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MA Lawyers in the News
Boston Lawyer is Plaintiff in Suit Against Google
Attorney Complains Advertising Didn't Work
July 16, 2008 (16:18:48 EST)
BOSTON, MA - With Boston International Law Attorney Hal K. Levitte named as plaintiff, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Google, (NASDAQ: GOOG). The complaint, filed in San Jose, California alleges the internet search giant committed fraud and other unfair business practices against Atty. Levitte's firm when it purchased pay-per-click advertising through Google's Adwords program in 2007.
The firm which filed the class action on Levitte's behalf hopes to represent others who feel they were defrauded by Google. The suit alleges Levitte (and others) were sold "low-quality ads" when they expected a higher value advertising product -- one with a better return on their investment.
The basis of Levitte's claim is that the ads he purchased were poorly placed on low quality web pages and did not result in "conversion". In online advertising terms, "conversion", is a measure of how many times an ad is displayed in relation to how many people click on the ad, and ultimately how many of these clicks "convert" meaning they lead to an actual sale.
The suit further claims that over 200,000 impressions of Levitte's ad appeared on what are known as "parked domain pages". These are pages where the owner of the domain name does not have any useful information, but instead simply displays ads and links to websites related to the domain name or related keywords.
Google sells ad space on the results pages of it's search engine as well as on other internet properties it owns, and ads slated for display on non-Google owned pages are known as the "content network".
It appears that Google promotes the practice of placing ads on parked domain names, and by many estimates makes a good profit from selling into this junk advertising space.
Google operates two programs which work in tandem; one for advertisers called "Adwords", which is the sales arm, and a second program known as Adsense which is promoted as a way for website owners, online publishers, (and parked domain name owners), to monetize their unused advertising space.
In web development lingo the domain owners are called "domainers". Some buy a few domain nanmes, while others amass collections of hundreds or thousands of domains. Some are called "typo squatters" --- these are domainers who purchase a name which is similar to another well known domain name or word, and are purchased in hopes of getting traffic from those who make typographic errors when entering a web address into their browser or typing a search term into Google.
Most ethical web developers feel these types of schemes devalue and clutter the internet with pages that detract from the overall usefulness of search engines and the world wide web itself.
Another term has come from the Adsense program: "MFA", (or "Made For Adsense"), which refers to websites with little or no original content and a high percentage of the information displayed is Google's Adsense ads. Many times the ads are deceptively placed -- ads can be made to appear to be navigation links, or part of the text of a story or side-bar item.
Google's own recommendations and "site optimization tips" instruct publishers to make the ads blend with the colors, look and feel of their site, and to place as many "ad units" as permitted on a page.
The owners of domain names risk very little; usually $10 per name per year (or less), and simply opt in to a "cash parking" plan whereby the ads are automatically placed into computer generated web pages associated with the domain names.
Levitte's claim, and the basis for the class action suit are that the ads, "simply didn't work". Levitte claims that of the 200,000 plus times the firm's ads were display, the ads were clicked on less than 700 times, and of these "clicks", not one lead to an actual sale, ("no conversions")...
While Levitte claims to have lost little more than $135.00, (one hundred and thrirty five dollars), on these poorly placed ads, the firm seeking class action, hopes to represent many more Google Adwords advertisers who the firm believes also lost money in the same way.
Additional claims in the complaint allege that pay-per-click ads also appeared on error pages. An error page is displayed when the actual webpage requested is unavailable, or has been moved temporarily or permanently, or no longer exists.
While advertisers have the option to opt out of the "content network" and only have their ads appear on Google's own properties, Levitte's complaint alleges that there was no way to opt out of having ads appear on parked domain or error pages specifically.
Recent changes to Adword's "Site Exclusion Tool" allows advertisers to specify where their Adwords ads will or won't appear, but the tool was not available at the time Levitte claims to have suffered the damages.
Many online marketing professionals see Levitte's suit as a PR stunt. Most likely Levitte will get more publicity via news accounts and internet forum discussions of the suit than the firm did from the advertising.
It should be noted that Levitte's law firm employs a few domain name related tactics to generate client leads from search engines. Using Yahoo's Site Explorer tool, a search mentioned in a Google related forum at WebMasterWorld.com found Levitte itself uses dozens of domain names tied to "landing pages" in a ploy to garner free search engine traffic to their firm's websites.
It would be hard for Levitte to argue the firm did not know what it was doing when it purchased the ads, as they engage in nearly every type of search engine optimization, (SEO), and domain name scheme to generate leads for their firm. Arguably, they do not do it well, as evidenced by what is known as "keyword spamming" and other bad practices. For example, one page on one of Levitte's sites uses the title that starts with "Levitte Law Group Boston MA Attorney Lawyer Hal Auto Car Accident Personal Injury Workers Compensation Third Party Class Action Bankruptcy"... the actual title is too long to publish here.
Levitte may be shooting itself in the foot with this suit, as news stories demonstrating the practices the firm engages in to manipulate search engine results coupled with what many perceive as a "PR stunt" (in suing Google), could backfire and reduce the firm's credibility in Court.
(NOTE: our own website LAWYER-MA.COM runs Google's Adsense ads alongside our content and believes the ads and Google's marketing methods are a good value for advertisers, for Google and for our own publishing model. It is our opinion that "domainers" and those running "MFA" websites detract from the overall quality of the internet user's online experience, and we hope Google takes further steps to make it less lucrative for domainers, typo-squatters and low quality MFA publishers to operate).