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?

SERPs, what are they and why should I care?

SERPsSERPs are ‘Search Engine Results Pages’ (the pages of search results you see after submitting your search query).

Understanding what kind of content is presented to you in the SERPs, and how it got there, can help you be a more shrewd and savvy searcher.

If you’re a business owner, with or without a website, getting to know what the SERPs have to offer gives you more ways to market your products and services, and maximize your web visibility.

A Google Results Page

Google SERPs ScreenshotAt the end of this post is a large screenshot of a Google search results page with the various parts identified (click on the thumbnail on the left to see it now). It highlights the paid and organic listings, the shopping results and the universal search results, all of which I’m now going to describe in more detail.

Organic vs Paid Search Results

One of the first things you need to know about SERPs is that they usually offer at least two kinds of results, organic search results, and paid search results.

On the left of the SERP you will see the organic listings, which are given the majority of the page space. The term ‘organic’ is used to describe the non-paid search results that are ranked by Google’s calculation of their value and relevance to the search query you’ve entered. The owners of the organically listed websites have almost certainly spent time working on the quality of their content and optimizing their web pages for the search engines.

Paid search listings are placed at the top and right hand side of the page (or sometimes only on the right hand side of the page). These results are labeled ‘Sponsored Links’ and if placed above the organic search results are distinguished by a pastel backround. This is what is known, among other things, as ‘Pay-Per-Click’ advertising. The advertiser has to pay for every click through to their site via one of these paid search results.

So as a web user, when choosing what to click on, it’s important to bear in mind, that the organic results have earned their placement based upon their content. The sponsored listings have paid for their placement.

Universal Search & Google Base

Also, on the left, in the main body of the Google search results pages, you might see some other results from Google’s ‘Universal Search’. These are results Google offers if it’s pertinent to your search query.

For example if you are doing a search on a product, you’re likely to see shopping results at the top of the page listing the product and various prices. These listings come from Google’s ‘Product Search’ database. If you own an e-commerce website you can upload your products and related information, for free, to Google Base for the opportunity to have your product listings show up for related shopping searches.

Google’s Universal Search also includes, when relevant, video results, image results, news results, book results and more.

Local Search: Google’s Local Business Listings

google-local-searchIf you are searching for a service and use a town or city name in your search, then Google will show a map and a list of 1-10 related business listings at the top of the search results page.

As of April 2009, even if you don’t use the town or city name, Google will try to identify your location and show you the local business listings if you type in a location-relevant search term such as ‘restaurants’ or ‘bicycle repair’.

If you’re wondering how Google knows where you are located, you can read more about it here – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/google-becomes-more-local.html

There are a couple of ways Google gathers content for these listings. They either retrieve the information from other web sources, or the business owners  set up a Google Account and enter their business information via the Local Business Center. This is one of many free services Google provides.

In this post we’ve touched on organic vs paid search, shopping results, universal search and local search and have pretty much covered all of the basics of the Google SERPs page. If you have anything to add or any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Example Google Search Results Page

google-product-search