As Google Places becomes one of the most important online marketing tools, the scam and fraud connected to it starts to pop up like mushrooms in a warm, rainy April morning. For the average business owner it is difficult to distinguish a real, solid and fair specialist from a swindler. There are two great articles telling stories of such owners being cheated by charlatans:
Charlatan’s Web – Identify Local SEO Scammers Before They Bite You (by Miriam Ellis)
$1200 Google Places Extortion Scam – Careful who you Hire (by Linda Buquet)
They are both good sources of information about what you should be cautious of, but I wanted to give some specific tips on what to be aware of and what to request from a company that you would want to hand to one of your most important online presence bases – your Google Places page.
Tips on how to identify fraud:
1) Google Calls
Although Google are making phone calls (very rarely) to business owners, the phone call will be coming out from Google and not from a random phone number. If the other side does not legitimate themselves with anything else except saying that they are from Google – this is scam. Furthermore, I’ve never heard up to now of Google calling businesses outside the US (I repeat – very rarely).
2) On Google page 1 for 1 month
If someone tells you that they can get your Place page on page 1, or even more – on position A, for a month or less – this is scam. Although this is possible in very few cases, with very low competitive keywords (where you won’t even need to pay for any service to get your Place page on page 1), generally it’s impossible to get a new Place page on page 1 for less than a month. There is another exclusion – if your Place page is currently ranking on page 2-3 for low competitive keyword, it is possible to get it on page 1 for about a month, but without they completely not having any information about your Place page, and not having done analysis of the competition, they would not be able to tell you how long it would take. Generally, whoever calls you and tells you some very short period of time for getting on page 1 without ever knowing anything about you or your competition – this is scam.
3) Calling you without you ever contacted them
If someone calls you and starts offering you online services such as Google Places optimization, local SEO, web development, etc, it generally means they are not “clean”. For a company that specializes in search engine optimization, and especially in its niche – local SEO and Google Places, it shouldn’t be a problem to get their own website ranking high and get loads of business via the Internet. I haven’t heard up to date for any reputable local SEO company doing cold calling or persuading clients to buy services. If you are good at what you do – and you do some kind of marketing, you will get your leads via your website, blog, reputation. Not via phone calls, especially calls to people that have never contacted you before.
4) “It’s a secret how we will get your high Google Places ranking”
You have to remember one thing – the Google Places page is yours, and you just allow some third-person to work on it, and you pay them for that service. You can look at your Place page as a type of online real estate, which you own with your business information and no one has the right to do anything on it without your permission or knowledge. If someone tells you that they are going to do some “magical secrets” or some “tricks that are not to be revealed” it is the same as you getting someone to tune up your car, and when they ask them what exactly they plan to do, they say “it’s our secret magic”, and moreover – you are being a taxi driver, so the car is your main source of daily bread for your whole family. Would you let your car in the hands of these people? I doubt it. There are no secrets with Google Places that cannot be revealed to the customer. Everything should be as transparent as possible and the company should generally send you a full-proof step-by-step plan of what they are going to do. If they don’t want to tell you – tell them bye-bye.
5) “We will give you heaven for a hundred bucks”
You must be aware that Google Places and local SEO are not easy to implement and they are very time consuming. What a local SEO is selling you would not only be their special skills and knowledge, but also their time. Think it that way – if you have some complicated and very important case and need to hire a lawyer to help you solve it, would you hire one who tells you that he will complete all the work and will guarantee you he will win the case for $50 per hour? Or will you hire someone who will tell you what he thinks should be done, how he is going to do it and how much time it will take, and tell you the truth – that the final outcome is not 100% sure, but their price is, say, $150 per hour, and this guy is a famous specialist in this area? Now, I don’t know any good quality local SEO company that would work on any website or Place page for less than $100 per month. If they work for less there are two options: 1) either they outsource all the work to Indians or Filipinos via freelancer.com, 2) or they will do nothing or close to nothing to improve your SEO. Generally, if you hear too low price – run.
6) “Your business location is at the remote Nowhereville, TX? No problem – we will rank you for Dallas!”
One of the most important factors in local search (that’s why it’s called “local”) is the proximity to the center of the city where the searcher is performing the search from. If you do not have a real office, or establishment at that city (or very near it), there is no legal way that anyone could secure you high ranking for searches performed for that area, period. If someone promises you such thing, and if you are tempted to accept (because everyone knows that there is more business in Dallas, than in Nowhereville), think about how one day you wake up and receive a lawsuit. You pick up the phone and call the company you’ve hired to ask them what is going on, they close the line and you never hear back from them. Good luck.
Tips on what to do if, after all, you’ve hired a shady, scammy “local SEO” company:
1) Fake reviews
If you notice that numerous reviews are popping up on your Place page (or anywhere else on the Web, regarding your business), and they are not from your actual clients – ask the company what’s happening and ask them to remove them as soon as possible.
2) Fake address/location
If you check your listing and the address that your business is at is not the one on the Place page, but a completely different one, or if you notice that the Google Maps marker is not pointing to the correct place, contact the company immediately. While the second might be just a technical glitch, the first one is a major fraud and could be punished by law. Request immediate explanation of what is going on. If they tell you that they did all this purposefully so that your listing ranks higher in the search results, request to fix it immediately.
3) Fake phone number
In some cases the scammers could set a redirect phone number for your listing. No matter what reasons they state, unless you don’t have any phone number at all, or your only phone number is with phone code of other town, there is no reason to accept the redirect, especially if the “SEO” company has control over the monitoring of the redirect phone.
If you notice that your listing is spammed with keywords, including additions to your business name, business description, or additional details – request the company to immediately clear all of these (especially the business name changes). The keyword stuffing of the business name, although bringing short-term benefits, can get your Google Places page suspended, and then you will, most probably, have to start all over on your own, as the company will very often never more pick up the call.
5) Never contacting you after you pay
Well, most probably you just got your money burnt. There is not much to be done except tracking the company by the phone (or any other means) they contacted you through, and give them to your lawyer.
6) Before canceling with the scammers
Before you cancel the contract with such a company, make sure you have the password for the account that is the verified owner of the Place page. Change the password before taking action. Very often such companies would take the listing as a hostage and blackmail you for a lot of money.
Generally, before you hire anyone to work on your Google Places and website local SEO make sure you have researched them, as well as all the other possibilities. Hiring such company is one of the most important steps for your online presence, so you have to be sure the job will be delivered in high quality. Ask and get the answers of the following questions:
– how will you help me get higher ranking?
– how long will it take?
– what will be my role in the process?
– how will we work together?
– how often will I hear from you and how often can I contact you?
– how much would you charge for that all?
– how can I monitor the process and when can I see the evidence of your work?
Finally, if you have any stories with related to the topic, feel free to share, as well as any information for the company that cheated you, so that they get exposed.