Pelland Blog

Beware of Award Scams: An Update

June 4th, 2014

Back in early October of 2013, I blogged about an award scam being run by an outfit calling itself the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC). I had never before heard of the organization, and as far as I was able to determine, the company’s only “business” was sending out these awards. The award announcement that I received read, “Each year, the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC) panel identifies firms that have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields and achieved commercial recognition. Your firm has been one of those selected this year and this award exemplifies that distinguished accomplishment.” That vague announcement read like your horoscope. But wait, there was more! For only $358.00, you could get a framed certificate, a crystal award, and your own press release campaign (which, of course, cross promotes the SBIEC). In our instance, they would even correct our business name. Basically, they win, you lose.

Fast forward 8 months, and things have changed a bit. Thanks to that blog post and a related post on the Pelland Advertising Facebook Page, a Google search for the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce featured our blog post, our Facebook post, and several related consumer complaint sites more prominently than the website of the perpetrators themselves. In reaction to that reality, the outfit has now changed its name to the United States Trade and Commerce Institute (USTCI), disabled the original website, and has an otherwise identical website to be found under the new business name. In an effort to create an air of authenticity, the About Us page even outlines various “philanthropic outreach initiatives” such as helping to finance microloans on Kiva.org “since 2007.” Well, isn’t that special? Their business’s website was only created on March 13, 2014. In a Google search for the United States Trade and Commerce Institute, we are now dogging the new business name, too.

The spam e-mails that people receive claim that the USTCI has a “panel of industry executives and consultants” and a “Media Division”. That means that the USTCI is comprised of at least 2 people, who probably spend most of their time harvesting the e-mail addresses of small business owners and processing the credit cards of unwitting award winners. They are now targeting small businesses outside of the United States, particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain with the same award scam. Non-English speaking countries are bound to be targeted next.

The comments posted on our Facebook Page make it abundantly clear that it is very easy to qualify for this dubious award. At least two people posted that they had received 2013 “Business Excellence” awards for businesses that had closed in 2012! In a sad sort of way, the posts are quite entertaining. Complaints can also be found elsewhere online, on a variety of consumer complaint websites, including The Ripoff Report. Phone calls to the SBIEC reach an answering machine with an “out of office” message, and a check of their address with the U.S. Postal Service returns with, “The address you provided is not recognized by the US Postal Service as an address we serve. Mail sent to this address may be returned.” The address on the old website could also not be located on Google Maps, with the closest recognizable address being the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The new website lists an address of 212 North Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia. This is an image from Google Street View that shows the Knightsbridge Apartments that are located at that address. Hardly the location of such a respected and reputable company, is it?

Once again, how do you know if an award is a scam?

If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress. Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.

Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you type in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington, DC. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate financial contributions for the National Republican Party. I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to have their pockets carefully picked in the nation’s capital.

Is there an entry fee? We have received direct mailings on a regular basis in recent years, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail pieces typically look like they were designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that is just the first tell-tale sign that something is fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate.

We have also received similar direct mail pieces from the Telly Awards. According to their website, the organization receives 10,000 to 15,000 entries from small advertising agencies that are hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generates about $1,000,000.00 for its promoters … just from the entry fees. Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. This seems to be a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 113,000 results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon companies that are eager to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, or Grammy pays for their award?

Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams, there are many so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among the longest-running are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. Who’s Who directories are about as commonplace as Yellow Pages directories these days. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”

I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. These directories are useless in these days of online reference sources, and even most public library reference departments no longer purchase the worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same people who think that they were honored by being included. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are currently 47,500,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.

Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that fed the egos of early webmasters. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 1,780,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.

Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.

Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?

Let the Winner Beware

The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. Even recognition under legitimate competitions within an industry or a member association can be somewhat dubious because winners are only selected from among those who enter. Run your business properly, and your efforts will be acknowledged on a daily basis by your success and the satisfaction level of your clientele. This is the best recognition possible … and all that you really need.

Stay informed, because perpetrators of scams like the SBIEC and the USTCI will do their best to cover their tracks and change their appearances like chameleons. Spread the word to fellow small business owners. Information is our best defense against being scammed and exploited.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Some Common Sense Thoughts on SEO

May 29th, 2014

In the business world today, there seems to be no greater obsession than SEO – Search Engine Optimization. If website traffic falls short of an owner’s ever-increasing expectations, it is an all-too-common practice to blame SEO that is somehow not up to snuff. It amazes me how many people think that the same three letters can be either the reason for their success of the reason for their failure. In reality, people have far less control over SEO than most of us would be led to believe.

