting the verification code the website will allow him or her to see test results with the "service". Everything would be OK if only:

  1. The ads would appear only with searches regarding related keywords
  2. The landing pages weren't misleading
  3. The service would provide some real value
  4. The service would not violate Google AdWords TOS

The AdWords advertising policies states:

Don't use phishing or other scamming tactics.

Advertising is not permitted for sites collecting sensitive personal information or money with fake forms, false claims, or unauthorized use of Google Trademarks. Examples of personal information include email addresses, user names, passwords, and/or payment information. In addition, advertising is not permitted for 'run your car on water' programs or content.

The most popular “service” is the ”find out when will you die” test.

The ads are showing up both on search and content network. Here are screen captures:



After clicking on one of the ads, user will find himself on a landing page, which asks to fill up a test in order to find out date of his death. It consists of about 20 ridiculous or often very personal questions.


After finishing the test, user finds out that results are not free. He or she is presented with a prompt to pay for “the date of your death”. Sometimes the end pagesshow the information to send the money via SMS only. The cost of 1 text message is stated with very small font in the footer and is about 23 PLN (~$8.34).


Some landing pages are formatted in a misleading way. The price for paying via credit card is enlarged and bolded, and so is the information “pay via SMS”. Such design suggests that the price of the SMS is the enlarged one. However, the real price is stated further below, again with small font.


Polish Google representatives in Warsaw do not comment on the situation officially with anything else than “it is a really big problem”. This is hard to believe, since majority of those ads have similarities in their ad texts which could be flagged by a simple keyword filter. It is really disappointing to see how the leading ad network is not only being polluted this way, but also artificially increases CPC for legitimate advertisers. Whole situation makes one think that having 97%+ of local search market made Google less likely to act.

You can find more on this topic in my Polish blog post: Scam Ads in Poland.

In classic Search Engine Roundtable style... Forum discussion at Google AdWords Help, Golden Line and Forum.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: November 17, 2009


11/18/2009 02:37 pm

Firstly, I would like to add that this is more or less a problem in Greece too -however, recently Google started to be more strict about these issues. Secondly, as far as I can say by looking at the screenshots, these landing pages violate the <a href="" rel="nofollow">AdWords Advertising Policies regarding Mobile Content Services</a>. For example, there are no check-boxes which the user must check in order to proceed to the next step. Also, the ads do not state the price and the billing interval. I guess the AdWords ad approval department in Poland is understaffed and / or overworked...

John Paluski

11/19/2009 06:51 am

Barry, as a keen reader of your blog I have to say that this post is a disappointment. It sounds as if the Polish Marketer is having problems getting his campaigns profitable and is using this forum to eliminate a (spammy) competitor. The post is lacking real value other than "Google is not doing enough to deal with this" & "some marketers are promoting stuff that breaches google's TOS". Again, no actual news here, just wasting the reader's time to promote this friend's agenda. Hope I'm not too harsh, I just want to make sure this blog is not going in the wrong directions.


11/19/2009 11:25 am

I like the post. Informative to those that have not seen these scams before. Now we know what to look out for. The author does not sound like a marketer upset that her campaigns are not profitable, but a reputable marketer frustrated at Googles inaction against those with dubious intent. I totally agree with the author, when scams are so obviously misleading and do not comply with Googles own rules, then why do they not act? The more advertisers the higher the cost paid, and eventually the end user pays for this through yielding, so not only can some be mislead but all may end up paying more the the products or services due to advertisers have to spend more to get there message out there. Simple economics. Of course the other outcome could be that those advertisers with tight budgets will simply not be able to stay in these auctions, so less choice. The end result for both advertisers and users would not be good either way. If Google allows this type of scam to continue then we will see a lot more of them. If the scammers get away with it they will expand and others will see thier success and enter. Perhaps Googles Mantra "don't be evil", should be extended to, "don't help others to be evil". The world is full of Evil people, it is down to those of us that are not evil (or at least less evil!) to protect the weak and the naive. Google are in a position of power here and can easily show there true colors.... I wait to see if Google truly "does no evil" or if they will be happy to look the other way. In my mind looking the other way is just as bad. Just my Humble opinions

Kasia Bauer

11/23/2009 10:55 am

Thank you all for the comments. @John Pulaski I can assure you that this post is strictly informational. Both me and my clients have no problem with auction based system or being profitable. I am not the only marketer who believes that scam ads are a problem. At the end of the post you have bunch of links. One of them leads to Goldenline, Polish networking site, very similar to LinkedIn, In the discussion other marketers, often representing agencies directly competing with each other, share my concern. Furthermore, other sources, like leading news reporting sites, also covered this story. So whole case is a little bit different than you described it :). People that lost their money due to such scams share their experience and feel ripped off. As you know bad news travels faster than good. Eventually, AdWords ads may stop be such a trustworthy source of goods or services in the eyes of users. Therefore, a good deal being advertised may not be perceived as legitimate. This is what bothers me. Last but not least, I love Barry's work in search - I would never use his authority in order to pursue my private agenda. Thank you for the link. I was not aware of this particular part of TOS. Good tip. @Christian I agree with your opinions. When I fist started to write about these issues, I got a lot of comments and e-mails like: "if people are stupid, then it is their problem" or "we see it everyday - deals with inaccurate pricing and small text at the end of the agreement. Nothing worth mentioning". I feel that if we stop talking about such problems, it would be like to admit that it is OK to do business this way. There are a lot of people that are inexperienced with the Internet. I believe we should protect them, not exploit them.

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