Online Marketing Scams
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Online Marketing Scams

Online scams are rampant, and it seems like the problem is getting worse. Unscrupulous fly-by-night companies call and email thousands of businesses a day making preposterous claims that promise to catapult your company listings to the top of search engines and get you more customers than you can handle. The old adages that say "Buyer beware" and "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" definitely apply here.

This blog focuses on companies that provide search engine and online listing services. But there are plenty of other related scams out there. Read my blog on Domain Theft. Also read my blog on Dex Media & Hibu services which, although they're not technically "scams", their sales and marketing techniques can be unethical, their services may leave a lot to be desired, and you could spend a lot of money every month with not much to show for it.

Guaranteed Placement on Search Engines

This is the most ludicrous phone scam, because Google doesn't call companies asking for their business! If you get a call from a company claiming to be Google, or working with Google, or a subsidiary of Google, and they tell you they can improve your business listings or put you on the top of Google... just hang up. Don't even ask these bozos to remove you from their calling list, because they won't. And blocking the number may work for a day, until they cancel that number and call you from a different one.

These fly-by-night companies have nothing to do with Google, and they're probably located outside of the United States even if they're calling from a local number. They will often tell you they can "guarantee" placement of your business listing at the top of Google, or in the number one spot, or on page one. That statement is untrue; even Google's "Search Engine Optimization" page says that placement cannot be guaranteed. The page also specifically warns, "Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a special relationship with Google, or advertise a priority submit to Google".

If you do get reeled in to one of these companies, at best you may end up paying a huge amount of money for what amounts to nothing more than Google's own Pay-Per-Click program which you can set up yourself for free (or pay a legitimate SEO company a nominal fee to set up for you). At worst, however, you could end up handing over your credit card number to an identity thief.

In general, hang up immediately if you get a call that sounds anything like the following:

  • They claim to be affiliated with Google.
  • They guarantee to place you on the first page or the first listing in search engines.
  • Their company name is very generic, such as "Internet Listing Company" or "Your Search Engine Provider".
  • They're calling from a "call center". You can tell because you can hear other people's phone conversations in the background.
  • They sound like they're reading from a script.
  • They're speaking in broken English (not to generalize against non-native English speaking people).
  • You say you'll call them back and they tell you the phone number doesn't accept incoming calls.
  • You ask for their website and they either can't provide one, or the website looks bogus or outdated, or includes misspellings and poor grammar.
  • If you ask too many questions (sometimes even asking their company name), they hang up.
  • They don't take no for an answer, or try to argue their point, or tell you this special is good for today only.

Search Engine Submission Services

Google and Bing crawl the internet every day looking for new websites. If you don't manually submit your site, it will automatically get indexed and added to search listings eventually (as long as proper web design and SEO guidelines are followed). If you want your site to get indexed by Google more quickly and efficiently, set up a Google Webmaster Tools account and submit a sitemap. So there is no need to use a search engine submission service since submission occurs automatically.

Additionally, search engine submission services claim to list you on hundreds or even thousands of search engines, but this is unnecessary as well, since the only search engines that people really use are Google and Bing (Yahoo, which is no longer technically a search engine, is powered by Bing). All of the others are obscure; when is the last time you used AltaVista or AllTheWeb or Teoma?

Additionally, automated listings on hundreds of search engines is not just unnecessary, but detrimental. It's considered a "Black Hat" SEO (Search Engine Optimization) technique that is against most search engines' terms of service because it attempts to "cheat the system" by creating artificial, spammy links. Black Hat tactics can result in your search engine listings getting deleted and your company being banned from most search engines. Google is especially aggressive against these unethical tactics, and having your company banned by Google can be very damaging to a business.

Business Listing Services

Business Listing services are similar to Search Engine Submission services, but Business Listing services submit your company information to free online listings sites rather than search engines. Free listings sites include sites such as Google Places for Business (which is different from Google Search), Bing Local, Kudzu, and YellowPages. Like search engine submission services, business listings services often list your company on 50 or more sites which is unnecessary since many of the listings sites themselves are obscure or don't rank well with search engines.

