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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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This is written to two groups, contractors and the Federal Trade Commission and I highlight in order to ensure to stay on point to each group.

To Contractors and related entities,

Read this entire post to ensure you offer a professional opinion, and if you can’t, then please consider your fellow craftsman and avoid ranting and off topic comments, etc. I ask the moderators to simply delete unwarranted commentary.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will hold a workshop on October 30, 2015, to explore the growing use of online lead generation.

The FTC is seeking research, recommendations for discussion topics, and requests for panelists in advance of the workshop.

Among the relevant top topics is “What types of lead generation conduct may be unlawful under the FTC Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices?”

There are three ways you can ensure the FTC is able to hear you, in sequential order:
1. Write directly to the FTC as instructed on their website to be heard BEFORE the event (only if you can do so before the August 25th 2015 deadline)
2. Make comments here on this forum since this thread will be submitted to the FTC so it can stay active as the issue is reviewed after the workshop date
3. Write directly to the FTC for general comments to stay active AFTER the event (but up to the December 20th 2015 deadline)

For step 1, go to https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2015/07/ftc-announces-workshop-examine-online-lead-generation
For step 2, go to the last post and respond accordingly
For step 3, go to https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/onlineleadgenerationworkshop/

This is not directed at any one Lead Generation company, but as an industry as a whole, especially towards the practices of leveraging information over the internet that can be viewed as deceptive and unethical, and perhaps unlawful.

I began from a proactive perspective by creating my online Education Series to help contractors learn how to market themselves with an emphasis towards website SEO Education. During this proactive effort, I was forced to become reactive and counter the many situations where Lead Generation companies absorb potential traffic and optimize for search results using a contractor’s name and other relevant information (with and without a contractor’s permission) making it so hard for a contractor to market themselves. My original intent was to help contractors market their websites; because of the activities of Lead Generation companies, it's now also necessary for contractors to learn how to counteract the work of those companies because these companies optimize Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and Landing Pages so they can 1) be found ahead of the contractor who tries to market directly to a consumer, and 2) possibly redirect the consumer away from the contractor, and 3) possibly introduce the contractor’s competitors as additional options to consider.

Unfortunately many contractors don’t understand the issues of Use of Content, so if you do understand, or have specific details you can share, then by all means reach out to the very people who may be able to make changes to allow you to more easily market yourself without middle-companies battling to get a consumer’s attention to then sell you leads and/or advertising.

To the FTC and related entities,


While many lead generation companies may promote positive aspects towards helping consumers find contractors, and contractors finding consumers, you will find a rather large audience of contractors who are having a harder time promoting their business to consumers due to deceptive tactics and possibly unfair and illegal practices that many businesses deploy in order to get market share.

There are two forms of practices that occur, one without the contractor’s knowledge, and one where the contractor agrees to Terms & Conditions that may simply not be understood. It usually begins by a contractor being swayed for a Free Profile of some sorts, and then quickly obtaining what is perceived to a way to be exposed to consumers, but many times the landing pages created simultaneously introduce their competitors and possibly misleading information how to contact the contractor.

By no means do any of the examples that follow look to single out any one company. The references are all designed to bring the issue to your attention.

To begin, it is time to really re-evaluate the Lanham Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act which I have highlighted here
http://www.contractortalk.com/f12/lead-gen-defense-lanham-act-digital-millennium-copyright-act-202626/
The Act prohibits a number of activities, including trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false advertising. My point is simple. Many lead generation companies will create search results with Title Tags and Meta Descriptions with things like “We have testimonials, pictures and prices and more on Contractor XYZ”. You click on it, and then wind up with a webpage that says something like “We are sorry, we don’t have any information on Contractor XYZ but we do have other contractors by calling 800-zzz-yyyy”. Isn’t that false and deceptive? And if people may think they are definitely going to learn about your company by going to another website, then isn’t that a form of trademark dilution?

I realize most Lead Generation and Advertising companies will sit silent on this, or they will come up with fancy reasons to explain why they feel all information they can grab should allow them to create a webpage with a contractor’s name on it, even when the contractor hasn’t signed up, and even when they don’t have complete information.

To demonstrate to the longevity of my commitment to the topic, back in 2013 I began to explore the topic How Lead Generation Companies use a name against a business entity, a topic that has just gotten worse for unsuspecting contractors, http://www.contractortalk.com/f100/h...st-you-137253/.

