Following recent news reports about so called ‘copycat’ sites apparently ‘duping’ people into paying more for the Congestion Charge in London, I have been moved to explain a little bit about how this happens and how to avoid copycat websites when searching Google. In essence, the company pays Google to list above the main TfL website and charges a fee for ‘managing’ the payment.
The specific article I am referring to in this article is this: ‘Transport for London warns of ‘copycat’ congestion charge websites’ and you can read the full article by clicking HERE.
The Telegraph has this to say on the matter:
Unofficial ‘copycat’ websites are charging motorists up to £6 extra to process their London congestion charge payments. Transport for London (TfL) said around 1,000 people a day are using unofficial sites to pay the congestion charge, often not realising their mistake.
The image below shows how people are becoming easily confused or ‘duped’. I’ll talk about how this works below.
Here’s How to avoid copycat websites when searching Google by understanding how the sponsored listings work.
When a user visits Google.com and searches for ‘pay London congestion charge’ (or very similar search terms) they are shown a page of results. Google places ‘Sponsored’ adverts directly above the natural results. Natural results are ones that are given their listing position based on quality content and other criteria that Google sets. These are the results that would normally appear at the top, if there were no sponsored adverts to display. Companies pay Google to appear in the results page when certain search terms or keywords are used.
There is nothing illegal happening here. The company are not breaking any laws. They are simply making money from the uninformed or lazy internet users. It may not be the most ethical business model but we’ve all agreed to pay more for convenience of some kind in the past and companies will always exploit people for increased margins.
There are some clever marketing techniques being used by Google here to make people believe that they are viewing the most relevant results. If you look carefully, you will notice that the adverts are surrounded by a very light yellow box. Yes, on some screens it’s almost invisible. That’s because the colour is only 5% yellow and 2% magenta on the CYMK scale. This basically means it’s almost white!
At the top of this yellow box is a small piece of text that states ‘Ad related to pay london congestion charge‘. To the right of this text is an ‘info’ icon that, if you click, displays the following message:
This ad is based on your current search terms.Visit Google’s Ads Settings to learn more, block specific advertisers or opt out of personalised ads.
Now that you know the 3 points above, have a search and see if you notice the sponsored adverts now. All the information is there if you really look carefully. That’s Google’s back side covered. They’ve made it really clear haven’t they? Their argument would be that they have stated ‘clearly’ that these listings are adverts.
From the point of view of a web design and SEO company, we’re always having to explain our definition of ‘position 1’ on ‘page 1’ of Google. We actually mean the first listings that appear BELOW the sponsored ads. Seasoned professionals always discard the sponsored ads when viewing the results pages.
The practice of ‘clever marketing’ is nothing new but the ASA issuing a warning to the site is simply not enough to stop the problem. PEOPLE need to learn themselves how to recognise and avoid these kinds of marketing tactics. The same way you learned that your bank doesn’t EVER request you to ‘login to secure your account’ via an email message with poor grammar.
These ‘clever’ marketing people use the fact that MOST people either ‘don’t know’ how to spot the tricks or they simply ‘assume’ that the results come with integrity – and some won’t even notice! Supermarkets have been doing it for years to us all. Marketers make you think that you are getting a good deal when if fact, you probably aren’t.
Think about it – Google is free to use. How do you think they make money? They have to offer their advertisers something in return for revenue.
If you want to avoid copycat websites when searching Google, wise up and learn the tricks used by the ‘big boys’.
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