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How To Prove You’re Not “Information Harvesting”

Just wanted to privately share some tactics to help you counter Google’s aversion to opt-ins in your landing page MVP. It’s hard enough getting a startup idea off the ground, to have to deal with arbitrary Google Adwords funny business.

If you are using the Launch Tomorrow process, email addresses have always been seen as “currency”. Emails are something valuable a prospect can give you to indicate that they really need the product you want to offer. Moreover, when selling online, you need email opt-ins to establish a relationship. In order to contact your prospect, you need an email address.

Google disagrees–kinda. One of the quickest ways to get on Google’s bad side is what they’ve dubbed “information harvesting”. How’s that for a “made up” problem?

Photo by Robert Wiedemann on Unsplash

Information harvesting means they’re unhappy you’re collecting private emails in exchange for “not enough” in their eyes. They’re chiding you for not providing a good user experience for the Adwords searcher. Yes, of course, but UX is not the point of a landing page collecting opt-ins, now, is it?

Specifically, here’s what Google says they don’t allow:

  • promotions that prompt users to initiate a purchase, download, or other commitment without first providing all relevant information and obtaining the user’s explicit consent
  • promotions that represent you, your products, or your services in a way that is not accurate, realistic, and truthful

With information harvesting, Google’s algorithms put you in the same bucket as late-nineties identity thieves. Long lost Nigerian prince relatives. And it’s up to you to prove (to a human employee of theirs) that you aren’t one, assuming you aren’t of course.

That’s what’s so uncomfortable about this policy. Personally, I try to be straight with myself and others as much as I can–all the time. So it feels unpleasant to be guilty until proven innocent. And tedious, to say the least. I do (unfortunately) know from my own experience, as well as other founders’ I’ve worked with.

In practice, though, the information harvester label will stop your landing page MVP in its tracks. Full stop.

Google suspends your entire Adwords account. Ouch.

If that happens, here are a few options:

  1. Drop Google, and move to other traffic sources for your landing page MVP
  2. Ask (without grovelling) GOOG to re-instate your account, and address each of their specific objections head on.
  3. Don’t gather emails, just sell a very low priced product–one which requires email for delivery. At least then you offset the cost of advertising in addition to getting emails.

With respect to dropping Google as a traffic source, it might not be the best source of customers for you in the long term. I’d argue it’s worth haggling with them anyway. You can get a lot of cheap, targeted market research about your value proposition from them–really quickly. They have traffic (ranked #1), and more importantly, they have more searchers than anyone else on the planet. If you want to find prospects searching for a solution to their problem, Google’s hard to beat.

Asking for Google to re-instate your account is a good, albeit slow, option. Typically, the actual changes they require aren’t that big, or at least there are simple workarounds.

For example, if you are asking for an opt-in, you need to be explicit, clear, and logical on exactly why you need their email address. Explain exactly what they should expect. If you are being up-front, transparent, and honest, you’re golden. That tends to help.

You also need to be clear WHERE IT SAYS ENTER EMAIL ADDRESS:

  • how often you will email them
  • how to unsubscribe, which google calls an “option to discontinue direct communications”
  • whether you will pass on user details to other companies.

There are also a few important components which must be on your Google-friendly landing page. This is true for both search and display traffic.

For example, if you have a form on the page, you must also include a privacy policy. Google wants you to be up front about your privacy policy, to openly declare what you’re doing with user data. You can hire a lawyer to draw one up for you, or you can just grab a subscription on iubenda [aff link]. It’s a privacy policy as a SaaS app. Select all of the tools you are actually using on your website, and get a lawyer approved privacy policy in 30 minutes. That’s an easy one. Usually, having a privacy policy increases conversions anyway. They’re possibly doing you a favor.

Other bits you need on your landing page include:

  • contact details
  • a phone number, especially, will help

You may need to clarify your business model to Google. You may also need to be transparent, and explain it to your Google sourced visitors. What’s free, what isn’t, and when they can expect to pay for something. Sometimes this can cause difficulties if you are a broker or middleman.

Ultimately, it will always come down to a judgement call by Google staff, so you will always need to comply to their requests. At the same time, they do accept that you’re running a business (or starting one). It’s the question of navigating that fine balance, so that everyone is happy.

The third way to get ditch the “information harvesting” label is quite simple…sell. Don’t just collect info. Sell at a loss if you need to. Sell an ebook for $1. Sell a higher priced service (think concierge or Wizard of Oz MVP) that addresses their problem. You may be able to get away with pre-selling the product.

At that point, you will need the user’s personal details to deliver the product. More importantly, you identify the people who are actively in the market for solutions and willing to pay for them. If you do sell (and collect sensitive information like bank or credit card details), you’ll need to use SSL. Grab a free one over here.

As you can see, you have a couple of options if you get this labelled slapped onto your account. Bing has started doing the same. Rumor has it Facebook is starting to “crack down” on information harvesting.

Want to know more about experimenting with landing pages? You’ll find my book Launch Tomorrow helpful. It goes into depth with everything else you need to think about, when putting up a landing page to test out demand for a new product.

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