When the idea came to write this article, the intention was to write almost exclusively about my personal experiences of Yell. But, I thought, before launching into what might have ended up being something of a one-sided tirade, I should do some research. I'm no journalist, but mused that some level of a balanced viewpoint ought to be offered. I couldn't find it.
One of the first things that turned up in my research were the top five results in a Google search for, 'reviews of yell business.' Without even clicking on any of the results, I could see that my own experience was far from unique. "Review of Yell Business' Shady SEO Services", "Yell Websites - 9 Reasons Not To Use Yell For Web Design", and, "5 Reasons NOT To Use Yell For Internet Marketing" were just three of the headlines for these top results. Only three out of the ten results on the first page of search results were at all favourable, and two of these three involved links through to Yell's own site.
My own experience with Yell comes from when I was the owner of PiciScan. This scanning business passed into the hands of Web By Numbers back in October of 2015, so my experiences are from a little while ago. But, having found that recent experience from other business owners is just as bad, it does feel as if my involvement with Yell is still relevant.
Back in late 2010, PiciScan was less than six months old and I was just starting to work on a better design for a website for the business. A little late, perhaps, I was also just starting to analyse the traffic that came to the website and I could see that something needed to be done if the business was ever going to grow. So, when a representative from Yell rang me up to offer to get links to my site to appear above even the top results in Google at a vastly discounted rate, I said, 'Yes please!' I shouldn't have.
Inappropriate business category
PiciScan is quite niche. Through the business we scan slides, photos and negatives and convert various other analogue media to digital. These are not services that fit neatly into any particular categories search giants or online directories offer; something I didn't know at the time. Since then, I have discovered the closest that Facebook and Google can come up with for us is, 'photography shop,' or, 'photo restoration service.' Bing is no better, offering, 'camera shop.' Yell's closest category was, 'photocopying.'
I didn't find this out because they told me themselves, I found it out because, suddenly, the traffic to my website more than tripled, so said the online service I used to track website visits. However, this also told me what search terms people had used to find my site. Here's a brief list: 'photocopying Kendal,' 'cheap photo copying near me,' 'photo copy A3 document.' This was pretty bad. The closest category Yell could find was risking harming the growth of my fledgling business rather than helping it: visitors to the website would have immediately found that my services didn't match what they were searching for and subsequently left, never to again return. There was the risk that they might have told their friends about the experience as well.
But, I was to discover worse. A quick search on Google one day for the business name, 'PiciScan,' showed my website lower down the search results than another site, found at piciscankendal.co.uk *. It's long since disappeared from the internet - thankfully - but at the time it was stuffed full of phrases relating to photocopying. After a little bit of digging, I discovered that Yell had created this website for me - how nice - without my having asked for it.
It took a few phone calls from me, and one or two surprisingly large invoices from Yell, which I refused to pay, but eventually I was able to extricate myself from Yell and made sure not to have any paid dealings with them again.
Keyword stuffing as an SEO tool is something that Google has generally frowned upon for the last ten years, so it was odd that Yell set up a website that did this. Further, they took no time to understand what my business was about and harmed its growth as a result.
A better experience
My experience of working at SYPO these last four years has taught me that Yell are far from the only company promising top results on Google in exchange for a lot of cash. The unfortunate reality is that no matter what any company tells you, they cannot guarantee even first page presence in Google's results pages. Google so often changes its criteria that at best firms should instead be open and tell you what they can do to help.
So, if you pay any firm a fee that seems too expensive, but they are promising you excellent results, you should be wary. Any service offering SEO with guaranteed results may get you found. But will it be by the right audience? And, it's important to consider whether this might actually have the effect of harming your business.
When companies come to us asking about SEO, the approach we take is more honest. We will never promise you what we know we can't deliver. As experts in the world of developing websites, we know how they work, inside and out. We spend time keeping ourselves as up-to-date as we can as to what is important to Google as a search performance indicator. Those things together puts us in an excellent position to be able offer advice on what customers can do themselves to help their presence on Google, giving the customer the power to influence their own future business growth.
* If you're interested, the Internet Archive has saved a snapshot of the website Yell, 'kindly,' built for me. You can see it here.