How Much Freeer than Free Can Free Be?

Stever of Axemedia passed this email solicitation along to me. It is a deceptive ad that attempts to leverage Google Places as a benefit to the package. How much freer than free can free be? I suppose that the offer revolves around some claiming package but is amazing to me that a company of’s stature would attempt to leverage Google’s good name in such a way.


Worse is yet to come though. When you click through to the website, you are offered a Free Website to along with your free Google Places listing. The offer that you thought was $24.95/mo. turns out to be $94.95/month. What you are actually buying, despite the immediate call to action, is not clear nor is there any way to achieve clarification other than calling.

At the end of three years a business would have spent $3418.20. It appears that the business will have received a website of indeterminate size with some keyword laden copywriting, a Google Places listing, a listing at one or the primary data suppliers to the GPS industry and some reporting…. probably Google Analytics. The package could be worth it, who knows. The level of misdirection and slight of hand makes me doubt it.

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How Much Freeer than Free Can Free Be? by

23 thoughts on “How Much Freeer than Free Can Free Be?”

  1. And the kicker –

    *Customers on a monthly billing cycle are billed every 4 weeks.

    I guess there are 13 months in a year (thought only popes and caesars could make changes like that).

    Makes the $3400 more like $3700.

  2. It’s perfectly fine for people to charge for their services.
    It’s perfectly fine for companies to provide services that handle “free” things for you.
    It’s perfectly fine for people to be asked to pay for professional services that provide knowledge/skill/information that the payer may not posses, or lacks the time for.

    But – it does need to be Perfectly clear as to what is exactly being charged for.
    That reads like they are giving away Google Places listings … which is odd, as I thought only Google could do that?
    Maybe their next round of advertising can offer “free” air to breath if you sign up for their $200 service?

  3. Clearly these things work. That is why companies advertise them. Deeply deceptive.

    I bought one program with lots of hype advertising and some deeply deceptive marketing, not least of which was the reference Chris made to the marketing that in bold suggests billing by month…but in the small print is something closer to every 4 weeks…or 13 months in a year.

    Buyer Beware!!!

  4. @Chris
    I totally missed the 13 months per year angle… 10% extra just for good luck… Obviously anyone that can think up that scheme has more in line…

    @The Autocrat
    I am with you. An SMB could spend $3700 and come away with a fully custom designed CMS and some marketing from a professional. What they get here for that money is being obviously obfuscated making it doubtful that much value exists…. I am sure that they already include the Free Air in this offer.

    Even the most savvy of us get caught in this deception. But this one, targeted at unknowledgable people is particularly offensive.

  5. Mike – you have been in this business as long as I have and should be very used to the deceptive sales practices of various firms out there. Heck I get a call every month from the same “local marketing experts” automated machine asking me to push 1 to claim my Google Local Listing. The problem with SEO and SEM is that everyone is an expert and everyone knows exactly what they are doing.

  6. @Mark

    Yes and I am rarely surprised by sleazy tactics from sleazy companies. This one though sets a new standard for a “reputable” company acting in a sleazy way. The lack of information and misdirection was such that I found it incredulous (and funny…) Even though I have been seeing this stuff for years I did learn a new trick… 13 months in a year.

  7. reading their terms of service – they provide a 1-800 tracking number to use that they and only they OWN. I presume they add that number into the Places listing too = bad move. If you cancel service and want to retain the website design and text copy you must pay them 12 months of service to compensate them.

    I thought the 4 month billing was a nice touch too 🙂

  8. I just called

    You get 5 pages in the package. If you want additional pages there is a one time fee of $100 per page. At first he didn’t think there was any editing but after checking he realized that there is the ability to add a page as necessary if you want. For free….

    The only visible marketing is listing the site with a range of the standard directories and some onsite optimization….

  9. It’s from deals like this that I get re-design clients who come to me saying “I paid $xxxxx and I’m not ranking anywhere and I can’t figure out why I’m not coming up in Places.”

    Register should rethink this offer. It doesn’t speak well of them.

  10. Regina P.: Would you like to try a service like this to see how it works for you? Since there’s no contract, it would be a good way to see if it draws any more business you’re way. To continue on a month to month basis, it would only be $94.95 monthly for the site upkeep and marketing.

    B Oliver: So it would cost $3420 a year?

    Regina P.: No, it would be $94.95/ monthly. Approximately, $1139 yearly for the design, maintenance, and marketing.

