Blocking Google AdSense formula ads for parenting and breastfeeding sites

Updated for the new version of Google AdSense, February 2012

At the bottom of this post is a boxed list of URLs of WHO Code violators to paste into the ad filter at Google AdSense. Feel free to skip there if you know what you're doing. If you want more information on how to filter AdSense ads and how the URLs were chosen, read on.

If you're a breastfeeding activist who wants to abide by the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (aka the WHO Code — PDF here),1 but who also wants to pick up a little Google AdSense revenue on a blog, you probably have been stuck with a conundrum.

AdSense sells ad space based on keywords, and advertisers vie for page views and position according to a bid system. Formula companies specifically bid for keywords like "breastfeeding," and they have big budgets, so they often win the page view. They also use deceptive lead-ins like a title offering breastfeeding help, when the ad will spit you out onto a formula page.

Parenting bloggers will in all innocence write a blog post related to breastfeeding success, only to find the accompanying ads undermine their efforts and distress their readers.

Google AdSense filtering options

Google AdSense doesn't have a helpful category opt-out the way BlogHer ads have added, after pressure by PhD in Parenting, with a specific WHO Code-compliant category to check that opts interested members out of ads promoting "infant formula, related companies, artificial nipples or pacifiers or bottles."

The opt-out categories Google offers are more limited:

  • Cosmetic procedures and surgery
  • Dating
  • Drugs and supplements
  • Get rich quick
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Ringtones and downloadables
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Sexually suggestive
  • Video games
  • Weight loss

(You can opt out of any of these categories through the category filter checkboxes at the Allow & Block Ads tab --> Sensitive Categories in the left sidebar.)

However, there is one way to specify which ads you will not allow on your site, and that is by entering specific Advertiser URLs within the Blocking options. Click on the tab labeled "Allow & Block Ads," and then choose "Advertiser URLs" from the links along the left sidebar, under "Blocking options."

Click to enlarge

The premise is to keep competitors' ads off your site, but it can be used to ban any particular URL from appearing. The guidelines Google gives are as follows [text below from an obsolete version of the help center]:
The competitive ad filter works by blocking ads that link to specific URLs. This way, you can easily block all ads that are linked to your competitor at www.example.com. By entering a top level domain such as www.example.com, you'll also block all ads that link to subdirectories below that domain. The following rules apply to the competitive ad filter:

* Entering example.com will block ads to example.com and example.com/sub
* Entering example.com will also block ads to www.example.com and forums.example.com
* www.example.com will block ads to www.example.com but not to forums.example.com or example.com
* example.com/sub will not block ads to example.com/products or example.com/sub/index.html

Generally, it's a good idea to leave the 'www' off of URLs in your filter list to provide for broader filtering.

For our purposes, we will include as many URLs we can that are related to marketing in violation of the WHO Code.

The list parameters

Finding and entering each URL is a tedious and herculean task. Wait, did I just compare myself to Hercules? Well, at least someone amenable to tedium.

The list below contains:

  • URLs for formula websites for multiple countries (with relevant and varied domain endings, such as .com, .de. .co.uk, etc. — in some cases, no specific site exists as of yet at a specific domain suffix, but I've included them in case a site is added at some time in the future)
  • websites of parent companies of formula companies
  • other WHO Code violators' websites, such as bottle or breast pump manufacturers that do not abide by the WHO Code
  • websites of related products (such as other brands and sub-companies under the violating parent companies, like Butterfinger for Nestlé and Simplisse for Dr. Brown's)
  • websites that consistently advertise such products or under such keywords (for instance, Target and YouTube, respectively, any of which URLs you are welcome to remove from the blacklist if you disagree with such reasoning; I was getting pretty annoyed after seeing them time and again when searching for formula keywords and can't guarantee they won't have similarly offensive ad content)

I've compiled as many as I could by searching for formula product names in multiple countries, and by going to the root company websites to gather as many brands and products as I could and then search for their URLs. As I searched, I also looked along the side and top for Google Ads (hey, find 'em where they live!) and blacklisted any ads that consistently showed up for formula keywords, that promoted formula or bottles in violation of the WHO Code, or that appeared to be advertisements for the companies on the blacklist.

I would like to thank TheLactivista on Twitter, PhD in Parenting, and Crunchy Domestic Goddess for giving me a solid head start. The rest was booooring Google searches for all the domains I could find. Thank goodness Nestlé is thorough in promoting its brands and URLs.

Reporting problem domains

The problem with this list is that formula companies are sneaky and are always coming up with new URLs to weasel past any such filters. Please report any new offending URLs you see in a Google ad (it must be the URL at the bottom of the ad, not the name or text above) so that I can add it to the list. We will not be able to eradicate unwelcome ads from showing up, but this list will hopefully cut down on the amount of unintentional page views, make the WHO Code violators' job harder, and continue our activism for breastfeeding support against the unethical marketing practiced by WHO Code violators.

To report new URLs that are in violation of the WHO Code, leave a comment on this post or contact me by email. To ensure violating companies are not given link love, any comments you leave with a URL can be obscured by adding spaces or spelling out "dot com" or similar techniques.

Activating the blacklist

To activate the list on your AdSense, go to your Adsense homepage and then select the "Allow & block ads" tab along the top. Click on "Advertiser URLs" in the left sidebar (see first screenshot), and then copy and paste the contents of the box below into the text box at the top of the ad-blocking page. Click "Block URLs" to save.

