Digital Advantage: Protect your business from fraudulent search services
"This is the Google listing authority, and we've noticed that your listing is out of date on Google and other search engines . " says the synthesized voice on the other line. If you are a business owner, you probably get a call like this at least every other week. I know I do.
Fraudulent companies are using computerized and human telemarketing operations to scare business owners into agreeing to misrepresented digital marketing services. These false services can range from optimizing your business listings on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other sites to promoting your business online by submitting your company to thousands of sites and directories.
This is a variation of the old Yellow Pages scam. Years ago, when most consumers used the Yellow Pages to find services, unscrupulous companies that had no affiliation with any legitimate Yellow Pages directory would get some type of verbal authorization for a listing or related service over the phone from a business owner or an employee.
After the conversation, the business would receive official looking invoices, complete with the "walking fingers" logo, the most recognizable symbol of the Yellow Pages, which, ironically, was never trademarked. If the scammer could obtain a credit card number over the phone, then all the better.
Since the invoices or charges looked legitimate and the business owner didn't really understand what they were buying, the fraudulent company would get paid indefinitely.
With the rise of search engines and mobile device usage exploding, consumers have overwhelmingly moved their searches online. Like any business, legitimate or not, you must adapt or die. Of course, the scammers have adapted, innovated and even flourished. Instead of having the power of claiming to be affiliated with the Yellow Pages, they have a greater claim: the Google listing authority or something similar sounding. Their message is simple: get found on Google or shut your doors. It's powerful, effective positioning.
No doubt, it's very important to pay attention to how your business shows up in search engine results and business directories like Yelp, Google+, CitySearch and Yahoo! Local. However, my advice is to be very leery of phone or email offers related to your businesses web presence.
Never give someone you don't know authorization to do something in this area of marketing if they don't have a substantial customer base or won't explain what they're doing or why it's needed or important. Doing so is like giving the keys to your business to a stranger. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad people out there, so be careful.
What about a company that promises they can get you on the front page of Google, Yahoo and Bing? Some even guarantee it. In the next column, we'll discuss these claims, why you should be skeptical and what you as business owners can really do to improve your search engine rank while playing by the rules and not getting blacklisted by the major search engines.
Jason Holmes is the general manager of Advocate Digital Media, a sister company to the Victoria Advocate that focuses on digital marketing. He welcomes questions and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.