- Online Marketing
I stumbled across a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) today that has taken the last of the air from the Dex sails. Dex One, or dexknows.com has started claiming local listings on the customers behalf and pointing the local, or places (shown in example below in red) listings at the Dex “digital storefront.”
What does this mean? On the surface it seems like a great customer service, but when you start dig into the ramifications of the action in organic placement* , as well as the customer being charged for free traffic****, artificially inflating the traffic to Dexknows.com**, not to mention handcuffing the customer to Dex***.
Let me explain in further detail.
Organic traffic positions on SERPs are based on engine algorithms that use many data points, while the exact formula is a highly guarded secret, we do know most of the ingredients. I am going to explain to you, not in any particular order, some of the way algorithms work. To understand algorithms you need to look at a search engine as a large file cabinet with all items that appear on the page as a file in the cabinet. Every time a search is conducted the files in the cabinet are accesses, searched through and then results are shown based on a number of factors that the algorithm is programmed to look for.
Some of the factors are:
Engines like Google change their Algorithm on a very regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day. When you entire business is driven by your Algorithm, you tend to spend as much time making sure it is the best available. Don’t Believe it? Here is a link to the Google blog talking about algorithm. http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/another-look-under-hood-of-search.html
With that said, let’s talk about how Dex’s claiming local listings impacts a business’s overall web presence. When a “Local or Places” location is claimed by the business owner, the business gets to input information that tells their potential customers all about their business in an effort to inspire the searcher to contact the business. Dex has claimed listings (in the example below, Red circled areas) for the customer and placed all the data on the “Digital Storefront” (a Dex product) into the “Local or Places” listing on the engine. The issue arises when the phone number is placed into the listing, in place of the customers phone number, they have placed a Dex owned tracking number that routes to the business, and in place of the customers website, they have set the link to the customers “Digital Storefront,” (Another Dex Product) so when clicked the searcher finds themselves at a single info page, hosted on the Dexknows.com domain.
*- Why Call Tracking Numbers Cause Issues In Local Search Results(Reference taken from http://searchengineland.com/for-local-seo-lack-of-call-tracking-solution-spawns-cloaking-70198 )
There are two fundamental reasons why tracking numbers can cause issues with Google Place Search, other local search engines, and organic search marketing over time.
First of all, many local business directories and local search engines use the phone number as a key identifier for individual businesses. A phone number is often an easy ID to use for indexing businesses because they are generally prone to less variation in how they’re presented in databases or on webpages.
When an index database is processing a set of business listings to add to or update their existing listings, if a business’s listing in this fresh dataset does not match with the existing listing already in the database, there is a risk that the algorithm will not be able to associate the new listing information with the existing info in the database. So, any ranking factors associated with that new listing info may not get applied to the business.
PageRank, reviews, citation value, TrustRank, keyword relevancy, etc — all of these possible elements which could help the business in rankings might not get applied to the business’s main listing. That information might disappear into the void, or it might result in the directory spawning a second, duplicate listing for the same business — which can result in splitting of the ranking values across two listings over time instead of laser-focusing all of them upon one business listing.
***-Second, if the business ever changes call tracking solution providers or stops using the tracking numbers, the phone numbers they’ve been using will stop working. Considering the degree of data sharing among local directory companies, if you use the numbers outside of paid search you will almost certainly have them spread out to many other sites which you’re not even aware of. This can result in lost business referrals over time as consumers may call defunct numbers and figure the business is no longer there.
I’ve investigated cases where a company used tracking numbers in one yellow pages site and didn’t realize the numbers had spread to other local sites — utterly ruining their ability to detect how many calls came from which channels and obviating the entire point of using the numbers for non-paid campaigns.
The main issue with fixed call tracking is the potential damage to local search rankings. SEO is sometimes a game of inches where you need to squeeze advantage from a wide variety of ranking signals. Use of a call tracking number may not result in your business dropping all the way out of the rankings in local search, but it could sandbag you, and you might not even be aware of it.
The dividing lines between social media promotion and organic search optimization are becoming blurry as well, and as companies attempt to leverage social media, I’ve no doubt they’ll employ tracking phone numbers there as well. Any place where a citation to your business may appear would be a place to avoid using the tracking numbers — including in Twitter and Facebook.
I’ve had individuals tell me anecdotally that they’ve used tracking numbers “with no problem”, but I can see that their ability to actually assess any potential impact is actually pretty low.
Are you adept enough to tell if you’ve lost 3%, 5%, 10%, 20%, or 30% of your potential local search ranking weight?
