Online Marketing Scams

That phone call from Google is NOT from Google! How can you identify and avoid the many online marketing, domain and website scams out there?

Online scams are rampant, and 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.

Google Scam and Online Marketing Scams

This blog focuses on companies that provide search engine and online listing services, but there are plenty of other related scams out there. Some are obvious scams, and others may be legitimate companies with some unethical practices or those that make claims that they don't or can't deliver. This blog is about the the obvious scams.

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 won't help because they always call from new numbers, usually those in your local area.

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 of Google Search. Which is an impossible claim, and even Google's SEO help 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 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.

Just hang up if you get a call that sounds anything like the following:

Search Engine Submission Services

Google (and Bing) constantly crawl the internet looking for new websites. If you don't manually submit your website, it will automatically get indexed and added to search listings (as long as proper web design and SEO guidelines are followed). If you want your website to get indexed by Google more quickly and efficiently, set up a Google Search Console account and submit an xml sitemap. There is no such thing as a "search engine submission service" since your website gets indexed 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 engine that most people use is Google (93% market share in 2020, with Bing at around 4%). 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 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 website getting removed from Google listings and even permanently blacklisted.

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 websites rather than search engines. Free listings websites include sites such as Google My Business (which is different from Google Search), Bing Local, and Manta. Like search engine submission services, business listings services often list your company on 50 or more websites which is unnecessary since many of the sites they put you on are obscure, cater to a foreign market, or don't rank well themselves. And getting listed on low quality sites that are not reputable can actually hurt your website rankings.

While listing your business on listings websites 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 websites 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 charging recurring fees? Believe it or not, there are very large, legitimate companies that charge recurring fees to add you to free listing sites. Nobody questions this, as most people don't know how it actually works. They do provide reporting on clicks to your listings, but their reports are often buggy and inaccurate.

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:

Email Scams

There are tons of email scams going around. The latest one 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. 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 a victim of 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 websites are meant to educate, many are also published with an agenda in mind. That includes "Top Ten Reviews" type websites that compare various listing services and give one or more a high grade. Often these "review" websites 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 services. 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, my Online Marketing Service is a ONE-TIME charge to get listed on the top 10 most popular, reputable listing websites (including Google My Business). No recurring fees. I submit all listings manually, claim and correct any that already exist, and afterwards I send you all the usernames and passwords. THAT is how this service should be carried out!

I got a call from a company saying my website is not set up properly.

This could be a legitimate web designer looking at your website and seeing that it does indeed need work (admittedly, I make these kinds of calls). But it could also be a scam, someone from a call center making calls to thousands of people when in fact most of the time they've never even seen your website. How can you tell if a call like this is legitimate or if it's a scam? Can you hear a bunch of other people in the background talking on the phone? If so, it's a call center which means it's most likely a scam. Ask for the person's phone number and website address. If they don't want to give it to you, just hang up. If they try to push you into a making a decision NOW, it's either a scam or a commission-driven salesperson. If you do get their information, take the time to research the company. If the call is from Thryv/DexYP (Dex Media), Yext, Yodle, Manta, and any other big name online marketing firms, don't waste your time; they want to rope you into paying for services that you either don't need or that they can't deliver. You may get these calls if you've recently added your company information to their free listing websites.

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