Fighting The Oil Spill On Google: BP Versus The Lawyers

As oil-poisoned pelicans are found on Gulf shorelines, lawyers and British Petroleum are looking to Google for help gaining public awareness. Attorneys are primed and ready to line up plaintiffs who were harmed by the oil spill that killed 11 people and threatens the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. BP is reaching out, as well.

Ambulance Chasing, Google-Style

Lawyers are using Google, Bing and Yahoo to actively bid on oil spill-related terms such as bp oil spill claim, oil spill sue and bp lawsuit:


Oil Spill: The New Mesothelioma

It feels similar to the competition on search engines that’s long gone on among legal firms to find people who may have high-damage claims, such as suffering from mesothelioma. In fact, consider this:


That’s the landing page at, where legal firm Beasley Allen hopes to catch some potential clients. Beasley Allen also runs, where you’ll find this:

Look familiar?

Google is just one of many advertising channels being utilized to reach out. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal spotlighted the chase for those who might have claims:

Hoping to reel in more clients, attorneys have snapped up domain names such as and put up billboards along highways saying “Oil spill hurt your business?” and advertising their services.

BP Battles On PR Front

It is not just litigation lawyers that are using online marketing to gather steam. BP is engaging in damage control by bidding on related terms through Google AdWords. In fact, they are casting a pretty broad net. Currently, they are bidding on everything and anything related to the spill. This broad match strategy is probably costing them thousands, if not millions of dollars in AdWords spend.


British Petroleum is using this money to compete for top placement amongst news stories and lawyer ads. Apparently the company is anxious for the public to “Learn More about How BP is Helping” by sending the paid search ads to a dedicated landing pages like here and here.

BP recently acknowledged the AdWords campaign. BP spokesman Robert Wine told The Fiscal Times.

The main aim is a marketing tool, to help the people who are most directly affected — fishermen, local businesses, volunteers in the cleanup. We want people to be able to find us, so we can work out how to minimize the impact on their lives and businesses.

Despite the statement above, it is hard to imagine BP has a hard time being found. While I’m a fan of paid search marketing and know how extremely effective it can be for marketing, I can think of better ways to spend massive amounts of money in the gulf. How about cleaning those oil-poisoned pelicans?

Postscript: Since this was written, Search Engine Watch has done a nice post trying to estimate how much BP might be spending on its campaign — around $1 million per month, it figures.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: AdWords | Search & Society: General | Search Marketing: Public Relations | Top News


About The Author: is a frequent search industry speaker and blogger, although he has spent most of his career as an in-house Online Marketing Manager. Working from this perspective has provided John with an understanding of high demand and budget concerns as it relates to marketing. He can also be found at and on Twitter @JohnWEllis

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  • eadie

    Thanks for the interesting and informative article, John. I thought you used a lot of corporate buzz-word, ad homonym attacks on the legal profession, though, that detracted from your main point. (Disclosure: I’m a young lawyer.) There’s a lot of corporate pressure (and profits) driving the anti-lawyer movement, and it seems to have crept into your reporting.

    For example, “Ambulance Chasing, Google-Style” is a provocative subtitle, which promotes the meme that when lawyers advertise, it’s unseemly or somehow immoral. Of course, law firms compete for clients (what company doesn’t?), and you agree that Google ads are a good approach. So, why the attack?

    By contrast, when you finally get around to BP, the subtitle is “BP Battles on PR Front,” as if they’re fighting the good fight to preserve their reputation. Really? I’d posit that, in this case, BP is a bit of a bad guy, and (based on some early reports of BP trying to convince local residents to take cash to sign a release-from-liability papers before speaking with lawyers) I assume the “landing pages” aren’t going to be very helpful.

    Just my two cents.

  • Danny Sullivan

    eadie, I inserted the subtitles. Point taken that not all lawyers are ambulance chasers, and that perhaps that’s not helping the profession overall. I’ll consider that for the future. But then again, I actually liked that headline because I think there’s a difference between lawyers just advertising and lawyers advertising in reaction to a specific event. The notion of ambulance chasing is one of lawyers turning up where they know there’s been an accident. That’s very much what’s happening with the ads targeting the BP spill. In contrast, there are people who do attorney/legal related search in general where when lawyers turn up, there’s less an “ambulance chasing” tone.

    In terms of an attack. I don’t think the subhead is that much of one. In comparing it to BP, read the last line. BP actually gets a slam in this, not in the subhead but in the actual story. That said, I wasn’t particularly happy with my subhead for the BP section. But I was also running short of time when doing some final editing and felt it worked enough.

