If you're like most small businesses, your email inbox is overflowing with unsolicited marketing pitches.
Unfortunately, many are typically poorly conceived, ludicrous, or based on patently false information.
After hearing stories from small business owners, I've been inspired to address this issue in a series of articles tagged "dodgy marketing."
Below, I share some recent examples that business owners have shared with me. As is the case with many dodgy marketing proposals, both were focused on "business listings" or "local SEO.'
Before we look at the questionable pitches, let's take a look at how business listings work.
Business listings or "local SEO" focuses on getting your business listed in online directories. Why? It helps your business to get found online and the inbound links from directories can boost the ranking of your website. (You can easily learn how to do this yourself with the same tool I use.)
In local SEO? recurring fees for ongoing "citation management" - Having tons of citations has diminished in importance so much that getting the top tier right once and letting them marinate is just fine...— Carrie Hill 🗺️📌 (@CarrieHill) October 4, 2019
In this example a personal trainer in New York City was targeted by a Florida-based marketing business who pitched him on paying them an up front fee and a monthly retainer for getting business listings for him.
The business owner had just paid someone else to do this work and the work was verified as completed. Nevertheless, it's true that you can always get more listings if you like.
So was the marketer offering anything of value?
This marketing business got the owner into a meeting and presented some convincing looking slides. These showed a dashboard with his business's name, and various business listing directories like Yelp and FourSquare. His NAP (name, address, and phone number) were correct in each listing. But next to each directory was a red X and the word "Not synced."
Showing a visual "official-looking" display with red Xs or other red flags is a common tactic used by dodgy marketers. It looks like some official software had flagged this business's listings as problematic. After all it said "Unsynced" with lots of red "Xs."
Never give your credit card number to a marketer making an unsolicited proposal
This display was actually from Yext software, although in the presentation, the marketer did not reveal that. Yext is a popular software used by many marketers to automate the creation of business listings. (Many marketers handle these manually or use a service like BrightLocal, who outsources the work to others.)
What is being submitted is simply the business name, address, and phone number (referred to marketers as NAP).
What the marketer was showing the business owner was a Yext dashboard, cued up with his business info, and various directories, with the "Not synced" message next to each. What does "unsynced" mean? Is it really a problem? Do you have to pay somebody to make it go away?
"Unsynced" is nearly meaningless. It's a term used in Yext's software instead of "unsubmitted." It means she hadn't pushed the button to submit the personal trainer's business information to directories.
Of course the woman hadn't submitted it. The listings already existed. She simply cued up Yext to make it display "Unsynced" in order to convince the personal trainer that something was wrong.
The next example comes from the owner of a garage in a small rural town of 1,500 people. This owner, Joe, got a call from someone who claimed to be from Google.
This is another common tactic used by dodgy marketers: They claim to be from Google or Amazon, and do a great job of convincing you of that. They know that Google and Amazon have good reputations and they probably hope to benefit from your trust in these companies.
But they eventually also say that they are with a private business. That's the signal they are not from Google or Amazon period.
Next the individual tried to convince Joe that there was a problem with his NAP (name, address, phone number). Marketers know that it's important that your NAP be consistent wherever your business is listed online. It's an SEO factor.
In this case, there was a business directory that had the garage listed with "Inc." at the end of the name. Google is smart enough to understand it's the same business. It's not like this is a franchise with 2,000 locations across the country and all of them have wrong phone numbers.
The 'marketer' said some ridiculous things, like Joe's incorrect listing was making Google look bad.
When Joe indicated he wasn't buying it, the caller became insistent. "The way to make these phone calls go away is to pay for the service."
Google will never call you to offer you business listing services.
This is what small businesses are up against. It's demoralizing enough to have your inbox stuffed full of b.s. pitches, but getting phone calls on top of it is even more frustating.
This is widespread, and as you've seen, it's happening even in Smalltown U.S.A.