Growing your ecommerce business can be a challenge in any circumstance. It’s even more difficult when the products you are selling fall under the list of items that are “prohibited” or “restricted” on most social and advertising platforms. Just because something is labeled as prohibited by the policies of sites like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and more does not mean they are “bad” products. It usually just means that as a society, most people are not accustomed to seeing those items on a daily basis, or that they may be controversial or possibly even dangerous in irresponsible or vulnerable hands. So to protect their users and communities, platforms put restrictions on advertising these products to keep people comfortable and happy with being a part of that site.
Marketing and selling restricted or prohibited products online can be challenging, but taking the right steps to do it legally is something that is important and will benefit your business greatly! Here is a rundown of common rules and restrictions, plus tips and advice for your ecommerce strategy.
Prohibited vs. Restricted Products - What’s the Difference?
Saying that a product is prohibited or restricted are two very different things. Prohibited refers to anything that has been explicitly forbidden or banned. On the other hand, restricted products are controlled items that require special processing or license verification to sell. In other words, restricted items have specific conditions that they must follow in order to be sold.
What Products Are Prohibited & Restricted?
Major platforms such as Facebook & Instagram, Google & YouTube Ads, Google Shopping, LinkedIn, Microsoft/Bing, and Amazon each have a list of products that are prohibited or restricted for sale on their sites. These lists are found under the advertising policy section on their websites along with other helpful information about advertising your products. It is important to do a lot of research when it comes to advertising because it can be hurtful to your business if you do not know all the different policies and could potentially get you banned from these platforms.
You Can’t Sell That On...
Facebook & Instagram
Facebook and Instagram are quite strict when it comes to ad content, but they can be a big asset when promoting your business so knowing what you can and cannot do is important. Almost everyone has a Facebook and scrolls through it at least once per day so putting ads up on their site will get you a lot of exposure leading to potential growth.
Prohibited Products on Facebook and Instagram:
- Illegal products or services
- Tobacco and related products
- Unsafe Substances, Weapons, Ammunition, or Explosives
- Adult Products or Services
- Adult Content
Restricted Products on Facebook & Instagram:
- Alcohol – you must comply with all applicable local laws, required or established industry codes, guidelines, licenses, and approvals, and include age and country targeting criteria consistent with Facebook’s targeting requirements and applicable local laws
- Promotion of over-the-counter drugs – you must comply with applicable local laws, required or established industry codes, guidelines, licenses, and approvals.
- Subscription Services – you must follow subscription service policies through Facebook
- Financial and Insurance Products and Services – must provide sufficient disclosure regarding associated fees. Including APR percentages, transaction fees, interest rates, and the physical address of the entity offering the product within the ads landing page. Target people 18+
- Branded Content – you must tag the featured third party and use the branded content tool.
Google & YouTube Ads
Google and YouTube Ads give a basic description of what is prohibited and restricted on their ads policy page. It is easy to understand but do not let that fool you, you have to do some further research to find more details and see specific examples of what is not allowed on their site.
Here is a list of what is prohibited on Google & YouTube Ads:
- Counterfeit Goods
- Dangerous Products or Services
- Enabling Dishonest Behavior
- Inappropriate Content
Here is a list of what is restricted:
- Sexual content
- Healthcare and medicine
- Political content
- Financial services
Google Shopping aims to enable businesses to promote a wide variety of products, but some google products and platforms may not be optimized to appropriately support all content types. Google shopping lays everything out very clearly and gives plenty of examples of what is not allowed to be sold on their site. They also give solutions to things you can do if you were wrongfully accused of breaking policy. On some of these items there are exceptions to the rule of certain things you can sell through their platform for example the sale of motor or sail powered vehicles is not allowed but the exceptions to that rule are something like a motor-powered bicycle that has a max speed of 15mph or less.
A list of unsupported shopping content:
- Ticket Sales
- Financial Products
- Immovable Property
A list of prohibited content for Google shopping:
- Counterfeit goods
- Dangerous Products
- Products that enable dishonest behavior
- Inappropriate content
- Unsupported Shopping Ads content
Using LinkedIn Ads is a wonderful way to advertise directly to your target audience depending on what products you’re selling. Everything is laid out in their advertising policies on their website.
A list of what is prohibited on LinkedIn:
- Illegal products, services, and activities
- Tobacco Products
- Weapons, fireworks, and other violent products or services
- Adult content
A list of what is restricted on LinkedIn:
- Alcohol – ads only available in certain countries
- Animal products – LinkedIn reserves the right to restrict these ads. Ads for endangered species are prohibited.
- Dating services – cannot be targeted at anyone under 18. Services must be legal and must not engage in “escort type” services
- Soliciting funds – must comply with laws and would qualify as tax deductible or charitable in the applicable jurisdiction.
Microsoft/Bing is another great platform to use for your advertisements for many people, Bing is their primary search engine, so you have the opportunity to get a lot of exposure with this site. Their ads policy page lists products and services that are not allowed and/or restricted. It is a pretty basic list so I would do some more digging to be sure what exactly you can and cannot do.
