Groupon’s ‘Bait and Switch’ Search Ads

I had heard about this some time ago and then read about it in the LA Times: Groupon being sued for generating Google AdWords with ad copy that doesn’t correspond to landing page offers. Here’s what the LA Times’ article says about the lawsuit:

Groupon is being accused of running “false and misleading business and advertising acts” and running “bait and switch” ads on Google.com, according to a lawsuit filed by a bus tour company in San Francisco.

In the complaint, which was filed in a San Francisco district court, San Francisco Comprehensive Tours argues that Groupon has found a way to unlawfully manipulate Google’s AdWords advertising system that pairs text ads from companies with related search results on Google.com.

Shortly after reading the article I stumbled upon a “bait and switch” Groupon ad on Google. First the ad on Google, which shows a Groupon promotion for 50-90% off a snow play area in Incline Village, Nevada:

But when I clicked through there was an unrelated Groupon promotion for the same general geography:

Putting aside the merits of the lawsuit, Groupon appears to be using specific promotions as AdWords copy and then tying them to geographically (but not substantively) relevant landing pages.

This may be great for CTR but it’s a bad user experience — theoretically Google will penalize them — and it’s disorienting. Whether this is Groupon’s idea or its agency’s Groupon should stop the practice.

It may also qualify as false advertising under FTC guidelines.

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6 Responses to “Groupon’s ‘Bait and Switch’ Search Ads”

  1. Dave says at

    Greg,

    Is this bait and switch or just poor PPC management? I am assuming the destination url in Adwords is the same as the landing page url (so there is no “gateway” page that Google will catch algorithmically). If so It is quite possible that whoever is managing the Groupon Adwords is not updating the keywords they are bidding on as fast as they should be, nor as fast as they update the deal landing pages.

    I agree with your other major point that either way this is a very bad user experience.

    Dave

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    It’s probably the agency, yes.

  3. Simon L says at

    They definitely are not the best business out there.  Between their Tibet ads during the Super Bowl, the FTD deal and a host of other issues, it won’t be too long before Andrew Mason wished he would have sold to Google for $6 billion.  There is a community forming around how they are bad for business in many ways, check it out here: http://on.fb.me/gRzGyk

  4. David Mihm says at

    I actually got caught by one of these the other day. Groupon was advertising either flight or hotel discounts (can’t remember which) in a city I was searching in. I clicked the ad, thinking that they’d expanded into the travel vertical (which, they should!)…completely unrelated landing page, extremely crappy user experience. Sleazy at best, illegal at worst.

    It’s not actually going to impact their quality score as far as I can tell…Groupon shows you a sign-up page first (at least it did when I clicked) and THEN takes you to the unrelated offer. From Groupon’s standpoint, what do they care? All they want is a bigger subscriber / user base.

    Probably going to take a lawsuit or manual review by Googlers, rather than artificial intelligence on the part of Adwords, to stop the practice.

  5. Greg Sterling says at

    I think there may already be a lawsuit. However in one sense it’s no different than those early eBay, Amazon ads that simply inserted whatever keyword you were searching on into the ad copy.

    But I agree it’s sleazy and creates a negative user experience.

  6. Thais says at

    I always assume when this happens that the “go to” page is updated daily and the google link is outdated at this point. I don’t know how that translates into cyber-speak, but it doesn’t trouble me. Now, if they’re doing it intentionally…

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