Fixed Fee Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising schemes are aggressively being marketed by a slew of companies that can end up costing a lot more money and agro than if you simply opened your own Google Adwords or Facebook advertising account.
EDITOR'S UPDATE (6 Aug 2011) The Mirror British newspaper reported on 2 Feb 2011 that: "…Dotcom Chrome and [its] boss … have agreed in the High Court not to pass themselves off as Google or claim they can guarantee search positions. They have also agreed to pay Google £30,000 in costs." blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2011/02/dotcom-chrome-promises-not-to.html
The Mirror have also written an update to this piece at: blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2011/08/we-follow-trail-of-vicious-rev.html
Update July 2012: Has Dotcom Chrome reincarnated yet again into Social Search Ltd. (www.socials3arch.com) just with different directors? Apparently, one of the directors of Dotcom Chrome has an "advisory" role in this new company which apparently operates just a few doors down from where Dotcom Chrome used to be. of Check out: whocallsme.com/Phone-Number.aspx/02080904992. Another reincarnation seems to be Edge Development Systems (www.edgeppc.com). Check out: www.canyoutrustthem.com/index.php?go=quick_search& keyword=Edge+Development+Systems
Update Dec 2012: Another SEO fixed-fee company has come to our attention, again, based in Manchester, England. We don't have any desire to keep chasing these endless reincarnations of rogue businesses, but our advice is to be extra wary of any SEO company based in Manchester. I am sure there are legit ones, but unfortunately Manchester seems to be the UK hub for SEO scammers.
Please note: It is entirely possible for an individual or an organization to run a managed Adwords scheme as genuine service for individuals who are unwilling or unable to manage their own Google Adwords. But a fixed-fee scheme with guaranteed and consistent positioning just does not add up as a business model, and what invariably happens is that popular keywords that cost more money disappear long before the month is up, or are deliberately not applied for in the first place. After all, it is in the interest of those offering Fixed Fee Adwords to keep the Adword costs as low as possible in order to maximize profit. So there is a major conflict of interest, and this is the reason that internet searches on companies offering Fixed-Fee Adword schemes throw up so many negative reviews. It just is not worth the hassle or the waste of money. Remember, the professionals offering fixed-fee Adwords pay exactly the same costs per click as you do, and so their profit is always directly as your expense.
Some people go for fixed-fee Adword schemes as they are under the false impression that doing Adwords directly with Google will rack up high monthly costs because there are no limiting factors. But this is a fallacy as it is very easy to put a cap on what you are willing to spend in a month, so that when your budget limit is reached your ads are simply no longer displayed.
So we advise you to take the time to doing it yourself, or get a work collegue, family member or friend to do it for you. This way you will end up having a more successful, less costly and hassle-free Adwords campaign. To sign up to Google Adwords just visit adwords.google.com and follow the instructions and guides.
The direction of these sorts of schemes seems to now be spreading into advertising on social networking sites such as Facebook, promising access to millions of customers. Again, we advise that you do it yourself at http://www.facebook.com/advertising/ rather than give a third party permission to use your credit card. The feedback we have seen online is far from positive.If you must use an adword or facebook ad management service, and we have received a few emails from such individuals complaining that they are being tarred with the same brush, we STRONGLY advise that you check them out online BEFORE agreeing to their services. Any legitimate company will understand that, but illegitimate companies will be pushing for immediate agreements because they know that as soon as you see other customer reviews, they will never be able to sign you up.
THE CALL COMES IN from a fast-talking young sales person offering to give you a top place "allocation" in Google for a fixed cost of just $200. When you ask for more information they tell you to visit their website in the following way:
"Type 'Google Experts' into the google search engine."
When you do that, you end up with the following page:
"See .Com Chrome at the top of the page? Click it and you will go through to our website."
By going through this spiel they impress in you that:
- They are Google experts. You may even think they work for Google or have some sort of special association, especially as "Chrome" is the name of Google's browser and OS.
- They are at the top of the Google search engine for this phrase and so must know what they are doing — must really be Google experts. And again, by going through Google in this way, they associate themselves with Google.
