The State of Internet Marketing for The SMB: Frustrated

Credits: Peter Alfred, under Creative Commons 2

I recently received this comment from poster Frustrated.  And it rang so true that I decided to track the writer down.

Frustrated is Marc Reisner of Reisner Construction in northern Michigan. He has moved around a bit; Colorado, Seattle and finally landed in Port Sanilac, MI. Turns out he had relatives from the Olean area so we had a long talk. He wants nothing more than to move out of home construction and into making custom furniture full time.

He thought he could do that with internet marketing. But the lack of knowledge opens up small businesses to this sort of problem that he writes about. They are vulnerable  while thinking that they are missing something that the cold caller is promising to deliver.

It is interesting that Google, by association, was tarnished with the same brush. It is not surprising that the over promising and under performing digital marketing hype plus the hard sell scammers, ended up hurting Google as well as everyone else in the space.

Here is Marc’s story:


Marc Reisner’s (Reisner Construction) custom furniture

I was contacted by Yodle, then Townsquare Interactive, then Yelp. All 3 within a year.

Wanting to sell custom made furniture via the Internet, I fell for Yodle with anticipation of what they promised. After an initial discounted 6 months, no results….account closed and listing was pulled off the internet.

A week later TS calls. Their sales pitch was similar to Yodel, but they do not hold you to a predetermined period of time. 3 months, one call. I closed that account & lost a website.

Then, Yelp called. I explained to them my results with the first two and was lead to believe they were more established with a BBB rating and would create more business. I fell for it. They assured me they were the best. (I took notes on every conversation.) An initial monthly fee + $6 per click……meaning anyone calling my number listed on the internet I got charged $6/call. The number of calls that supposedly were dropped my me was unbelievable and I complained about it.

In looking at the actual phone numbers, I’d call the numbers Yelp listed and got the other side to answer with a recording, “The number you have called is not a working number.” The $425/month hit… contact via by one person, which looks like one real client.

It was a pain to actually close the account with Yelp with a closing fee of $450. They said they’d leave the account active for 2 months thinking I’d reconsider. One thing to do is set up your account with a credit card that is front loaded….put money into the card so you know how much will get spent, it’s like a debit card, but more protected from hackers. I closed the account.

Today, Google called to list my company for $600, but offered a one time discount dropping the fee to $399 for life….One time offer. I’d heard that before from them. I told them up front I’m not agreeing to sending any money today, I got this ‘that’s okay, I’ll just finish your company information’.

When done he went for the money via Cc #. I refused, so he said “I’ll get our finance manager on the line, he can help you. As soon as he said that, Bryce pipes in saying he had been listening to the call and could offer a better deal, $299 for life. I told him I didn’t have the money today…they hung up.

Word of mouth is the best advertising I’ve experienced over 35 years. Using the internet sounded appealing, so I figured I’d give it try hoping to find a good company to work with. I’ve not found one yet. I’ve learned a lesson that hopefully no one else will have to learn.


In a subsequent conversation where I asked if I could publish his name he noted:

As to the use of my name in your blog, I don’t see it as much of a problem.

It’s one of those “buyer beware” reality checks I think a lot of potential customers need when considering using an online advertising company that sells anyone the idea that “within 90 days you’re business will increase beyond expectation.”

Selling positive hype, rather than reality, should come with something only Townsquare Interactive gave, no contract.  I’ll give them credit for that.

I am very disappointed with the promises Yelp gave.  Deception at it’s best.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
The State of Internet Marketing for The SMB: Frustrated by

13 thoughts on “The State of Internet Marketing for The SMB: Frustrated”

  1. Mike – we hear this all the time. We’ve spoken with hundreds of small businesses, and the theme’s are always the same:

    1) Word of Mouth has always been the best performing marketing strategy for these small businesses.

    2) Attribution is rarely done (doesn’t seem to be the case with Marc, but when we speak with folks who said they got no calls, when we ask how they confirmed that, it was usually “gut feel”. In other words, no special phone number, no campaign they could track in a more methodical way).

    3) The promises made by hyperlocal platforms is astoundingly misleading. Which simply makes these businesses even more dubious of technologies ability to help them.

    We are working to address these issues – it’s exceptionally hard, but we know it can be done. Even harder when you don’t use the (misleading) marketing blueprint that Yodle, Yelp and others use!

  2. It is unfortunate that the optimal strategy might be using word of mouth to spread a digital presence. While investing in other platforms to track the lack of conversions, he might have been able to use the effort and time to use the word of mouth success to translate the offline success into online conversions.

  3. Still complete BS that companies can call a business, claim to be Google and then try to extort money from the SMB owner. The issue is enormous and I can’t imagine trying to tackle something so big, but G needs to get a handle on that. So many SMB’s taken for a ride on that scam.

