The Fleet-footedness of Deceptive Marketing

Recently I was gathering material for a program and wanted to illustrate Google’s local search function. As I understand it, when someone searches for a service or product in a specific location, the matrix for the organic search gives priority to those with a Google profile and consumer reviews. So, if you search “Los Angeles divorce attorney,” the first page of the search includes a series of local law firms, with maps to their offices and links to their profiles and reviews.

The first thing I noticed when I did this is that Google doesn’t care what the content of the reviews say, only that there are reviews. A company, or law firm, can go to a competitor’s profile and write a review that runs down the firm being “reviewed” or that does nothing more than blatantly use the review platform to praise their own firm or company.

Actually this was the second thing I noticed. The first thing I noticed was that the reviews were more often than not giving high praise and don’t really sound like real clients. I then drilled down, and this is what I thought was interesting. After searching “Los Angeles divorce attorney,” I clicked on one of the firms coming up under the local search feature. According to the review by “Lenny,” this firm did an excellent job and calmed his irate wife. Then I clicked on “Lenny” to see who else he reviewed. It turns out, he wrote 10 reviews over a six-week period in 2010. Seven of them were for law firms, six of which were divorce firms. In addition to that LA firm that did an excellent job, the firm is Toledo was a “real good experience;” the one in El Paso was “affordable;” the one in Greenville “helps you understand your options;” and the one in Philadelphia has a “high-quality reputation.” (Is this guy in the Grateful Dead — “I’ve got a wife in Reno, baby, and one in Cherokee?)

Same thing happened with “Donald” – 12 reviews, nine of which were for law firms in as many states.

So, if you are a lawyer interested in getting on the first page of an organic search when potential clients use Google to seek a lawyer in your town and field of practice, it seems you can hire a company to provide you with fake reviews to optimize that possibility.

On one level, this is such blatant fraud. On another, it is so subterranean that no one figures it out. What a great example of the fleet-footedness of deceptive marketing.