We’ve heard you loud and clear – you hate copycat sites that mimic official government services. Many of these appeared in Google ad results, so here’s Theo Bertram from Google sharing how they’ve taken action.
Q. What has Google done to help people avoid copycat websites?
We have a strict set of policies which govern what ads we do and do not allow on Google. We don’t allow adverts for sites that simply copy Government or official services and provide no additional value.
It’s not just the ad itself that needs to comply with our policies but the landing page too. This is the webpage users are directed to once they click on an ad. The landing page must state whether or not they are affiliated with the official source (for example the UK Passport Office or HMRC) and should also make clear that the products, services or forms are available from the official source at lower cost or for free. The site must also describe the additional services they offer that are otherwise unavailable from the government, official source or free source.
They also need to set out clearly exactly what it is they are selling. If they provide little or no additional value to the user beyond the original or official online or automated application process then we will remove the ad.
We work hard to constantly review the ads showing on Google and make sure that they are abiding by our policies.
Q. Who have you been working with to make this a reality?
We’ve been working closely with the Government Digital Service and Transport for London. They have been giving us detailed information clarifying what is or isn’t currently provided by the official services. This has helped us to identify which sites are genuinely offering real value and which are not. We have taken action against those sites that are offering no additional value by removing them from our ad results, including copycat passport, tax return and London congestion charge websites.
Q. What’s next to stop these sites reappearing?
We will continue monitoring the categories of ads that we’ve been working on and reviewing with Government Digital Service and Transport for London. If similar sites appear we will remove them too.
Q. What would you like people to do?
Education and awareness is key and articles like the one Which? have written with advice on spotting copycat websites are incredibly helpful. If you spot misleading ads on Google, you should report them here. We will then investigate and take necessary action.
Have you been affected by copycat websites? Would you like other search engines to follow Google’s lead?
This is a guest post from Theo Bertram, Google’s Head of Policy.