  • jislaaik

    The company is not called British Petroleum. It’s a basic fact that you should get right, but I guess you don’t mind perpetuating Obama’s bigoted view on the subject.

  • nordmarketing

    Thanks for the interesting and informative article. I am from Germany. Ich hoffe und wünsche, dass bei euch alles wieder in Ordnung kommt und BP dass mit dem Öl schnell in den Griff bekommt. Solch eine Katastrophe wünsche ich keinem.

  • searchengineman

    I’ve got a perfect solution,

    I know Lawyers are having such a hard time being loved by the public. In the case of BP
    maybe they should send their lawyers to the beach to help with the cleanup!

    (Trying to resist making a snarky remark!..It’s Monday!)

  • psmackey

    Good points raised. I am an attorney and I also have a house at Dauphin Island. First – it is not a spill, it is an ecological disaster. I would not be surprised to find out that the industry did focus groups years ago to find out that the word “spill” cast them in the best light possible.

    Second – what is an “ambulance chaser?” I define the term as a lawyer who uses illegal or unethical means to get work that such lawyer is not qualified to handle and whose only intention is to settle the claim or refer it to someone else. The SCOTUS said lawyers can advertise, just like Ford or BP.

    All that said, advertising is problematic for me. I have practiced in the same firm for 23 years and we have never advertised on tv, radio or in print (save supporting our local public radio station). We have discussed it over time, however, because the world is changing. We get cases referred to us by lawyers who advertise, but don’t have the experience or the capital to handle these cases on their own. We have a web site and we are actively trying to reach the public through our blog to let them know the truth as we see it in our practice – that the BPs of the world don’t really care about them (although I must admit that BP’s CEO has pretty much done that on his own).

    It is a given that advertising works – do any of you have a Ginsu knife in your drawer? If the only lawyers advertising are ambulance chasers, potential clients are not well served. The Beasley, Allen firm, by contrast, has the experience and wherewithal to handle every case that comes their way. Nobody really believes that BP is going to do right in the long run. I will bet that a lot of ambulance chasers, however, will sign up every case they can and hold this “inventory” hoping that they will make a big fee, all to the detriment of their clients.

  • Danny Sullivan

    @jislaaik, you’re correct, BP changed its name from British Petroleum in 1998. We should have gotten that right. We’ll get it changed. Not really sure what Obama view you think we’re spreading.

    @psmackey, suffice to say, I’ve been fairly taken to task for using ambulance chaser. I don’t like when people characterize the entire SEO industry based on how a few people may act; I shouldn’t do the same to lawyers.

  • korbodo

    Doesn’t look like there are paid ads on searches for “pelican” yet – *shudder*. We did some quick analysis on what people are searching for AFTER they search for “oil spill” – it was a saddening bit of research:

  • digitalJE5U5

    Wow. Beat us up like that and we can’t even get a text link back our website? The PR7 link would have made this go down a little easier.

    You raise some interesting points, but I do have a couple of concerns.

    1. “Ambulance Chasing, Google-Style” C’mon, give me a break. You justify your comment by saying “there’s a difference between lawyers just advertising and lawyers advertising in reaction to a specific event.” Let me start off by saying that we have been advertising on the Web a long time. I have been at the reigns since 2003 and this is what we do. We didn’t just decide one day to throw up a website and collect a bunch of clients in a desperate reaction to a national disaster.

    We use the Web because we can put information out there to help educate people to the issues and if they happen to need a lawyer, here’s how to reach us. No


    We don’t do TV. We don’t do billboards. We don’t do Yellow Page ads. We certainly don’t chase ambulances. We honestly believe that we have something to offer these folks.

    2. Beasley Allen also runs… Look familiar? Please also consider, we manage This site is entirely dedicated to providing accurate news and information for families touched by mesothelioma. We have a full-time writer dedicated to following meso research, traveling to conferences, and advocating for a complete ban on asbestos in the US. I assure you that our motives are beyond trying “to catch some potential clients.”

    Also, you seem to imply there is something sinister with using the same WP template. the two sites you reference are part of a larger legal network of 40 sites we operate. We deliberately kept a similar theme amongst all of those sites in an effort to minimize confusion. I assure you its not because we are nefarious or that we are lazy or unimaginative.

    Danny, I’ve followed your work since we first met at a Search Engines Strategy Conference in Chicago in 2005. I know you can do better.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: My name is Scott Thomas. I have been the Director of Internet Services @ Beasley Allen Law Firm since 2003.

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