And here, two years later, so many companies are still able to make it harder for contractors with their online identities being used in ways that are questionable. So here follows contractors posting a similar situation when they feel a lead generation company may be misrepresenting their phone numbers after creating landing pages using a company’s business information. http://www.contractortalk.com/f12/po...-calls-151763/

Some of the information used by Lead Generation and Advertising companies is gathered by public records, or information sourced by other providers. Some of the information is volunteered by the contractor’s themselves, usually starting with the objective of getting a Free Profile. Then a lot of this information can be manipulated in ways the average contractor would most likely not agree to if they understood the Terms and Conditions.

Years ago it was easier for someone to simply list their information in a physical manner and it was harder for an outside entity to generate business off a physical listing. Now it is becoming one step away from the wild west to absorb as much information that can be obtained, with or without a contractor’s permission, then use that very information to draw a consumer’s attention to a specific site. Many times these objectives are hurting a smaller contractor’s efforts to simply promote their own business.

I welcome open dialogue with you, those from the Lead Generation Industry, and most important the contractors who seem to be having the more difficult time navigating past these business models.
 

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FWIW:

"For public choice theorists, regulatory capture occurs because groups or individuals [Lead Generation Companies?] with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can be expected to focus their resources and energies in attempting to gain the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public [contractors?], each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether."

One possibility for contractors is to pool their money & spend $50K for a full page ad in a widely read newspaper, but this may do nothing more than embarrass the two main players in this.

Regarding what's legal, a US government agency violated the FLSA for seven years, until the employee's union made a fuss.

Good luck, all. . .we'll need it.
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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1,076 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
FWIW:

"For public choice theorists, regulatory capture occurs because groups or individuals [Lead Generation Companies?] with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can be expected to focus their resources and energies in attempting to gain the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public [contractors?], each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether."

You are correct, and I'll bet the powers at play will have their own form of lobbyist out there. But that doesn't matter since now the issue has finally made it to the level of review. So since we know what will happen from the big money perspective, this is still the time to encourage and support the contractors to do the right thing and speak up.
 

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Hair Splitter
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18,337 Posts
of the activities of Lead Generation companies, it's now also necessary for contractors to learn how to counteract the work of those companies because these companies optimize Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and Landing Pages so they can 1) be found ahead of the contractor who tries to market directly to a consumer, and 2) possibly redirect the consumer away from the contractor, and 3) possibly introduce the contractor’s competitors as additional options to consider.
Brian,

I hope that you don't mind me taking something from one of your classes, but you forgot to include ways a contractor can discover the pages that a lead generation company may be using their name.

  • Google your company name (YourCompany) along with the lead gen company name in the same search (LeadGen)
  • Google your company name (YourCompany) along with the lead gen company website in the same search (LeadGen.com)
  • Google your company website (YourWebsite) along with the lead gen company name in the same search (LeadGen)
  • Google your company website (YourWebsite) along with the lead gen company website in the same search (LeadGen.com)
  • Flip the LeadGen to become first, so there is a total of 8 permutations

And another, easier, way to see all your company references on someone’s website is to use the “site:” command.

This is how it works in a search. As you use in your examples, if you wanted to search for all references to “College Softball” on the ESPN website, you will type in
College Softball site:espn.com

So using your example with LeadGen.com, a contractor just needs to use a variation of
YourCompany site:LeadGen.com

Pay careful attention to the search results that appear, and the landing pages, since a lot of information can be learned by looking at these webpages.

Rob


EDIT: I am still discovering all of the different ways they are leveraging my name to generate traffic and leads for my competitor. P0rch.com still has my listing up even though I have contacted them numerous times to remove it.

Thanks again for all that you are doing and this is very encouraging.
 

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Markup and Profit
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9 Posts
I understand why lead generating companies got started. They wanted to do online what contractors weren't doing; help homeowners find someone to do their project. Contractors were good at helping owners find them in the phone book, but the internet was a new world and required a set of skills that many contractors didn't have, and didn't have the time, money or interest to develop. I get it. It served a good purpose.

But it's gone too far. Now, contractors who want to have a presence on the internet have to fight with lead generating companies just to have the use of their own name. That's not ethical, it's not how business is supposed to operate.

