Many of the local directory websites are now selling “SEO” services to their customers, but they employ questionable tactics. After submitting a free local listing to Local.com to help bolster our customer’s local search results by adding more citations for his website, their sales staff bombarded our customer (David Magill of Ultimate Construction who does things like bobcat services) with phone call after phone call, “guaranteeing” placement in the search results. I wondered what “guarantees” they were making, and asked David to just have them call us next time.
Note: I don’t really worry about other SEO companies calling my customers – especially ones like these. We’ve never lost.
I transcribed most of the phone call I had with the Local.com rep as accurately as I could (I did not record it, although I wish I had) so you can see how they sell you, and what to look out for.
(Call transcribed as of December 14, 2011 at around 3pm). RJ=sales rep from Local.com, RK=Ryan Kelly from Pear Analytics.
RJ: Hey Ryan, this is [name here] and I’m calling you because David Magill gave me your number, and I wanted to see if we can work with you guys because we can guarantee a first page placement in Google, or we work for free until we do…
RK: (cutting him off) Hi [name] — who are you with?
RJ: Oh sorry, I’m with a company called Local.com.
RK: OK, gotcha. So how is it that you “guarantee” a first page placement? Are you talking about a listing on Local.com, or optimizations you’re going to do to his website? Like how does this work?
RJ: The way we do it is that we go through and research the keywords that will make money, and then we buy those domain names and we monitor them 24/7 to make sure you get to the first page pretty fast.
RK: So wait, are you talking about getting exact match domain names, and then trying to rank those? Where do you get the content from?
RJ: Exact match?? Yes, that’s what it is. Because we are one of Google’s Top 10 customers, spending about $3.1 million with them, we’re able to get you ranked faster than if you were to do this on your own. We look at the quality score of the keywords and assess them to see which will drive more revenue for you.
RK: Quality score? That’s a term used in Google AdWords. Are you talking about doing PPC? I thought we were talking about SEO here?
RJ: Let me see here…. (scrambling though papers)
RK: And what do you mean by “$3.1M” — is that per year, per month, per day?
RJ: Yes sir, that’s $3.1 million per month.
RK: OK, so I don’t understand how your advertising spend with Google has anything to do with ranking David for some exact match domains you guys would manage for him.
(This is where the conversation starts to take a dive, as the rep struggles to articulate what he is trying to sell and the benefits of it, and is clearly working off a bunch of pre-written scripts and rebuttals.)
RJ: Well, look, I’m doing a search for “contractors in San Antonio” and I see Zachary, Bartlett Cocke, ……(mumbles some other websites) — but I don’t see you guys.
RK: I know, but we don’t care about that word. We’re going after “bobcat services San Antonio”
RJ: OK let me write that down. Let me see… Well, you guys are all the way down at the bottom of the page for that term. Nobody gets any calls down there.
RK: Sure, but you just said you guarantee a “first page” position — isn’t that what we have here? Not only that, but a) we just started the campaign less than 2 months ago; b) you’re calling me from Las Vegas, so I bet your search results are slightly different than mine here in San Antonio; and c) we have placement in the paid section all the way at the TOP of the page so we can measure conversions to see if it is ultimately a good candidate for SEO.
RJ: Well look, I’m not trying to educate you here, but we’re a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ. Are you publicly traded?
RK: (laughing) No, do I have to be?
RJ: I don’t know, but you know, you’re dealing with the “big boys”
RK: Fantastic! Now I know who I need to call when what we’re doing doesn’t work anymore.
The Local.com sales rep later phoned my customer and continued to berate him, and even removed his free listing from Local.com.
Flaws with the sales pitch
First, the sales rep tried to confuse me with paid advertisement versus organic listings. He used the word “quality score” which is a term used only in Google AdWords, and that’s not what he was selling — he was trying to sell organic search engine optimization services.
Second, he tried to make a correlation between how much they spend with Google each month, and the results of their organic listings for customers. Study after study proves this to be wrong, and it misleads the potential buyer. Just because Local.com is writing big checks to Google every month doesn’t mean their exact match domains are being pumped up in the SERP’s.
Third, the rep tries to associate some kind of “24/7 monitoring” with rankings, as if that busy activity is going to somehow rank the site higher. Who writes and posts the content? Is it spun, or is a professional writer going to interview me first? How are links built and maintained? With Pear’s products, these are all tasks that must be carefully constructed and deployed, or it could result in a disaster for the customer.
Fourth, he uses the term “guarantee” — a word I don’t like because it means that they can choose absolute junk keywords, and then say “see, we got you to the first page of Google for ‘quality construction services in San Antonio'” or something like that.
The Exact-Match Domain Theory
What Local.com is selling is a strategy in which they determine several keywords the customer should rank for, purchase those domains for the customer, put up a website such as “bobcatservicessanantonio.com”, and hope they can get it to the first page of results in a fairly short amount of time. How they initially determine the “right” keywords is not only questionable, but many in the SEO community are just waiting for the day in which Google cracks down on these types of websites.
In a sense, Google overcompensates for exact match domains because with many searches, like “ny times” or “southwest” they typically serve up the exact match domain because it’s highly likely that it was exactly what you were looking for.
Here is a great article on SEOmoz theorizing that their time is limited.
So, what Local.com will do is choose several “easy” keywords that they can create quick websites for, and get ranked on the first page of results, thereby fulfilling their contractual obligation.
At Pear, we prefer to build value to the main website, not some shell website for lead generation that might not exist a year from now. In fact, after only about 42 days of working with David, we’ve got him on the first page (position #8) for “bobcat services San Antonio” — a word HE wanted to rank for because he gets a lot of business from that service. We still have a lot of work to do, but so far everything is progressing, and it’s building trust and value for HIS website –not some knock-off site with crap content on it.