Because of that common misperception, there is an entire industry that thrives on exploiting small business owners and their belief in a silver bullet. Have you ever gotten an e-mail from a self-proclaimed SEO expert? I got spammed just this morning by somebody with the message, “Want more clients and customers? We will help them find you by putting you on the 1st page of Google.” There are no listings on the “first page of Google”, a page that only contains a stylized Google logo and a search box!

In addition to those e-mails, you have probably also gotten telemarketing calls from people who claim to hold the key to the pot of gold at the end of the Google rainbow. Sometimes the caller ID even says that the call is from “Google” … something that is easy for anybody to spoof. Trust me when I tell you that Google is never going to call you and they are never going to call me. Think about it. Have you ever been able to call Google and even speak with a receptionist?

The people who claim that they can get you that elusive prime search engine placement are – almost without exception – skilled con artists who will put the average used car salesman to shame. I recently met with the owner of a small campground who had been spending $300.00 per month for alleged SEO services with a company that was accomplishing nothing on his behalf. When he tried to cancel the service, the salesperson tried to convert him to the company’s $75.00 monthly plan. When he told me the name of the company, I did a Google search for the company name followed by the word “complaints”, and there were 755,000 results!

Search today is localized to the computer performing the search and is based upon a user’s previous usage patterns. It is relatively easy to make it look like your site is appearing near the top of broad search results, but this does not mean that your site is going to appear anywhere for somebody doing a search in Peoria or Wichita. Google has built its reputation upon providing the most highly relevant search results for any particular term and any particular user, and no self-proclaimed SEO expert can outsmart Google at its own game.

I have a friend who likes to say that his website comes up in the # 1 search position on Google for long, convoluted phrases that would never be used in an actual search. If his business was a campground, his website would appear at the top of the search results for the search phrase, “full hookup pull-thru campsites with free wi-fi on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, New Hampshire”. See what I mean? Unless a business holds an international monopoly or trademark on a certain product or service, it is not going to appear at the top of the search results – on its own merits – for either a broad or highly specific search term. If you search for “iPhone”, you will be taken to Apple Computer; if you search for “2014 Mustang”, you will be taken to Ford; and if you search for “Cheerios”, you will be taken to the General Mills Cheerios website.

On the other hand, if I search for “oat cereal”, at least based upon my browsing history, Cheerios does not appear anywhere on at least the first 10 pages of search results, except for the paid “sponsored search” ad at the top of each page. Do you see my point? If I was not already familiar with “Cheerios” and specifically searching for that well-known product, it would not appear in my search results. In the case of your campground, the total number of websites in the world is expected to exceed 1 Billion by the end of June 2014, according to InternetLiveStats.com, and there are over 13,000 private campgrounds in the United States alone. Can you understand how easy it is to get lost in those numbers?

A person searching for the broad term “family camping” is unlikely to be looking for your specific campground. If your campground’s website appeared at the top of the list – outside of localized content and the user’s established usage patterns – Google would lose its credibility and its dominance in the search market. Beyond localized content and usage patterns, search results are based upon relevance (primarily found in the text on pages), a site’s relative importance, timeliness of content, and a site’s general volume of traffic. Yes, the odds are stacked against the website of a small business, particularly if that Web presence is either relatively new or if it is old and static.

The old days of keyword lists have long been replaced by today’s intuitive and content-based search results. Content is king. Most importantly, it is essential that your website delivers the type of quality experience that will ensure that, once people find you, they will be more likely to stay than leave.

With a better understanding of how search results are delivered these days, you are now better prepared to ignore those phone calls and spam e-mails from people who are in the business of selling false promises and victimizing the uninformed.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Domain Name Registration Essentials

May 16th, 2014

In recent weeks, I have been in a position where it was necessary to transfer several domain names from one registrar to another. In another instance, I successfully negotiated and rescued a domain name that had been lost four years ago by a previous webmaster who had since dropped off the face of the earth. Time and again, I am reminded of the importance of choosing a reputable registrar AND being aware of your domain name registration details.

