Online business directories don't help small business owners. Online marketing is like a maze and completing 5, 10 or the 100s of online directory listings so they have the right information is challenging. Few small business owners have expertise in marketing, and online marketing is much more complicated than traditional yellow pages where there are only a few published in your area. Service Magic dominates the web but you need to look at how they do this, and learn to be cautious. New technologies are making it easier for mega companies to dominate the business directories.
A friend recently shared an email solicitation from Service Magic but can't recall ever giving them permission, and yes there are new companies selling email addresses. One of my roles as the founder of Home Tips for Women Homeowners is to be a consumer advocate, helping you understand the best way to find your home professionals.
Business Directories Cost Business Owners LOTs of Money
My last (cancelled after this story happened) Service Magic call came in November, several weeks before Thanksgiving. I knew I was in trouble when the prospective customer started our conversation by asking “… oh I'm sorry, but can I ask if you had to pay for this lead?” I told the woman yes, I had now paid for the lead but it was done and not to worry. We then proceeded to have a nice 10 to 15 minutes conversation about the help she needed decorating a thirty foot tall evergreen tree in front of her parents home.
After providing an initial estimate, I learned the woman simply wanted to decorate the tree for her family's last dinner together in the home where she grew up. Her mother had gone into a nursing a year earlier and recently died. They were selling the house, and this meal would be the last before selling the house. It was really a family memorial to her parents, and she hoped to bring back childhood memories which included the outdoor lighting.
As a creative problem solver, I offered different options from the original estimate wrapping lights around the tree in circular fashion (more time to keep moving the ladder plus climbing up and down), to running the lights up vertically and offering that they could prepare the lights (lay on the lawn & test) to save time and money. While we didn't get the work, I hope I earned the woman's respect and maybe some day we'll do work at her home.
Business Directories Mislead the Consumer
The good news in the story was I reached the woman after 2 phones calls. Our experience is businesses waste lots of time chasing down phantom home owners … and I'm sure that consumers feel similarly when they receive a flood of calls, as how else can I explain why they don't answer or return our calls? A friend of mine told me he tested Service Magic's claim to only send inquiries to 3 businesses. He submitted a request and received calls from 5 people (an easy way to increase their revenue while delivering worse service to both consumers and the businesses paying for the leads)? Here are just a few of my issues with Service Magic:
- They dominate search results because they've created 1,00,000s of pages of content … by state (http://www.servicemagic.com/category.New-Hampshire.Handyman-Services.10210.html), cities (http://www.servicemagic.com/c.Handyman-Services.Seattle.WA.-12039.html) and what else?
- They claim “Screened and Approved Pros” while I only recall a brief phone call and sending a copy of my insurance certificate.
- They claim to have large numbers of businesses to refer. How real are these numbers? From personal experience, it appears that once you open an account, it can never be deleted as I have requested my account be closed shortly after the tree decorating story above, and 6 months later I can still login. I've also seen complaints online that accounts are created following a sales call, even when the business owner didn't sign up.
Online Directory Content is Created by Computers
Next time you look at an online directory listing, look around and you are likely to see the words “Claim this listing“. That's because computers are scraping information off the web and creating 99% of the business directory listings. Service Magic offers some great illustrations of this creativity. Search for a category by state, and you'll get sample inquiries towards the bottom. This is done to create unique content as the search engines won't accept the same format on the 1,000,000s of pages being created. At the city level, they list the current Service Magic subscribers serving that city, for requested jobs like handyman services.
The problem is growing. Depending on the type of Service Magic account you set up, Service Magic may “claim your listing” when they are clearly not the business owner. The business owner doesn't realize what is happening, and so if you click on a listing at www.insiderpages.com, it is likely you are being sent to Service Magic, not the actual business! This happened to another friend who started researching what was wrong when 2 repeat customers, after receiving a postcard, called and let the owner know they thought they'd gone out of business … where they had simply canceled their Service Magic account.
Here are just a few examples of Service Magic business directories in disguise. Please feel free to share others with us.
- 1800contractor.com appears to be using Service Magics old web design, and republishing Service Magic businesses in a slightly different format.
- insiderpages.com is owned by Service Magic's parent company, InterActiveCorp (IACI).
- articles.directorym.com is a door into Service Magic so I've never published articles there.
- There are lots more but too much time to publish …
What I owe you next, are tips on how to find the best home professionals online. Quick tip: they need to be real people, sharing their expertise via articles, blog posts, community news and more. They also need to share who they are so you know who you are hiring, especially when they're working in your home.