Small Businesses Bombarded With Dodgy Marketing Proposals

July 19, 2019

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.

What Are Business Listings?

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.

  1. NAP consistency is important: NAP stands for your businesses' name, address, and phone number. It's important for obvious reasons: if you have a wrong phone number listed on Yelp or Facebook, you might be losing business. But it also is a signal to Google that your business is legitimate and your contact info is verified.
  2. While NAP consistency is important, a minor detail, like having your business name listed in one spot with "Inc." and another spot without "Inc." is unlikely to matter to Google.
  3. If you don't have any business listings, the best way to start is to get listed with the top "data aggregators" like Acxiom, Factual, Neustar, and Infogroup. These businesses have perfected verifying business data. Why is this data verification so important? Much of our world runs on people having accurate information about businesses. For example, GPS navigation systems in cars and credit card processors rely on it.
  4. After a business is verified by the top data aggregators, business directories will typically begin listing your business. Or, you can contact business directories (like Local.com, FourSquare) directly and provide the business's information.
  5. Typically a cascade of additional listings in directories ensues, as more directories become aware of the business.
  6. Most expert marketers agree that it's not sheer number of listings that matter, as much as the quality of the directories you're listed on. How is quality represented? By an "authority score." For example, marketing software like BrightLocal.com is use to create business listings. And such software typically rates/ranks these directories, tagging some as having "very high" authority, "high" authority, "medium" authority or "low" authority. There are multiple SEO signals that go into the rating of an online directory. You can think of "authority" as an SEO score that gives you an idea of whether getting listed on that directory would be good for your SEO. Bottom line: It's better to be listed on a handful of sites with a high authority score than on 100 sites with a low authority score.
  7. You should never pay someone a monthly fee to work on your business listings. Instead pay a one-time flat fee or do it yourself using a service like BrightLocal. Your data aggregator listings may incur an annual fee of around $60. The most recent research shows it's quality - not quantity - that matters here.

"Your Business Listings Aren't Synced"

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?

Presenting a Fake Problem

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.

Unbelievable.

"I'm From Google and I'm Here To Help You"

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.

Bait and Switch

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.

"Your Contact Information is Inconsistent"

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.

What Can You Do?

  1. If you've been targeted by someone posing as a Google employee, report it to Google using this page.
  2. Note: I'm also hearing about some "I'm from Amazon" telemarketing pitches that are equally fishy. Be very skeptical if anyone calls you claiming to be from Google or Amazon and attempting to sell you business listings, SEO, or Alexa services.
  3. Never make a decision quickly when it comes to unsolicited marketing proposals. These individuals are usually compelling salespeople. They may be likeable, and if, like most small businesses, your business is struggling, their appeal may be strong.
  4. Never give your credit card to anyone who has made an unsolicited contact with you and purports to be from Google or Amazon.
  5. Consider trying out a service like Nomorobo, which purports to stop most telemarketing calls. I haven't used this service but it has some strong endorsements. Note: it's for VOIP and cell phones only.
  6. If you found this information to be useful, please share it with other business owners. Forewarned is forearmed.