Web Listings, Inc - SEO Scam?
Update: This blog was originally posted on June 21, 2011 and updated on January 30, 2019.
At Workshop Digital, we're always pushing ourselves to learn from previous research and predict future trends. Sometimes, this means revisiting old content and analyzing both its past and present impact. With this in mind, I took a look at a blog post I wrote nearly eight years ago, which drove traffic for years—until recently.
I knew I had to get to the bottom of this. So, I took a look at what caused this drop. (Spoiler alert: It’s a happy ending.)
If I sent you a letter saying you needed to pay $85 per year to get your house listed with the Post Office, would you pay it? No! You'd toss it in the trash and possibly file a complaint with the FTC.
If you have a website, chances are you've received a solicitation from Web Listings Inc. that is designed to trick you into thinking it's an invoice.
So why do people pay them to submit their websites to search engines that already know they exist?
Look closely. If you read the fine print, it says, "This is not a bill. This is a solicitation." A simple Google search for "Web Listings Inc." turns up dozens of scam and fraud alerts. It's common knowledge that search engines have no problem discovering new websites and crawling most types of content. Finally, the top-three search engines account for 95% of the search volume in the United States. There's no need to submit to 20!
Lessons in Persuasion
So why do people still pay Web Listings Inc. to submit their websites to "20 established search engines"? I think it boils down to three reasons:
- People don't read the fine print. It's common practice to hide the true terms of a deal in small print.
- People don't research a company properly before doing business with them. It looks official, so it must be legitimate, right?
- People are motivated by fear of losing their visibility in search engines. Fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than potential gain.
Why I Hate This
It deepens the distrust people have for SEO and our industry in general. It wastes small businesses' hard-earned money. It adds absolutely no value to a website or business. It preys on people's fears.
I also hate this because it's apparent that enough people are still falling for it to remain profitable, and probably wildly so.
Please, research a company before you send them money. Read the fine print. Ask around.
If you still need help, Google it. I'm sure you'll find a helpful answer from somebody that didn't pay $85 a year to have their site listed there.
Update: January 2019
I first published this post in 2011 and it has been one of our most popular blog entry points every single month until recently. Apparently not enough people were reading the fine print and their business model was sustainable for YEARS.
Fast forward to 2019 and we noticed that fewer people were searching for "Web Listings Inc" and reaching our site each month compared to previous years. Check out these organic traffic stats showing a consistent spike each month for the past two years.
Then...nothing over the past 6 months. Just a trickle of visitors and a clear deviation from the previous drip, drip, drip of traffic.
Monthly spikes, then...nothing.
Why? And why do we care?
I'm a data geek. And like all data geeks, I have to understand WHY something happened.
First, I ruled out a change in our organic search rankings. We still own the top organic result and a rich snippet for organic search queries related to "Web Listings Inc". Our rankings are still strong in Google Search Console as well.
So there must be something else. As a data geek, I can't say for sure but I can certainly develop a hypothesis:
The horrible online reputation, outdated business model, and an inability to offer a valuable service all contributed to a change in their marketing tactics. Direct mail no longer seems to work, hence the drop in organic search volume during the first week of each month.
What's the impact? Well, none for our business. While we get the occasional blog comment or angry phone call from people who don't read the fine print (or the actual contents of the blog post) and think that we are Web Listings Inc, we have never gotten a sales lead or new client from this blog post.
And you know what?
I am ok with that. Hopefully we have saved a lot of people a lot of money and that's a solid ROI on an ancient blog post.