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Law Firms and People Seeking Legal Advice Plagued By Fake Google Listings

A short interview with Conrad Saam, founder and president of Mockingbird Marketing

In this interview, Conrad Saam, founder and president of Mockingbird Marketing, discusses the issue of fake Google listings affecting provider’s legitimate legal services (and those seeking them out) and what law firms can do to ensure their services are easily accessible through a local online search.

1. Explain Local SEO, Google's guidelines (and why Google has those guidelines).

To understand Google's policies around Local Spam, you must first understand why Google has those policies. Fundamentally, Google doesn't want people utilizing their services to locate a business, then drive to that business only to find out that the person (in our case, a lawyer) who they are looking for, isn't there.

That user isn't likely to blame the law firm, but instead Google and very well may utilize a different tool for locating business in the future. Google's guidelines around what constitutes a "real office" are built around ensuring that there is a real law firm in that location and that it is staffed during business hours. And "staffed" doesn't mean your law school buddy's receptionist, or a shared office location like Regus. Contrary to common misperception, Google does NOT take into account different Suite #s in order to differentiate "offices". Google also wants to ensure that people are going to the right business and therefore insists that the business name in Google My Business reflect the actual name of the Business.... not "San Diego Best Car Accident Law Firm."

In addition, Google likes to provide users with geographic options.... in concrete terms, this means that in the local pack, only one attorney in any given location will be displayed in the Local Pack. Thus, for a group of competing criminal defense lawyers located in the same building one of them will show up for any given query. This puts firms with their own building at a distinct competitive advantage.

2. Who is engaging in Local Spam?

There are four primary flavors in the legal world engaging in Local Spam:

  1. Same state law firms expanding their footprint outside of their actual city: The Olympia law firm pretending to be in Seattle for example.

  2. In City law firms faking their names or hours in order to compete in the local pack more effectively.... i.e. the Chicago Law firm Smith and Smith, renaming themselves DUI Lawyers of Chicago

  3. Out of state law firms pretending to be in a new state: The Georgia law firm "opening" an office in Nebraska - only to sell those leads they generate back to the Georgia law firms through pay per lead or fee sharing where possible.

  4. Non law firms pretending to be law firms, capturing leads (as if they are a law firm) and then selling those leads back to law firms. Anecdotally this is frequently done by foreign companies who then sell those leads back through a domestic lead-selling intermediary.

3. What can attorneys do about it?

The most important thing here is to stay on top of your local market - understand who is showing up in the local pack and investigate new listings with a high level of skepticism. While Google does have a public feedback loop to investigate false listings, the mass proliferation of spam within the legal market means this simple reporting rarely has an impact. Noting that this is a self-serving comment - it's wise to engage with a professional who has experience and influence in removing these listings - there are just a handful of those professionals who can make a difference. Ask your agency to demonstrate previous success in local spam fighting through definitive Google Analytics reports, screenshots or testimonials. In addition, working through a professional can maintain a firm's anonymity in reporting nefarious competitors and sometimes these fights get very ugly, so it’s the best way to keep a firm out of the unwanted local spam finger pointing limelight.

4. How/Are the State Bar's involved in this?

Note that Google Guidelines and State Bar guidelines rarely overlap. In addition many State Bars simply lack the know-how and resources to think about these quickly evolving technical changes. While some have a requirements around what constitutes a "bona fide" office, most do not. Few that do, (with Florida as a noted exception) have ever taken action against fake offices. I'd encourage law firms falling victim to local spam to raise the issue with their local Bar... awareness is a first step in handling this.


About Conrad Saam

Conrad Saam is the founder and president of Mockingbird Marketing, an agency delivering online marketing exclusively for the legal industry. He graduated with an MBA from the University of Michigan in 2000 and oversaw marketing efforts for a number of companies before branching out on his own to focus solely on legal marketing through the creation of Mockingbird. He writes the In-House column for Search Engine Land and has been featured in USA Today, The New York Times and HuffPost.