As most people know, nobody actually owns a domain name. Think of it as a long-term lease (from 1 to 10 years) that you enter into with a domain name registrar (the equivalent of a rental agent, in this instance.) If you were leasing an apartment or an automobile, you would probably try to avoid getting burned by somebody working out of a back alley or who prefaced the conversation with the words, “Have I got a deal for you!” The same gut feelings apply to domain name registrars. My general recommendations are to never choose a registrar based solely upon price, avoid registrars that are based outside of the United States, and to resist the lemming-like tendency to choose a registrar based upon name recognition. Just because a registrar advertises on the Super Bowl does not mean that it should be your first choice.

When the time comes to transfer a registration, I have had transfers complete within 24 hours, and I have also had transfers that have dragged on for a month. I have generally found that the worst nightmares involve working with registrars based in foreign countries. In one instance, I had a client willing to pay $500.00 for an unused domain name, the widow of the registrant eager to facilitate the sale, but a registrar in Norway that refused to cooperate and eventually prevented the sale from taking place.

The first step in preventing that you ever find yourself in this type of nightmare scenario is to check the status of your existing domain name registration(s), particularly if they were registered by a webmaster or somebody else acting on your behalf. The quickest and most accurate way to check the registration of any domain name (and also to explore the availability of new domain names) is to perform a whois lookup. Go to www.whois.com, and enter the domain name in the “Whois Lookup” search box in the upper right of the page. If checking an existing domain name, the first thing that you want to check is the “Registrant” information. This should list YOUR name and YOUR business name and address, along with YOUR e-mail address. If the information is outdated or incorrect, update that information without delay. If the information is not recognizable, you may be paying for a so-called private registration. More on that later.

Another important piece of contact information associated with a domain name registration is the Administrative Contact. This will often be the contact information for your webmaster. The important things are for this to be updated if you change webmaster and for the associated e-mail address to be current and correct. Nothing will hold up a domain name registration transfer like an old e-mail address that has not been used in years. Finally, check the expiration date on your domain name, just so you can be aware of that timeframe.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you register or renew a domain name:

  • Avoid Add-Ons: I mentioned private registrations earlier in this article. That is probably the most commonly purchased domain name registration add-on, usually incurring an annual fee of $5.00 or $10.00. In almost all instances, a private registration is a total waste of money, and it will prevent you from confirming your domain name registration details without logging into your account.
  • Don’t Take the Bait: Domain name registrations can be registered for terms from one to ten years. Unless there is a significant long-term discount, I would suggest registering domains and renewing those registrations on a year-to-year basis. Of course, any registrant would like to have your business locked up for the maximum 10 years. In fact, one registrar (GoDaddy) actually spread the misinformation several years ago that a 10-year registration would enhance a domain’s search engine placement.
  • Be Aware of Scams: The reason that registrars would like you to register for 10-year periods is because of the domain slamming that contributes to the already high rate of “churn” within the industry. Be particularly wary of any mailed solicitations that you WILL receive in the mail from a company using the names “Domain Registry of America”, “Liberty Names of America”, or “Domain Registry Services”. The letters always show an icon of the American flag or the Statue of Liberty next to the return address, which will also show an address in either Buffalo or Niagara Falls, even though the company is conveniently located over the border in Canada – beyond the reach of prosecution by a number of otherwise eager state attorneys general. The letters imply that you are at risk of losing your domain name and must renew it now. Your domain name expiration date is probably months away – remember, the actual renewal date will appear in the whois lookup – and the fine print at the bottom of the letter will explain that by signing and returning the form with the required fee, you will actually be initiating the transfer of your domain name to the new registrar.
  • Beware of Country Code Solicitations: You will probably also receive e-mail solicitations (spam) from companies (usually in China), alleging that another company has “expressed interest” in registering the .cn version of your domain name. They further imply that they are paying you the “courtesy” of offering you a right of first refusal to “protect your trademark”. They will then offer you the dubious opportunity to register the .cn (the country code for China) and various other versions of your .com domain name. Doing so is a total waste of money.
  • Avoid Working with Drop Catchers:Drop catchers are people who make a living offering expired (dropped) domain names to businesses with similar domain names. When a domain name is not renewed by its registrant, it goes into a 30-day grace period, then another 5 day lock period. It is during this time period that drop catchers, without even having to actually register the expired domain in most instances, will offer it to you for purchase.Usually, they will imply that the domain name has a high value and will be going to auction. In fact, if it is of interest to you, it is highly unlikely that it will be of interest to any other business, unless there are many businesses with names similar to yours. Sometimes the drop catcher will insist that the name will go to auction. Either way, if you really want the domain name, I typically offer only $100.00, and the drop catcher will generally jump on the opportunity, since they rarely have other prospects and will have just earned about a $90.00 profit.

