Google’s Privacy Policies: How are Christian businesses affected?
A profitable digital marketing strategy widely used online is called ‘retargeting’ or ‘remarketing’. What was once considered standard practice by advertisers on the Google Ad Network has now become highly controversial due to a recent decision by Google’s AdWords Support team.
If you have a Christian ministry or a Christian business, then this policy may also affect your ability to use retargeting ads in your market.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the recent decision and define some key terms. At the end of this post, you’ll learn how to control your ability to reach your audience without Google retargeting.
Google and Concordia Publishing House
The following excerpt was taken from a Concordia Publishing House news release published on April 24, 2018. You will find the entire news release HERE.
Concordia Publishing House Responds to Google Disabling of Faith-Based Advertising
Concordia Publishing House was informed on Monday that all CPH remarketing ads were “disabled due to a violation of Google’s policy for advertising based on interests and location.”
Google informed CPH that the type of ad in question would not be allowed based on Google’s policy of religious belief in personalized content. As a Google AdWords Support representative explained, the disapproval resulted from the fact that the items in the ad and on the CPH website refer to Jesus and/or the Bible. CPH was also informed that we could 1) remove all items that refer to Jesus or the Bible and proceed to use the remarketing ads or 2) use a different type of Google ad product.
CPH President and CEO Dr. Bruce G. Kintz stated, “Clearly, CPH does not agree with Google’s decision in this matter. If we are willing to remove references to our faith in our ads or website, then we will be allowed to use remarketing ads with Google. Simply stated, we are not willing to sacrifice our beliefs to comply with Google’s requirements. It’s no secret that society is becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. This increasing hostility makes our mission of proclaiming that faith through the books, Bibles, and curriculum that we produce all the more important. We will continue to proclaim the faith because we know without a doubt that the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
Censorship or Privacy Protection?
Before the motive behind Google’s action can analyzed, a few definitions are required:
What is remarketing? According to Google,
Remarketing shows ads to people who’ve visited your website or used your mobile app. When people leave your website without buying anything, for example, remarketing helps you reconnect with them by showing relevant ads across their different devices.”
The term ‘retargeting‘ is often used interchangeably with ‘remarketing‘. Please note: This is a very powerful form of paid advertising that optimizes the effectiveness of your advertising budget.
Remarketing helps you reach people who have visited your website or used your app. Previous visitors or users can see your ads as they browse websites that are part of the Google Display Network, or as they search for terms related to your products or services on Google.”
But, even more powerful than remarketing ads are dynamic remarketing ads. Again, as defined in google adwords support:
Remarketing allows you to show ads to people who have previously visited your website or used your mobile app. Dynamic remarketing takes this a step further, letting you show previous visitors ads that contain products and services they viewed on your site. With messages tailored to your audience, dynamic remarketing helps you build leads and sales by bringing previous visitors back to your site to complete what they started.”
Nate Brown at the Christian Journal makes this observation:
Google cannot legally remove websites and or content deemed by the organization to be offensive on platforms they do not own; however, being that Google controls a vast majority of online searching operations, Google can control how often such content is seen by the public.
Gene Veith at Patheos.com discussed CPH’s news release and clarifies the restriction:
This refusal to allow any reference to religion–which must surely impact many more Christian organizations–applies to “personalized advertising.”
So what exactly is “personalized advertising”?
The following definition is an excerpt from google adwords support’s definition of “personalized advertising“:
Personalized advertising is a powerful tool that improves advertising relevance for users and increases ROI for advertisers. Because it works by employing online user data to target users with more relevant advertising content, it can provide an improved experience for users and advertisers alike…
Based on the nature of personalized ads and the sensitivities associated with user ad targeting, we’ve identified policy standards for all Google features using personalized advertising functionality…”
The image below is a screenshot of Google’s policy for “Religious belief in personalized advertising”.
You can read the entire Personalized advertising policy guidelines HERE, but this is a short list of prohibited categories that are deemed just at ‘dangerous’ as religious belief:
- Alcohol in personalized advertising – alcoholic beverages and drinks that resemble alcoholic beverages
- Gambling in personalized advertising
- Health in personalized advertising
- Relationships in personalized advertising – personal hardships with family, friends, or other interpersonal relationships
- Political affiliation in personalized advertising – political ideologies, political opinions, engagement in political discourse
- Political content – political opinion blogs, political engagement
- Non-family safe and Adult content
So which is it – censorship or privacy protection?
