Touch Local’s attempts to stuff Google with its own content for the keyphrase ‘touch local scam’ looks… well, dodgy
In the first quarter of 2010, online business directory service Touch Local had some reputation problems centered on a significant number of angry customers posting here on my site. The Google keyphrase that brought them here was ‘touch local scam’ although the post they arrived at did not contain the words ‘touch local scam’ nor did I say or imply the company was anything other than reputable.
The reality was that those people arrived here because the Google algorithm connected the keyphrase ‘touch local’ (which I did use on my post) and the keyword ‘scam’ which is found in plenty of other places in my content and returned my post in the Google search results.
I chose to publish those customer comments – a decision which, over time, forced Touch Local to be seen to try to address the problem. In the end, a small number of those complaints were resolved. My contribution to that resolution however didn’t stop Touch Local resorting to legal threats demanding I remove the comments left by their unhappy customers and accusing me of initiating a defamatory thread about them. Having helped a few people out and having learned what there was to learn from the situation (and with no desire to spend money fighting pointless legal battles), I took the comments down.
Doing a quick search in Google tonight, however, I can’t help noting what Touch Local seems to have learned from that experience. Rather than become more willing to look at what might lead a customer to either search or post with a keyphrase such as ‘touch local scam’, they appear to have gone all out to stuff Google with their own content to cover up any further critical feedback.
A search for that keyphrase reveals a very large number of Touch Local pages with titles like ‘Don’t touch local scam companies in London’ and ‘Don’t touch local scam companies in Birmingham’ and so on (through every town where Touch Local operates). It doesn’t take an SEO genius to spot the real motivation behind those pages: they’re trying to ‘own’ the top of Google search results for that phrase. Any reasonable person might ask why.
Ironically (click thumbnail on the right for a larger image) their advice for reviewing a bad company explicitly encourages you to label them ‘a scam‘. Or, to put it another way, to do exactly what they couldn’t bear their customers doing to them earlier this year. One law for Touch Local and another for everyone else it seems.
If you’re interested in protecting your online reputation, don’t make the mistake of trying to suppress your critics this way. It won’t work in the long run because people will recognise what you’re doing – and at that point they’re going to start asking why.
If you’re thinking about using Touch Local you might like to read this account from 2011 of their sales technique. It raises many of the issues that I raised in my original posts about this company. The irony is that from my position I can see that the reputation problems that TL has created are as the result of two things:
1) A terrible over-incentivised sales approach and
2) an inherently flawed product designed to capitalise on prospects ignorance and their need for more business.
This in itself is a recipe for trouble – but the even bigger problem is that TL doesn’t seem to be willing to address those two problems, preferring instead to try to cover up and silence its critics. And as I’ve said in my online reputation posts about a million times, it’s this refusal to engage openly with them that will drive your customers to social media to vent their frustration.