Ecommerce entrepreneurs understand the need for multiple revenue channels. Relying exclusively on, say, Facebook or Amazon or Google can lead to disruptions. And that’s what happened to Allen Walton’s company, which depends on Google Ads for most of its traffic and revenue.
“My business, SpyGuy, sells surveillance products, such as covert cameras, hidden cameras, nanny cameras, audio recorders, and GPS trackers,” Walton told me. “Google just rolled out a new policy to start enforcing in about a month. Essentially everything I sell is now prohibited on the Google Ads platform, which accounts for most of my traffic.”
Walton’s story is a dreaded scenario for many sellers. But he kindly shared his experiences with me when I recently spoke with him. What follows is the complete audio version of our conversion and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Google won’t let you advertise?
Allen Walton: Pretty much. My business, SpyGuy, sells surveillance products, such as covert cameras, hidden cameras, nanny cameras, audio recorders, and GPS trackers. Our customers include law enforcement, loss prevention departments, federal agencies, but mostly just regular people. Business owners who are concerned that someone is stealing from them. Apartment renters who are worried about intruders. Parents who think their kid is a drug dealer. All sorts of reasons.
I started this company back in 2014. It’s been mostly smooth sailing with Google advertising. We do text ads and Shopping ads. But a couple of years ago, they shut down my account unexpectedly, stating that my products enabled dishonesty. I’ve been fighting with them for the last few years over that.
Google just rolled out a new policy to start enforcing in about a month. Essentially everything I sell is now prohibited on the Google Ads platform, which accounts for most of my traffic.
Bandholz: So what’s your plan?
Walton: I’m going to tweak our ad copy and our landing pages as much as possible to play by the rules. I don’t know how well that’s going to work, however. Google has listed the exact products that we sell, stating that the products cannot be advertised to anybody who’s trying to use them on other people, except for children. They’re making an exception for folks who are watching their kids, apparently.
I knew this day would come. We’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to organic search. That’s been a small percentage of our overall traffic. But I hired a full-time writer a few months ago. We just have to do a good job now with search engine optimization.
Bandholz: I think industries such as CBD oil, marijuana, gun companies, tobacco companies, all of these have to develop unique ways to be able to drive awareness. Perhaps the good news is your competitors are dealing with it, too.
Walton: That’s mostly true. But a few years ago, when our account was banned temporarily, Google said, more or less, “Remove the hidden cameras from your Google Shopping, and we’ll turn you back online.” We did that. Unfortunately, our competitors didn’t have to play by the same rule. So for the last three years, I’ve been unable to sell covert cameras, while my competitors could.
The second thing is most of my biggest competitors already dominate organic rankings. They don’t have to change a whole lot there.
Bandholz: Tell me about your team.
Walton: It’s mostly three customer-service people and me. We conduct a lot of our business over the phone. We also use live chat and email. That’s what my customer service folks do. One of them does the picking and packing, too. We do our own fulfillment. About 18 months ago, I hired my brother. He doesn’t come from an ecommerce background, but he’s really smart, and we work well together.
Bandholz: Can you develop products outside of surveillance?
Walton: I’ve been selling surveillance stuff for the last 10 years. It’s what I know best. Security is a big industry with many sub-categories — business, home, consumer, cybersecurity. I’ve carved out this niche for spy stuff.
I’ve always been a reseller. Up until a year ago, I never manufactured a product. But now we’re rolling out our own product designs so that we can make. But with Google’s new policy, I don’t know that we should do that.
Bandholz: I’m a big fan of YouTube. Your products and your company have much potential on YouTube. One YouTube channel that is related to your business is called “The Lock Picking Lawyer.” He gets different locks and picks them. He’s walking the line of good intent versus bad.
Walton: We used to sell lock pick kits, and Google put those items on its prohibited list.
Bandholz: Turn on that camera, get the videos up, and start building an audience.
Walton: I think you’re right. We’ve established that there a need for our products. In a lot of ways, I’ve been resting on my laurels. I built up a successful Google Ads funnel, which I’ve been riding for the last six years. I should have spent more time on SEO or filming videos. I’m paying the price for that now.
Bandholz: As an entrepreneur, I’m always paranoid that everything’s going to end. So how do we build diverse revenue streams, such as email, pay-per-click advertising, organic search, word of mouth? Your story and your willingness to share it will help others.
Walton: Diversifying is something that I should have taken more seriously, for sure.
Bandholz: How can our listeners contact you or follow you?
Walton: My Twitter handle is @allenthird. The website is SpyGuy.com.