  4. A question. If someone is looking to sell custom furniture via the web I assume its not local, but web based. Was that the case for this person, or not? It makes a difference.

    In the past I’ve seen local based advertising platforms capture the advertising business of merchants who are trying to do web wide business…or possibly its web wide business in 60 different markets in the US out of a single location wherein the contact is through the web.

    From what I’ve seen none of the local based advertising platforms are appropriate for that type of business strategy.

    If it was customized furniture for the region in which he lives that is another story. I’m not sure.

    On a second note, glad to see Joel Headley’s comment. Joel, (if you read this) you solved one of my “issues” one time after months of frustration and pulling my hair out. It took about 45 minutes. Always appreciated that. Hope you are doing well.

  5. @Dave
    I am not sure that Marc thought through his goals. He is currently on display at a local furniture store but gets a lot of “what would it look like if” questions that he felt could be answered via the web and possibly converted.

    Obviously the question of local/regional vs national is a critical question but its not clear that ANY of the agencies spent any measurable time figuring out his needs or what was possible.

  6. @Joel
    For the $400-500 he seemed willing to spend, he certainly could have gotten significantly more value of a locally focused digital campaign… although not in 90 days…

    He would need to figure out what he wants and what the path is to get there… but regardless it would start with creating and owning your own website.

    As to the question of WOM…. it is my sense that too is rapidly moving online in the form of reviews and by ignoring that he puts any long term gains of a solid website and digital marketing at risk

  7. @Brian
    We live in an era of Free Market Ideology… and one of the side affects of that is the total lack of regulation of these sorts of scams. They are free to run wild… and rarely if ever are they caught.

  8. Aside from the general question I had one experience years ago with Yodle. Absolutely horrific. Big bills, lots of promises, completely no action. Some years ago Yodle was the recipient of many consumer complaints. I have no idea of their status now, but I wouldn’t touch them. I do believe though they are (or were) a Google Partner. If so, Google really needs to pick better partners.

    I’m unfamiliar with the second vendor. The situation with Yelp sounds horrific. For a couple of smb’s we have a good bit of yelp visibility and we’ve benefited from it. Yelp’s advertising sales teams are PITA’s though. As a former salesperson, cold and warm caller, they are well trained. I’ll give them that. But of course that has no bearing on the quality of service Yelp can provide for the price.

    That pay to click program sounds horrific. Bully for the business person that he called the phone numbers for which he was billed. Sounds like a complete scam. Warning to the wise. Stay away from those things unless you have a way to verify the calls.

    Advertising is tough. No doubt.

  9. I’m going to reiterate what others are saying here – for Marc’s business, word-of-mouth will, indeed, be important, particularly if he can offer a service his local competitors don’t typically offer.

    Real world case #1: I needed to have a wooden table repaired. There are a handful of furniture makers in my area and so I phoned one with whom I’d worked before and they said they weren’t really doing furniture repair these days. But, they instantly referred me to a fellow who does. His business wasn’t even ranking well on the web, but I found him through old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

    Real world case #2: Books have begun to take over my house. They are literally lurking in every room, including the kitchen. I decided I wanted to have a new book case built. Ordered one from my favorite local furniture maker in December and do you know when it will be ready? Hopefully in May. Why? Because this SMB is overwhelmed with business. His Internet presence is almost nil. He has a nice shopfront on a main street and that’s how I found him some years ago, and this scenario is a great example of how REPEAT business will matter to a business like Marc’s, as well as word-of-mouth. This is my 3rd major purchase from this furniture maker in the past 6 or so years, including the custom-built laptop desk he created for me and at which I’m sitting right now typing this comment.

    Moral: hang in there Marc.

    -Do an awesome job pleasing any existing customers and they are highly likely to recommend you to friends and to come back to you for future needs

    – Be highly suspicious of anyone saying they are from Google asking you for money. *Mike, did you find out what this situation actually was? Sounds like a scam at first hearing.

    – Focus on the basic and affordable forms of local search marketing: get a good website going, build and manage your citations and seek reviews.

    It’s my hope that with an ongoing and sensible effort, Marc will soon have projects stretching into 2018, 2019 and beyond!

  10. @Miriam
    It was a scammer. Google just doesn’t work that way.

    I would agree with your suggestions; good website, citations & reviews but would add two things to that:
    – Website and domain that you own (can take with you if you need to).
    – Start gathering email addresses even from the existing construction business customers as there is no cheaper way to reach out

  11. There’s seemingly hundreds of local listing sites hitting up smb’s for monthly listing fees that do little to nothing for their business. Local search optimization can have a meaningful impact if it’s done right so it’s frustrating that an experience like Marc’s is all too common.

  12. So many traders have the same experience as you describe here. Recently I heard the marketing that these companies use, and the promises they make every day, as the closest to mainstream corporate fraud as you’ll find in any walk of life.

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