How Google Sliced Away Our Knife Ads

Update:  A few people have asked if they can see emails between Knife Depot and Google Adwords staff.  The short answer is yes, if it’s something you’re interested in writing about, then just email me at Dan@knife-depot.com.  I also added an excerpt lower in the post, in which a member of the Adwords staff reveals his own disgust at the “double standard” Google is applying to big brands.

For seven years, Knife Depot has been selling top-quality blades over the Internet to the jubilation of knife lovers everywhere.  And for the last two years, we’ve been writing about knives and knife culture on The Cutting Edge.

However, recently, something has threatened our ability to promulgate our large selection of knives to the legions of blade lovers across the world:  Google has shut down our AdWords Account.

AdWords, if you’re not hip to the Internet jive, is a Google advertising program that allows companies to place text-based ads next to specified search queries.  To the user, it looks like this:

Screen shot 2013-03-22 at 12.00.45 PM 1

Up until late February of this year, Knife Depot had generated a good slice of its revenue from Google AdWords.  We’d also been careful to not ever violate Google’s Adwords weapons policy, which prohibits “the promotion of knives, such as butterfly knives, (balisongs) and switchblades.”

For this reason, we were shocked when last month Google told us they would be terminating our AdWords account unless we removed all of our “assisted opening knives,” which are legal, hugely popular across the U.S, and not prohibited in Google’s policy.  Assisted opening knives, if you’re not aware, differ from switchblades by the fact that pressure must be applied for them to be opened.

Here’s a more in-depth explanation.

After some deep thinking, we decided that serving our customer base, who legally buy large amounts of assisted-opening knives, was more important than continuing to advertise with Google. For this reason, we decided to not remove the knives and forgo our Google Adwords account

Of course, we expected that our fellow knife vendors would be subjected to the same anti-knife policies, and be forced to make the same decision of whether or not to advertise with Google or sell assisted-opening knives.

We were wrong.

While Google shut down the AdWords account of a few other Internet knife vendors, it has continued to allow large brands such as Walmart, Amazon and Bass Pro Shops to sell assisted-opening knives and advertise on Google Adwords.

Just check out the images below from Amazon.com and Walmart.

Yes, the world is unfair.  And yes, we have contacted Google on numerous occasions about this blatant favoritism toward big brands and despite assuring us that they would rectify it, they haven’t. In fact, even their own staff was sickened by the hypocrisy, as you can see from this February 28th email excerpt from a Google employee.

“I am still waiting on an answer to my reply where I asked for a universal enforcement of the policy OR we allow knife depot back online. I replied and saidI refuse to tell knife-depot they need to remove a product category that 7 other competitors are advertising & selling the same products. I then named each domain, called out the double standard, and requested that they state the clear differences that allows these competitors to serve & knife depot to be suspended. Still waiting on this reply.

So for these reasons, we wanted to let you guys, loyal Cutting Edge readers and Knife Depot fans, know that you might not be seeing Knife Depot ads peppered across the Internet.  However, rest assured that it’s not because we’ve softened our commitment to build the world’s most badass knife store, not even one bit.

It’s just because The Man tried to put his foot on our throat and say, “Hey, stop selling those badass assisted-opening blades,” and we refused, so The Man shut down our ads.

However, what the Man didn’t realize is that though he might be able to shut down our ads, he’ll never crush the desire of knife-loving men and women across the country to own perfectly legal and totally badass spring-assisted blades.  And he’ll never stop us from selling them.

We appreciate you being a part of the Knife Depot family and we hope, despite our absence from Google Adwords, you continue to buy knives on our site. Oh, what’s that, you want me to end this blog post with a razor-sharp video of our top-selling assisted-opening knife?

You got it.

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37 Comments

  1. Ken
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Kudos Daniel!

    I, for one, never pay any attention to Adwords but if you say it drive significant business, it did. Here’s hoping you see no negative impact from this.

    I suppose that we can expect to see similar actions from other “players” like YouTube and PayPal banning all knife related activities.

    Sign of our times.

  2. Daniel Lawton
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. Let’s hope this crackdown isn’t a sign of things to come.

