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February 19, 2008

Sam’s Club Wants to Be Your Search Engine Optimization Company � Should You Let It?

If the buzz is to be believed, Sam’s Club is now a search engine optimization company that is targeting the local search market aggressively. The fact is, this isn’t something new; it’s just recently come to the forefront. Sam’s Club has partnered with a company called Innuity to offer a program that is primarily targeted at small businesses looking to get noticed in the local search results.

Many people are screaming that this is a “worthless” service – but I disagree. It’s not worthless, but it also isn’t close to the service a comprehensive search engine optimization company can offer. Let’s take a closer look – with the caveat that I am assuming that the service listed on the Innuity page for LeadConnect (http://leadconnect.innuity.com/) is the same service being offered through Sam’s Club (also called LeadConnect).

What They’re Offering

For $25 a month for Sam’s Club members (and $39.95 a month for non-members), you can sign up for the LeadConnect service from Innuity. You’ll get access to a dashboard that you can update with all of the necessary details about your business – name, address, phone number, types of products you offer, and so on. Once you’ve completed your dashboard, Innuity will submit your site to various local search engines such as Yahoo! Local, YellowPages, Pricegrabber, Google Local, and more. Then, if you update your dashboard at any time, Innuity will update your information at all of those local search sites, just like any search engine optimization company being paid a retainer fee might.

Innuity also claims on its website that this program includes having them submit your website to the major search engines (not to be confused with the local ones). This part is largely window dressing, as any good search engine optimization company knows. The major engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) all find sites on their own, and “submitting” sites won’t do anything to influence rankings.

My Opinion

If you don’t have the time to do it manually and you don’t have the budget to hire a search engine optimization company, paying $25 a month for a company to handle the submission to the local search sites isn’t a terrible deal. The ongoing fee also makes sense if your business changes frequently, as again it will save you time from needing to update your listing on each local search engine each time you make a change.

The big question is what happens when you disengage from the service. Will your results remain on the local sites after you stop paying the monthly fee? Or will they be dropped the day you stop paying? In my opinion, it would be somewhat unethical for them to actively remove you from local search sites if you disengage, and I’m betting that they don’t. I tried to reach them directly to ask but was unsuccessful (well, I called twice and was put on hold for an inordinate time in each instance without ever reaching a human being – you can draw your own conclusions from that).

Why This Is Good for the SEO Industry

Having a large, recognizable chain like Sam’s Club acting as a “search engine optimization company” and offering this type of service has several benefits for the SEO industry. People in the SEO industry often forget that most people do not even know what SEO is, so this initiative is bringing awareness of the industry as a whole, even if it is focused on local search.

Additionally, the Sam’s Club name gives SEO a bit of respectability. Search engine optimization has long been considered some voodoo science or, at best, a fringe discipline – but with this offering by a household name, it’s now something that the average person might want to investigate. This may help the mainstream accept the idea of hiring a search engine optimization company in general.

Why This Could Be Problematic for the SEO Industry

The problem with this offering is that it is rather limited in scope, focused only on local search initiatives for local businesses. Because it is more common for people to use the general search engines over the local search engines, this may not bring in a large volume of new business. Yet at the same time, it is advertised in such a way as to seem to the average person as full-service search engine optimization. Nothing in the description online or in any of the literature I’ve gotten my hands on indicates that Innuity is letting people know that local search is just a part of a larger, more disciplined approach that another search engine optimization company might provide.

As a result, businesses that use LeadConnect rather than a search engine optimization company may find the results are not what they were hoping for. And they then may dismiss SEO in general because they don’t understand that the LeadConnect service is limited. Local search is important, but there are many other ways to target a local market online that this service is not tapping into.

In addition, to see really great results from a local search initiative, your business must appear in the top few results in the local search engine – because those are the ones that will also appear on the main search results page. Any result beyond the top several will be more difficult for the average searcher to come by, whereas a first or second-page result on a main engine, which a full-service search engine optimization company might be able to garner, can be of great benefit to increasing exposure.

Conclusion

What Sam’s Club is offering cannot directly compete with the services provided by a search engine optimization company – and it’s not supposed to. This program is reasonable for a company with a small budget looking to boost its local exposure. Plus, it can bring the SEO concept to the masses. Unfortunately, it could also give people a false sense of what SEO is and what it can do for them.  And it remains to be seen if people really want to buy an SEO package from the same vendor that sells them giant jars of mayo and bulk toilet paper.

Author:  Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, which was recently named the number one search engine optimization company in the world by PromotionWorld.  Scott has contributed content to many publications including Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide.  Medium Blue serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, DS Waters, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Visit MediumBlue.com to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.

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