Three dangers facing online businesses: domains, adwords, seo

Three online dangers: domain renewals, SEO and AdWords (Image:  zigazou76 via Flickr)In my 12 years of marketing consulting, I have seen scams come and go but three remain persistent for any business with an online component.

These dangers are:

  • Domain renewal notices
  • Search engine ranking companies
  • Google AdWords ‘agents’

What galls me most about the businesses running aggressive marketing campaigns in these fields is that they prey on the ignorance of busy, small business owners.

I haven’t noticed the threat being any greater for Top End businesses than those in other states so at least in this area we are on par with the rest of the country.

Here are the dangers, how to spot them, and what to do about them.

Domain renewal notices

When you ‘rent’ your domain name through a domain registrar, you will get notified by them about 90 days before your term expires that it is time to renew.

The problem is that most of us only need to renew domains once every two years or five or ten.

As a result, if you are working in a non-geek field (ie trades, professions, manufacturing, etc) you probably wouldn’t recognise your domain name registrar if you fell over them.

And this is the entry point for aggressive, unscrupulous operators.

All they need to do is send you an official-looking renewal notice before your real registrar does and they can swipe your details and your payment and transfer your domain over to their company.

One company I have been following over the years is the Domain Renewal Group.

Years ago their letters were very tricky and in my opinion they were worded sneakily to fool small business owners into thinking this was their authentic renewal notice that needed urgent attention. Today, their ‘notices’ still look official but I imagine some legal pressure has forced their wording to change to explain they are only trying to grab your business from someone else.

The trouble is, I know many small business people will glance at it, see the key points – their domain name, an expiry date, a renewal date – and just ‘get it paid so we don’t lose our domain name’. The gist of their ‘trick’ is to contact domain owners five months before the domain is set to expire and ask for payment within one month. This then beats the authentic registrar who currently would have reminders set for three months before expiry. You see? Very sneaky!

I had a client confirm this with me recently and luckily did so in time for me to save him from this ‘door to door sales-like’ poaching effort.

If you are in doubt as to who your domain registrar is OR when you domain is due to expire, visit http://whois.ausregistry.net.au where the date modified is often the last time your domain renewal was paid (although not exclusively so – in fact expiry dates for .com.au domains are no longer listed publicly and those for .com and other domains are considered dubious as registrars create fake dates in response to database abuse) and the registrar is your current registrar.

I relish saving clients from this group because their ‘special discount’ price of $75 for a domain for two years is THREE TIMES higher than the general market price of $25.

However, just this week I have found a company worse than them, namely, an email supposedly from a Chinese company with the domain name of http://czj163.com/. It is a veiled ploy to extort money from hapless operators. Read this for a domain I own which is actually registered safely until next year:

Priority Expiration Notification

Domain Name: SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COMBill To: Davis, Stephen Invoice # 1318110767

(my address added here, which they illegally harvested from the global whois record)

US Due Date Oct 23, 2011

SAFE AND SECURE PAYMENT

Domain Name Registration Price Term

SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COM Oct 8, 2011 – Oct 8, 2012 $75.00 1 Year

Attention Davis, Stephen:

This solicitation is to inform you that it’s time to send in your registration for SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COM. Domain Registration Services is a submission service and search engine ranking company. (It is NOWHERE near ‘time’ to do that)

Failure to complete this order by Oct 23, 2011 may result in the cancellation of this offer (making it difficult for your customers to locate you using search engines on the web). (See how they suggest I will lose my domain, instead I will just lose their misleading offer)

Your registration includes search engine submission for SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COM for 1 year. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer by Oct 23, 2011. This notice is not an invoice. It is a courtesy reminder to register SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COM for search engine listing so that your customers can locate you on the web.

This Offer for SPIRITOFESPRESSO.COM will expire on Oct 23, 2011. Act today!

Small business people keep the wheels of our economy turning and I get really angry when I see attempts to exploit their blind spots.

You are not ranking number one

Another web brand of poison in my opinion is the string of tacky emails you get sent when you have a website, that try to convince you to buy SEO (search engine optimisation) services.

Such companies that market in this aggressive way are the modern day equivalent of SNAKE OIL MERCHANTS.