While listing your business on listings sites is very important in your overall marketing strategy, and the service itself is legitimate, many of the companies that provide the service utilize deceptive, dishonest, or overly aggressive sales and billing tactics. For instance, almost all of these companies charge a recurring monthly or annual fee. This makes no sense, as the information is submitted to the listing sites ONCE, and the listing company does not perform any maintenance to the listing. So if all the work is done one time, what are they doing on a monthly or annual basis to justify ongoing, recurring fees? They provide reporting on clicks to your listings, but their reports are buggy and inaccurate and don't offer much in the way of helpful information. A better option would be to set up Google Analytics to track visitors on your actual website.

There are many business listing services out there, but the most popular one is Yext. Here is some information I've found out about Yext personally and from my clients:

  • Don't use their "Scan Now" form on their website, which allows you to "Check to see how your business appears across the internet". Their results are often inaccurate, saying that your company is not included on a particular site when in fact it is. Also, shortly after submitting your company information on the "Scan Now" page, Yext will call you. Once you're on their calling list they will call incessantly and won't take no for an answer, even to the point of harassment.
  • The people you talk to on the phone are often evasive and dishonest, and will say anything they can to get your credit card number.
  • Their service starts at $500 per year to submit to 40 local search directories. Again, this is a starting rate, and they will try to rope you into their next service tier which is around $900. Per year!
  • By default you are set up on automatic renewal, and trying to change or dispute it is next to impossible.
  • If you choose to not renew the next year, they will delete your listings and/or lock them so you can't go in and ever make changes again. Remember, they own your listings, not you, and they'll never provide you with the passwords.
  • Often they will submit wrong information about your company, including the wrong industry, category, or website address. Your listing may also include misspellings. They may try to get you pay an additional fee to correct the errors.
  • More and more company listings are getting "hijacked" by Yext out of the blue. So you may try to go in and submit listings yourself, but find that Yext has already claimed them without your knowledge or consent, even if you're not a Yext customer. At that point your only option is to pay Yext to keep the listing active, since you won't be able to submit another listing to that site because it will be considered a duplicate.
  • Even if Yext were a perfect listing service in every other way, they don't include the most important listing site of all: Google Places for Business. When you do a search on Google for a company, the listings that appear in succession with address, phone number, and a teardrop shaped icon next to them with letters, are Google Places listings. You can see how important Google Places listings are by their prominence in the search engine results.

Email Scams

There are quite a few email scams going around. The latest one as of December 2016 looks so legitimate that even I was fooled. My client got an email from a "digital marketing professional". The email reported many errors on my client's website (which were not accurate at all), and of course they could fix the errors for a fee. So after some investigating, I found that this is a form letter that is being emailed to thousands of website owners with exactly the same wording. There is no "digital marketer" looking at these websites! Many of the fields in the email are personalized to the particular website (such as the meta tags and keywords), which can be done by writing a code to insert those personalized fields into email. It's because of this personalization that the email looks so legitimate. However, I found the entire email on Spamdex, a website that reports on spam and email scams: http://www.spamdex.org/digitalmarketingproficient-com/129866-most-important-elements-that-can-certainly-boost-your-web-traffic-.html. If you fall for this scam, at best you'll pay to have someone "fix" the "errors", and of course nothing will be done and the "company" will disappear with your money. At worst, you risk being subjected to identity theft when you give the "company" your credit card number.

Take Everything with "A Grain of Salt"

Don't believe everything you read. While many blogs and sites are meant to educate, many are also published with an agenda in mind. That includes "Top Ten Reviews" type sites that compare various listing services and give one or more a high grade. Often these "review" sites are owned by the listings companies themselves, and one or even all of the services being "reviewed" are owned by the same company!

Blogs that praise a website's services may have been written by the company. Blogs that criticize a service may be written by SEO companies that offer their own listings services (like we at T. Brooks Web Design do). So do your own research. While a few blogs here and there may not mean much, lots of negative reviews are significant. And Yext has oodles. Just do a Google search on Yext Scam, Yext Fraud, or Yext Complaints and see what comes up.

For the record, T. Brooks Web Design's Online Listing Service is a ONE-TIME charge to get listed on the top 10 most popular, reputable listing sites (including Google Places). No recurring fees, no contract. We submit all listings manually, claim and correct any that already exist, and afterwards we send you all the usernames and passwords. We also offer a Social Media Setup service since social media is crucial to any company's marketing plan.

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