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Viagogo has Google Ads ban lifted

By | Published on Wednesday 27 November 2019


It’s been a big week for Viagogo. Having bought out its last remaining rival in the UK, the controversial secondary ticketing site is back on Google Ads too.

The company was banned from using Google’s advertising platform in July following pressure from anti-touting campaigners. The US web giant had previously updated its rules for secondary ticketing adverts in 2018 to deal with concerns that resale sites deliberately mislead customers about the unofficial status of their sellers. A bought top ranking on Google further implies a tout is, in fact, an official seller of any one ticket.

The new rules were welcomed by those critical of the secondary ticketing market, though the web giant was initially criticised when it failed to enforce them on Viagogo, which campaigners said repeatedly breached the new restrictions.

When it finally came, the global ban of the site from Google Ads was seen as a big victory in the battle against for-profit online touting, and reportedly had a dramatic impact on the amount of traffic reaching Viagogo’s website. It had been hoped that that ban would be enforced long term, if not permanently. However, four months later, Viagogo is back in the commercial slots at the top of some Google search lists.

A spokesperson for the secondary ticketing site told IQ that its advertising privileges had been reinstated last week, adding that “the company has worked closely with Google and is pleased with this outcome”.

It is not back everywhere though. Google has seemingly only lifted the ban in territories where local authorities have confirmed that Viagogo is not in breach of local consumer rights law. This means it is currently still not allowed to use Google Ads in the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Slovakia and Taiwan.

It’s all go here in the UK though, where the government’s Competition And Markets Authority dropped legal proceedings against Viagogo in July, just after the Google ban was enacted. The CMA continues to investigate the site’s business practices, however.

A quick Google search for Little Mix tickets confirmed that Google UK is serving adverts for Viagogo. Its offer of tickets appears at the top of the page, above all primary sellers – even those paying for higher Google rankings.

Although at least Viagogo is no longer using the word “official” in its Google ads, as it once did. It previously dubiously claimed that the Google listing linked to the “official” page for any one artist on its own website. That, critics argue, was a key tactic employed by Viagogo to confuse customers into thinking that unofficial touts are official sellers.

A spokesperson for Google said: “Any advertiser can appeal a suspension and if we find that they have made appropriate changes to their account they may be eligible for reactivation. We still continue to enforce our policies and we will take action against ads or accounts that violate our policies”.

While Viagogo may have dealt with some of the things its critics object to in order to get back into Google’s good books, campaigners will argue that it still employs anti-consumer tactics, and by taking its advertising dollar Google is once again helping with that.

For example, while it may no longer be implying an official connection to Little Mix in its advertising for their tickets, Viagogo does still try to instil a sense of urgency in a bid to rush consumers into buying without further research, by using phrases such as “deals won’t last long”, “many people viewing” and “selling fast”.

That urgency right now is unnecessary. Anyone who clicks through to Viagogo from Google today will find tickets available for Little Mix’s 2020 summer tour available for upwards of £90 per ticket. However, those tickets do not go on general sale until tomorrow, suggesting some touts are still selling tickets they don’t actually have yet or at least accessing them though pre-sales.