I recently started doing some consulting/advisory work for a client with a presence in Australia and New Zealand (technically two distinct legal entities, but they trade as a unified brand, share leads/deals, a website etc)
Historically, they had split their Google Ads activity across two accounts (one for Australia and one for NZ - I am not going to debate the pros and cons of this approach in this blog post ... that is for another time).
They had not long ago brought on a digital agency to manage their Google Ads, and had given this agency full admin control of both accounts.
One of the agency's first actions was to migrate the NZ campaigns into the AU account (setting location targeting appropriately) thus "merging" the two accounts.
However, there was an oversight on the part of the agency - they never actually turned off the ads in the old NZ account, meaning that - in effect - they had been running two identical sets of campaigns in two accounts.
I pointed this out to the client, who was able to get the agency to rectify the mistake. No great harm done in this case (although that really is a rather elementary mistake for a large, presumably expensive agency to make - that's a topic for another time) but the "moral of the story" is an important one.
In life, many things are better with a double serving. Two servings of dessert is always better than one, for example. If the bartender serves you a double and you only paid for a single, then life's good.
However, Google Ads is one such example of double serving being a bad thing.
In fact, double serving your ads is a violation of Google's terms of service/guidelines, and could lead to your suspension from the platform.
Google has a specific section of guidelines around what constitutes 'Abusing the ad network' (you can read their guidance here).
In particular, "double serving" (as it is generally referred to in the industry) is prohibited.
What this means is that you cannot run ads for your website in two different accounts.
In the case of the aforementioned client, this was inadvertent. Nobody intended to "double up" on ads for this business - the agency that took over the accounts just never bothered to check the old account had its ads disabled before starting the campaigns up in the new account.
Hiding Your Tracks Is Still Against The Rules
If you are considering trying to break Google's rules and think you can side step them by doing clever things like having the same site duplicate across multiple domains (so that technically each account is running ads to a different site that is in reality a duplicate) please note this is still problematic and you can get into trouble if you are caught.
There is no guarantee you are going to get caught, but don't say I didn't warn you if something bad happens!
Scenarios Where Double Serving Google Ads May Be A Risk
In my experience, there are a few common scenarios where double serving of Google Ads happens or is a greater risk than for a "normal" business:
- Franchise businesses & similar - The most common scenario I see is when franchise (or other "multi location/legal entity") businesses are concerned. The risk here often stems from the franchisor/parent company wanting their franchisees to sort Google Ads management independently, often because they are stubborn and inflexible when it comes to accounting - basically the franchisor or parent company doesn't want the hassle of having to reconcile the spend on one Google Ads account across multiple franchises/sub-companies, and so insists that each franchise or sub-company has its own account and pays Google directly. Even if you then have one agency/freelancer/contractor managing the Google Ads for each franchise or location (which has its own account) there is a much greater risk of double serving, because it's so easy to get the location targeting wrong in Google Ads. If you are a franchisor or director of any other kind of multi-branch business that is considering Google Ads, I implore you to have one Google Ads account that has all of the campaigns for all of your branches, even if it means a bit of extra work for your accounting or finance team to charge ad spend back to the various franchisees.
- High competition industries - When it comes to deliberate/"malicious" double serving on Google Ads, I see this much more frequently in high competition, cut-throat industries like finance (especially second tier finance) and emergency local services like auto locksmiths for people who have locked themselves out of their cars. Basically the more valuable a PPC lead, the higher the likelihood that someone in the industry will try to double serve to improve their chances of winning a new customer.
- Businesses that change PPC management frequently - Some businesses just love changing the agencies/contractors they work with for activities like PPC management. Every time there's a slow month, or something else changes within the business, they seek new blood when it comes to management of their Google Ads. I can think of a client of mine (who I do the occasional bit of advisory work for now) who has worked with about seven different Google Ads management companies and contractors in the last three years, myself included. They have also had numerous different accounts, as some of the agencies insisted on setting up new accounts and then refused to hand them over (this is a topic for another time, worthy of its own discussion). This pattern of behaviour increases the likelihood of inadvertent double serving.
You Cannot "Double Serve" Within One Account
One thing to note is that if you only have one Google Ads account, you cannot double serve.
You could have 50 campaigns with the same keywords, ad copy etc all pointing to the same page on your site, and that wouldn't constitute double serving (it would be terrible practice and have negative consequences from a performance perspective ... but it is not a TOS violation).
The issue comes from trying to run ads for your site in more than one account at once.
Recap - What Is Double Serving On Google Ads & Why Does It Matter?
Double serving on Google Ads is where ads are running for your website in more than one Google Ads account.
Whether deliberate or unintentional, this is a violation of Google's terms/policies and could lead to warnings and eventual suspension from the platform.
Most of the time this issue arises from one of three root causes:
- A lack of understanding of the Google Ads TOS/policies (or wilful ignorance of them) - i.e. an advertiser wants to get an unfair advantage so sets up a bunch of Google Ads accounts, and then duplicate websites on slightly different domains (but they are all for the same business) so they can "own" the results for specific keywords. Whether this is done as an intentional violation of the rules - or just because the advertiser doesn't understand or has never checked the rules - it's still a problem from Google's perspective.
- PPC management changing hands between agencies/freelancers - As per my recent example given at the start of this article, another common reason for double serving (often inadvertent) is when a business cycles through different agencies/freelancers/contractors for Google Ads/PPC management. Some agencies/freelancers insist on setting up fresh accounts, and then there can be oversight in terms of switching off old ads etc.
- Franchise business model or similar where each franchisee or store controls their own Google Ads account - If you have a business where each branch/store/franchisee has their own Google Ads account, then you can risk double serving issues.
If you are worried about this type of issue with your Google Ads advertising, then get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +64 21 027 81721 - I can help you to diagnose potential problems and solve them before they threaten your advertising.