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Public Profile Hijacking

Written By Brian West

In the modern arena of internet marketing, many potential avenues make up a marketing plan. Missing from many of them is true transparency into the actual value each provides.

Many local contractor companies sign up for paid advertising services through YellowPages, DEX Media or other well known web directories, having been sold by the historical trustworthiness of the brand.

For years, phonebook services such as AT&T YellowPages and DEX One were THE defacto standard advertising platforms. Because consumers turned to The Phone Book when they needed a product or service, placing an ad in a directory was almost required.

Transitioning from print to online has proven a challenge for these companies as competition for the advertising dollars has skyrocketed. How do directory companies beat the competition? They hijack your public listings and use them for their own brand promotion, which results in a damaged online brand and skewed data that shows value where none exists.

And you never know it!

dex #1 show me local#2Yasabe #3

What is Happening?

Since the decline of the local phonebook (as described here and here), companies such as Yellowpages have scrambled to gain and retain customers through their web marketing channels, which have proven to be far less lucrative.

In an effort to scrape up every bit of advertising they can, they seem to be claiming and altering your public profiles on outside websites and replacing your business’s phone number with a tracked line they create specifically for your directory ads to prove the amount of calls these ads generate.

Basically, you pay directory companies for a certain amount of calls or clicks to your website. The companies try to get these calls and clicks for the lowest amount of money possible so that they can make the most profit. To do this, they either take over your free listings, bid on low value keywords, and/or solicit affiliates for calls or clicks.

We have, in fact, seen cases where Yellowpages.com and Dex Media has put their tracked lines on outside profiles that they don’t own, such as Citysearch.com. They then claim phone calls coming from these external sources as demonstration of the value of their advertising plan.

In reality they they intercept calls from outside profiles, essentially forcing you to pay a tax on leads that you would have gotten for free.

In the example to the right, you can see where the tracked line used on the DexKnows website, is also being used on other directories.

Who Else Does This?

YAHOO Lennox #4YP Lennox

Unfortunately, product manufacturers have also turned to similar practices.

When an HVAC company uses their preferred heating and air conditioning vendor to perform Social Media and SEO, these vendors often hijack the HVAC company’s public listings and replace everything but the name and address with their own brand information.

They are essentially using your brand and image as a platform to promote their own company. In the examples below you can see how they have replaced the website, company description, and other pertinent information.

Would you pay to show your advertisement on a billboard only to have the billboard company put their own logo and website on top of your ad? It sounds ludicrous, but this is essentially what is happening.

What Are The Consequences?

There are far reaching consequences to these hijacking practices:

1. Damage to Your SEO

      • It is well established that Google and other major search engines use the consistency of business profile listings and/or web mentions as a ranking factor. As Google crawls the web, it compares these listings to determine the validity/authority of a company. When Google finds multiple listings for a company with matching information, it safely determines that this is indeed the same, legitimate company with valid contact information.

When advertising companies hijack your profiles it hampers Google’s ability to verify the validity of your company’s web presence, thus directly harming the rankings of your website or map listings.

2. Confusion & Control

      • If your advertising company owns phone number on your public profiles, what happens when the service is cancelled? The phone number remains on the highly visible profile, but the service is stopped. When customers attempt to call it, they get nothing – or worse, they get redirected to the next buyer of the service which could be your competitor.

This substantially reduces the credibility of your brand and creates lost opportunities.

To top it off, when you do attempt to clean up your profiles, your ex-advertising partner now controls your listings and you have few options to regain control.

3. Money for Nothing

      • The skewed phone call data may lead you to continue spending money on an advertising solution that is not providing the value you’ve been led to believe. In our experience, very few of these phonebook companies turned online directories can provide the value necessary to justify the amount of money they ask for advertising services. This is likely why they go outside of their properties to scoop up every last ounce of value they can, even if the value is from someone else.

What Can You Do?

When evaluating a service as a potential marketing channel, always make them demonstrate up front how they will show you value and what marketing avenue will be sending you these leads and calls.

Demand that if you sign up, they are not allowed to claim your free listings, or push your tracking information out to 3rd party sites to get leads; they should only be able to use their properties to advertise on your behalf. More likely than not, they will refuse because it hurts their bottom line and they won’t actually be able to follow through on their promised number of leads/calls.

If you do decide to sign up, be very thorough in evaluating the reports they give you. If you are unsure, consult a web marketing agency you trust to evaluate the claims with you.

Also, double check behind them. Do a Google search for the phone number they use on your ads. If that number shows up on other 3rd party websites, then the call data they provide is skewed, and you’ll never know whether those calls came from the actual paid ad, or from something else.

If you use Google Analytics, you can check this as well. If your yellowpages.com ad includes a link to your website, it stands to reason that some of those viewing the ad would click through to your website. Google Analytics tracks this as a referral visit.

The bottom line questions are:

      • Are you actually getting more phone calls and leads?
      • Can it be demonstrated to you that these leads are coming from your paid directory ads?

In our experience, these web directory ads are rarely worth doing and can even cause semi-permanent damage to your overall web presence.

— Brian West, Product Development Manager for LeadsNearby, works on the technical side of seo new product research and analytical analysis for clients.

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