But there is a "c" as well. By not telling you the .Com Chrome name straight off, you are less likely to have typed it into a search engine and come up with extremely negative reviews — some of which are included later in this article. And by using ".Com Chrome" as the name which combines two very generic terms, you are unlikely to find these negative reviews on the first page of your search. This is all deliberately done to con you into signing up to a nightmare service.
This article is primarily about the activities of .Com Chrome Ltd., DotCom Chrome Ltd. and Chrome Media and Chrome Marketing (various names and company fronts for the same organisation) which are based in Manchester, United Kingdom, and which seem to have the same individuals behind them. But these types of fixed-cost adwords scams/schemes are growing very fast, and companies are starting to spring up everywhere. They are also starting to move into adverts on social networking sites like Facebook. Not all will be scamming organisations: some offer legitimate adwords management services, but at a cost. But judging by customer feedback on the internet, there is a lot of scamming going on as well. This article concentrates on the activity of one particular set of individuals running fixed fee Google adwords to give an illustration of the trouble you can get yourself into by contracting into these sorts of services.
As you will see, due to the bad-will that accumulates from the activities of one company, the individuals running this scheme soon move on to new names and new companies, so that they are always one step ahead of the online testimonies. Please be aware of this. DotCom Chrome morphed into .Com Chrome which now appears to be moving towards Chrome Media and Chrome Marketing. Tomorrow, new names will appear. But what they all have in common is that they are running a fixed-fee Google adwords schemes and fixed-fee Facebook advertising schemes.
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.Com Chrome Ltd. and its sister company DotCom Chrome Ltd are English SEO companies based in Manchester, England. Here is the site you end up going to when you click that top link you end up on www.chrome-media.eu which looks like this:
The salesman will then tell you to click your country and read what they offer there. The country buttons lead the the following websites:
UK - www.chrome-media-uk.com/
Australia - www.chrome-media-aus.com/
Canada - www.chrome-media-ca.com/
USA - www.chrome-media-us.com/
New Zealand - www.chrome-media.nz.com/
South Africa - www.chrome-media-za.com/
Dubai - www.chrome-media-ae.com/ (not functional yet)
All links end up on small mirror websites with different currency prices. They may look international but their worldwide addresses are actually virtual offices.
What they are focused on selling you is "Fixed Fee Links" at the top of Google search results. They say this is a new scheme and imply that it is the next step on from adwords, and you are left with the distinct impression that it is cheaper than Adwords because it is "fixed fee". (If you know about computers, you may even feel a bit stupid not knowing the latest advertising systems around!)
The truth is, however, that "Fixed Fee Links" is just plain old adwords dressed up in expensive clothes to look sexy, and in the process cost you a lot more than if you did the Adwords yourself.
DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) sell it to you as a top position "allocation" in the search engine, and sometimes use the line that they are looking for one company per market sector to offer this to. If you ask them straight out if this is just Google adwords, they deny it and say that it is different, that this one is "fixed cost" and that they will expertly monitor it for you. (If they were honest on the phone and said they were basically offering a managed Google adwords service, much fewer would sign up.)
What DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) actually offer is five key phrases for $200, which works out to $40 a month for each key phrase. And although they tell you on the sales call that they guarantee a top position for the sponsored Adwords link, if you read the FAQ on their website you will see the following:
While no company including Google can guarantee that your site will appear on Google's' front page 24/7, we do guarantee that your listing will be listed every day within the sponsored links. We aim to have your ads showing to at least 60% of the users that have typed in your phrases. Where on the sponsored links… appear? Either the top 3 boxes (shaded on the left) or any of the links down the right of the page. The important point is that your ads will be on the sponsored links every day, the position makes little or no difference to the chances of success… WE CANNOT GUARANTEE AN EXACT POSITION The positions that are allocated on the sponsored links is derived from many different factors and while you may appear at the top in the morning, you may have shifted to position 3 in the afternoon. What we guarantee is a sponsored link. Nothing more and nothing less.