Click to enlarge

At the top where it says "Advertiser URL > Product:" you'll see that the "Content" field after that is a drop-down menu. Click on it and choose other AdSense products that you use. Paste the same list into each of those. For instance, I also participate in AdSense for feeds and search, so I pasted it into those products for my account.

Click to enlarge

Anytime a new URL is reported, come back to this page to copy the newest list, or enter it manually in all three boxes and save your changes.

The URLs are automatically sorted in alphabetical order, so it's easy to find a specific one.

Here is the list of URLs to block

Click within the box, then select all and copy.

Remember, we need your help to monitor for new URLs that must be blocked. Please report the specific URL by leaving a comment on this post or contacting me by email.

1 I will be writing more about the WHO Code and why it's important over at Hobo Mama, my parenting blog. As a quick summary, the WHO Code seeks to stem the outrageous marketing techniques used by infant formula manufacturers and related companies to undermine breastfeeding globally, despite such companies' clear knowledge of the WHO Code. Violations of the WHO Code have been disastrous for babies in developing nations and have had measurable deleterious effects on breastfeeding success and infant health in developed nations. Promoting the WHO Code is about ensuring the dissemination of appropriate information about infant feeding and supporting parents' choice in the matter, and is not an attack against any parents for their own choices or experiences in infant feeding.


Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

Thank you so much for this Lauren! I have google ads on my site, and have blocked the obvious urls for the big formula companies, but I had a sneaking suspicion that more formula ads were being displayed under my radar. This list is great! I really appreciate your efforts battling the tedium of putting it together.

Crystal - Prenatal Coach said...

This is great! Thank you for all your hard work!

mythreewonders said...

Yes, thank you! I had also blocked the big ones, but was sure there were others I didn't know. This is great!

mythreewonders said...

So, I was checking my list against yours and I had these on my list:


I am not sure if they should be included?

Lauren Wayne said...

Michelle: Yeah, they like to buy innocuous-sounding URLs as well (or even ones that sound breastfeeding-centric), which is kind of obnoxious.

Brenna: I've added those — thanks so much! That's really helpful. I think the nestle ones should already have been blocked because the main domain is blocked and those are subdomains (according to Google AdSense's rules), but better safe than sorry. I also added in a couple formula-run forums I came across the other day.

Prospector16 said...

Thanks, I just installed it at http://www.urbanhippy.ca/

CD said...

Thanks a lot! I just added this to The Man-Nurse Diaries. I had a fairly popular pro-breastfeeding article which was overrun with formula Google Adsense ads. I didn't realize it until I saw the comments.

Thanks for posting this. I'll be linking it in my blog!

CD said...


Also I didn't know about the WHO Code until I read this post. That's amazing. Thanks again!

Betsy Escandon said...

Thanks for this, although I think I'm going to dump Adsense all together, b/c I'm kind of annoyed about not having an opt-out option.

Lauren Wayne said...

Betsy: Agreed about how annoying it is! It might help if we all contact Google asking for an opt-out category or post the suggestion on the forums.

Jill Arnold said...

Thank you for this!

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

This is awesome - thank you! This was part of the reason I wasn't running Google Adsense anymore - I was scared of its messaging. Now I have it up again with some comfort.

mother in israel said...

Thank you, I just did it.
Please add this Israeli formula company, a heavy Google Ads user:

Lauren Wayne said...

mother in israel: Thank you — added!

patchwork mama said...

This is great thanks. Is there any way if doing this when you're using a Wordpress account which I haven't upgraded to ad free. I don't have Google aadsense control over it :( I keep complaining to Wordpress when formula ads appear on my breastfeeding posts but they don't do anything!

patchwork mama said...

Is there a way to so this if you aren't using adsense? I only have a Wordpress basic account so they control the ads. I keep complaining about formula ads on my breastfeeding posts but nothing us done :(

Lauren Wayne said...

patchwork mama: Unfortunately, you can't filter on Wordpress.com blogs (the ones controlled by Wordpress, not the self-hosted variety, for those who don't understand the difference). You can turn ads completely off, but only for an extra fee, currently $29.97 per year. More information is here. Sorry there's no free solution; that's frustrating. (Well, I guess one free solution would be to switch to Blogger, but I don't know that you want to go through that!)

Laura said...

This is a great post! Thanks for your effort.

Birth Routes said...

Has the method to block specific URL's changed? I'm on the site and trying to follow your directions and cannot manage to find the areas to do so.

Hmmm, it's now December 2011, do they change that fast or am I missing something?

Feel free to email me anyone if you are able to at birthroutes (at) gmail (dot) com

Lauren Wayne said...

Birth Routes: It has changed a little. I'll need to update the post with new screenshots and directions. For now, here's the latest screenshot: http://i233.photobucket.com/albums/ee159/lintpicker/LW/Screenshot2011-12-17at125843AM.png

Go to the "Allow & block ads" tab (along the top), then choose under "Blocking options" the first one, "Advertiser URLs." You can then paste the URLs into the text block to the right. All your successfully blocked URLs should show up beneath that.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Here is another one that should be added to your list:
newbornbabyitems dot com

Lauren Wayne said...

Annie: Thank you!

I've also updated the post to reflect the latest version of AdSense, with new screenshots.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this Lauren! I had this bookmarked for when I went the adsense route, which I have just done :)

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...