    The domain name registration that I recently rescued after it had been lost four years ago by an old webmaster was registered with a drop catcher. Although I was able to persuade him to do the right thing and release the domain name to my client at no charge, this is a highly unlikely scenario and a stroke of extremely good luck. The most common registrars that tailor their services to working with drop catchers are SnapNames, Enom, Pool, and GoDaddy.

When you transfer a domain name from one registrar to another, it will renew the registration and extend the expiration date by one year. This is a reciprocal arrangement that applies to all registrars. Also, once a domain is transferred to another registrar, it will be locked from further transfer for 60 days.

If you are wondering why any of this is important, just keep in mind that your domain name is essentially your second business name. Losing your domain name can be just as damaging as a wildfire or flood that devastates your business. Whether you handle your domain name registration(s) yourself or have a trusted webmaster who handles that responsibility on your behalf, take a minute to check the details of your registration and be aware of the scams and pitfalls that proliferate in the online industries.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Respect – Rather Than Mislead – Your Customers

February 25th, 2014

I sometimes sense that some businesses think that they will profit by tricking customers into making purchases. We are all familiar with the types of practices that have given advertising a bad reputation since the days of P.T. Barnum. These include fine print disclaimers, “bait and switch” and its twin sibling “limited availability”, and hidden charges. With their short-term perspective, what these merchants fail to realize are the long-term benefits to be gained from satisfied customers who are treated with respect, integrity and appreciation.

If a misleading advertising campaign is accompanied by a measurable increase in sales from a small percentage of customers, its practitioners may be blind to the possibility that far greater numbers of more astute customers may recognize lipstick on a pig and might decide to permanently take their business elsewhere. Allow me to share a few examples.

In the days just prior to Valentine’s Day, I received three e-mails from FromYouFlowers.com – each with greater urgency – encouraging me to use a “$13.48 earned credit” before it expired (or before it was extended in subsequent e-mails). I realized that I did NOT have a credit in the amount of $13.48, or any other amount, with this online retailer; however, how many people ordered to take advantage of this bogus opportunity? This offer is misleading because the alleged credit is actually nothing but a discount. The random amount makes it look more believable, and most people are more likely to want to use a credit than to apply a comparable discount because a “credit” represents something that is due to you or an amount that you had already paid. Shame on ForYouFlowers.com!

Another recent e-mail advertising campaign was sent out by Uno Pizzeria & Grill, the week prior to the Super Bowl. The subject line was pretty clear: “A Free Pizza for Uno Fans”.


Only upon clicking through to the offer was it explained that the “free” pizza could only be redeemed with the purchase of an accompanying entrée of equal of greater value.


This should have been disclosed right up front, instead of wasting the time of their potential customers with a misleading subject line and a disclosure that required a visit to the Uno website. I suspect that the e-mail advertising campaign had a far greater click-thru rate than redemption rate. I certainly did not bother printing my coupon.

One of my favorites has to be SelectBlinds.com, a major online retailer of window treatments. Their website stresses “Free Shipping” right at the top of their Home page; however, if you place an order from their site, you will pay an “order processing fee” that they say allows them to maintain free shipping.



I need a set of mini-blinds, but I will not buy them here, strictly because of that fee. If you charge me a higher price, I will still order; if you insult my intelligence, I will not.

How does this all apply to your campground? I urge you to present your customers legitimate offers that represent true, measurable value. Avoid the “gotcha!” factor. It is fine to advertise “stay two nights, and the third night is free”, but you should not present this as “free camping” or include a hidden disclaimer such as “excluding weekends” or “based upon availability”.

When posting your rate schedule online, it is best to avoid showing base rates that require customers to use a calculator to determine the actual cost of a site with 50-amp electric on a weekend in your prime season. As much as the base rate may initially attract attention, what appear to be added fees will usually harbor resentment.

Do you charge a fee for wi-fi, or is your coverage area limited to certain sections of your park? Disclose that up front to avoid complaints and potential confrontations later.