A list of prohibited/restricted products for Microsoft/Bing Advertising:
- Drugs and related paraphernalia
- Fireworks and explosives
- Tobacco and Electronic cigarettes
- Weapons, knives, firearms, and ammunition
Amazon is another huge platform that can be greatly beneficial for your business to advertise on. It is estimated that around 197 million people use amazon so the chances of your ad being seen are remarkably high. That is why it is important to know what you can and cannot do.
A list of restricted/prohibited products on Amazon:
- Animals and animal related products
- Automotive and powersports
- Dietary supplements
- Drugs and drug paraphernalia
What Can Merchants of Prohibited & Restricted Products Do Instead?
Just because you can’t advertise your product on these social media sites does not mean you’re out of options. There are many ways you can get people to know about your products and what you’re all about. It is up to you as a business owner to determine if your products are restricted or prohibited and take the right action in response. You should focus extra time into researching ways that you can legally sell your products that are restricted or prohibited.
Starting with organic search. What is organic search? According to Google in web search engines, organic search results are the query results which are calculated strictly algorithmically, and are not affected by advertiser payments. Basically, you’re letting customers come to you when they are looking for a product that you are selling or something similar to what they are searching for. Getting your website to rank high enough to appear on the first page of search engines like google is the goal but when you are just starting out that might not be likely. This is where keywords come into play. Figure out what kind of words and phrases your customers or potential customers use when looking for your products. Consider a wide variety of similar and diverse terms to get you thinking about how people use search engines. If you are wanting to grow your business very quickly then organic search might not be the best option for that because it does take time, patience, and consistency.
Organic Social is another great way to market your products. Organic social is any social media activity without paid promotion. It uses free social media tools to build and engage with an online following. Building a following on social media can be a challenging task but when you succeed at doing so it is a good indication that those people follow you because they genuinely like your business and the products you are selling. The benefits of organic social are that it’s free, you have the opportunity to interact with your audience on a more personal level, you can develop free campaigns using custom hashtags, etc.
Using influencer marketing is another great way to build your audience and sell your products. Influencer marketing involves businesses partnering with influencers to sell their products and promote their business. Influencers usually have a significant audience and a certain niche that their followers are interested in. There are a few ways that influencers can help you sell your products. One way is creating a blog post or video post about your product or service. Another way that influencers can help you is by simply posting a photo with your product in it and tagging your business in their post. There are many other ways, but these are just a few of the big ones. For influencer marketing to be successful you need to work with influencers that have the same target market as you. Micro-Influencers and Nano-Influencers are the two types of influencers that will be the easiest to reach out to and the cheapest. Micro-Influencers usually have anywhere from 10,000-100,000 followers and Nano-Influencers usually have anywhere from 1,000-10,000 they have little to no following and aren’t used to working with brands so this type would be best for small businesses to reach out to.
Try using related topics to market your products. For example, an adult toy company might be able to advertise content about dating or keeping the spark in a relationship alive but not their actual products. Doing something like this is an effective way to draw people in that are already looking for topics similar to what you are selling. You could also do things like writing blog posts about topics related to your product and then put out ads for your blog as long as it follows the ad policy for the site you’re using. If people like what they see in your blog it may persuade them to check out your website and see what products you’re selling.
Another thing you can do is advertise “surrogate” products, these would be any product you sell that is not prohibited or restricted. This is a fantastic way to bring in customers and then steer them towards the products that you cannot advertise anywhere.
Email Marketing is another great way to advertise your products. It is important that you check email providers for restrictions. This can be a great way to inform people about sales you are running or give them discount codes for their purchases, etc. Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing today, however before you start sending out emails you should have a basic understanding of the laws surrounding email marketing. You should always remember to follow the law, and any industry regulations that apply. Consult a legal professional when it comes to legal matters.
Explore Other Platforms
Google, Bing, Amazon, and the major social networks are just the biggest and the best ad network options – not the only options out there. See if you can find some smaller search engines, content networks, and social platforms that people are using and check their advertisement policies. You may be able to advertise products on these platforms that you cannot on others.
What Merchants Shouldn’t Do
Do not get caught up in the fact that you saw someone else do it. Just because they did it does not mean you should. Eventually the ones breaking these rules will be penalized for their actions.
If you do try to go around the rules you risk getting banned and once you are banned it is almost impossible to rejoin those sites even if you stop advertising prohibited and restricted products, once you get caught these sites most likely flag your business.
What Merchants *Should* Do
As previously stated, seek legal advice from a legal professional. This will ensure that you are following all the correct procedures when advertising your products.
Check your federal, state, and local laws. Make sure that your product complies with the law depending on the restricted/ prohibited product you are selling, you may have to get permission to sell in various states and be careful not to sell in prohibited regions.
Check regulations for your hosting site. Before you choose an e-commerce site for your business make sure you’re allowed to sell your merchandise on that site. Many have a list of products you cannot sell on their platforms.