If you’ve been following our lead gen series, you’ll know that we’ve already discussed the basic outline of lead generation sites and the problems that arise when those sites bid on your terms. This week we’re going to discuss what happens when a lead gen site takes brand bidding a step further by masquerading as a particular company.
What do you mean masquerading? That sounds bad…
Yeah, it is. In the example we looked a couple weeks ago, the insurance lead gen site produced a search ad that looked like this:
In this case, InsuranceStep is clearly targeting a person looking for Farmers, but in a way not dissimilar from how resellers work. In this ad we see both the brand name and the name of the lead gen company--almost like an ad for KitchenAid at Macy’s. A consumer may click that ad instead of Farmers’, but it’s fairly clear that they are not going directly to the brand’s site.
On the other hand, let’s look at an example from another industry that extensively uses lead generation sites (also known as "enrollment technology services"): for-profit education. Take a look at this ad generated by a search for “phoenix.edu”:
Here, we have EDegreeUSA clearly trying to convince a consumer that they are in fact the University of Phoenix, when—surprise!—they aren’t. In this case, a consumer would need to be paying attention to the display URL in order to have any idea that this is not a University of Phoenix ad. Both the headline and the ad text imply that EDegreeUSA is in fact the University of Phoenix.
Here's the landing page that this ad leads to:
While this lead generation site only advertises the University of Phoenix, an improvement over the insurance sites we looked at last week, it has effectively stolen traffic from the University of Phoenix’s own site--especially as it bid on “phoenix.edu.”
Further, there is no guarantee that EDegreeUSA, a partner of DataChamps, LLC, will only sell that customer information to the University of Phoenix--or even sell it to them at all. Given that I could not find a single mention of University of Phoenix on E Degree USA’s site, beyond this landing page, I find it very possible that these leads never make it to the school at all.
Another question arises as well. At the bottom of that webform is a consent agreement, stating that the University of Phoenix has permission to contact the consumer:
This consent language aims to bring the University of Phoenix in compliance with the 2012 updates to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which requires express, written consent for a specific seller to autodial a consumer. Should EDegreeUSA sell this lead to someone other than the University of Phoenix and should that school telephone this consumer, both EDegreeUSA and the education institution could be in violation of the TCPA. Given the recent uptick in TCPA lawsuits and the variety of industries implicated--including education--this seems like a potential compliance issue that should be of concern to companies purchasing leads. If you don’t know exactly where your leads are coming from and what languages is on those sites, you may be opening yourself up to unnecessary risk.
Hmm...Interesting. What other kinds of impersonation happen?
Glad you asked! Another interesting example we found was in the home services sector where a search for “rotorooter” on Google Mobile revealed the following ad in the #1 position:
The landing page looked like this:
The site looks like it may be the Roto-Rooter official site--even displaying the Roto-Rooter logo and linking to the national RotoRooter Twitter account. Most people who land here probably assume it is the Roto-Rooter site. It isn’t. Instead, it's a page owned by the Marquette Group—a digital marketing and lead generation agency that, according to their website, focuses on connecting local customers (note the local, El Paso franchise being advertised) with national brands.
The question here is one of how much control a brand is willing to give up. Marquette is providing a service to the national brand not only by collecting leads, but also by handling the process of creating local landing pages and targeting those pages at local consumers. On the other hand, if this were affiliate marketing, we’d consider this pretty shady: a partner bidding on brand terms, outbidding the brand itself, and selling that lead to the brand. The question I would have for Roto-Rooter is, how much are you really getting out of this situation? Is the lowered in-house marketing cost enough to make partnering with a company like Marquette worthwhile? It’s possible that it is. It’s also possible that they don’t know that they are paying Marquette for leads who were already searching for them in the first place.
What can I do about this?
The answer remains constant: monitor everything you can. The best way to protect your brand, your bottom line, and potentially your legal compliance is to know where your leads are coming from and how your partners are driving them. While there are good reasons to use lead gen sites, lead-driven marketing agencies, and publishing networks, these services are only beneficial insofar as you know how they work.
Do you think branded landing pages improve the ROI that brands receive from lead gen sites? Would you contract out local advertising for franchises? Do the the new TCPA rules make you nervous? Let us know in the comments or contact us!