In conclusion, it is best to advertise legitimate offers that are first intended to present opportunities to your customers and then secondarily intended to generate business. The two go hand-in-hand, and merchants who recognize this fact will be aptly rewarded.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Beware of Award Scams

October 2nd, 2013

It always seems to be the “award season”. You may have watched the Primetime Emmy Awards recently on CBS. We all know that there are some very legitimate awards and competitions. Probably the first to come into mind are the Nobel Prizes. Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation, presents awards for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Foundation has a nominating committee, and recipients receive a significant cash award (that many recipients, in turn, donate to charitable causes). The Nobel Prizes are very real. If you are a journalist, the Pulitzer Prize is the ultimate recognition. If you work in the film industry, it is an honor for your film to be presented in a major film festival from Cannes to Venice to Tribeca to Sundance, and one of the ultimate honors is to be presented an Academy Award.

Yes, there are many very legitimate awards; however, for every legitimate award, there are probably 100 scams, and scams breed on the Internet. The scams have been proliferating recently. About two weeks ago, I received an “award” notice from the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC). I had never before heard of the organization, and as far as I am able to determine, the company’s only “business” is sending out these awards. The award announcement that I received read, “Each year, the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce (SBIEC) panel identifies firms that have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields and achieved commercial recognition. Your firm has been one of those selected this year and this award exemplifies that distinguished accomplishment.” That vague announcement reads like your horoscope. But wait, there’s more! For only $358.00, you can get a framed certificate, a crystal award, and your own press release campaign (which, of course, cross promotes the SBIEC). In our instance, they would even correct our business name. Basically, they win, you lose.

How do you know if an award is a scam?

If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress. Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.

Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you type in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington, DC. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate financial contributions for the National Republican Party. I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to have their pockets carefully picked in the nation’s capital.

Is there an entry fee? We have received direct mailings on a regular basis in recent years, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail pieces typically look like they were designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that is just the first tell-tale sign that something is fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate.

We have also received similar direct mail pieces from the Telly Awards. According to their website, the organization receives 10,000 to 15,000 entries from small advertising agencies that are hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generates about $1,000,000.00 for its promoters … just from the entry fees. Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. This seems to be a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 113,000 results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon companies that are eager to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Oscar, Tony, or Grammy pays for their award?

Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams, there are many so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among the longest-running are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. Who’s Who directories are about as commonplace as Yellow Pages directories these days. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”

I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. These directories are useless in these days of online reference sources, and even most public library reference departments no longer purchase the worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same people who think that they were honored by being included. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are currently 47,500,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.

Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that fed the egos of early webmasters. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 1,780,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.

Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.

Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?

Let the Winner Beware

The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. Even recognition under legitimate competitions within an industry or a member association can be somewhat dubious because winners are only selected from among those who enter. Run your business properly, and your efforts will be acknowledged on a daily basis by your success and the satisfaction level of your clientele. This is the best recognition possible … and all that you really need.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Let’s Debunk 8 Website SEO Myths

August 8th, 2013

Maybe you are familiar with the concept of urban legends, plausible but untrue stories that are perpetuated by people who blindly accept and share this misinformation when they read it online. In the old (pre-Internet) days, these were often referred to as “Old Wives’ Tales”, and included nonsense such as how it takes swallowed chewing gum seven years to pass through a person’s digestive system or how you will drown if you go swimming less than an hour after eating. Some of these tales still persist, although most of us have smartened up to the newer wave of wealthy Nigerian widows wanting to share their fortunes and the alleged family members stuck in an airport with an urgent need for a loan.

When it comes to websites and what it takes to attain top search engine rankings, the myths seem to be never-ending, and new scams surface (and older scams resurface) on a regular basis. The fact is that quality content, well-written text, and incoming links are all important factors when the Google or Bing search engine robots are evaluating your website, but the following bits of frequently espoused advice are purely fiction.

1)    Companies can provide top search engine placement. Those telemarketing calls that we all receive, with a pre-recorded message about your website’s poor search engine placement and how the caller’s company can remedy the situation, are sheer rip-offs. First of all, you are only being called because you have a business telephone number that is on a telemarketing list. The caller has not looked at your website and does not even know if you even have a website. They DO know that you probably have money in your bank account. Most of these callers imply that they are affiliated with Google, but they have no connection whatsoever.

2)    Hyphenated domain names are better for SEO. In reality, long domain names and hyphenated domain names should be your last choice, and they have no impact upon SEO. Which example makes more sense – SpaceCenterCamping.com or The-best-campground-near-the-Johnson-Space-Center.com?

