Companies like Dex Media (formerly SuperMedia and SuperPages), Hibu (formerly Yellowbook), Yext and Yodle offer online marketing services such as business listings and directories, pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, and websites. If set up properly, these online marketing methods can work in getting your business noticed. The problem that most of my clients who have dealt with these companies, and many subscribers online (based on the many complaints I've read) have found with these companies is not the services they offer but the way these services are carried out.
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
These are large, national and international companies, most of which utilize subcontractors and outsource their work overseas. Since different departments of these companies are located in different parts of the world, they don't really communicate with each other. So if you have a technical question, your salesperson will tell you to call a different number. Billing question? Another number. Or you get transferred to 6 different people before you get a resolution, if that happens at all. Be prepared to set aside large chunks of time (and some Rolaids) when dealing with these companies.
Bait and Switch
These companies employ commissioned salespeople. In general, they are polite, friendly, knowledgeable, and will promise you the world. Just sign here. Now. They may neglect to mention little details like the fact that you'll be locked in to a contract that you'll need to cancel in writing at least 30 days prior (or they may lie about it altogether, which you won't discover until after you've read the fine print). They may forget to tell you that if you transfer your domain name to them (which is not necessary, by the way, and is a major red flag – read my blog about domain theft here), they will legally own that domain and you may never get it back. And the most important thing they forget to tell you is that once you sign the dotted line, your salesperson is generally done with you. If you need help in the future, you need to call their 800 number. Your salesperson may take longer and longer to get back to you, until all of your calls to him or her go unanswered. And why not? He or she has already made their commission from you.
That "free" website they built for you is not truly free. If it's part of a bundle that includes online listings and phone book ads, you're paying for it one way or another. If your monthly fee is $300, then $50 to $100 could be going to your website. You may think $50 a month is not much for a website, but $600 a year is too much for a site of that quality, especially one that you're only "renting". The cost of having a website should involve only the domain name (around $20 per year) and web hosting ($7 or $8 per month); more than that and you're throwing your money away.
Have you seen your new Dex Media or Hibu website? Doesn't it look remarkably like every other Dex Media/Hibu website you've seen? You haven't seen those other sites? Search for them on Google using these Google search terms:
- Dex Media websites, Google: "Powered by Dex Media" (in quotes)
- Hibu websites, Google: "hibu USA, Inc. All Rights Reserved" (in quotes)
- YellowBook websites, Google: Yellow Book USA, Inc. All Rights Reserved
- SuperMedia websites, Google: Powered by SuperMedia, LLC
Websites are secondary to these companies. They make their revenue from other forms of advertising, and they throw in a website to make you feel like you're getting a bargain. But their websites are nothing more than mass produced templates, with clip art that is used for every other company in your industry. The coding does not adhere to proper standards, which means your site could be ignored by search engines. You cannot expand or customize the site without paying a higher monthly fee. The site looks like every other generic template site out there. But the most important thing to remember is that once you stop paying, they can remove your site and keep your domain name (these companies are notorious for domain theft... read more here).
The bulk of what you'll be paying these companies will be for Pay-Per-Click (often they will call it something else, a nicer sounding euphemism like "Local Search Engine Click Marketing"), which is ridiculously expensive (read all about Pay-Per-Click and why it's not worth the exorbitant cost). Pay-Per-Click is a big business, and the only companies making money on it are the companies selling it. These companies push Pay-Per-Click not only because it makes them a lot of money, but because they know that their websites have difficulty ranking in search engines organically (i.e. without paid ads) because of the bad coding. If you really want to do Pay-Per-Click, you can do it yourself through Google and cut out the middleman.
Find out How to Cancel your Dex Media Contract.
If you want a good quality website, hire a web design firm, one that focuses first and foremost on building websites. A small company is often a better fit for a small businesses, as they understand the needs of small businesses and you'll usually be talking to the same person every time. Make sure they have their own website, with samples of work they have done. Be sure to visit the sites they claim to have designed, and check at the bottom of the page for a link back to their own site or something that says they designed it. If you decide to go with this company, read over the contract carefully and make sure you are not locked into a monthly or annual subscription. The design of your website should be a one-time fee, or may be paid over a series of installments. Read more about Finding a Good Web Designer.