I have recently spent considerable time looking at prospects local plans and even looking at expanding some of my clients exposure.  This allowed me to see what some of the national or large regional local SEO companies are doing again, and unfortunately it is very disappointing. I wanted to point out some of the negative things that they do so you can shop smartly when picking tools like this.

Granted, these programs can have immediate success, which is what they count on.  If you have never had online exposure and sign up with one, you will get online exposure, but unfortunately, in the long run, you will often be stuck with them and are paying extremely high fees that you don’t need to pay for what amounts to a cookie cutter local campaign where they stuff you in a category and just use the same thing that everyone else does.

Below are a few things you should always be aware of and avoid when looking for a local search company.  Keep in mind, that though there are a lot of basic things every local site should have, being unique and differentiating yourself on top of that is important.

  • Use Your Own Site: Many of these companies will either create a copy or build a new site that you don’t own to send traffic to.  The risk  here is you aren’t building up any traffic strength to your own site, and even more risky is if they copy your site you could end up getting your own site penalized for duplicate content if Google views this copy site as the original.  I’ve seen it happen.
  • Use Your Own Phone Number: In local search, your Name, Address, and Phone (NAP) are a huge part of your local strength.  Having these three things mentioned consistently across the internet is what helps tell search engines like Google that you exist as that name and where you say you are.  The more consistency here, the more assurance Google has to show you in the results. Many of these companies use one of their phone numbers for all of your exposure, which will cause problems for you if you ever leave them.  They own the number and it is out there all over the internet as your business number.  You will need to spend hundreds to even thousands to go out and correct all of these.
  • Direct Access to analytics: You should be able to directly see your site traffic through analytics or some tool.  Don’t let them just send you canned reports from an analytical tool that you don’t have direct access to.  Even if you don’t understand the numbers, you should be able to bring someone in to look at the numbers to make sure you get what you pay for.
  • Enormous Commissions or Markup: For many of these companies, the major base of your traffic is from just using Google Adwords and other pay per click tools. From seeing some prospects plans and comparing to Google’s actual costs per click, I have seen obscene markups of more than 200%, though that isn’t common.  I do regularly see 100% per click.  I recently saw a client who was being charged $7 per click for clicks that cost $2 directly from Google.  Hiring someone to come in and set up your own account with Google and paying for them to keep it going directly is the best answer.  You can see directly what each click costs and pay a direct fee for managing your budget properly.
  • They Don’t Work For Google: Many companies will even say that they are Google or that they have a deal with Google to get them better placement.  This is not true.  The only relationship they may have, if they have one, is as a Google certified partner. I am a Google certified partner but I would never tell someone I work for Google. It is just an accreditation that means you know how to use their tools.
  • Uniqueness: It is important for your advertising and even your local link structure to stand out and differentiate you from the rest of the crowd.  Most of these companies use generic ads by industry so you will basically be showing the same ad with a different name as anyone else they have.  One of my clients insisted on changing the wording of the ads because they put him in an industry category where he didn’t belong and he could not get the ads changed, making them pretty much useless, and at the exhorbitant markup.

When you sign on with any local search professional, be sure to make sure they are actually taking care of you and spending time on you specifically. I would recommend going with a consultant with a proven track record rather than any of these cookie cutter national companies, unless you are sure you are going to be with them forever and don’t mind the high prices for not having to worry about what is going on.