Where there are a few hundred variables involved in a constantly changing environment, detecting impacts and isolating causes can require significant sophistication. If you’re in position #1 for top keywords before and after introducing call tracking, you may not have cause for concern.
**- Inflating Dexknows.com total traffic score
Alexa is a website similar to TV’s Nielsen Rankings that looks at total traffic into the Internet property or domain I.E. Dexknows.com. It measures the amount of total site visits each website receives and then assigns the domain a rank. Ranks are much like a golf score, the lower number the more traffic the site has. Google.com has a rank of 1, Facebook.com has a rank of 2, and YouTube has a rank of 3. When your website has more traffic, naturally the prospect of advertising is more appealing to a potential customer.
Dex has artificially inflated the “site traffic” for the dexknows.com domain by sending all paid traffic for their “Guaranteed Actions” customers, as well as the “SP” programs to “Digital Storefronts” on the dexknows.com domain. For example, when you click any one of the circled links in the Example page above, you will travel to the URL (website address) listed below the ad, but the page you see will be in the dexknows domain. This allows Dex to claim overall site traffic for presentation to other clients, when the reality of the nature of the traffic is directed at a client “digital storefront.” The claim that they make is not inaccurate, but can be very misleading.
****-Being Debited for “Guaranteed Actions”
Most customers that are currently involved in a “Guaranteed Actions” programs are being debited for clicks, 1 Point just for the “profile view” and then another 5 points for a call or email. So let’s assume that you were looking for the number to your dentist, and you do a Google search for your dentist name, the places results shows your dentist at the top of the local/places listings (Circled in Red in the example above). You dial the number (5 points), or click the link (1 point) then dial (5 Points) the number.
Every business is entitled to a free appearance on Yahoo, Bing, and Google. Dex has just found a way to charge for something the customer would have received free.
*******************UPDATED December 29th 2011*******************
Since publishing this article on 10/6/2011 it seems as if something has changed. I am no longer able to find Dex track line numbers in local
Item 3.01. Notice of Delisting or Failure to Satisfy a Continued Listing Rule or Standard; Transfer of Listing.
(a) On August 23, 2011, Dex One Corporation (DEXO) (the “Company”) was notified by the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) that the Company had fallen below one of the NYSE’s continued listing standards. Rule 802.01B(III)(ii) of the NYSE Listed Company Manual requires that the Company’s average total market capitalization over a consecutive 30 trading-day period equal or exceed $100 million.
Under applicable NYSE rules, the Company has 10 days from receipt of the notice to inform the NYSE that it intends to cure the deficiency and 45 days from the receipt of the notice to submit a plan advising the NYSE of definitive action the Company proposes to take that would bring it into compliance with Rule 802.01B(III)(ii) within 18 months of receipt of the notice. The Company notified the NYSE that it intends to cure the deficiency within the prescribed timeframe.
As required under NYSE rules, the Company issued a Press Release on August 26, 2011, announcing that it had received the notice of non-compliance and that the Company intends to cure the deficiency within the prescribed timeframe. A copy of this press release is attached hereto as Exhibit 99.1 to this Form 8-K.
Item 9.01. Financial Statements and Exhibits.
Have you considered buying a bucket of clicks from Dex One for your online marketing? If you have, or if you are currently buying “Clicks programs” from Dex, you might want to read this entire article.
Most yellow pages companies, Dex included, sign the business to a year contract and generally never talk about the program again until it’s time to renew. The customer has an idea of the search engine(s) that they could be marketed on, and a number of guaranteed clicks, but that is about the limits. You can see, from their own site, they are intentionally vague, and they don’t even guarantee that you will even appear up on Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
The one thing people don’t understand about PPC programs is cost. Search Engine Marketing is a true form of capitalism, every keyword is acquired through a bid process. Dex doesn’t receive discounts from the engines that are not available to everyone through quality score incentives. Dex clicks programs are sold on tier 1 search engines, but fills their clicks programs from other sources as well. The customer pays the same rate regardless if the click comes from Google, or is self fulfilled from dexknows.com, and not all clicks convert at the same rate. Some simple research through Google’s adwords tool on your industry, and a calculator will quickly provide you the simple truth…The information that doesn’t add up.
