I got a phone call from a potential client last week who was looking for someone to help with marketing his Web site, something that happens several times a week. What made this call unusual is that the potential client was upset about his former’s search engine marketing company’s ethics.
He told me that he was contacted by another firm to help list him with search engines. He paid money upfront and agreed to a monthly fee. After a few weeks, the company delivered on its promises and got his site listed on the first page of Google’s search results. Upon examining the results more closely, the client discovered that the pointer on the map in Google’s local search results was in the wrong location. He discovered that the search engine company had used a fictitious address. He also noticed that his business had 5 reviews listed, but the names of the reviewers didn’t seem familiar and they were all glowing recommendations. Of course, the search engine marketing firm used fictitious information in the reviews they created for this business. The business owner placed a phone call with the search engine marketing firm which confirmed all of this. They claimed that everyone does things like this, that using fictitious information was the only way to get listed and that Google had authorized them to behave in this way (something I doubt!).
At Curvine, we don’t use fictitious data in trying to help market client’s Web sites. I don’t recommend these types of practices, but I’m curious what other folks think: Is this kind of conduct ethical? Is it legal?