  3. andrew messore, m.s.
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Google’s Blogger and other similar blog accounts have very good heuristics. In fact, a link to a blog for you—if you don’t have one already, would probably be equal to the amount of advertising for free. Whereas Facebook is a great way to communicate the mission of your company–a blog could be a sort of running tally of your stories, other knife related information, the increase in knife carrying stats since 9/11, and of course how knife throwing is exploding across the world. As the blog gets larger and creates more hits on the url–the predominance of the heuristics will take over and Google’s Browser will begin to list your blog and web page in succession—on a Google.com search such that other web pages will be on page 2. As more people sign on to receive the blog posts on a regular basis——-you can ferret out what about the blog was liked most—like a specific assisted knife model–from there you can write your blog using those terms consistently and Google Web Crawler will pick up on that as well–should they do a search from their email accounts search bar. Ad Words is paid heuristics. You don’t need it for the heuristics–you need a no-nonsense aggressive blog with a monthly q and a web seminar on the products you offer…the rest will take over from there. Good luck.

  4. Matt
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    As someone in the search marketing industry that distrusts Google, yet relies on them for a career, I can assure you I will be buying my next open assist blade from your company.

  5. Bill Howards
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    @Matt
    I am a Google employee and now because you said that I have decided to destroy your online reputation and subsequently your lively-hood. I’m going to put in motion a slow death and your cries for help will be drown out by all those that believe our purpose is to improve user experience on the web:) Have a Great Day!

  6. Sean
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    That is unfortunate although becoming the norm with Google. I would contact the FTC and inform them of what you went through. Sure it’s one person, but if more small businesses speak out, maybe something will change with their monopoly. Best of luck to you and your business.

  7. Ryan Lackey
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I never would have found out about you (I filter all Google ads and other banner ads) except for Google blocking your ads, which then led to me finding an article about them banning your ads on hackernews.

    Thank Google for the Streisand effect!

  8. Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    wait, did the Google email say you had to stop selling the knives, or simply that you could not advertise them or send traffic to those pages?

    When I do a search for “open assist knives” and “open assist knife” I don’t see ANY ads showing up on Google.

    • Daniel Lawton
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Hi Ryan,

      They said if we sold any assisted knives on our site our Adwords account would be deactivated and it was. You’re correct in that nobody is now advertising for “assisted opening knives,” but the larger brands are still selling them while advertising for pocket knives and other knife terms.

      • ProblemSolver
        Posted March 25, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

        Just set up a subsidiary, “Knife Depot 2″ or something, and sell the assisted-opening knives through that subsidiary’s website, which you link to from your main website. Problem solved!

      • Justin
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 1:44 am | Permalink

        No-routed adwords long ago, about the same time I deleted my google accounts.
        This makes the web experience much better: https://github.com/StevenBlack/hosts

  9. Ross Hudgens
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    This needs a lot more detail from a research perspective. We need emails – did they actually say that you should stop advertising them, or stop selling them? Amazon/Wal-Mart are not promoting those knives, simply selling them once you clickthrough, which seems reasonable.

    • Steven Musumeche
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Ross, they told us to stop selling them on our site completely. They were not satisfied with us just not advertising them. We will be posting email correspondence in an updated post later.

      • Posted March 27, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        I have a client who can’ t advertise with Google AdWords at all because they have 100% legal content on their website related to topic you can’t advertise for. They told me that we would have to remove the content from the site completely in order to be able to run an AdWords campaign.

        This Assisted-Opening Knife situation sound a lot like the one my client is faced with because the content is on the same site…

  10. Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Since you made the front page of Hacker News you can rest assured that Google will “address” this matter. Does seem like you were being unfairly excluded from paying for Google AdWords. Weird because there are AdWords for so many other obviously fraudulent products that make millions for AdWords. Thanks for having the guts to tell your story.

  11. Abe
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Wait, is no one going to call out Google for censorship? Isn’t the whole idea of a search engine–with or without advertising–to provide the results the end-user cares about: being it assisted opening knives, or bomb making, or how to make Grandma’s Muffins? Hearing this kind of thing sours me on Google. It provides a small, but very real opportunity for other competitors who censor less. I suppose it’s a bi-product of being a big company with deep pockets who is afraid of being sued for every little thing someone might buy because they saw an ad on Google. No matter their justification, it’s still DUMB.

    • Sean
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Google has a right to determine what ads they want to run on their network. The issue is that they are banning a small business for doing the same exact thing a large business (Amazon) is doing. Two different sets of rules.

  12. Engineer
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Google is evil. The hysteria in america agains the idea that women shouldn’t be able to protect themselves against a rapist is also evil.

    So, it’s no wonder google is propagating that hysteria by keeping tools of protection from women. (and other people, of course.)