In other words, what DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) are actually offering you is a sponsored link, period. And they are wrong saying that "the position makes little or no difference to the chances of success…" Actually, on sponsored links the position makes all the difference which is why a higher position is more expensive! So this is misleading. (Elsewhere on their site they say they will get you a 1st page position, which is pretty easy to do anyway, but they don't tell you whether they give no guarantees to maintain that position. By stating that the ad will show to "at least 60% of the users that have typed in your phrases" implies that there is a 40% chance it is on the next sponsored link page.)
If you did check the FAQ on their website, all would become clear with the "Fixed Fee Link" Scheme they are offering:
Fixed fee links is a basic Adwords campaign which is extremely easy to understand because the fees from Google (CPC) and the fees from Dotcom Chrome (MF) are combined into 1 easy affordable monthly payment, working this way means that you don't get 2 separate bills ( from Google and Dotcom Chrome) and you don't have to work out or manage CPC ( cost per clicks) or MF ( management fees) You will never be charged anything on top of your agreed amount. So you have a Google Adwords campaign at a fixed fee, with only 1 easy monthly payment. Fixed Fee Links
So here they are admitting that Fixed Fee Links are "basic Adwords", something they deny on the phone, with them charging you to manage it. But you are unlikely to get that out of the guy that sells their services to you, especially if you are not au fait with Google Adwords and online marketing (which most people are not).
DotCom Chrome's scheme is therefore to get a fast-talking salesman or woman (invariably quite young) to ring you up and present something that sounds wonderful — a guaranteed top "allocation" in the google search engine. He or she will push you to sign up then and there and hand over your credit card or bank details, actively discouraging you to go away and think about it. (With more time, you might actually read the FAQ and Terms on their website, or find out with a Google search that their reputation is less than desired, although it has to be said that they have so many satellite websites that you probably won't find anything objective on the first page of results.) They are so convincing, with their Google-speak and Google-name, that a significant percentage of these cold calls must result in signups as most businesses are not particularly internet savvy.
Then, when/if you start complaining that you are not getting the service you thought you would be getting — the service you were sold — DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) will point you to their FAQ and Terms & Conditions, and tell you that they have a recording of the phone call in which you entered the verbal agreement. And as you are very unlikely to have recorded the initial phone conversation yourself — after all, it comes out of the blue — you will be stuck in a legal contract. If you are not very technical, you may even think the high costs are just the cost of online marketing and take a "leave-it-to-the-experts" attitude without realizing that they may be ripping you off. And as DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) insist on automatic or rolling credit card payments each month, until you cancel specifically with a recorded-delivery letter, the whole scheme could end up being very costly.
So how do you get out of it if you have unfortunately entered a contractual agreement with them? There is a 7-day statutory cooling-off period, by UK distance-selling law, they have to offer. Within the first month of your contract, they insist on 3-days written notice, and thereafter a 30-day written notice. And you must send it recorded delivery because unrecorded letters seem to regularly get lost according to reports from ex-customers. Why can't you cancel by email or fax? This is what DotCom Chrome's FAQ says about that:
You should never feel the need to cancel our services but if you do then we cannot accept emails, we operate thousands of email addresses through the company, they can easily be lost, deleted or blocked by our networks. We do not use fax machines at Dotcom Chrome. A written letter in the post is required.
Amusingly when you see their response to "Why do I have to email technical support?":
We work so much quicker by email and we are constantly monitoring the inbox to ensure the response times.
What DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) do not tell you, however, is whether they refund part of your fixed-fee payment if you do cancel.
And if you find your credit card charges spiraling out of control and you refuse to pay?
We must advise that Consumers who charge-back can be reported to all major credit bureaus as a delinquent collection account. Even after the consumer pays, the consumer will still have a "paid" collection account on their credit report for the next 5 years. This will affect your current and future credit facilities Note that our terms of service are confirmed on a call recorded line, as legally binding as a signature.
You have been warned! If you don't pay then these guys will play rough to get their money. And notice they have recorded the initial sales conversation as a "legally binding".
