An article in The New Zealand Herald by Viamoana Tapaleao – this one – features a New Zealand directory service by the name of ‘Google Directory’.
This web-based directory service, with no legal association with Google themselves, lists thousands of New Zealand businesses by category and provides a number of online advertising packages that range from $595 to a huge $14,995.
According to the article, a number of businesses have booked advertising with this service and have already paid thousands of dollars with very dubious results.
Having worked as a full-time employee of a respectable web-directory (NZS.com to be exact), I hate to see these stories of business owners (often one-man bands) being screwed over when it comes to paying for advertising online.
Advertising in web directories can get you great results, but you really need to know what to look for and the questions to ask to avoid being screwed over.
So with that in mind, here are a few tips for when the sales person calls.
1. Never ‘sign-up’ to anything verbally over the phone
A friend of mine was called by a web directory and a very aggressive sales person took them for a ride and asked my friend to confirm acceptance of advertising worth over a thousand dollars in a recorded phone call. This is a bad idea! You have no written record of the agreement yourself and obviously no idea what parts of the phone call are actually being recorded.
Instead, ask the sales person to email you with the information along with a contract. Then, get someone who knows a little about the web to look at what’s on offer.
2. Don’t be taken in by the long list of features that may be included in your package
This is the big one. Many of these features may look awesome, but mean absolutely squat diddley. Think of it this way – I can sell you a big animated banner on a page on my website that includes not 200 but 1,000 words about your business AND when someone enters a keyword in a search box your information will be right at the top of the page, above your competitors. I’ll even add 6, no 15 images of your business! It’s usually $9,000 but someone cancelled at the last minute and we have a one-time offer for you that I can only accept over the phone right now for just $1,000! You save $8,000!! Look at all of these other people who are advertising with us and have given us great feedback!! How awesome is that?!
But ask yourself this: what does this mean if no one is viewing the category page that your business is on, deep within the website? Or even visiting that directory at all??
Web directories love to reference ‘search’. They’ll get you to the top of their search result – you can get the (and I quote) “Number ONE ranked listing in your industry and you’ll be featured on our homepage for greater exposure”.
By ‘search’ of course, they may not be talking about Google or Bing, they could be talking about the search function on their own website and, in this case, a feature on their own home page. Again, what does this mean if no one is using their website?
3. Don’t be taken in by ‘associations’ with Google
A few of these guys love to tell you about their association with Google. Pretty much suggesting that they hang out with Google employees all the time and chat lovingly about their shared clients.
Be aware that Google offer certification programmes for their services, like Adwords and Analytics, that allow you to sit a test online and, if you pass, you gain a certificate and are allowed to feature a logo on your website.
Yes, it can be a good indication that an individual or a business knows about Google services, but it does not mean that Google endorse the work that they do, or are even fully aware of what services and products they offer.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – even asking for details in writing
If someone is trying to sell you advertising space on their website, it’s OK to ask how many people are viewing that website. Reputable directories may even tell you how many people are visiting a specific category that you’d like to advertise on.
It’s not rude to ask. In fact, it’s practically an industry standard. Big websites like www.stuff.co.nz, www.trademe.co.nz, and www.autotrader.co.nz, all provide their advertisers with a rate card that includes impressions. These impressions specifically relate to the number of times an ad will be seen and how much this will cost you. It’s known as ‘CPM‘ advertising – cost per thousand impressions (the ‘m’ is mille = thousand in French or Latin … well both I guess).
When talking to a sales person, use words like ‘impressions’ or ‘page views’ and, if they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes they’ll avoid the question or throw some big numbers at you (again – get everything in writing). If they’re genuine, they will offer to send you this information or maybe even a rate card as well (then again, I received a call like this myself and despite telling the guy that I worked in the industry and even worked for one of their competitor’s in a previous role, the guy just carried on regardless, spouting absolute BS until I hung up!).
5. If they offer to create content on your behalf, ask what happens to that content at the end of the contract
Some web directories will expand their offering to include services like setting up – and even running on your behalf – a Facebook Page, Twitter account, or similar. This can be great – what builder has the time to manage their own Facebook Page? The trick comes to when you decide to end your contract. The web directory may tell you that you are not the ‘owner’ of the Facebook Page, they are. And this may even be above-board and all laid out in the contract. They may well tell you they’ll shut down your Facebook Page (which could have hundreds or thousands of fans) unless you renew your contract for another year.
If you’re offered this as a service, be sure to ask the question. A fail-safe could be to ask that you are given top-level manager/owner status for the Facebook Page while their team are given content author access level only, ultimately allowing you to remove them if you wish (but they wouldn’t be able to remove you).
Actually, if you end the contract and want to control your company’s Facebook Page, I see Google Directory ask you to pay a $50 release fee.
6. Google them.
If they tell you that their packages are brilliant and they’re getting heaps of people on their ‘builders in Canterbury’ category, Google it. Google ‘builders in Canterbury’ and see where they come up. Ask them to wait on the phone if you like. If their website appearing in the first page of the result? Are they appearing in the ads area of the results? If not, ask them how they are getting traffic to their website and to that page.
In fact, you could even Google their own business name! In the case of the Google Directory, they don’t appear to be coming up in Google search results even for a search of their own name. They must have been ‘live’ for a while to already secure some packages (the NZ Herald article says they started to add listings in May 2013) so there’s a fair chance that actual Google have already blacklisted them. Probably for calling themselves Google Directory!
7. Ask yourself what else is available or what you can do yourself … maybe even for free.
Aside from comparing advertising packages from other directories (again, ask them the questions above), there’s plenty you can do for yourself before you spent a sh*t-tonne of money with someone you’ve just heard about over the phone.
For example, you add your business to plenty of directories for free. Some give you a fair bit of content on their site without asking you to spend a cent. Try:
- Localist (for Auckland-based businesses)
- … and if you have a physical location don’t forget Google Places
Other than directories, don’t forget that many people (most probably) will be searching for your business in Google itself. Google has its own advertising options in the form of Google Adwords and they frikken’ love you to spend your money with them. So much so that they have support phone lines in heaps of countries with staff on-hand to help you get started. In New Zealand, this number is 0800 726 250, but for God’s sake don’t just trust me, visit an official google.com page for the information (this page right here actually).
Also consider local businesses that specialise in offering online advertising solutions. Somewhere with a physical location that you can visit and sit down with a representative. Zeald and hairyLemon are two that come to mind right here in Christchurch.
PS. If any directory tells you it can get you hundreds of links to your website in a short space of time, definitely run a mile. Typically they could be talking about ‘bots’ that post links to your site in directories around the world, or even bots that trawl blogs and other websites that have comment functionality and spam them with fake comments that include links to your site. Google is cleverer than this. If Google sees that your otherwise-unheard-of website suddenly goes from 6 incoming links to 2,000, it’s going to know where those links are coming from and is going to blacklist your site if it thinks those links are anything other than people naturally adding links to your site from their own (reputable) site.