When a potential client in your community finds you online, what does she see?
That was the essential question facing an estimated 200 pregnancy help organizations in the U.S. and Canada this December.
That’s when it became apparent that an Internet user by the name of A’Ja Lyve had hijacked the organizations’ unclaimed Google Local Pages, placing a caution tape-themed bumper sticker with the following message:
Be advised: this is an anti-choice organization. They will NOT present you with all your legal & medical options. Call Planned Parenthood instead…
“We don’t go into our site every day, and when I had been on last, it wasn’t up there,” Colleen Ward, executive director of ABC Pregnancy Center in Kenai, Alaska, said. “Our tech guy said it had been up there for months, because he could go back and see when it was originally posted."
“[After a board member told me about it], I personally went through all the centers in Alaska, and four of the eight centers had been hit," Ward said.
Ward and others, including Janet Durig, executive director at Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center in Washington, D.C., were among the first to alert national and international organizations, who notified affiliates in the coming days.
The first email to go out to affiliates was sent Friday, Dec. 19 by Care Net, and pointed out that A’Ja Lyve’s smear campaign was traceable all the way back to February 2014. The email also gave clear instructions for its 1,180 U.S. affiliates to find out if their organizations were targeted, as well as a prominent link to report page vandalism to Google (here) and a how-to link for organizations to claim a Google Local Page (here).
Heartbeat International sent an email to its 1,800 worldwide affiliate locations Monday, Dec. 22, alerting recipients to the issue, while pointing to a how-to guide published by Extend Web Services (here).
“We prepared ourselves to answer if anyone were to ask about the situation,” Durig said. “With [Heartbeat International and Care Net] doing the research they did, it allowed us to be ready to say what was happening. When anything negative like that happens, I try to prepare everybody to respond in their own words."
“When those kind of negative things happen, we really gather together and pray, individually and as a group. From there, we just do what we can do," Durig said.
Tweet This: "We gather and pray. From there, we just do what we can do."
Although many of the life-affirming centers and medical clinics directly affected by the vandalism have remedied the situation by claiming their Google Local Pages, several organizations are still vulnerable to the threat because they have not claimed their listing.
The concern of vulnerability plays into the larger conversation surrounding the need for each organization to take advantage of free web marketing tools like Google Local Pages as part of a strategy to reach more abortion-vulnerable clients.
“If you don’t have your listing claimed and somebody is trying to find certain services in your area, you may not pop up,” Christy Poloni, web developer for Extend Web Services, who is hosting a workshop entitled, Search Engine Marketing 101 at the 2015 Heartbeat International Annual Conference April 7-10 in St. Louis, said. “Or, if you do, you might be lower down or on the second page, because it’s looking for credible search results.”
Poloni and Brad Mandel, president of Ad America Internet Marketing SEO & Web Design, both stressed the importance of a pregnancy help organization to not only claim its Google Local Page, but to also capitalize on the opportunity it represents.
“These attacks and these fake reviews that are coming in out of nowhere are absolutely without question hurting your reputation,” Mandel said. “I always look at client marketing as whether or not the system is contributing to you getting the call or is it contaminating the situation.”
“It’s either helping or hurting you.”
Tweet This: "Your marketing is either helping or hurting you." Brad Mandel
Has your organization been targeted by the attack? Google your organization and get in touch with us for help.