The Great Adwords API Key Debacle of 2012

Our Adwords API Key was the magical unicorn that profoundly changed our business.  Gifted and revoked just a few weeks later, we spent 6 months fighting to get it back.  Here’s the timeline of our story:

Q4 2011:  Several hundred hours are invested in the reporting tool, based heavily on the Adwords API, that downloads all of our cost reports across all our clients daily.  It uses about 200k of bandwidth when it runs and only accesses clients in our internal Adwords account.

January 2012:  Work progresses nicely on the script.  Sales Staff prepares for launch by getting advance invoices from interested clients.

February 2nd, 2012:  Our script deploys and executes nightly at 12:15AM, finally eliminating the need to manually upload data for existing clients.  Company “doubles down” on Adwords, rolling it out to our entire client base.  Record Adwords sales happen this week.

February 9th, 2012:  Nightly execution of script fails to update any Adwords info into our database, returning only a cryptic error: INCOMPLETE_SIGNUP_USER_INFO_PENDING.  We contact Adwords support for the first time on this issue and are advised that our API key is suspended!  There is no official reason on file and no one is able to provide any other information.  No notice, warning or explanation was given.  No appeal is possible and no next steps are available.  We are told to wait and that “someone” will contact us.

February 12th, 2012:  The reporting burden for new Adwords clients combined with the old becomes intense.  Our intern has to pick up the slack by manually updating everything.  Yes, we had an employee whose job description included manually updating what the Google API was not doing for us.

February 13th, 2012:  Frustrated with lack of information at support, who could literally tell us nothing (just to resubmit our developer token again), I try emailing a few Google employees in the forums who simply referred me to an official Google address: adwordsapi-tokens@google.com.  I unsubscribe to an Adwords API Google group due to 100+ Reply All angry emails by users in the same situation as me.  I eventually receive a response indicating that my ticket was being merged with my original support request.

Late February 2012:  Adwords API team emails me with a laundry list of information.  They want to see screenshots of my application, its intended use, the users, development, etc.  I comply the same day, providing about 600 words and 5 images.

March 2012:  It develops that there was some sort of internal purge at Google – the majority of API keys had been suspended carte blanch and they were reviewing all of them.  Crazy, right?  We are promised 30 days to resolve this issue.

April 2012:  Still no API key or update.  I am suggested to “re-send” the explanation and screenshot and reapply for the developer key again.

May 2012:  We achieve the holy grail, a Dedicated Adwords account rep.  While this woman is a wizard with campaigns (we saw at least a 10% performance lift on accounts she pitched in on), she apologizes, telling us that the API Key issue is out of her hands.  At this point we are Adwords Certified Partners with Google, Credit Line, 10K+ Monthly invoice with them, etc.  We have completely bet the farm on Google.

June 2012:  Goes by, basically without update.  We are told there is a “small” Adwords team (apparently it’s in Europe or something) and they are manually reviewing thousands of Keys, which for some reason, were all suspended in January.  We are again promised something will happen within 30 days.  We attempt advanced strategies such as attending Google+ hangouts with the API team in the middle of the night (due to time zone issue), but all the hangouts are so full that connection is impossible.

July 2012:  By this time, we have diversified into other PPC channels, reducing our reliance on Google and creating other processes to keep track of cost.  It’s a rough transition with a lot of impact to our quality of service and account performance.  It seems with almost 5 months of no updates that we are out in the cold.  We give up hope and resign ourselves to have people manually upload spreadsheets every day – an error-prone very old school process.  All of our long-term projects involving dynamic use of the Adwords API were canceled and invoices were refunded back to clients where appropriate.

August 1:  Support emails me: API key restored!  I’m not sure what to do with this information, as I had basically given up and we have sort of evolved around this issue.  We fire the cron job up again and BAM – some sort of namespace error.  Having been out of touch with Adwords code for months as well as a deep distrust of the platform, this is enough for us to give up.

Net-Net, I am left with a deep distrust of reliance on API platforms.  I made decisions based on the availability of this resource that had incredibly far reaching applications across my business and the company I work for.  I should have read my terms and conditions better.

One Comment

  1. Rachel Hartley-
    September 21, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Wow, what a cautonary tale! Thanks for progressing my thinking.

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