Been Scammed by a Local Search Agency?

Written by Zac Johnson
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One of our clients was approached by a snake oil SEO vendor—wanting to charge obscene amounts to list them in a directory that has no traffic. Below is our analysis with the charlatan’s name removed. You’ll probably think you know them, but that’s just because there are so many of these scammers.

We’ll start with a framework to evaluate the performance of Local Search, then measure this agency against it.

Great local search presence is measured by these points:
pages indexed > rankings > traffic generated > sales (conversions)

* Pages indexed is how many pages each of our locations are showing up in—directories, Google Local Business Center, blogs, review sites, third party offline sources, and so forth. The engines want to establish credibility, so they look at not just how many pages, but whether these listings are authoritative (measured by PageRank and other factors). Creation of pages in a directory that carries no authority is like building apartment buildings in the middle of the ocean– nobody will find them.
* Rankings—are we showing up first in geo-modified searches (for example, redondo beach pizza), whether in paid, map, or traditional organic searches? All 3 types of search are important, so it’s a matter of the ROI associated with efforts between these three. If our pages are indexed and carry “Google juice”, then we are likely to get boosted in search results.
* Traffic generated— this is where Google Analytics comes into play. There’s no sense in ranking on keywords that don’t get searched on. We can measure exactly how many incremental visitors we generate from any SEO efforts—just like we can on PPC.
* Conversions (revenue)—same store sales, online orders, email subscriptions, or any other verifiable actions. If the traffic came from a search engine, then we can track exactly what happened with that traffic, and that is a beautiful thing.

Some vendors would like to sell you directory listings and other “SEO” work, under the guise of rankings and ROI. Let’s look at some of the examples provided by one of these vendors and compare that against the measurement framework outlined above:

https://www.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.com/airtran/USA/GA/airtran-atlanta-airport-hartsfield-jackson.html: This is their domain, at which they generate zillions of pages. The homepage has a Google PageRank of 0, the lowest possible score and one that conveys no trust. Further, the site has zero inbound links, meaning that no other website on the Internet is linking to them. Looking at their whois information, you can see the site was registered June 27, 2008—they are barely a year old.

Certainly you could pay whatever amount to have all of your company’s listings there, but that would be a waste. We could just as easily create a site called myfavoritepizzaplaces.com and do the same thing for $1k and do better. But really, that would be a pointless exercise. If the vendor was willing to list you for fun, you might go ahead, then in Google Analytics see how many visits you drive as a result of those listings, undoubtedly it will be zero.

You’ll see similar figures if you look at the other examples that they provide, such as xxxxxxxxxxx.com which has an Alexa rank of 743,111. xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.com has an Alexa of 912,757. xxxxxxxx.biz has an Alexa of 1,321,054.

Alexa rankings, if you’re not familiar with them, are what ranking you are on the web. So Google is #1, of course, followed by Yahoo! and all the other guys. Blitzlocal.com is 161,867. Even my personal blog, dennis-yu.com, is 134,980. These are publicly available figures, easy to check. We can go a step further to compete.com, quantcast.com, HitWise, and other ranking services—you’ll see the same picture. None of their listings sites get any traffic.

Companies like this shouldn’t be allowed to be in business, as they give legitimate companies a bad name. What’s especially frustrating is that search is perhaps the most measurable advertising medium that has ever existed, so you’d think that such vendors could be held accountable. When we speak at conferences on local search, there are usually a number of these vendors peddling wares such as this.

And they’ll claim Google, Yahoo, AOL, salesmanBing, and other players as their business partners. Just what do they mean by being a business partner?

* They’re just one of many folks who happen to use AdWords.
* They’re a wanna-be vendor calling into the general support line for PPC questions.
* They claim to have 3,000 businesses listed on their platform, when all that happened was uploading an Excel spreadsheet into their fake site with 3,000 records downloaded from another directory.

Are you still interested in these types of vendors? Try this before you give them any money: call them up and ask them if they are willing to stand behind their pitch of being a “partner” by being paid according to performance—to be able to demonstrate improvements at each of the steps mentioned above. They should be measured, at minimum, by the following:

* How many quality backlinks they’ve been able to generate.
* How much traffic came from those backlinks.
* How many conversions and how much revenue resulted from these efforts.

If the ROI of their efforts are truly that outstanding, they should have no hesitation to demonstrate what they do in that regard, plus be completely transparent about their techniques. The market for search consulting is so new that it may still be several years before clients are educated to the point that the charlatans can’t peddle their wares anymore.

