In the lawsuit, quietly filed last Friday in federal court in San Jose, Calif., lawyer Hal Levitte complains that his pay-per-click search ads ended up on "parked domains," or sites that only contained ads, and "error" sites, or pages shown to Web users who had typed invalid URLs into their browsers.
Levitte asserts that he enrolled in Google's content network and search network without realizing his ads would be shown on the "low-quality" parked domain and error sites. He alleges that Google said its search network included AOL, Ask.com, Shopping.com and other sites, and that its content network included The New York Times, InfoSpace, foodnetwork.com and others.
"Including parked domains and error pages within the search and content networks is the opposite of what AdWords advertisers like plaintiffs expected," the lawsuit alleges. "Google's practice of including parked domain and error pages within the search network is misleading, since no actual searches are performed on these pages. Likewise, Google's practice of including parked domains and error pages within the content network is also misleading, since most of these sites include little or no content."
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Levitte alleges that between June and August of last year, 202,528 of his ads were displayed through Google's "parked domain" program. Those ads drew 668 clicks, but did not result in any conversions. In that same time frame, his ads were displayed 1,009 times through Google's "AdSense for errors" program. Those garnered 25 clicks, and no conversions.
In all, he says he spent $136, or 15% of his total campaign budget, on the parked domain and AdSense for errors ads.
He complained to Google and asked for a refund, but the search company allegedly refused. "In an email from AdWords support to plaintiff, Google wrote: 'My team verified that the clicks you have been charged for appear to fit a pattern of normal activity,'" the lawsuit states.
Levitte's complaint includes allegations that Google's actions were unfair, fraudulent and resulted in an unjust enrichment, and is seeking class-action status. Among other requests, he is asking for a refund and an injunction ordering Google to make it easier for marketers to opt out of the parked domains and error programs. "We feel that the disclosures remain inadequate," said one of his lawyers, San Francisco-based Kimberly Kralowec.
Google also faces an unrelated trademark infringement lawsuit stemming from its parked domains program. In that case, golf club manufacturer Vulcan Golf argues that Google violates the Vulcan Golf trademark by serving of ads on sites with URLs that appear similar, such as vulcanogolf.com.