3)    The .com extension is ranked higher by search engines. Not true; however, the .com version of a domain name should always be your first choice because many people subconsciously think of .com when they think of domain names. If your domain name is WonderlandCamping.biz, it will be ranked just as highly as WonderlandCamping.com would be by search engines, but many users might inadvertently type in the domain name with the .com extension, usually bringing them to the website of another business (which beat you to the .com), making the .biz extension less desirable.

4)    An older domain name is more valuable than a newer domain name. An older domain name with a high existing search engine ranking is better than a new domain (which spends time in what is referred to as the “Google sandbox” before it gains traction), but there are also older domains that – due to their former content – have actually been delisted by search engines. Typically, the people making this argument are ones who have a domain name that they are trying to sell. The point is that the age of the domain name, in itself, has nothing to do with search engine ranking.

5)    If you register your domain name for the maximum 10 years, it shows the search engines that you have a serious business, so they will rank your website more highly. I actually sat on a roundtable a few years ago where one of my competitors made this outrageously incorrect statement. The fact is that this myth was intentionally started by GoDaddy, in an attempt to get people locked into their service for a longer period of time. It has zero effect on search engine ranking.

6)    Buying sponsored search advertising will influence and improve your organic search engine ranking. This is patently untrue. One has nothing to do with the other, although significant increases in the amount of traffic to, from, and within your site could be a contributing factor in a search engine’s ranking algorithms.

7)    Link exchanges and reciprocal links will improve your search engine ranking. This is also usually untrue, unless the other businesses have something in common with your business, such as serving the same niche of customers. If you own a shoe store, and your website has a page of links to the websites of the major airlines, this is going to do nothing to enhance your search engine ranking.

8)    Load time is no longer important because most people have high-speed Internet access. Actually, load time is still important. Faster loading pages have lower bounce rates (representing the numbers of people who reach a site but leave almost immediately) and their rankings will be higher. This does not suggest that a page should be all text and no graphics, since that type of content is unlikely to persuade visitors to follow the intended call to action.

All in all, it helps to exercise a bit of common sense before concluding that anything and everything that you read online is reliable and true. Even if something sounds plausible, get a second opinion. Either ask somebody whose knowledge you trust, or do a Google search for the claim to see if there are either differences of opinion or a downright disproval.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?

April 17th, 2013

Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!

Check them out before signing a check.

If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!

Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)

Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!

There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

An Award Is an Award, or Is It?

June 11th, 2011

We all know that there are some very legitimate awards and competitions. Probably the first to come into mind are the Nobel Prizes. Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation, presents awards for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Foundation has a nominating committee, and recipients receive a significant cash award (that many recipients, in turn, donate to charitable causes). There may be public disagreement regarding the worthiness of individual award recipients. For example, I find it incongruous for Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat to have been awarded the same Peace Prize as was far more deservedly presented to Mother Teresa and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. That aside, the Nobel Prizes are very real. If you are a journalist, the Pulitzer Prize is the ultimate recognition. If you work in the film industry, it is an honor for your film to be presented in a major film festival from Cannes to Venice to Tribeca to Sundance, and one of the ultimate honors is to be presented an Academy Award.

Yes, there are many very legitimate awards; however, for every legitimate award, there are probably 100 scams, and scams breed on the Internet. The scams have been proliferating recently. If you are told that you or your business is being nominated for an award – or is being presented with an award – it is probably best to think twice before you run out to buy a new tuxedo or evening dress.

How do you know if an award is a scam?
Follow a few guidelines, and ask a few questions.

Who is presenting the award? Do a Google search for the award. As you are typing in the name of the alleged award, is Google suggesting that it be followed by the word “scam”? I remember being called a few years ago (not coincidentally, during an election cycle) and being told that I was a small business leader who had been selected to be part of a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Not exactly. It turns out that the “award” had been concocted by a PAC (political action committee) that was designed to generate support (in other words, financial contributions) for the National Republican Party. (Anybody who knows me realizes that dog was barking up the wrong tree!) Ironically, I know people who fell for the “award” and took the trip to be exploited in Washington, DC.