  13. Posted March 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I still see Amazon actually advertising ‘assisted opening knives’ ‘knives assisted opening’ and other related terms via adwords on my end. And Google Shopping is not my area of expertise… but I thought Shopping was strictly pay-to-play as well? If so, they must have a different T&C than Adwords (?) because folks are advertising ‘assisted opening knives’ up the wazoo over on G Shopping https://www.google.com/search?q=assisted+opening+knives&hl=en&source=univ&tbm=shop

    • Steven Musumeche
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Google Shopping is pay to play as well, but we were told that there are “different rules” being applied even though the stated TOS are the same.

  14. Allaun
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    There is always alternate ad networks. This is not advertisement, i receive nothing from mentioning it. But you could try something like the bitcoin ad networks. Or yahoo ads. Though I’d be hard pressed to remember the last time I used yahoo. :p

    • Robert
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      There are, but it’s irrelevant. As a business owner, you’re going to try to maximize your reach with the best budget. Currently, there is only 1 monopoly in search and global digital media advertising, Google. Its amazing that the federal government even lets this happen. Unless a competitor can reasonably control 40% of the search market, the argument is moot.

  15. Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I manage PPC ads for several retail sites in the bodybuilding supplement industry so all I can say is… I feel your pain.

    Best of luck post-Google Adwords. Maybe this would be a good time to start looking into Bing if you haven’t already? I’m not sure what their policy is on knives but if it’s allowed, they’ve been great to work with.

  16. Posted March 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    That sucks man, keep up the good fight. One thing you might try: I don’t know if you guys are doing any retargeting but check into services like Adroll, Perfect Audience and Fetchback. It doesn’t get you the new traffic that Adwords does but it allows you to serve ads to the people you get via other channels once they leave your site. Apologies if you already know this but figured it might be an advertising venue worth mentioning in absence of being able to use Adwords. cheers

  17. jake
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    There’s more keyword stuffing than this article than I can shake a assisted opening blade at.

    • jake
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      In this article*

      Being snarky is tough work.

  18. josh
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Well at least you know why they shut you down. I went several rounds and an investigation to figure out why they shut down my account. They would not give me one reason. They pretty much said deal with it and don’t open any other accounts. I ran some small campaigns for my fathers local HVAC business and one for some local freelance web design work. Hardly anything illegal. Now my fathers competitors are buying his business name as a keyword to advertise their business and what can I do about it?? I love Google’s services. I’ve been using them for years, but I’m terribly afraid of what they will be in the years to come.

  19. Posted March 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Spend the money on SEO. Spend The Money on Amazon Product Ads and other Shopping Comparison Engines. Buy display ads. Bing will take your money. Looksmart will take your money. 7Search will take your money.

    I also think they have suspended your account, not shut it down.

    There is a difference.

    It’s whether you want to be compliant and selling, or non-compliant and absent for all keywords.

    The beauty of PPC is it is pretty easy to create a PPC only version of your site, make it noindex/nofollow and then be compliant by removing the ads. The rules are pretty consistent, nobody is advertising, it’s not you being victimised.

  20. john
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    i have been on the receiving end of google adwords censorship myself several times, it is not pleasant. the inconsistency with which the “rules” are applied is pretty shocking. established players are not subject to the same rules – new participants are not allowed the same latitude.

    i have also been forced to remove various payment methods as a function of payment processors giving similar ultimatums to what you describe with google: remove product X from your site or we stop processing.

    this whole soft censorship by non-governmental entities is such crap. if the product is legal according to the local government, it should be legal to advertise it, period.

  21. ham
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I have not been abused by google in the past but they are far too powerful and arbitrary for their own good, with little to no feedback from people taken into account.
    Their attitude about supporting customers exemplifies their problem.
    If I am ever in the market for a knife, I will be buying it here.

  22. Bertil Hatt
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    That is pretty much a clear case of discrimination on a market essential for your business. Send that and the e-mails to the FTC and even with their limited means, they will be able to prosecute that in no time. Even better if you can prove that other objects (presumably regulated: booze, “for tobacco” water pipes, things inappropriate for children) are being censored for small players, but not you.

    • Lord Of SEO
      Posted March 29, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      FTC? You mean those guys Goog-ALL paid off?

  23. Posted March 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    The story of the blacklisting of my $25 million company is summed up in this e-mail exchange with one of their mewling adwords reps. Notice how their only option is to “get wit their policy.” Sounds like Darth Vader saying come over to the dark side.

