Q: what is Information Harvesting and why is it such a problem for Google?
A: When websites are using AdWords for the sole purpose of collecting personal information, Google describes it as Information Harvesting. Google is very clear about this issue, so if you are currently running old-fashion lead generation campaigns, i would strongly recommend you to stop it immediately.
Even more: don’t even think about “buying” your users personal information in exchange for some cheap reward, since Google prohibits the advertisement of websites that offer a free gift in exchange for personal information and even prohibit websites that ask personal information to get the results of a survey or quiz. But it doesn’t end here. Google also prohibits websites that ask for personal information from users in circumstances where it’s unclear how this information will be used.
Please be advised that violation of this policy may result in a range of actions, such as disabling of your domain, disapproval of ads, account suspension and even personal slap (ban from Google AdWords). The popular 2009 trick of setting up new accounts that are directed to the same page (or even to a new domain with the same content) doesn’t work anymore and most likely will lead to an automated suspension.
Q: So why is Information Harvesting such a big issue for Google?
A: Google is all about providing a better search service. Google’s core business is search, and in a way still is. When an advertiser is promoting a website that is not providing such a good service to the visitors, Google in a way is providing poor search results. Therefore, low-quality websites damage Google’s reputation and potentially hurt their business.
As a result, Google has decided to stop websites with no value to the visitors to appear in their paid search results. Since Google believes that Information harvesting is not providing much value to the visitors (and even might be harmful to them), they have decided to block websites that engage in such activity.
Q: Are there any legit ways left for me to collect personal data from my visitors?
A: Yes, there are some left, but it requires you to create a completely different operation.
In order to collect information from your visitors, you need to offer them more than what you are getting in exchange and have them want to give you their personal info. Simple as that. Therefore, offering them a gift like free pdf, free online course, a book or even coupons might cause you problems with Google. however, if you decide to give something with real value, unique to your website that people will really benefit from (even better, make it a lasting benefit for them, more than a one time treat), then it might pass safely.
It is up to you and it depends on your visitor’s reaction and the niche to decide what is “real value”. However, always keep in mind that trying to trick Google will most likely result in a ban for you, so be advised to act honestly with both Google and your visitors. If you think that “this is a gray area, I might just succeed with that”, you better avoid from trying it at all. Have respect to the visitors and take Google guidelines very seriously, it might save you from a lot of trouble one day.