Earlier this week, I was working with a client who told me, “Hey, someone just came in here and told me that ‘the Internet’ says that my business isn’t licensed!”
The problem is simple enough. He’s a small, service-oriented business that still didn’t have a web site. The void is filled with online review sites who mention your company name enough to rank higher on a profile. Google even buys into some of these, …one’s I’d never heard of before.
I built his site and started propagating the link when I finally found the problem post. Google Maps buys into some review site called angieslist.com How original.
The profile information doesn’t give up much but there is a simple field that says “Licensed: No.” To anyone who looks at that, it suggests that this business is not legitimate. There is no justification for their claim, nor is there any description of what they mean. There’s a link to go to some Better Business Bureau page, but that link is broken and the domain it pointed to is gone. Nice shot, Google.
So I looked at Angie’s List. It claims to be a user-driven review site spearheaded by some woman named Angie Hicks, They’re out of Indiana somewhere and claim to have been at it since 1995. I’ve been a reporter that long and this was the first I’d heard of them. They have a very polished video up on their site, complete with a little “shaky cam” and VH1-esque “pop-up bubbles”
I always give things a chance to work as they are supposed to. It’s the only way to be fair. People and companies make mistakes sometimes, We only judge them on how they recover. So, I called the company at their phone and waited a long time to talk to someone. They offered to help me get the listing fixed, but only if I opted in to their “free service.” Maybe I’m too much of a purist, but I think they should help me anyway.
I’ve seen this scam before. The trick is to collect the data from the “free service” to try to upsell you on their advertising. Angieslist isn’t even valuable on that level because the advertising isn’t seen by anyone who hasn’t joined as a member.
When I was at the radio station, we had a different way of selling advertising. We’d offer you a free plug of your business on the air and chat with you about it a little during our “Free Plug Friday” segment. If was fun, it was totally open, we didn’t make you do anything but call, we didn’t collect your information or demand anything. It was our way of giving you a “free sample” of our advertising reach in a fun segment of the show. A fair percentage of companies that took advantage of this often called back, on their own, to inquire about buying spots on the station after they’d get feedback from our audience. If one of our salespeople called you, it was based on their own research.
Angie’s List is different. I feel like they’re holding my client’s reputation hostage with this. Until I come crawling to them and offer up enough information to upsell my client some valueless services they’re going to keep posting unjustified false and misleading information. Granted, it’s just a one-liner, but that was enough for a customer to actually mention they’d seen it, that it gave them reservations about the legitimacy of the operation. For all of the viewers who’d seen this, we only heard from those who came in to the client’s business anyway.
Sometimes, just every once-in-a-while, the Internet is wrong. In general I believe that a small handful of reviews sites may be credible, many are of questionable value and a few do things like this to try to make a buck. When I see things like this, I feel compelled to call them on it. It feels like a scam to me. Not a huge one, but what they’re doing isn’t fair.