Editorial: Using Google Adsense On Your Website? Be Careful Of External Links To Third Party Download Sites

No doubt Google Adsense is still the most popular and easiest way to monetize online content, considering its high conversion rate and residual benefits. But at the same time, it is also surrounded by risks and newbie webmasters often find the program policies lacking adequate details. You create a website, work hard, use legitimate ways to build traffic and one day, that infamous email from Adsense arrives in your inbox stating that your website has violated one or more program policies.

On rare occasions, Google sends a warning email and gives the publisher 72 hours to fix the issues that are not in accordance with Adsense program policies. I have received it once and I know how terrible it feels (a state of shock, to be honest). But there is no guarantee that you will get that warning email and Google reserves the right to enforce a permanent ban on your account without giving you any warning in the first place.

This can be disastrous, as once you’re kicked out of Adsense, you can not sign up for a new account using the same Payee name, email account, residential address amongst other details. There are a few workarounds but none of them are legitimate, so I would not discuss them in this post.

Now here is a case where Google stopped serving ads because the website in question has a blog post which linked to a third party file download site.  The publisher in question has requested to kept his name withheld, below is a copy of the email he received from Google a few weeks back:


An excerpt from the email (highlights by me):

Adsense publishers are not permitted to place Google ads on sites involved in the distribution of copyrighted materials. This includes hosting copyrighted files on your site as well as providing links for or driving traffic to sites that contain copyrighted material.

Hosting copyrighted material on the site is certainly not the reason why Google stopped serving ads on this publishers website. The problem is that this publisher has a blog post (posted 3 years ago) and the page in question linked to a file on a free file download site. The file in question is free from copyrights, it was just a press report in .doc format. There is no copyright infringement involved with the document itself, no DMCA claims whatsoever.

According to me, the reason why Google took action on a page after three years of its publication is as follows:

When the blog post was published in early 2009, the third party file download site was nascent and it did not have many pirated files on its server. During these three years, the third party download site got greedy, allowed users to upload porn and pirated files in bulk, thereby earning a bad name in Google’s eyes. It is impossible to remember each and every site you have linked to from your pages, so what happened is that the publisher completely forgot about that blog post and kept building his website, as we all normally do.

Suddenly, this third party download site got out of its line and Google had to flag it. Meanwhile, Google found out the sources that are linking to this third party site and driving traffic to it. As a consequence, my friend’s website got flagged somehow and Google stopped serving ads on his website. His Adsense account is still active but Google has disabled serving ads to that particular site for linking to another site that is hosting copyrighted or pirated content.

This is ridiculous, at least the publisher should get a warning email but Google acts otherwise.

Now you may argue why the publisher used another website for hosting a simple word document and not his own site or FTP server for that matter. All I can say is that there are numerous occasions when you are left with no other choice. Considering a blogger blog which was created in 2009, there is no way you could upload a file on a Blogsot blog and link to it from your blog post (e.g a PDF document).

I will share another example case where nothing much is in control of the publisher.

Let us assume that I have a blog which is monetized using Google Adsense. I found a really interesting story on another site, wrote a response post on my blog and linked to the source. I also linked to one of his PDF report that his hosted on his web server.

5 years later, the owner of that site decided to not keep the PDF file on his website and he uploaded that file to a third party download server (e.g Rapidshare, Mediafire). Additionally, he did a 301 permanent redirect of the PDF file in his server to the new location, now available on the third party download site. Here is the pictorial representation:


Now the question remains, what am I supposed to do? How would I know when someone changes the destination of a link that is, in some ways, beyond my control?

In the legal picture, it is the publishers fault. If it is your website, it is your responsibility to maintain it, perform quality checks and provide a good user experience. And if you are using Google Adsense, you have to make sure you’re not breaking the rules, whether directly or indirectly. But as you would agree, it is impossible to scan and check all those links every other week, especially if your website is large and has thousands of pages or blog posts.

The only option we have is to perform a credibility check before linking to any external website or blog:

  • Is this source considered an authority in its subject?
  • How frequently this site updates?
  • Who is writing the stories? Check the Twitter and Facebook profile of the author, see whether his words are authentic or fake.
  • Have you seen any other mention of the site on another reputed blog or news directory? e.g Techmeme, Google News.

I also recommend using Xenu link sleuth to scan all external links and check their destination once in a while. The way Google enforces ban on Adsense publishers is very scary and other than fixing things on your side, you’ve no other choice.

The expectation that Google will always send a warning email, is equivalent to “Titanic can’t sink”.

Further reading:
1. Google Adsense new application procedure
2. Tips and tricks to grow your Adsense income.

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Amit Banerjee

Amit has been writing for Techie Buzz since early 2009 and keeps a close eye on web apps, Google and all things Tech. He also writes at his own tech blog, Ampercent. Follow him on Twitter @ amit_banerjee