Again, luckily, small business owners I have worked with have shown me the alarmist emails such companies send before they act. Here is an example:

Hello and Good Day!!

I am Jai, Marketing Manager with one of the leading marketing company based in India (or Sydney, or Brisbane, or LA, or London).

I was surfing net and gone through your website “INSERT DOMAIN” and realized that despite having good graphics and designs; the website has not been ranked in all the major search engines.

We are entitled to provide the quality Search Engine Optimization services at very affordable rates. Our team works in aggressive timeframe to reach the positive result.

You can avail SEO packages from us like Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP), keyword identification and company website reports.

We serve 100% customer satisfaction and services to our clients.

Let me know if you are interested and we can discuss it further.

I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR MAIL

Yours sincerely,

Jai

Marketing Manager

Email: sales@iamasnakeoilmerchant.info

It might surprise you to know that Jai most probably has NEVER seen your website. Neither would have any of these snake oil merchants who write to you earnestly about how they are worried you are not number one. Here are just a few reasons why you should block them from your life:

For most businesses there is only ONE search engine and that is Google, especially in Australia. These people can pick and choose from the thousands of search engines out there to create a false impression that you are not where you should be.

Google already gives you top ranking for your business name, so if you are Humpty Doo Home Plumbing, you should rank number one whether you employ your new gurus or not. The only caveat here is if you have named your company ‘best kitchen sinks’ or something similarly generic – you might have some more work on your hands.

There is a BIG difference between a few tricks to hit the front page (often tricks that Google punishes) vs crafting useful, Google-visible content that is written directly for your target market that you regularly publish to your site. The latter takes more effort on your part but the payoff in terms of traffic and indirect business benefits will astound you. Whereas the tricks can land you in hot water.

We will look at the fundamentals of SEO in The RITE Series publication – you will be surprised at how much you can control your destiny.

Google AdWords ‘experts’

This last group is worthy of steering way clear of.

The trick with buying search engine advertising – those ads on search pages where advertisers pay on a per-click or per-thousand-impressions basis – is to TARGET your advertising to the right type of customer or prospect.

Typically, we know that potential customers at the beginning of what marketers call the ‘sales funnel’ search on broad terms while they research what the market has to offer. For example, a camera buyer might research ‘digital SLR cameras’ or ‘Canon digital SLR cameras’ to get a feel for the field. To set up your Google AdWords at this broad, generic end of the market will be quite expensive because every camera retailer and their dog will be vying for those terms.

Closer to the end of the sales funnel, however, as the prospect is closer to making their buying decision, their search terms become more specific such as ‘Canon D60 SLR 20-80mm lens’ (yes, I am showing my age). At this end of the spectrum there is less traffic but MORE QUALIFIED traffic.

Who would you rather be getting in front of?

My guess is the second group. And guess what? Buying ads for so-called ‘long tail’ terms like that is much cheaper than the broad, generic terms.

The trouble with these agressive AdWords sales people is that their structure of payment is most likely geared towards a commission or a cut per CLICK.

So their interest, high click rates on your ads, is DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to your interest, quality clicks from people achingly close to a buying decision.

That is an equation for a big hole in your pocket, impressive click-through rates, and then a jaded attitude towards Google Adwords that is unwarranted.

How do we navigate these shark-infested waters?

I wish there was an easy answer.

My first point is to remember that Google’s simple message is to create content for your audience first and for Google second.

This means a focus on quality content YOUR target market cares about and is searching for. It then follows that if you actively monitor the web, you can spend some time in places where YOUR people gather and chat online (if any).

If you pressed me to be more prescriptive, I would suggest generating we-friendly content through a tried and true blogging system such as WordPress. WordPress can run your whole site but if you don’t want to rebuild your current site you can often install WordPress in a different folder on your web hosting account and blog from there. What I have found with WordPress blogs is that Google knows how to index them and does so at lightning speed.

Beyond that, the lesson is to trust your instinct. If something sounds too good to be true, it often is. If you can build a trusted relationship with someone abreast of these issues but no burning desire to sell to you every second of the day, then bounce these spam messages off them for a while until you develop your own sixth sense for what is credible and what is not.

If all else fails: simply IGNORE any canvassing emails in these three fields of online endeavour and you will be soundly erring on the side of caution.

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