Local Business Listing Scams: Who Should You Hire for Local SEO?

A slick salesman gives you a call promising guaranteed leads, a risk-free trial, and a no-hassle setup that will take none of your time as a swamped business owner; is there a downside? what’s the catch? It sounds too good to be true, a promise to setup local business listings for you, build you a free website, and bring in twice the business you currently have within weeks – all for only a few hundred dollars per month. So, is it really a legitimate and good deal?

In today’s world of obsolete phonebooks and increasing reliance on online local business listings, there are an alarming number of fly-by-night local SEO outfits promising huge returns when you pay them a monthly fee to setup and manage your online business listings.

Unfortunately, they are not offering anything special: there really are no complex or secret local search strategies. The reality is, if your business listings are established with consistent information and optimized well from the start, they will be ranking in local search results without paying ongoing monthly costs, and without a 3rd party controlling your online identity.

They promise:
A free, no-hassle website.

The reality:
If you already have a website, it can hurt your existing marketing efforts to have an additional website competing with your existing site. Your potential customers may be confused by the inconsistent representation of your business and won’t know which website to trust. Often, these quick-results salesmen will represent your business with a forwarding phone number and email address that you have no control over, further confusing your online business identity.

If you don’t already have a website, this is the worst possible route you can take in establishing one because the second you are no longer willing to pay the middleman their monthly fee, your website disappears from the web. In an ideal situation, a web developer will never charge you a monthly fee to keep a website online (unless you are specifically paying them for hosting services) and you should always have direct control and ownership of the website.

They promise:
Guaranteed leads.

The reality:
A particular volume of quality leads can never be guaranteed. In their efforts to boost your leads, these black-hat middlemen will often setup numerous fake and misleading listings for the same business to try and rank in a variety of cities and for a variety of terms. This technique is a direct violation of the Google Places guidelines and terms, as well as the terms and guidelines at most other local listing directories. Claiming to run a business with a fake address & forwarding phone number is not a legitimate and sustainable method for establishing trust and history online.

These fake listings will only muddle the details found online for your business, making it harder for the search engines, directories, and your potential customers to know what your legitimate business information is; in the worst case, these black-hat efforts can cause all of your listings to be suspended or penalized for spamming.

In reality, leads will follow naturally as you establish consistent and unchanging business listings that represent your business with the same address, phone number, and other details. There is no long-lasting benefit to creating fake profiles, or using other spam techniques, and in the worst case it can be very detrimental to your rankings and credibility.

They promise:
Ongoing results, as long as you pay them their inflated monthly fees.

The reality:
You may get some results from their efforts, and you may even get sustained results from the listings established by these monthly-fee companies, but the reality is that local listings are generally not something that should cost you monthly, unless you are opting to pay for enhanced listings with a fee. Properly set up free local listings continue to work for your business without any ongoing input or cost.

A legitimate SEO company will only charge you for their services as you need them. Local business listings only require an initial setup and optimization, and maybe an occasional update. If you are working with a reputable company, you won’t be paying a monthly fee for local seo unless you have opted for long-term help establishing new listings at search engines and directories across the web. Make sure that the company you are dealing with is not charging you an ongoing monthly fee just to “maintain” a few listings that are set up and working for you without their help.

They promise:
A risk-free trial.

The reality:
If you try to cancel your arrangement with them at the end of the trial, these companies will often resort to every kind of slimy sales technique in the book to keep you hooked, finally resulting in the nightmare of threatening you, their customer. If you don’t stay on board with them, they threaten to sell your online listings to your competitors. Many people are horrified enough at the thought of surrendering traffic to their competitors that they continue to pay. The company who initially sold you their services with promises of a risk-free trial is now blackmailing you in order to keep you from firing them.

They know that their methods are often not condoned by the search engines and directories, and they know many people will realize that they are paying monthly for something that should have been a one-time cost. In order for their shaky business practices to pay off, they threaten you or make it impossible to cancel your account without asking for a stop payment from your credit card provider.

Summary

Make sure you do your research before hiring an SEO company that will be involved in representing your business online. Your local business listings have an ever-increasing importance in connecting you to your customers; you should make sure that your listings represent your business consistently, honestly, and accurately. With the right legwork, research, and help at the beginning, you can easily manage all of your own listings – and you will always be in control and have access to your listings, even if you decide to stop paying the local SEO company that helped you set them up.

Have you had any problems with black-hat local SEO outfits? What are your experiences? Do you have any other advice for businesses that are just getting started in the realm of local business listings?

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