It's hard enough running a construction-related business profitably; you shouldn't have to also deal with those who don't know a hammer from a nail and don't care to know, but are tech-savvy enough to use your name to attract owners so they can sell the info back to you. It's kind of like having to pay the bully everyday so you can eat your own lunch. Maybe now we'll finally learn how 3.2 million home service professionals got to be on Porch (http://tech.co/porch-real-estate-partnerships-2015-04).

Brian, thanks for taking this on. We like to see the good guys win. We don't usually say it like this, but we also like to see the bad guys lose.

Michael Stone
Markup and Profit
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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1,076 Posts
Brian,

I hope that you don't mind me taking something from one of your classes, but you forgot to include ways a contractor can discover the pages that a lead generation company may be using their name.

...

So using your example with LeadGen.com, a contractor just needs to use a variation of
YourCompany site:LeadGen.com

Rob

Hi Rob,

No, I don't mind ... while I couldn't stop you from copying, at least you were nice enough to acknowledge where the information came from ... unlike many of the Lead Gen folk who just take the information and do whatever they want. :laughing:

Thanks again Rob ... good catch.

Brian
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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1,076 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I thought this was going away with the doorway page update, its interesting it had no effect on lead gen sites.
That's a pretty smart comment.

Before I reply, let me educate people what you referencing.

In short, Google has been continually working on ways in which to minimize the impact of these lead gen type of landing pages. This includes a phrase titled "doorway pages". Google does see doorway pages as those created solely for search engines, and these can harm the quality of the user’s search experience. Doorway pages try to maximize their “search footprint” without adding clear, unique value. These doorway campaigns manifest themselves as pages on a site, as a number of domains, or a combination thereof. Google is trying to improve the quality of search results with ranking adjustments to better address these types of pages.

#1 - Every Lead Gen or Advertising firm will shout out that "all my landing pages are not doorway pages, but rather, relevant pages that help the consumer". They will explain it every which way other than the fact that they are indeed doorway pages.

#2 - Every Lead Gen or Advertising firm will heavily promote their "clear, unique value" with all the public data they can scrape up and re-organize to promote a contractor's business. They will promote they are organizing data in a way that makes it easier to evaluate a contractor, even if this process introduces other contractors who are paid advertisers.

# 3 - Every Lead Gen or Advertising firm will heavily promote their "clear, unique value" with all the data a contractor voluntarily provides. So at a minimum, a contractor has to begin by reducing the variables, especially the ones they control. In other words, do not sign up without reading and understanding the Terms & Conditions. And do not submit content that allows for the existence of Doorway Pages to be propagated against themselves.

#1 and #2 are out of the Contractor's control, but #3 is completely in the Contractor's control to lessen the impact. :clap:

Not sure what reading you are doing JBM, but you are on the money ... this update is not an overnight thing and takes time to work through, but at the same time the Lead Gen folk are fighting back with getting data, both scraped and provided ... thanks for bringing up the wording :thumbsup:
 

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The lead gen sites are clearly violating G's rules for doorway pages, and are getting a free pass. Its complete catering to companies with an advertising budget. It should almost be criminal to have double standards.

  • Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?
  • Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?
  • Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?
  • Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?
  • Do these pages exist as an “island?” Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your site? Are links to such pages from other pages within the site or network of sites created just for search engines?
 

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Hair Splitter
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The lead gen sites are clearly violating G's rules for doorway pages, and are getting a free pass. Its complete catering to companies with an advertising budget. It should almost be criminal to have double standards.
That's the purpose of having the FTC move on this. We can't wait for Google or the LGS companies to do the right thing. Unfortunately we do need gov't intervention in this instance.
 

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That's the purpose of having the FTC move on this. We can't wait for Google or the LGS companies to do the right thing. Unfortunately we do need gov't intervention in this instance.
It could be that if anyone @ the FTC want to know how we got here they will have some insight now. It may not be enough to pass laws against stealing companies information if they can still spam their way to the top.

Like most things it will take a couple of angles to fix the problem.
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Reminder gentlemen .... while we create dialogue here on this forum, remember to make a post directly above so they are alerted to the issue and the existence of this post.

My instinct is one or two analysts will be responsible for organizing submissions, and having many people alert them to the issue will assist them in deciding on coming here to review the details.