Google wants us to believe that this policy is only in effect for privacy concerns.
Levi Nunnink at Medium.com agrees with Google:
No, Google is not attacking CPH
So what was actually happening here? Was Google actually going after CPH?
Long story short: No. Not really. It’s all about privacy
How about another definition? According to Wikipedia:
Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or “inconvenient” as determined by government authorities or by community consensus.
While hiding under the privacy banner, Google is preventing a select group of advertisers – in this case, a Christian publisher – from accessing their most profitable advertising model. Sounds like censorship to me.
Google actually has a program called Google Ad Grants that a large number of Christian churches and other faith-based organizations participate in. The program provides those Christian charities (and other qualified 501(C)(3) nonprofits) with $10,000 a month in free advertising via AdWords. If Google was indeed going to ban an advertiser based on their faith, then Google would not be giving so much free advertising to so many Christian churches and organizations.
My agency, [omitted], manages several of these accounts and Google is very friendly towards these organizations. And search ads mentioning Jesus, Christianity, the bible or bible study are certainly allowed. Google just asks that they abide by the advertising policies, which is the same thing they ask of all of their advertisers. In this instance, it is a very strict re-marketing policy in place to protect user’s privacy and also covers a wide variety of interests beyond religion, such as medical conditions, sexual interest, financial status (i.e. bankruptcy) and a multitude of legal issues… I have Christian clients who have been in the program for years without issues.
Robert’s comments probably reflect the opinions of other advertising agencies who get paid to manage Google grant accounts for faith-based organizations. But is it a valid argument?
Is anything from Google truly FREE?
What about Google grants?
I contend that nothing Google does is truly free to the consumer.
In exchange for free email, Google now has a record of every email sent and received for that account.
In exchange for a free search engine, they have extensive data for every search performed on your ISP.
What strings are attached to the ‘free’ Google grants program?
To qualify for Google Ad Grants, your organization must … Acknowledge and agree to Google’s required certifications regarding nondiscrimination”
What are the “required certifications regarding nondiscrimination”? This excerpt is from the Google Ad Grants Terms and Conditions:
Google doesn’t donate Ad Grants to organizations that discriminate on any basis in either hiring or employment practices or in the administration of programs and services.”
Say what? So if I am a Christian nonprofit looking to hire a Content Marketer, refusing to hire an atheist for this position would cause me to violate this condition!
Read that sentence again. Am I wrong!?
What if our church is looking to hire a new pastor? Does ‘discrimination on any basis in hiring’ apply for that position as well?
From a Kingdom perspective, participation in the Google Ad grants program is being unequally yoked.
Though ignored by many, the Google grants program causes a significant economic impact and it isn’t just ‘free’ ads for those who participate.
What is the economic impact of Google providing ‘free’ advertising money to non-profits?
It’s important to note that Google is not providing free ads. They are providing grant money to pay for ads.
In other words, the supply of ad money is being inflated.
What happens when money supply is inflated? Prices Rise.
As a result of Google grants inflating the supply of ad money, the price for every keyword in the non-profit market goes up!
(See Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard Maybury for a detailed explanation of this economic concept.)
What does this mean for Christians who choose to not participate in Google’s programs? How can you possibly expand the reach of your ministry or business online without Google’s help?
You build your online presence following Kingdom Principles.
Kingdom Marketing provides a 3-part solution using proven digital marketing strategies
There are many aspects to earning the trust of your audience and the ability to influence others online. But these three principles are key:
- Build a strong Foundation – your website MUST be at the center of all online activity
- Content Marketing is Kingdom Marketing – you are serving your audience by providing free, valuable content that is relevant to them
- Guard your list – your subscribers trust you – do not violate their trust by misusing your list
Each of these topics will be discussed in a separate blog post over the next few weeks. They will also be the primary topics in a free upcoming video workshop.
What can you do today?
- Register for our upcoming free video workshop at ExpandYourReach.online.
Each segment of the workshop will demonstrate one of the three key principles of Kingdom Marketing.
- Subscribe to this blog! Do it now so you don’t miss any future posts.
And finally – you are blessed to be a blessing. You can further the Kingdom by reaching people online. Stay tuned and we’ll show you how.