Though one may do her best to provide quality service to clients and customers, a business must now apparently be wary of disgruntled and/or devious Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) marketing companies and representatives.
Some time ago, a business owner contacted our firm about a post that had been published online that contained false information. We proceeded in our normal efforts to address an anonymous defamatory post by filing “John Doe” litigation. After completing expedited discovery, we found the person responsible. As it turns out, the person responsible for publishing the defamatory post happened to be a sales representative for a nationally recognized company. Our client had interacted with the sales representative, but declined the services offered. In retaliation for declining services, the sales representative posted false reviews about the business owner. In this instance, I might add that the company had no apparent involvement – complicit or otherwise – with the conduct.
Recently, similar tactics appear to be used by SEO marketing companies – except in a reverse temporal order. Rather than post a false review after being declined a sale (in retaliation), which in itself is unlawful, false reviews have been published about businesses prior to any contact from the SEO marketers. When the SEO marketers do contact the business, they may or may not reference the fraudulent review. Where they do, they reference the post and offer means to help address it. Where they do not reference the post, enough time has elapsed such that they presume the business to have learned of the defamatory post and will be receptive to SEO marketing efforts.
Our firm – for various reasons – has become quite interested in this particular phenomena. We invite anyone who believes they and/or their businesses have been victims of such tactics. Whether you have circumstantial evidence (a fraudulent post followed closely by an SEO solicitation; a job posting for a marketing position followed by a fraudulent post; or other similar scenarios) or mere suspicion, our attorneys will be interested in speaking to you.
Of course, the type and nature of the fraudulent posts discussed above differ from defamatory posts that may have been published by real employees, actual clients, or others known to the business.
Apart from common law claims of defamation, false light, and tortious interference with business relations, the publication of fraudulent reviews and posts may also violate various state laws regarding unfair competition, consumer fraud, and deceptive trade practices. Some of these statutes may provide for recovery of statutory damages and attorney’s fees.
In at least one instance, the conduct of a rogue SEO marketer hired by a company led to criminal charges and time in prison. See http://smallbiztrends.com/2016/01/seo-william-stanley-negative-review-lawsuit.html.
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