In December, a pro-abortion Internet user by the name of A’Ja Lyve hijacked pro-life website ads of 200 pregnancy center organizations in the U.S. and in Canada. The user took the organizations unclaimed Google Local Pages and placed 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… “
The executive director of ABC Pregnancy Center in Alaska, Colleen Ward, commented on the hijacking.
She said, “We don’t go into our site every day, and when I had been on last, it wasn’t up there. 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.”
At that point Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center in Washington, D.C. decided to alert national and international organizations. According to Pregnancy Help News, the email alert 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 and a how-to link for organizations to claim a Google Local Page.
Janet Durig, the director of the D.C. Center, said, “We prepared ourselves to answer if anyone were to ask about the situation. 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.”
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.”