PPC: Not For Kids

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Yesterday there was an article published on BBC entitled Boy racks up 100,000 euro bill advertising his brass band. Unbelievable – some 12 year old kid in Spain opened an Adwords account and racked up 100,000 euro (about $111,000 in US dollars) on PPC ads.

Here’s the kicker: “he was under the impression people clicking on the adverts would earn him money.”

Oh my.

First off – parents, don’t let your 12 year olds sign up for Adwords. Monitor their internet usage, for Pete’s sake.

OK. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here is where I think this kid went wrong. Here’s the Adwords home page (and yes, I realize this is the US, English version, but I have to believe the Spanish one says the same thing.)


It seems clear to me that you’ll pay when someone clicks, but read that sentence carefully: “And only pay when they click to visit your website or call.” I can see how an uninitiated user, especially a child, could think it means “And Google only pays you when they click to visit your website.” It’s a stretch, but I can see it.

Google, in their attempt to make the Adwords barrier to entry very low, has oversimplified things. I’ve written about this before. There’s no shortage of stories about people who have wasted thousands of dollars, or more, on ill-advised Adwords ads. There’s the small business owner who didn’t keep up with his campaigns and competitors. Once upon a time, 10 or more years ago, it was possible for novices to run a fairly successful Adwords campaign. Those days are long gone, just like the days of fixing your own car are long gone. Nowadays, you need a good mechanic for your car, and a PPC professional to run your Adwords campaigns.

And yet, there’s obviously still a lot of waste in PPC. I see it every time I do an audit. Surprisingly, many people running PPC campaigns still don’t follow best practices. A simple Google search gives me an idea of the scope of the problem:


755,000 results for a long-tail search about wasting money on Adwords, and a ton of blog posts in the top 10 results. Clearly it’s not just this poor Spanish kid, who luckily got Google to credit him back (or I think his mother did – go Mom).

Does this mean no one should ever try to run their own PPC campaigns? I’d say no, but I hesitate in giving that answer. With all the complexities in PPC these days, it’s wise for small business owners or individuals to at least have a professional look at their account. It’s worth paying someone a couple hundred bucks to avoid losing thousands, in my opinion. Or, consider hiring a PPC professional to run your account. I know plenty of PPC pros who take small side jobs, or who will perform audits for a nominal fee. It’s worth it.

I also take issue with Google making it seem so easy. It shouldn’t be so simple for a 12 year old to open an account:


I’m not sure what that something would be, and it’s probably easy to game. I know plenty of kids who signed up for Facebook well before their 13th birthday, simply by lying about their age. At least with Facebook, there’s no money at stake (although there are plenty of other things at stake, like privacy, self-esteem, cyber-bullying, and general tween-age shenanigans – but I won’t get into that here). The point is, situations like the one with the 12 year old simply shouldn’t happen. There should be some warning button that outlines the risks or at least says “Are you sure? Your credit card/bank account/whatever will be charged every time someone clicks on your ad.”

What do you think? Should Google somehow “gate” Adwords to keep the kids out? Or is it ok the way it is? Share in the comments!

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  1. Oh, for Google, it’s okay the way it is:). For every guy who reports rogue spend to Google, I’m sure there are many others who don’t, thus making the already-rich Google even richer! I’ve another explanation for what happened in this case: The kid confused AdWords for AdSense! 8 out of 10 people in my circle who know about Google Ads don’t know the difference between AdWords and AdSense.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      That’s what I was thinking too – maybe he thought he was signing up for Adsense and the difference wasn’t clear, even when he got to the Adwords site.

  2. Whilst I am sure that this kind of thing happens all the time on a smaller scale, I have to question the veracity of this story. I am in Spain and have read the piece in El Pais… and it appears the child advertised on YouTube believing that he was going to be paid for video views (videos of his brass band playing)… that’s even easier to believe.

    What is hard to believe – especially given my experience with AdWords – is that Google would ever, ever, ever allow a new advertiser to run up a 100,000 euro bill. Generally, the nest you are likely to get is invoicing after the first €500 has been spent – if that doesn’t go through the bank then the account is suspended pending payment… €100,000 – I don’t think so.

    This does not, in any way, take away from the core message – i.e. find out about AdWords before you start spending any money at all… as it is one of the fastest ways to spend money outside of Las Vegas.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Steve, I was hoping you’d comment because I know you live over there. The YouTube thing makes a lot more sense to me. And I agree – the billing threshold should have been pretty low for a new account – why didn’t he notice his account was being debited/credit card charged? And how does a kid get a 100k credit limit on a credit card??? Great questions and you may be right, the whole thing might be a BS story. Still, as you say, people signing up need to be informed.

  3. I was in a business center late one eve at a hotel on the East coast trying to get some work done before an important meeting the following morning. In comes 4 pre-teens. I pegged them to be between 10 and 12 yo. They quickly grabbed up two of the available PC’s with internet access and each pulled out their phones. For the next hour they were going wild with exploration… and I sat right in the middle of this, but like an owl in the Forrest – I was virtually unseen to them.

    I had been involved with a lot of web dev projects, apps and marketing at this time but I knew what I had just watched transpire was a context changer. What I saw was myself as a 12 year old with my buddies and how we would push anything we found to the limits. Whether it was the old Evel Knievel Snake canyon motorcycle set going off the roof, the Tape cassette recorder stealing songs from the radio, the mimicking a touchtone phone to make a call or the curious MacIICi connected to compuserve.

    This business center encounter was in 1998 and it was the first real insights into what we call “social media” today.
    These kids were on MySpace and they were “Texting” with dumb phone on a regular keypad.

    Gate all you want.
    Google may feel they are pretty smart, yet I can guarantee you, they are not as ingenious as 4 or 5 pre-teens equipped with desire and a lot of spare time.

  4. Some parts of the story don’t ring true, but it’s hard to tell. You would think being required to enter a credit card would have been a clue. And did he have his own or borrow mom’s?

    But if he really did think he was going to get paid for each click, then I am pretty sure he would have entered in a high bid price… and with the not real time reporting I could see someone racking up 100k euro bill before a CC charge was declined.

    But then again, can the keyword bids related to “brass band” in Spanish REALLY be all that expensive? And can a 12 year old newbie really create a campaign that gets that much traffic so quickly that they can run up a bill that large?

    Can’t wait to read the follow story on this one. 🙂

  5. Amy Bishop says

    Unrelated story – but also highlights how messed up their billing/accounts receivable processes are.

    A seasonal client was set up to debit directly from their bank account $500 at a time, several times a day. There were a lot of problems with this – for one, Google didn’t keep Uo with their spend so the amount they owed quickly accrued despite that they were paying several times a day. I don’t know who set up their billing settings. The second – and bigger problem – was that because they were seasonal, they paused they account in the fall. When they paused the account, Google also stopped billing them- despite a large balance on the account. When I was trying to help them get set up to launch in the spring, they were hit with an account hold because of the amount of debt that they had that they had never been billed for and that had occurred in a previous fiscal year for which the books were already closed. Hot mess. Also have to wonder how the client’s marketing/accounting team never noticed the discrepancy, either.


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