Businesses are being warned to be on their guard following a string of cold calls from suppliers offering ‘off the shelf’ localised internet marketing campaigns which could leave struggling SMEs out of pocket by hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Businesses across the UK are being targeted by suppliers offering local internet marketing packages which enable them to own their keywords by purchasing them as a domain name. The theory is that is will ensure a business is found when the customer types in the keyword as those words appear as the domain name itself, such as ‘hairdressers-york.co.uk.’

I am concerned at reports that certain suppliers are quoting set up fees of several hundred pounds and substantial ongoing monthly fees in order to provide this service. The reality is that whilst there is some validity in this theory, the customer could easily purchase the domain and basic hosting themselves, and more importantly, retain total ownership of the domain and content.

On the surface this all looks like a good investment and a local strategy should be an important part of any business’ online marketing. However when you get into the detail there are some serious business risks with letting someone you don’t trust do this for you.

The first trap is that mostly the provider of this service owns (or is buying) the domain and you won’t have ownership of it at all. This means they could sell it from under you or choose to charge you more in future, and you’d have no right to complain.

Also, whilst you may not care where your business leads come from, if the consumer can’t identify the branding as yours, then how could they tell if the contact details changed? If the domain you have purchased does not identify you, and you don’t own it, then actually any leads generated can be easily diverted to the highest bidder…

If you are offered a telephone number to ‘track leads’, be aware that if you ever stop paying for the service they can quite easily divert that number to another provider. You will effectively be tied in to their charges, since in order to continue receiving leads you will have to pay for their service.

A domain of this type with a sensible free website tool will cost you a bit of time and around £50 (ex. VAT) for 2 years registration fees and hosting. Why not do it yourself or ask an independent provider to help you who will make sure that any decisions are made in your interests and not those of the supplier. Chances are it won’t cost any more and you wont be putting your business at risk.