We went so far as to sign up ourselves to see what they offer.
Update Notice! There is a link at the end to help you get out of a yell.com contract. Click here to scroll to it.
The short of it was the most frustrating non-service coupled with a super slimy contract. We can say first hand that this company is quite literally the worst marketing service money can buy. In my opinion, Yell’s SEO service was not only unlikely to help their website rank higher but far more likely to cause their site to be penalised by Google. And here’s why.
The first thing we hear from our clients is that they’re using Yell.com’s SEO service without any noticeable improvement to their site’s visibility on Google. Some are pouring tens of thousands of pounds into the service each year, yikes.
In my opinion, Yell’s SEO service was not only unlikely to help their website rank higher but far more likely to cause their site to be penalised by Google.
What or who is Yell.com?
They are the same company that delivered those thick telephone directories on your doorstep, a business directory company.
In the days before Google became the go-to method of finding a “carpenter in ipswich”, the Yellow Pages had something of a monopoly in small business marketing. However, the company was slow to respond to the digital age and, in 2010, after running up debts of £4.2bn, the company rebranded as Yell.com and stopped printing their paper directories.
While Yell may have been slow to adapt, they realised that their small business clients were even slower. Most didn’t own a website and, those that did, had little idea how to drive traffic to their site. Yell.com’s new strategy was to build a website for these small businesses and then drive traffic to the site by managing their online advertising and SEO.
site ranking on Google, A Quick Intro
Google’s algorithm uses hundreds of ranking factors. One of the most significant factors is whether a site has gained backlinks from other trusted websites. If a trustworthy site links to your site, Google views this is a sign of your site’s credibility and reputation.
In the eyes of Google, a trustworthy website is one that has earned links by publishing content to which other sites naturally want to link. However, when a business pays a website owner or blogger to link to their site, Google understandably doesn’t wish to acknowledge those links as a sign of trust or reputation.
Google make this very clear in their guidelines, which state:
Sites that exchange money for links, or posts that contain links; exchange goods or services for links; or send someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.
If you use black hat back linking Google will either ignore the links, or worse… penalise your website! We did some reading into how to reverse the damage and discovered that if there are too many damning links the positive ranking is all but impossible and you will need to start from scratch.
Yell.com Pretends to adhere to these SEO guidelines
Yell.com are aware of these warnings from Google. They have published several articles on their own site advising business owners to comply with Google’s guidelines encouraging them to use Yell’s own SEO service to avoid falling foul of Google’s rules.
Yell even display a message on their own website claiming their SEO service uses “Content-driven practices to acquire natural links.”
Gaining natural links from trustworthy websites is, without doubt, the most challenging and time-consuming part of SEO. When you pay a company for SEO services, earning high-quality, natural links is (mostly) what you are paying for.
Danny, over at Richman SEO Training looked into this. The first thing that aroused his suspicion was looking at the reports Yell had sent to their clients. These reports listed the links Yell had gained each month.
Most of these links were from blogs with little or no relevance to the industry in which their client operated. The same blogs were linking out to hundreds of other businesses on topics as diverse as “dental whitening”, “wooden flooring” and “testosterone injections”; an indication of a site likely to be selling links.
A blog about NASCAR racing linking to a skip hire company in Banbury … c’mon!
a clear breach of Google’s guidelines
Danny contacted Yell to ask how they were obtaining these links and whether the bloggers had been paid to link to his client’s website.
Yell’s Product Manager’s response:
“Yell has no policy of purchasing links from third party websites. We do however pay for content to be written and make contributions towards time spent by professional bloggers.”
Yell.com deny paying for links but admit to paying bloggers to publish posts with links to their client’s websites.
Either way, this is a clear breach of Google’s guidelines. A practise that Google say “can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results”. In fact, the same practices Yell advise against on their own website.
Why spend time reviewing Yell.com’s service?
I am not usually in the habit of calling out businesses which engage in ‘black-hat’ SEO practices. There is nothing illegal in breaching Google’s rules to gain a competitive advantage for your business. If you do this, and understand the risks, be my guest.
I do, however, take issue when a company such as Yell uses their trusted brand name to play on the naivety of small business owners.
I have an even stronger objection when Yell claim on their website that they use “Content-driven practices to acquire natural links” and then obtains links in the least natural way possible.
I further object when Yell warns small businesses that buying links could lead to their website being penalised, provide examples of companies that have been penalised and then charge their clients £26,400 a year for the same service they are warning them against!
Danny’s client’s organic Google traffic since Yell started building links
Yell.com is preying on so many small businesses who need professional help
It is clear that yell.com has misled Danny’s client and provided them with poor service. It was also of little surprise why his client had not seen any improvement in their website’s Google ranking.
We did a fair bit of research for this post and realised there are so many people out there who have been burned by Yell. Worst of all, we are fairly certain they are doctoring their reviews.
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to find Yell’s other clients. Every website Yell builds has the words “Powered by Yell Business” proudly displayed in the footer of every page. A simple search on Google reveals all of Yell Business’ clients within a matter of seconds.
Danny pointed out that the same blogs Yell paid to write articles about my client’s business were linking to several other Yell clients’ websites.
Does Yell.com’s SEO service get results?
After searching for other Yell.com clients it is easy to answer that question.
The table below shows the estimated organic Google traffic to each of the Yell client’s websites identified. The first column shows the monthly traffic the site was receiving when Yell started building links to their site.
The second column shows the traffic those sites receive now. Those shown in red have seen a decline in traffic since they started using Yell’s service.
All of these businesses have been using Yell’s SEO services for at least 12 months.
Website names redacted to protect them from negative action by Google.
As you can see, the vast majority of these businesses have seen a significant drop in Google traffic since using Yell’s SEO service.
Those sites showing a small gain are mostly due to people searching for their business by name. The worst affected site has lost an estimated 3,108 Google visitors since they started using Yell’s service. This drop is despite (or possibly due to) Yell building more than 100 links to their website!
86% of the blogs that Yell pays to write content have lost all of their Google traffic despite having thousands of links pointing to their blog. A clear indication that these blogs have been penalised for selling links.
Blogs on which Yell have paid for content and their estimated monthly Google traffic
If you search online for “Yell Business reviews” you will see several business owners warning against using Yell’s service. Read any of the comments on Yell’s own Facebook page to see multiple complaints of poorly managed campaigns, pushy salesmen and broken promises, sometimes resulting in court action. There is even a Facebook group dedicated entirely to complaints against this company.
Don’t be fooled by Yell.com’s salespeople.
Danny contacted Yell posing as a prospective client requesting information about their SEO service. The sales agent informed me that Yell still pays bloggers to create content with links to their clients’ sites.
He informed me that a link from Yell’s online directory and social media sites would help my site rank better on Google; both misleading and untruthful statements. It would seem that Yell’s shady practises continue.
My best hope is that by making this information publicly available, I might save even one small business from throwing their hard-earned cash down a stinking yellow drain.