It doesn’t happen very often, but Google is finally taking an unethical SEO agency to court. And about time, too!
The court papers Google filed in California allege a local SEO agency, Local Lighthouse, made calls to businesses claiming to be working behalf of Google. During these calls the agency guaranteed to make first page placement in the search results.
I’m not a lawyer, but it appears to be the case revolves around three main issues:
- False or misleading advertising
- Trademark infringement
- Unfair competition
You can see the Google vs Local Lighthouse court documents here in PDF format, and I will be using extracts in this blog post.
False or misleading advertising
The SEO industry is rife with cowboy operators making false promises they just cannot keep. Google’s case against Lighthouse centres on false claims guaranteeing first page placement in the Google search results.
There are two issues at stake here. First, the papers claim that “the Defendant’s sales representatives were introducing themselves as ‘Google Local Listing representatives.'”
And second, that the agency was making “false guarantees of first page placement in Google search results.”
This extract is from the court papers:
Google is prosecuting this one case in California, but it is a problem here in the UK, too. I did a quick search, and today this advert pops right up at the top of my Google search results:
And despite the court case, there are claims on Local Lighthouse’s own website that might be misleading:
The second of the causes for action is Local Lighthouse’s illegal use of the Google trademark as part of their selling processes in order to deceive customers into thinking they have an approved relationship with Google.
Here is a relevant extract from the court paperwork:
If you see Google’s trademark being used illegally you can report it here
Google is receiving hundreds of complaints, primarily from small business owners, of automated calls from businesses claiming to be affiliated with Google, making misleading offers and promotions for improving Google Search and AdWords rankings, or to improve their Google My Business profile.
The court case in California makes specific reference to “incessant, unsolicited automated telephone calls” and that the Local Lighthouse “harassed consumers with unwatend phone calls.”
On 15 September 2015 here in the UK, the Information Commissioner has taken action against robocalls by fining a Chichester company called Called Call Elimination Ltd total of £75,000. The company was making illegal cold automated calls… in order to sell cold call blocking devices.
I can’t stress enough that Google doesn’t do this kind of marketing. If you get a phone call from “Google” be confident in knowing it is a scam. On their support form, Google makes it absolutely clear that they never:
- Make automated sales calls
- Ask you to update your front-page listing or claim your free website
- Ask you to pay to be included in Google Search or Google My Business
Reporting Google Scams
Unscrupulous businesses are using the Google brand to make big money, and as a small business owner you need to be aware of how to protect yourself and your business.
Google has created a support document describing the various Google scams, how to protect your business, and steps you can take to report them.