SEO marketing can be a pretty competitive, and at times downright cutthroat, industry. There’s only one top spot for any particular search result page and there are thousands of companies that want their content in that spot. As with many competitive industries, some companies try to cheat or use unethical practices to get ahead. Google has recently started filing suit against SEO companies that use illegal or unethical practices to gain customers.
Small business owner often receive calls from other companies that want to offer them services. Some SEO companies have increased their use of illegal robocalls to try and reach more customers. These calls often claim to be from Google or make outrageous claims about what the SEO firm can do.
Search Engine Land did a search for “robocalls” on the Google My Business help forum and found this anecdote from one small business owner, “Our office is beseiged [sic] daily by phone calls asking to update our Google listing. The calls said we could push a number to be removed from their database, but the calls continue even after we did so. How do we get those calls to stop??”.
Last week, Google filed suit in the Northern District of California against Local Lighthouse Corp, an SEO marketing firm that was using robocalls claiming to be Google to get leads. It’s normally difficult for Google to take action against callers because they often use untraceable phone numbers, fake company names, and massive global networks of intermediaries. The current litigation against Local Lighthouse Corp represents a warning shot to other companies that more effort will be put into catching and stopping companies that illegally use robocalls.
“Robocallers have targeted Google users for many years. Callers commonly bombard recipients—usually small business owners or individuals—with misleading offers and promotions for improving Google Search and AdWords rankings, or to improve their Google My Business profile,” wrote Brad Wetherall, from Google My Business, in a blog post. “Since the beginning of 2015, we’ve received hundreds of complaints from users about robocalls they’ve received from businesses claiming to be affiliated with Google. “
While the action taken by Google is noteworthy, it’s important to note that the SEO company in question could also face action from the FTC and FCC, as regulations from both entities have been broken. For example, as the FTC explains: “if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal.”
Similarly, advertising and marketing content that claims to be endorsed by a company it hasn’t or that makes false claims is equally against the law. However, since government agencies are stretched thin, waiting for the FTC or FCC to take action would take longer than having Google just sue the offending company. And it may do more for prevention, since internet-based firms are more concerned with offending Google than they are about transgressing the FTC or FCC.
This situation is a reminder to business owners to always do the right thing. Even if it seems like they’re getting away with some unethical or illegal practice, it’s only a matter of time before that practice lands the company in court and costs them far more in punitive damages and a diminished reputation.
Google offers the following advice for business owners facing illegal robocalls:
Report callers to Google, and also the FTC or the FCC.
Hang up the phone. Do not press any key, even if the voice recording prompts you to in order to speak with a live person or to be taken off the call list.
Contact your phone company to see if they can block calls from any numbers.
Register your personal number with the National Do Not Call Registry at: https://www.donotcall.gov/register/reg.aspx or call 1-888-382-1222.
For more information about FTC regulations, read this article about the most recent version of FTC regulation on digital marketing.