The reason it doesn’t add up is because, if all clicks were filled from tier 1 engines only, Dex couldn’t set the rate for the packages so low and still make any money. They fill their programs from other sources that charge, as low as 10 cents a click, and Dex in turn sells the clicks at a higher rate. It’s a great strategy, except that 10 cent off topic clicks don’t convert in to customers at the same rate as a search result generated clicks from a tier 1 engine. The best way to describe the difference between the two is the difference between an active buyer (tier 1 engine) and someone that is doing research (tier 2 or 3 source). Sure you are getting the traffic to tour digital storefront but lots are not buyers.
The reporting leaves the customer missing the major information on the performance such as:
This morning I stumbled across the best demonstration of what Online Marketing Looks like to DEX, you should click on the image below and pay attention to the right (paid) side of the search results page.
Every ad on the right side of the page is a DEX clicks ad. If you notice that every ad is similar, with the only element that changes being the phone number, address, and web address. Every Dex rep will talk with you about the importance of the R.A.S.C.I.L. factors in advertising.
Yet every ad in the results page has the exact same attention line, not much sets one advertiser apart from the others. Dex has always been very successful in setting customers apart from each other in print media, but the search engine result page above shows that running an online media program is not their specialty.
Look at the performance of their own website, below you can see overall global traffic to dexknows.com since 2007, and dexonline.com since 2004 according to Google Trends. Dex made a shift in the URL in 2007, dexonline.com will still get you to dexknows.com but you can see that the traffic to their own site has fallen bellow levels of 2004.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the data above, lets talk about how that traffic is currently generated. Dex uses a landing page, (digital storefronts) for all “Clicks” program they run, and you, the customer, don’t even get to use your website. All “Digital Storefronts” are retained on the dexknows.com domain, so all traffic through a “Clicks” program credits the dexknows.com domain with the traffic.
With this process, dexknows.com gets to take “Traffic Credit” for every “Clicks” program they run, and the number you see in the graph above is achieved on the back of every paying “Clicks” customer they have. The concern then becomes, if Dex allowed their “clicks” programs to drive traffic to the customers real website, and lost “Traffic Credit” for all those campaigns…what would the trends number look like?
With the economic climate that we are currently in, and the advertising budgets of small & medium sized companies being tightened, making the most out of our advertising dollars should be paramount in your decision making process. The intent of this article is provide a business owner with enough information about the other topics that should be considered when making this purchase. Not all online advertising programs are created equally.
If you have been reading the articles published on my site for some time you’d know that I post many articles about the decline of usage on Yellow Pages. The reason that I do this is because the phone book is one of the very few directional media options available, with that said, user of the phone book have given up the traditional directional media and have replaced it with internet search. Internet search is with out a doubt the fast growing form of directional media available, and is completely consumer driven.
Phone books, long a staple of U.S. life, are fading quickly as lawmakers and phone companies see green benefits in limiting their delivery.
Most targeted are the residential white pages that list home numbers. An increasing number of states are approving requests by phone companies, which want to stop delivering these unprofitable, generally ad-free books unless requested by land-line customers.
The result: Many customers in half of U.S. states will soon no longer hear that multipound thud at their doorstep.
•Verizon has received the OK to cease automatic delivery from 11 of 12 states where it has land-line customers and expects permission from California and the District of Columbia by the end of September.
•AT&T expects, by the end of this year, to stop unsolicited delivery in 14 other states where it does land-line business. “We give people the option,” company spokeswoman Dawn Benton says.
A federal judge has rejected an attempt to block Seattle’s new yellow pages opt-out program, after the city passed one of the toughest laws in the country targeting yellow pages, and phone book companies fought back.
Seattle unveiled its opt-out registry last week. The same day, Dex One – the city’s largest yellow pages distributor – filed a second motion to temporarily halt the program as part of an ongoing lawsuit. The complaint alleges Seattle’s ordinance violates the First Amendment.
On Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart rejected the motions. Robart wrote:
Because Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim, because any First Amendment impact on the public is limited, and because the City and its residents have competing public interests in privacy and waste reduction, the court finds the Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest.”
This editorial is very helpful if you are using yellow pages advertising in your marketing media mix. I posted the original article a few weeks ago when the law passed. I believe that this is going to be a trend that spread across the country.
A Seattle City Council briefing Tuesday on Seattle’s new yellow-pages opt-out program showed that the number of canceled phone books in Seattle continues to rise, with an increasing number of people rejecting the thick paper directories.
Dick Lilly, a manager with Seattle Public Utilities, said 16,874 households have opted out of nearly 105,000 phone book deliveries since Seattle launched its opt-out program last Thursday. Using a formula of five books weighing 7.5 pounds, the city estimated the opt-outs equals (nearly) 80 tons of avoided paper waste.