Analysis

Google ‘tightens standards’ on secondary-ticketing search ads


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Google has implemented a new policy on secondary-ticketing websites, which will now have to ‘radically increase their transparency’ to be certified to book advertising on its platform.

To be certified, secondary sites will have to not ‘imply’ that they are a primary marketplace; prominently disclose their status as a ticket reseller / secondary marketplace; prominently disclose that prices may be above the tickets’ original face value; from March prominently show the face value of the tickets being sold in the same currency; and break down the total price including fees and taxes before taking payment details from customers.

“When people use our platform to purchase tickets, we need to make sure that they have an experience they can trust,” said Google spokesperson Elijah Lawal. “We think that event ticket resellers that agree to these new transparency requirements will provide a better and safer user experience on our platform.”

It’s important to note that the new rules apply specifically to advertising on Google, rather than to search rankings. Whether certified or uncertified, resellers will continue to appear in organic search results, and the uncertified sites won’t be demoted in the rankings. It’s just that they won’t be able to advertise to push their listings to the top.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to secondary sites. Google flagged it with a change to its AdWords policy page in November 2017 to give advertisers time to prepare, having gathered feedback from advertisers, partners and ticketing-industry groups as well as users in the run-up to the decision.

A blog post today by David Graff, Google’s senior director, trust & safety, global product policy, provided some more detail on the thinking behind the move.

“Many venues sell tickets directly and some use resellers to help, making it easy to get the seats you want. Unfortunately, some ticket resellers provide limited transparency in their ads about ticket costs and fees, as well as their association with a specific venue or event,” wrote Graff.

“Lack of transparency can erode trust in the online ticket ecosystem and makes it harder for legitimate businesses to reach customers. We only want companies that offer a great user experience on our platform.”

“Effective today, we are tightening our standards and will require all event ticket resellers to be certified and to radically increase their transparency. This will give users more clarity on the vendor reselling the tickets and the total cost of those tickets, including any associated fees.”

Expect reactions today from relevant industry bodies, such as the UK’s FanFair Alliance, which has been calling on Google to crack down on misleading secondary sites for some time.

In July 2017, the lobbying group published research claiming that when it searched for 100 upcoming UK music tours, a secondary-ticketing website had paid to top the search results for 77 of them, with Viagogo accounting for 65 of those instances.

Later in the year, a survey published by FanFair claimed that 43% of respondents used Google as their first port of call to search for tickets, while 52% found it difficult to distinguish between authorised primary ticket sellers and unauthorised secondary sites.

(Disclosure: Music Ally’s research division contributed analysis to the report.)

The question now will be which secondary sites get certified by Google, and which do not. On the main sites, there are now prominent disclosures at the top of the homepage, for example:

“Get Me In is a Ticketmaster marketplace, prices are set by sellers and may be above or below face value,” explains the message at the top of that website, for example.

“We’re the world’s largest secondary marketplace for tickets to live events. All tickets are protected by our guarantee. Prices are set by sellers and may be below or above face value,” explains Viagogo’s.

“StubHub is the world’s top destination for ticket buyers and resellers. Prices may be higher or lower than face value,” is how StubHub puts it.

Another question will be the extent to which these disclosures must be made within these companies’ ads on Google, rather than just on their own websites. The grey areas around what wording in an ad does or does not “imply” primary status may spawn a few arguments yet.

Even so, at a time when regulators are taking a closer interest in the secondary-ticketing market – in November the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced plans to take enforcement action against sites suspected of breaking consumer-protection laws, for example – Google’s news today will be seen as a welcome step forward by the secondary sector’s critics.

Stuart Dredge

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