    B Oliver: Sorry my math is bad

    Regina P.: No worries 🙂

    Regina P.: What kind of business are you involved with exactly?

    B Oliver: But there was a statement that said it was billed every 4 weeks…

    Regina P.: Yes, you’re billed once a month – every 4 weeks. There is one month a year where you would be billed twice in the same month.

    B Oliver: So I would be billed 13 months a year? ie $1234 a year not $1139?

    Regina P.: Yes, $94.95 every 4 weeks.

    Regina P.: What kind of business are you considering promoting?

    B Oliver: A jewelry store

    B Oliver: When did a year get 13 months?

    Regina P.: It’s quite common practice to be billed every 4 weeks.

    B Oliver: Yes but not when you call it monthly

    B Oliver: Last I knew there was only 12 months in a year.

    B Oliver: What kind of reporting is there?

    Regina P.: With all of our website services, you have the option to view the site statistics – visits, hits, and so on.

    B Oliver: Is it comparable to Google analytics?

    Regina P.: Yes, it’s quite similar.

  11. Oh Marketers… I once wanted to be one of you, then went to Business School, and decided to become a web designer.

    They get away with these practices because most consumers aren’t aware of their rights, so Marketers cross the line that no one knows exists. In the 2004 Pizza Hut vs. Papa John’s Pizza, the slogan ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” was accused of being misleading and falsely stating that their ingredients are responsible for their pizza’s superior taste, which was researched and revealed to being false. Pizza Hut won.
    I think the same happened for Red Bull, and I remember recent ads having someone quickly state that Red Bull doesn’t actually give you wings but makes you feel more energized, and so on.

    Just saying Marketers, watch out for class-action suits!

  12. This is sad.

    What is it about the domain industry that just oozes sleaze like this? From the companies sending fake “your domain is about to expire” letters to all the lame marketing upsells that GoDaddy (and others, to be fair) try to hoist on you… how do these people sleep at night??

  13. Woooh! I think I might start offering a free* SEO package where I guarantee* a top 10 rankings in Google for searches for your domain name or you get 150% of your money back*!

    *Bing not included. Must have 100 page website to qualify. Some queries and domains extra. Only available to US citizens with .US domains residing in the continental United States. Not valid for residents of states with North, South and West in their names. Your domain must be 18 years of older to qualify. Not for use by children or adults under the age of 55. Void is used in combination with any 3rd party linking building. Please speak with a sales associate to details.

  14. It’s not really that they are offering Places for free that really bothers me the most. It’s the fact that small business owners really don’t know better, and consequently fall victim to web developers and internet marketers who take advantage of their ignorance or who don’t know better themselves.

    Take for example,’s $94.95 per “month” package. What do they get?

    1.They get a template site with a branded banner (said to be “designed specifically for your business) and 5 pages. (about 1 hr of work)

    2. Optimized 5 pages of content. (Optimized how? They can really define that however they like. I would guess an optimized title tag and some keyword saturation.) (probably 1 hr of work)

    3. “Online marketing package” (Nothing more than local directory submissions, including Places.) (probably partner with UBL or Localeze for about $50)

    4. Google analytics or something similar which is absolutely useless unless you do something with that data.

    Oh, and a FREE Google Places page thrown in as a gift.

    You and I know this really isn’t enough for businesses to succeed online unless they happen to be lucky or very small with little competition. I couldn’t in good conscience sell this program to a customer if I felt it wasn’t going to do them much good. And yet that is being done, over and over and over again. It really makes me quite sad, so I’m on a mission to educate which is what you are doing.

    So thank you for your post. I hope small business owners see it. I know I’ll be shouting it out.

  15. Let us not forget that eventually everything (including the Internet) becomes a reflection of what is happening in the greater society.

    Everyday you hear, read or watch something that deals with someone trying to pull a scam on somebody, even in the name of legitimate business…

    Mike BTW heard you on SEO 101 with Ross and John talking about Google, blended search and what direction Google is headed (July 2011)… Thanks for sharing your insight…

    1. John
      Yes there is a great deal of deceit in the greater society by companies big and small. Whenever and wherever it happens, it is never right. Calling it out when it is so egregious, while a small effort, provides me some small succor and if it means one less SMB is spared the deceit I am happy with that.

      Glad you enjoyed the radio interview.

  16. Some companies just don’t get it. You get a very bad reputation and annoy customers by false claims of “free” services. This is bottom feeding.

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