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Google Places.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Foursquare.  Etc.  All free.  Car dealers have to love that price, right?

My caution is not about whether to use these services, as YOU MUST USE THEM.  It’s not an option any longer—it’s just a matter of when you can get to using them with the attention they deserve for the result you need.

My caution IS, however, about knowing what you’re getting with “Free”.   With “Free”, you have no contract , you have “Terms of Use”.  And you don’t have a platform you bought with agreed-to deliverables and some controls, you have a service you are gaining whose deliverables CHANGE.  And whose data presentation and on-screen arrangement is NOT up to you!

The latest case in point is Google Places.  Your GOOGLE business reviews are prominently displayed there, but previously your business “star rating” included 3rd Party review stars.  You might agree with Google’s business decisions on changing that, but it still impacted dealers who went from hundreds of reviews in the star rating to a handful.  Dealers who invested in 3rd Party sites for their reputation, and dealers who could use their 3rd Party sites in their burgeoning “Reputation MARKETING” efforts, were left out of the direct impact of the Google Rating Stars.

SEO, for example, has been like this for years, constantly changing, and so that has made SEO companies viable because there’s always a new twist to getting the dealership high in the search rankings.  So, it appears this story is not new, right?  Except you bought SEO services to chase this rabbit around Google’s “free” search engine race track, and it was always a fight to the top.  With Google Places, now it’s also—VERY importantly—a fight for reviews in a system that the shopper sees on SERP ONE but that are arranged in a presentation YOU DON’T AND CAN’T CONTROL.  And that changes without notice:  Talk to some dealers who have had their Google Places “pulled” because GoogleBots thought they were gaming the system.  YES, Google, this dealer really has SEVEN manufacturers under one address (more than five categories), and YES they all share the same main phone line.  And so on.  Well, maybe you've won that one for now—until something else in this “Free” service changes, whether for information, presentation, search results, or reviews.  Or whatever else becomes “Free”.

You can only stay on top of this part of your advertising if you dedicate the time to use them AND to get and stay educated on what all these “Free” services are doing.  And what they may be planning.  PCG Consulting (Brian Pasch) is on top of it.  Tier 10 (Ralph Paglia) is on top of it.  And there are more educators and consultants that I don’t know about who are on top of it.  They can educate you, but in the end be sure YOU are on top of it.  And that you get what you need from it.

Because “Free”, like Freedom, Ain’t Free!


by Keith Shetterly,
Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

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