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Google and the Gulf oil spill at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig

I’ve recently been blogging (with some help) about the Gulf oil spill at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig. When I started the blog, I was struck by the fact that there were no pay-per-click lawyer ads when I used Google News to search for articles. But that changed in a hurry. Within a couple of days the lawyer ads began emerging in an ever escalating war to sign up claimants. When mass tort ad campaigns such as this start, I’m usually either involved in it professionally or I follow the campaigns because I find them interesting and, sometimes, educational. As of the time that I’m writing this post, there are seven law firm ads displayed on Google News when you run a “BP oil spill” or “Gulf oil spill” search. Seven law firms and one almost unnoticeable ad by BP.

Perhaps it’s the technology geek in me, or my interest in Internt marketing, but I enjoyed comparing the ads. The lawyer ads all utilized the top line of the ad well, with large blue letters proclaiming something such as “Gulf Oil Spill Lawsuit” or “BP Oil Spill Lawsuit.” BP’s ad, by comparison, simply said “Spill” on the top line. It’s as if they are ashamed to be associated with it, and don’t want to admit which particular “spill” it is they are talking about. But if BP is too embarrassed to shout out its message in a way that competes with the lawyer ads, why even buy an ad on Google? And if BP, a company which had profits of $6.1 billion in the first quarter of 2010, wants to run an ad on Google, why doesn’t it bid high enough to rank higher than sixth out of eight ads?

Somehow the fact that BP is inept in handling its PR makes me even less confident of its ability and intention to clean up the mess it’s making in the Gulf. I’ve written more at BPOilNews.com about BP’s poor PR, including its waffling and refusal to commit to pay for damages caused by the Gulf oil spill. You can also follow my posts about the Gulf oil spill at Facebook and on Twitter @bpoilnews.

Online video is taking no prisoners (updated)

I just drove past a Blockbuster Video store with a big “Closing” sign across the front. It reminded me of the time I was in San Francisco and I noticed the Virgin Records store in Union Square was going out of business.  Across the street was an Apple store with long lines of customers waiting patiently to plunk down their money. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Now, I believe that online video is to Blockbuster what Apple was to Virgin. [Read more…]

Chinese drywall a problem? We’re from the government, and we’re here to help. (Rriiiight).

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m involved in an Internet campaign to spread information and make legal services available to people who have had the misfortune to find Chinese drywall installed in their homes or businesses.  As we’ve done many times over the past decade, my partner and I have organized an alliance of law firms in multiple states, with lawyers licensed to practice law in most of states with significant numbers of cases, including Louisiana, Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and many others.  I’ll state at the outset that I believe that the only way a homeowner with a Chinese drywall problem is going to get the problem fixed is to file a lawsuit, either by joining in the MDL in New Orleans, or by filing an individual lawsuit against the builder and suppliers.  I do not recommend that anyone wait around for the Consumer Product Safety Commission or some other governmental agency to fix their homes.  And I believe that any delay by a homeowner before filing suit is simply time he or she loses in getting the money to replace the drywall.

When I began this project, I believed it would follow the same course as previous mass tort projects on which I have worked since 2000; cases such as those involving the deadly liver drug Rezulin, the cholestoral drug Baycol, artificial Sulzer Hip and Knee Joints, Diet Drug Litigation (diet drugs caused heart damage and primary pulmonary hypertension (a potentially life-threatening lung condition) among many people who had no history of heart problems), Yamaha Rhino rollovers (caused by design defects in the Rhinos), etc.  I expected to create one or more websites that was full of information, optimize the website so it could be easily found by searchers who were looking for the information and services we offered, and make it as easy as possible for those people become informed and retain us if they wanted to do so.

This project has been somewhat different.  Although we are getting substantial traffic to our website, and are talking to a number of people on the telephone and are reviewing a number of case review forms, I am getting the sense that, compared with our previous mass tort cases, a higher percentage of CDW victims don’t seem to know what to do.

I have my own hypothesis.  I can’t remember being involved in a mass tort in which so many politicians and governement agencies are involved.  Every politician seems to want to express his/her outrage, particularly if his/her constituents are affected by the problem.  And the relevant governmental agencies feel obligated to release reports, even if the reports don’t really reach any conclusions.  Then the politicians go back and complain about the slow manner in which the government is dealing with the problem, and several dozen news articles are written or put on television everytime one of these things happens.  A Google News search today for “Chinese drywall” returns 922 articles.  And none of them provide real, comprehensive advice about how the homeowner can get the problem resolved.  If a person runs a Google search for the commonly-searched term “Chinese sheetrock,” a post I wrote on our Chinese Drywall Attorney Alliance site is the top-ranked lawyer-provided page.  But it still doesn’t appear in the top ten results on Google.

For example, on Nov. 23, 2009, the lawyers for the Consumer Product Safety Commission wrote a letter to Senators Bill Newlson and Mark Warner, and representatives Jim Webb and Glenn Nye.  A great deal of waffling is found in the letter, which concedes that investigators eyes were irritated when they inspected homes with Chinese drywall (CDW), but the letter didn’t make a single recommendation telling people what they should do.

I admit I have bemoaned the ugly Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) sometimes created by Google when someone searches for a mass-tort related term.  Somehow, it appears slightly hucksterish to see all those page titles saying “[name your tort or defective product] Lawsuit, lawyer, attorney, law firm….”  But if you run a Google search for “Chinese drywall” the top ten results are news results (as of Thanksgiving day 2009).  None of the news articles offers help getting the money to remove and replace your drywall.  I’m as big a news junkie as anyone (hey, Google News is my homepage), but the integration of News results into Google web search seems to be going a bit too far.  I still believe many people search Google News for news articles, but search Google web for more in-depth information and the type information they need to solve problems.

Am I forgetting the ability of lawyers to appear at the time of Google by purchasing pay-per-click ads? No, but the most recent data I saw on the issue still indicates that people are about twice as likely to click on an organic (natural) listing rather than a pay-per-click listing.  Even though I sometimes use pay-per-click ads, I still believe at least a few good legal marketers should be able to find their way to put genuinely helpful information onto the first page of Google’s results with the necessity of resorting to pay-per-click advertising.

There may be other instances in which the heavy integration of traditional news into the top of Google’s web search results are beneficial, but I don’t think it’s helping CDW victims who are trying to decide what they need to do to solve their CDW problem.  Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe anyone is going to get his or her Chinese drywall problem solved by a person who walks up with a CPSC card and says “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”  I think the challenge for those of us with information and services that can actually help Chinese drywall victims is to break through the noise that has been created by politicians, political agencies, and the news media, and continue putting out a message of clarity that is easily found by those who are searching for help with their Chinese drywall problems.

I expect to lauch ConsumerNews.com within weeks (after having fired and replaced a developer). Pro-consumer lawyers and others who want to communicate directly to consumers will have an avenue via that site, especially if they are communicating on a topic that is news-driven, such as Chinese drywall.  If you or your organization is interested in being a sponsor or advertiser on ConsumerNews.com, which will cover stories of interest to consumers from a distinctively pro-consumer point-of-view, please contact me.

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