Fortunately, there are measurable and valuable things we can do to improve local search results in an honest and measurable way:

* There are high trust directories that we can list ourselves in: for example, Best of the Web (perhaps the oldest and most trusted by the engines),
aviva.com, and judysbook.com in addition to the engine directories themselves (Google Local Business Center, plus Yahoo and Bing’s latest versions of this). There is a combination of manual and bulk submission techniques that we can use—not a lot of effort, but should help in areas that we don’t rank well. We can generate ranking reports to determine the impact of current versus improved rankings to measure the difference.
* PPC ads: Most likely already in play, but it can be taken to the next level by showing ads in map results—local business ads. This would take a few hours of our time to test the impact on Google, and then a few more hours to copy the campaigns over to Yahoo, BING (MSN), Ask, and other engines.
* Mobile: There are some quick changes we can implement on most existing sites to provide a tuned experience to iPhone users. We’ve seen many sites get well over 3% of their traffic from iPhone users, if there are quick changes that can increase conversions from these mobile users they should be made.

Are you looking for help optimizing your Local Search results? Contact us today and we can apply the analysis above to your site. Local is our specialty and we love sharing!

This guest post was written by Dennis Yu of BlitzLocal, a marketing company which focuses on local advertising. Dennis Yu was also the moderator at Affiliate Summit East 09 on the Facebook Advertising panel.

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24 Replies to “Been Scammed by a Local Search Agency?”

  1. I am really considering a virtual assistant to do all my seo work cause I can write up the instructions for link building but I just don’t have the time to do all the work.

  2. Yes it is a shame that there is this immoral group of seo companies. They prey on ignorant business’s who don’t know any better. If you have no idea how search engines work, it is easy to fall for a well crafted seo sales pitch.

  3. The bad thing about internet marketing is exactly this kind of stuff. If there were no scams on the internet it would be such a beautiful place…

  4. Sounds like somebody bought one of those Warrior special offers over on that forum and set up shop as a local seo. That's the "in" thing now.

  5. How in the world would someone be so stupid to signup with the agency you explained? I thought small business would have wisened up especially with the depression era economy.

  6. I keep hearing about the scammers, and it just makes me angry how anyone could seriously do this and get away with it…

  7. We all know that there are so many Scams from anywhere in the world so we need a little carefulness. Money is very risky issue and many people are willing to risk everything for the sake of money.

  8. I'm always amazed by people who are still taken in by these Snake Oil SEO criminals, but i suppose if you tell people what they want to hear, some are going to believe it.

    There are some good SEO companies, but they don't ususally need to cold call cos they're top of the search engines for 'SEO'

  9. Great information. I get called a couple times a week by SEO firms. Their promises are often the same, so it is sometimes difficult to separate the true professionals from the amateurs.

  10. I hate when people get ripped off by individuals in our industry. It make the new comers think that all internet business are non-legit businesses.

  11. @Dennis Yu:

    @MóveisAço:

    That is funny!

    Scammers are those people who never deliver what they promised while affiliate marketers are people who drives traffic by search engine, social media and article marketing, ppc marketing and any legal means.

    Because you area scammer, that doesn't mean that all affiliate marketers are all scammers.

  12. Snake Oil Salesmen will be around for as long as there are humans around. As the great PT Barnum once said – There is a fool born every minute. Sadly these predators prey on the poor folks who don't really have much of a grasp on how the internet actually functions, and who will nevern realize they got screwed until it gets pointed out to them.

  13. The internet is unfortunately filled with faceless people with one purpose- to rip people off. Thank God their antics are being discovered one after the other. One day we will win the war against scammers.

  14. You have to be so careful in today's marketing field. I was approached by many different SEO offers, I even was dumb enough to pay for one back in the day ( which didn't produce any good results ). Better to just do your SEO work yourself I think.

  15. If people do not do their homework properly they are going to get ripped off in the internet world. The faceless nature of doing things online really lends itself to exploitation, lies and fraud. So while the onus lies with yourself to verify and check out the true value of internet offerings, there is a desperate need for harsher action against scammers.

  16. this is important for every one in the marketing world that's why we should pay more attention the link building

  17. I’m normally not the kind of person to submit comments on people’s blogs, but for your article I simply needed to do it. I’ve been browsing in your site a lot recently and I’m super impressed, I think you might potentially emerge as a main voices for your niche. Not sure what your free time is like in life, but if you started commiting more time to writing on this site, I’d bet you would start receiving a bunch of traffic soon. With affiliate stuff, it could become a nice reserve income source. Just an idea to think about. Good luck!

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