Is there an entry fee? We received a direct mail piece a few weeks ago, inviting us to enter our work for the Davey Awards. The direct mail piece looked like it was designed by an untalented 9 year old, but that was just the first tell-tale sign that something was fishy. To enter the competition, you need to pay a $99.00 single entry fee, a $185.00 campaign entry fee, or $270.00 to enter a so-called integrated campaign, or go all out and pay $305.00 to enter a marketing effectiveness category. The “final entry deadline” is July 29, 2011; however, you can request a deadline extension (presumably as long as you are capable of paying the entry fee or fees). Adding insult to injury, if you win one of the dubious awards, you will be billed a $175.00 “acceptance fee” for your statuette and certificate. We also received a similar direct mail piece from the Telly Awards. According to their website, they received 14,000 entries last year from small agencies that were hoping to promote their businesses, each paying a minimum entry fee of $85.00. Do the math. That means that this questionable award generated at least $1,190,000.00 for its promoters! Want to, once again, add insult to injury? If you “win” one of these dubious awards, you will be automatically charged an additional $170.00 for your award statuette (probably plastic) and your certificate. I guess this is a bargain compared to the Davey Awards, since the minimum entry fee is slightly less, and you will pay $5.00 less for your statuette if you “win”. It is no surprise that, if you search for “Telly Awards scam” on Google, there are currently 24,400 search results. The Telly Awards and Davey Awards are not alone in preying upon start-up companies that are eager (or desperate) to broaden their exposure. They are joined by the Webby Awards and many, many other questionable enterprises that appear to be in the business of generating entry fees and selling statuettes. Do you think that anyone who wins an Emmy, Academy Award, or Grammy pays for their award?

Are winners asked to make purchases? In addition to obvious scams like the Telly Awards statuettes and the RNC PAC, there are many other so-called “awards” where the winners are presented with the opportunity to spend money with the award presenters. Among my favorites are the various Who’s Who directories. Do not be thrown off by what appears to be a recognizable and once-respected name. For years, I have been asked to validate my nomination to “Who’s Who among Executives and Professionals”. The congratulatory letters read, “The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication. There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days. Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.”

I do not know a single successful businessperson who needs to be included in a directory of this nature. Despite what the promoters say, there will be a fee to be listed and, of course, you will be presented with the opportunity to purchase one or more of the (very expensive) printed directories. As useless as these directories are in these days of online reference sources, even public library reference departments no longer purchase these worthless volumes. About the only buyers are the same suckers who are proud to be listed therein. Go to Wikipedia to learn more about various Who’s Who scams. There are also 21,100,000 search results for the term “Who’s Who scam” on Google.

Does the award require a reciprocal link to the award website? If you remember the early days of the World Wide Web, there were an abundance of website awards that stroked the egos of early webmasters. Others attempted to enhance the SEO of the award-winning sites. In fact, in its early days, my own company presented the “Campground of the Month” awards. These were only presented to our clients, and they helped to enhance the recipient’s search engine ranking “back in the day”. We discontinued this site years ago. Today, if you search for “website awards” on Google, there are 350,000,000 search results. Most of these awards are totally worthless, randomly selecting “winners” who are encouraged to “proudly display” the award badge on their website, linking it back to the award website. Basically, these award sites are link farms that are trying to enhance their own SEO through a network of links. As time goes on, Google and the other search engine robots have gotten much better at ignoring these sites – and even penalizing the sites that are linked to or from them.

Is the award organizer the primary recipient of value from the award? Many regional newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations present annual “Best Of” awards, covering a wide range of categories. The categories all happen to consist of potential advertisers, and the awards are almost universally run by the advertising departments of the publications or broadcast organizations. The awards that are compiled based upon the votes of readers or viewers at least carry a bit of credibility. Even in those instances, the voting process may require a visit to the sponsor’s website (and all of its accompanying self-promotional messages). In almost every instance, the business that is presenting the awards will supply certificates that winners are encouraged to display at their places of business, badges that may be displayed on their websites, and award icons that may be added to their print advertising. All of that awareness does more to promote the businesses that are presenting the awards than the award recipients themselves. Is it any surprise that these awards have been concocted by advertising departments, and that winners are encouraged to buy advertising to help to promote their awards? This type of award is not an outright scam, but I would caution recipients against being overly manipulated in the process of engaging in their own part of the self-promotion.

Is the award presenter and the award recipient the same organization? There are also many thinly-veiled attempts to cross-promote one’s business ventures by having one organization present an “award” to what is essentially another arm of the same organization. This is somewhat along the lines of having General Motors present an award to its Buick division as the “Automobile Manufacturer of the Year”. Nobody would fall for that. Or would they?

Let the Winner Beware

The bottom line is that we all like to be recognized for our efforts, but beware of being exploited by people who prey upon that fact. At my company, our efforts are acknowledged on a daily basis by the success that we generate on behalf of our clients. This is the best recognition possible … and all that we need.

This post was written by Peter Pelland