False Advertising on Google: What You Can Do

It happens. Unscrupulous business owners take unethical approaches to getting business leads. The worst of these is, perhaps, advertising their practice under your clinic’s name.

It’s not only unethical, if Google catches them out they’ll be in major strife. Bans of up to a year are not uncommon when someone does the wrong thing, using paid ads (or organic site pages) that give the impression they are someone else’s practice. So what can you do about false advertising or misrepresentation on Google ads?

business advertising as your business name - false advertising problems

Misrepresentation of a business as YOUR registered business name on Google Ads: What you can do

The first thing most businesses do when they see this type of unethical behaviour is check to be sure their business name IS registered, and ensure they have proof the advertisement is falsely assuming their legitimate and registered business name. It does not have to be trademark protected; part of registering your business name IS to protect that name in the public as being YOUR practice. Especially where word of mouth is concerned, and where your key customers are likely to search for your practice name in that location; only to find the deceptive or misleading advertisement ‘pretending to be you.’

So it only works if they use, in their advertisement – especially in the subject line – the exact name of your business.

Dealing with unscrupulous competitors who falsely advertise as your business

Here are the steps you can take when someone pays Google for an ad but uses YOUR practice name or otherwise could be seen as leading consumers to believe their domain and contact information will lead them to YOU and YOUR PRACTICE (deceptive advertising practices):

  1. Report the ad to Google as being false or misleading and provide evidence (you should be able to click on the drop-down box, or 3 dots, to see this ‘report ad’ option).
  2. You can also review (using Google systems) this person’s other advertisements to get a sense of what they are doing in the digital marketplace
  3. Let your practice BOARD know and include evidence of your Business Name Registration, business signage, stationary, and screenshots (must be dated). Keep track for at least 3 days (sometimes even a week, but every day that means a loss to your business when someone is looking for your practice online, or would choose you and instead clicks on the misleading ad thinking it’s your practice).
  4. Often, to hide what they’re doing, these unscrupulous businesses will specify that their deceptive or misleading ad ONLY shows up on mobile device searches. This means that practice owners won’t necessarily come across this unethical practice advertisement; as they are mostly on their PCs or laptops. And let’s face it — most practices remain a bit naive about tracking these kinds of business-damaging behaviours. Not every practice has the funds (or mindset, yet) to make sure their marketing is at the top level for their industry; and that they have an expert overseeing these risks to their business sustainability and client growth.
  5. Contact the owner with a formal CEASE AND DESIST letter (helps if it’s from an attorney, such as business lawyers Sanicki / Darren Sanicki in Melbourne, and include screenshots of the ad; track it over several days, and see how often it shows up and under which search terms.  This letter will cost you up to $1,000 though in legal fees (you could demand the business pay them) and you could alternatively download a Cease and Desist template from the web, complete with the code breaches
  6. Report the company to your country’s consumer affairs department for breach of the Codes.
  7. In Australia, that would be the the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – many advisers would highly recommend you report these misleading advertising behaviours, for your own protection and for the protection of consumers legitimately looking for your practice, and being misled by an ad pretending to be your business name or location.
  8. Don’t believe someone who says they have a legal right to advertise as your practice name, even if you use your region in your ad (regions can’t be Trademarked, but if you registered your business name and operate as that, you SHOULD be protected). E.g., if you have registered that business name, and operate as such, someone who uses your business name in their ad headlines is using misleading advertising tactics, which is against most Codes and regulations.
  9. Don’t back down but DO seek legal advice if the above does not cease the unethical and misleading advertising behaviours of your competitors.
  10. Keep an eye on what’s happening in your industry and on search engines. Look weekly for your company, click on the site, take a look around, stay on your site for several minutes, visit various pages, read the content, make sure everything on your site is okay. If it’s someone else advertising as you? Screenshot it. Collect evidence for a few days to a week (every day is lost business to you). Send a cease and desist letter and contact a lawyer.

handling when another business advertises as your business - deceptive advertising re medical practice or veterinarian or dental

Take away message: There will be unscrupulous companies who may try to steal your web traffic and business clients by masquerading as your business name, even if they adapt it slightly.  Collect evidence, and report unethical and illicit advertising behaviours.  It helps to use an attorney as if they persist in their ‘false advertising’ tactics, you may ultimately file a lawsuit against them. Be sure, also, that you report this behaviour to the Medical Board, Dental Board, College of Surgeons, Veterinarian Board, etc. so that they can alert their members to NOT engage in this damaging advertising practice.

Let’s face it — most practices remain a bit naive about tracking these kinds of business-damaging behaviours. Not every practice has the funds (or mindset, yet) to make sure their marketing is at the top level for their industry.

Not every practice has an expert marketing agent to monitor their site and the search engines, for misleading advertising and the inherent risks this brings to their business sustainability and client growth.

Make sure you make your digital presence a priority.

Need help? Contact Doctor My Web for digital marketing consultation or contact your Lawyer/Business Attorney/Legal Council for legal assistance.