by Jeff Sovern
The Sunday Times Haggler column took on lead generation companies in the context of Seattle emergency locksmiths. As David Segal (the Haggler) explained:
Last Tuesday, the Haggler typed “emergency locksmith Seattle” into a browser, and the top results — most notably, the seven that appeared in the highly coveted Google Places spots, which are marked on an area map — appeared to be lead gen sites.
That is to say, they are not locksmiths at all, but phone banks that dispatch locksmiths. So what, you might say. According to Segal "Some are legitimate, but others may all too often do shoddy work and/or charge two or three times the estimate." And if you are seeking a Seattle locksmith, would you rather call someone who works in your city and so depends on local good will, or a service that might be located far away that has no such interest, and that has attained prominence on Google by gaming its algorithm? Consumers reading such listings are deceived into think they are calling a locksmith, but they are really calling a phonebank. Segal observes that this practice is not limited to Seattle or locksmiths, by the way.
Google is fighting such efforts, and Segal reports that state attorneys general have also become involved. But maybe it's time for Congress to look into improper lead generation practices and consider legislation to prevent them.