If you have ever received a GMC policy violation email, you know how daunting they can be. These emails are sent by Google when they think a merchant isn't following the Merchant Center Terms of Service or the Google Shopping Policies. When your account is flagged for a potential policy violation, Google will disapprove the product listing ads to let you know that something is not right. If the violations are not fixed within a short time period (often seven days), your account may be suspended.
Figure 1: Illustration of GMC Policy Violation email
Contained within the email will be an example product that is violating policy, as well as a link to a full list of the products that will be disapproved if you do not fix the violations. This full list can contain thousands of products. The good news is that in almost every case, the vast majority of these products are not in violation and they will be fine once you’ve removed the actual violators. The bad news is that there is no official count of items actually in violation, but in order to avoid disapprovals on all of these products you need to remove every product in violation.
The worst case? Your entire account may be suspended if the products in violation are not resolved in a timely manner. Naturally, this can have devastating results on your sales. Bear in mind however, that the impact of each policy violation will vary by account and the specific situation, as not all products are typically affected by a GMC policy violation.
Clearly these violations are something every retailer wants to avoid, but sometimes even the most nonthreatening products or sites can cause a policy violation to be triggered through no intention or fault of the retailer. In order to avoid the disruption to your business that comes with having a large portion of your products disapproved, we have outlined some steps to help you get the issue resolved in a timely manner.
Figure 2: What you don't want to happen, a suspended GMC feed.
How to resolve GMC policy violations:
- Develop a Plan
Review the warning email and make note of the deadline date. You will have seven days, assuming you see the email immediately, to resolve the issue. Aim to have all of the edits completed within four to five days, as this will allow time for you to request a manual review of the feed from Google. This will ensure that all items violating their Shopping Policy have been resolved. This process generally takes one to two days for Google.
- Assess the Damage
Follow the link provided in the email to assess how many products have been affected. If it’s a small number you can go through them manually using the descriptions, although they can be rather vague. You can find a list of restricted products on Google Support here. Next, remove products that are in possible violation.
- Remove the Product in Violation
It is extremely important to clarify what removing products actually entails. If you use an API, make sure to definitively remove the product from the GMC feed. Marking the item as out of stock, setting products to not be eligible for the shopping network, and pausing associated product targets have no effect on policy violations. Also make sure to check any local product feeds to ensure that items you remove from your main feed have also been removed from local feeds.
- Be Conservative
Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to tell if a product violates Google’s policy. There are no in-depth guides provided for this task and, according to the GMC Policy Team, checking if a product is showing PLAs on the SERP is not necessarily a good indication of whether a product is in violation. This is because PLAs could still be showing for products their system hasn't disapproved yet, so it’s best to not rely on what is showing as an indicator of policy adherence. In some cases you will have to use your own discretion, or reach out to your Google Rep to see if they can help answer your question about specific products. We have learned that it is better to be conservative and remove products you are unsure about, unless they are top revenue drivers.
- Ask for Help
If there are over 1,000 products you can try reaching out to your Google Rep to ask for a list of the ones that are actually in violation. They may not be able to supply you with this, as it is the responsibility of the merchant to find products in violation of policy, however it certainly can’t hurt to ask for some assistance.
- Prioritize Your List
Once you are left with a large list of products, export them to Excel, or similar program. Then begin culling Google’s list down to something more manageable. There are a number of ways to go about this, but here are some time effective strategies we recommend:
- Start with the top revenue driving products. These are the products that matter the most to your business, so you will want to ensure that they do not violate Google policy. If you find that they do, you may consider reaching out to a Google rep to determine what your options are.
- Aim to rule out large buckets of products based on categories/subcategories that are not in violation.
- For example, telescope lenses are not Dangerous Products, Halloween decoration skeletons are not Human Remains, and handheld poker video games are not Casinos and Gambling Equipment, however they are all examples of products which were listed as being in possible violation of Google policy.
- Manual Review
Now that you have eliminated the easily identifiable buckets, hopefully you are now left with a much smaller number of products as the next step is to review the remaining products manually.
- Again, be conservative with this smaller list. If you aren’t sure what to do with a product and the policy violations guide doesn’t make it clear, just pause it. Assuming you already went through your top revenue products, this shouldn’t be too problematic. You can test reactivating products once you’ve ensured that your account won’t be hit with preemptive disapprovals or a suspension.
- Google Review
After removing all products in violation from your feed, request a manual review from Google. If it comes back clean then you are done. If Google responds with products still in violation, they will typically provide you with a more detailed list of products that are actually causing violations. This will make the removal of the last offending products easy to identify and remove from the feed.
At this stage your issue should be resolved. We strongly advise using this opportunity to create internal documentation on product, or categories of products, that lead to the policy violations on your account. This will make for a much easier diagnosis - and even help you to avoid - these policy violation issues in the future.