    Hi Marti,
    My name is Kirk and I am the CEO of Cayman Chemical. The only point that you have clarified for me is that you, like Kathryn, are devoid of any actual knowledge. By suspending our account, you are mainly interfering with the access of doctors and scientists to the materials they need to develop new medicines. That’s the 90%. This is an evil, which you then go on to justify as “..protecting our users from the other 10%.” OK – let’s talk about that. The other 10% are forensic standards used by the police, the FBI, the DEA and FDA to identify abused drug substances, so that they can successfully prosecute those found trafficking in them. So in essence, what you have said in your e-mail is that you “protect” the police from being able to do their job. In reality, your are enabling drug entrepreneurs to evade the law by designing novel drugs for which the police have no standards, no chemical fingerprints, and no source to obtain those. So by targeting the smaller 10%, Google commits another, different evil. You prolong the “prosecution vacation” enjoyed by each novel designer drug. During this time, when crime labs cannot identify what they have seized, and thus cannot charge anyone with a criminal offense, those party-goers incautious enough to smoke or ingest these substances die.

    So on the one hand, we have people dying from a lack of new medicine, and on the other hand, from overdosing on substances never-before tested in humans. Your sacred “Policy” is actually abetting and contributing to both. So…what to do about that? You just make the policy non-negotiable…so you don’t have to think about it.

    Because you are a neophyte, you incorrectly imagine that Cayman is actually supplying abused substances to users. Of course not. Unlike Google, we QUALIFY our customers. We ask them who they are. We require them to FAX us copies of their DEA licenses that permit them to possess these substances. We sell amounts so tiny that an insect could not get a high from it in the first place. And we cross-reference all of our documentation with the DEA and FBI if we have the slightest suspicion that abuse or deceit could be happening. This is costly. Our revenue per employee is only $100,000. Yours is $1 million. That’s because you are cutting corners – you make no attempt to qualify your customers. You just blast them with policy decrees and blacklist their marketing efforts. If you simply put in the effort required to properly qualify your adwords customers – we would be back online.

    As to your final paragraph…don’t patronize me. I understand that we were suspended because we are small. I understand that our larger competitors are being left alone because their adwords spending crosses some threshold of immunity that only Google Management knows. Anyone can do the searches and find the scheduled products still listed there on their websites. So don’t tell me you take this seriously. Google is as cynical and material as any entity I have ever dealt with.

    In the end, I have only one real question for you…do you really care? Can you think? Because it is really a waste of time if I am trying to explain things but am talking to an idiot. Or an adwords rep. Sorry if I’m repeating myself.

    Kirk

    From: adwords-support@google.com [adwords-support@google.com]
    Sent: Thursday, March 28, 2013 3:14 PM
    To: Kirk Maxey
    Subject: RE: [6-6683000000724] Reaching out Regarding your Policy Concerns

    Hi Kirk,
    My name is Marti and I am a manager on the Google AdWords team. Kathryn forwarded your concerns to me and I wanted to help clarify a few points for you.
    While I understand that you are upset that your site was suspended, and 90% of your products are used in the development of new medicines – our policy is meant to protect users from the other 10%. As Claire mentioned in October, your site will not be able to run with Google AdWords until you are in compliance with our Policies. This is non-negotiable.
    If you are interested in getting help to be in compliance with our Policies, please let me know and I would be happy to help you.
    You also mentioned in your email that you are concerned that others are running while violating our Policies. We take this very seriously and try to enforce our Policies equally. However, if you have found someone in violation of this or any policy please feel free to let me know and I will investigate it.
    Regards,
    Marti

  24. Posted April 5, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    We, too, have had our wine PLA’s suspended b/c they are not deemed family-safe. However, our competitors are still advertising wine. This happened in December 2012, during the most critical part of our season and it reoccurred in March 2013. We lost enormous revenue. Frustrated doesn’t even cover it. We have emailed ad nauseum, and we have no solution. Right now, we were told we could remove the wine from our data feed (so other PLA’s can be seen) but there is the risk that the feed will be shut down since we have wine on the site. Makes no sense.

  25. Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Effective. I agree.

  26. Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I all the time used to study post in news papers but now as I am
    a user of web so from now I am using net
    for articles or reviews, thanks to web.

  27. Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Yeah, we got the same message from google and they suspended our account for assisted opening knives about the same time it happened to you. Thanks for the details and good luck with things.

5 Trackbacks

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  2. By Don’t be evil. « Whipped Cream Difficulties on March 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    [...] However, somebody in the Google Adwords department got bent out of shape and told the Knife Depot: either stop selling “assisted opening” knives, or lose your Adwords account. [...]

  3. [...] When Google AdWords informed Knife Depot that it would be terminating their account in November of last year, the internet knife shop did not back away from the fight. In fact, they recently took it to their blog, The Cutting Edge. [...]