It seems like every day I get a call or email from a friend (who has an inn) or a client who just got solicited by a marketing company wanting to know what the skinny is on a company, I get sent these because people know I like to dig and get information and can usually tell right off it’s even worth a second look.
Solicitations range the gamut from web design/re-design, to handling their social media, to SEO (search engine optimization) services to general marketing, to cleaning out the gunk under your kitchen sink.
As B&B owners you know the ones I’m talking about, you get an email from a company that says you don’t rank well for SEO or your website needs to be updated because it doesn’t comply with current standards.
As contentious people who know their marketing companies do a good job, but those emails/calls get them just a little worried, they go ahead and forward them to their marketing company, because any doubt makes an in where a company can slip in and take advantage of an innkeeper.
There are scores, scads and scuntillions of these companies out there, some legit, some very fraudulent. Very few reputable companies, and I seriously mean very few, will solicit you by mail/phone or email.
One would think that wording would be a tipoff in many of the emails, sort of like the Greek Priest booking scam, or those people who want to reserve for 3 weeks for 10 people, and then want to send you a check for three times the amount so you can refund the difference. You would also think tipoffs like, you are not ranking well for Bed and Breakfasts in Nashville with the keywords, mashed potatoes (I kid you not). But sometimes it is not so easy to tell.
Sadly every year I see (and hear about) innkeepers getting sucked into paying big bucks for things that don’t work, don’t do the things they say they are going to do, or don’t do them at all.
In this day and age of the internet, checking out a company has become extremely easy, but many innkeepers just let their blood pressure go up (and then their marketing companies) by taking it too much to heart, and believing there is an issue or problem, instead of taking a minute or two (literally that’s all it takes) to check out a company. Spam/scam companies want to pull FUD campaigns on customers. FUD=Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, which generally results in putting money where it shouldn’t go.
As innkeepers, its well worth spending a couple of minutes checking them out, if you at all consider it worthwhile engaging with a new unknown company, and as well if they have pushed any of your buttons using the FUD method. AGGHH I don’t rank well for Pet Friendly lodging in Montana, Panic time!
Remember this is your money that we are talking about. And take a deep breath.
Would you go buy a new car (and this is what some of these companies want to charge) without checking out the history, safety features and reliability of the car? If you get a lemon or get scammed, you DON”T get your money back. Kick the tires a few times, HARD, first!
When I evaluate a company for legitimacy, these are the steps I take.
Google their name in quotes, “The Jane Doe Marketing Company”
Why do this: Do they come up in search? If a company is soliciting you for SEO services and their own website doesn’t come up at all, or it comes up on page 30 of Google search, maybe they should fix their own SEO first.
Google their domain name in quotes, leave out the http:// and the http://www. “janedoemarketingco.com”
Why do this: same as above, any marketing a company does do, should show up, if they are selling social media services for example and you can’t easily find their twitter, blog or Facebook accounts……….
Check out their whois information, http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp
Why do this: Many solicitation emails come from overseas, but their websites have 800 numbers and an address in Kentucky. The whois information will tell you where and who registered it. If was registered in China and they frequently do, the registration will let you know.
Check out the body of the email. Does it make sense? Are they saying things like they will help you set up and maintain a Facebook page? If you have a FB page already, this is a surefire one to stay away from. A legitimate company will do their homework first and know you have one already. Are they throwing out technical terms, like Page Rank, SERPS, IBLs. When in doubt, look it up. http://seogurltalk.blogspot.com/2008/08/seo-slang.html has a good list of SEO terms.
If an email says you don’t have alt text for your images and you do actually have them, 100% of the time, you got a blanket email that went out to any business they could get their little mitts on the email address for. Same with claiming you don’t rank well for keywords. Googled your inn lately? I had an inn a few months ago that was told she didn’t rank well for romantic inns in her state, she was amused when she googled her inn and every search string she put in came back with her inn on the first page. Don’t get snowed.
Check out their websites. Click on the navigation links, do they work? Are words spelled correctly? Do they have a portfolio? (a word of advice, if the link in the email is shortened, not a real address but one using a URL shortener, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL_shortening DO NOT CLICK, it may lead to a malware or virus infected site. When in doubt just Google it.
Why do this: If a company wants to sell you a redesign and their own website links to other pages and other media don’t work, do you think yours will if they don’t bother enough to proof their own site?
Be cautious of portfolios, literally check the portfolios out to see if they are legitimate. I got forwarded an email last week from a friend, Email was actually quite well written, website was nice, portfolio looked ok.
Slight problem with it. None of the screenshots of the so called work they had done had links to the sites. I tracked down most of the companies they “said” they had done work for. Companies had at the bottom, XXX did the site, and it wasn’t the soliciting company. I called several of the so called clients. They said, “who?”
If they are selling social media, look at their own accounts. Are they posting regularly? Is it all sales related (this is bad, very bad) do they even have real fans and followers or did they buy them. Is their blog (if they have one) up to date or was their last post 6 months ago. If anything looks odd or off to you, chances are it probably is.
I came across a so called marketing company in Hartford, CT recently and after about a minute, it was clear it was a scam. 15 fake reviews on their Google+ page. 10,000 followers on their twitter account with only 10 tweets and none of the followers were legit or value accounts. Unless the hot cross kitten accounts (if you get my drift) counted for them. 2000 fans on their Facebook page, many posts on the fan page but not one single like or comment on ANY of the posts. If it smells like a dead fish, it is a dead fish.
I did a blog a few months back and ran down some things to look for especially for social media marketers, start mid post: https://chefforfeng.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/heck-dont-buy-my-stuff-buy-my-stuff/ While its about a restaurant marketer, the same theories apply.
If the company makes it past your initial litmus test, dig a little deeper.
Google their name in quotes and then outside the quote add problems, then Google again and put reviews, again and then issues, and then once more and complaints.
Run the business through the Better Business Bureau site. http://www.bbb.org/
Check out the B&B forums on PAII, linkedin etc. Ask questions, ask if anyone else has had experience with company. Check out who replies (and who they work for) in some cases (I can think of one particular lodging marketing company) they will have an employee reply and try to play it like they are/were a customer.
Are they members of lodging organizations like PAII or Chambers of Commerce?
Do they do anything to support charities or other organizations?
Do they have a background in the lodging industry?
The most important step once you’ve gotten this far, is checking out their portfolio and their work. Don’t just ask them for references to show you or tell you about. DIG, get a client list and close your eyes and point randomly. And then call and get feedback from former or current clients. A marketing company will always give you a vetted list. People who they want you to touch base with because it’s assured they will get a good recommendation. Don’t just rely on their references.
It’s money that you are going to spend and it needs to have results, spend it wisely.