So with whatever you submit, ensure to include the link to this thread as an "industry conversation on a popular forum that wraps up many details", or something to that effect.
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hi all,

Just to make you aware the FTC is reading the communications you send directly to them. Does take a little time, but they are reading them. I sent my first communication on 7/24 and noticed they just opened the email today on 8/12. So for me it was 19 days, about 2 and 1/2 weeks.

My point is, there is time to continue to submit well thought out, simple and polite communications to make a point.

Trust me, the very companies you all talk about are sending their own similar communications, and my instinct is they will have their representatives (or should I dare suggest to phrase them as "lobbyists" :laughing:) in the vicinity of the actual meeting to have their voices heard.

So take a moment to say what you have to in order to ensure the right people hear your voice and concerns. There is time.

Brian
 

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Interesting thread.

I'd like to add to one of the deceptive practices used by Home Advisor.

A few years ago I found many listings with my company that had their
"Request a Quote" option strategically placed to direct traffic to their site.
A was quite peeved and got a couple taken down,but there are still a few
on line.

What I did next was call the phone number listed under other tradesmen I knew, who's listings had similar links. I mentioned the Business by name and said I wanted to speak to that business.Their response was that the person I was trying to contact wasn't taking on any work at this time.I contacted these people personally and this wasn't true.

I live in a small close knit community,and if someone heard this from them,chances are they would spread the word that I wasn't available.Being that most of my work is
WOM,I'd essentially be losing multiple leads.
 

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This is an interesting issue and there are so many negative aspects that effect not only the Homeowner being mislead to the quality of a contractor being referred, but it also hurts us contractors with Trademark Dilution as misleading landing pages are created using our name. I will submit to the FTC and come back here soon for a follow up after I organize my thoughts. Thanks for the post.

Kayla
DreamMaker
 

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John Crowley

Yes, this topic is one that bothers us since it has taken our company so long to build our reputation, and it seems the Lead Gen companies easily use my information solely for their benefit.



In fact, I just reviewed one of my Review Links on my website, and I found out the landing page changed to a generic listing and not the information of my company.



I am sure the Lead Gen Company would come up with some reason why they changed it, but it is disheartening to have so much of my website traffic disappear and have to wonder how much of it went to another company who may falsely represent our business image.



John

JAG Construction
 

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FTC Submission

I followed through with a submission to the FTC before the deadline.

It included a picture reference where Search Results insinuate they have information about our company, then the landing page says they do not have any information, and then they go on to promote other contractors who I assume are paid advertisers.

For businesses like ours, online lead generation sites have created permutations of our name, portraying a misrepresented vision of our brand, which we’ve worked hard to create. By using bait and switch, lead dumping and false and deceptive advertising tactics, both businesses and general consumers are being misguided.

It is unfortunate that small businesses, who are trying to keep up with the digital world and maintain their online presence amongst general competition, are also having to fight with lead generation companies in order to use their own name to generate sales. This practice is nothing short of unethical and provides problems for both businesses and the general consumer.

I see there are other areas here pertaining to website optimization and SEO, and I will come back soon to comment on that too, but I wanted to first address this negative issue that holds many back.

Thanks again for helping out.

Kayla
DreamMaker
 

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MyOnlineToolbox cofounder
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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
OK all,

Not only did I provide multiple submissions, I even left a voice mail to one of the listed persons indicating I would be more than happy to verbally elaborate if they are interested. But note from the original post that we have hit the first deadline as of today so now steps 2 and 3 below remain an alternative.

There are three ways you can ensure the FTC is able to hear you, in sequential order:
[STRIKE]1. Write directly to the FTC as instructed on their website to be heard BEFORE the event (only if you can do so before the August 25th 2015 deadline)[/STRIKE]
2. Make comments here on this forum since this thread will be submitted to the FTC so it can stay active as the issue is reviewed after the workshop date
3. Write directly to the FTC for general comments to stay active AFTER the event (but up to the December 20th 2015 deadline)

For step 1, go to https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/pres...ead-generation
For step 2, go to the last post and respond accordingly
For step 3, go to https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/ftc/onlineleadgenerationworkshop/https://ftcpublic.commentworks.com/f...ationworkshop/
 
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