But if you look deeper into their Full Terms and Conditions, things start to get even more worrying with regards to the price that Dotcom Chrome charge:
In addition the Supplier [DotCom Chrome] shall be entitled to recover from the Client his reasonable incidental expenses or materials used and for third party goods and services supplied in connection with the provision of the Services.
The Client [you] will pay the Supplier [DotCom Chrome] for any additional services provided by the Supplier that are not specified the Online Agreement in accordance with the Supplier's then current, applicable daily rate in effect at the time of the performance or such other rate as may be agreed. Any charge for additional services will be supplemental to the amounts that may be due for the Expenses.
What are these statements saying? They seem to be saying that DotCom Chrome can charge whatever it likes, even if it is not specified on the Online Agreement!? This sounds like a clause for highway robbery! With this provision for extra charges their service no longer sounds very "fixed fee".
But this contradicts their FAQ which states, "You will never be charged anything on top of your agreed amount." Looking at the negative testimonials on the internet, it would appear that getting charged for amounts on top of what customers think they have agreed seems to be the main gripe.
And if you don't pay on time, DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) will add interest to your bill:
If the Client fails to make any payment on the due date in respect of the price or any other sum due under these terms and conditions then the Supplier shall, without prejudice to any right which the Supplier may have pursuant to any statutory provision in force from time to time, have the right to charge the Client interest on a daily basis at an annual rate equal to the aggregate of 1 per cent and the base rate of The Royal Bank of Scotland Plc from time to time on any sum due and not paid on the due date. Such interest shall be calculated cumulatively on a daily basis and shall run from day to day and accrue after as well as before any judgment.
The sales people are very friendly at first (all of them are) but can turn very nasty if you try to leave. For example, here is a threatening email DotCom Chrome allegedly sent to one customer (see first link below), who signed up but then asked for his money back 7 hours later:
Is this the same [full name of customer] that was sued for touching my friends aunties child at a party? I think I may need to post something online just incase it is and get the post on page 1 of Google under your company name. Better safe than sorry and all that
The style, including grammatical errors, is similar to that of the person who wrote their website, which makes us think that this is probably one of the founders, implying that DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) is a much smaller organisation than most people think.
This gentleman then reported the following:
Their latest tactic today is to click on all my regular google ads and use up my quota at the start of each day.
After more abuse, this ex-customer mused:
They must divide their time equally between signing up new customers and abusing those who choose to leave.
Here is another testimony allegedly from a customer in Ireland:
well im from ireland and im getteng lots of bother from dot com chrome and wondering anyone else from ireland having bother from them and do anyone know who i can get professional advice from as they telling me they want more money and will send guys to my house to get it one way or another really.. anyone can help???
And here is another with regards to them recording the initial sales signup conversation:
When i phoned them to complain they were very aggressive so i asked for the recording of the original phone call. when they sent it to me it was the last 50 seconds of the call they had cut out the rest of the conversation with the lady saying that she would phone me after 1 month.
These are not isolated cases: judging from the negative feedback accumulating online, there are an escalating number of clients of DotCom Chrome (.Com Chrome) who feel they have been cheated by this company. You will also see a scattering of positive testimonies which are very obviously contrived! In fact, one of the forums mentions that they have deleted a lot of them because they all originated at the same computer IP address.
Check out some of the following links:
Whilst we cannot comment on these individuals experiences or the veracity of any single testimonial, there are too many negative ones to ignore. If you disregard the obvious fakes, there seems to be a huge problem with the individuals behind these organizations, with some clients even reporting them to the police. And remember, these companies are relatively new and so it is quite a feat to have already accumulated this much bad-will.
Things appear to have reached a bit of a negative crescendo with the original DotCom Chrome Ltd campaign in the latter part of 2009, as the scheme shifted to a new private limited company called Dotcom Chrome in 2010. It is likely that this may have had something to do with very negative online publicity, Google suspensing them from Adwords — see their old account — and possibly pressure from Trading Standards. (The original dotcomchrome web addresses now have "Under Construction" notices on them.)
So as this scheme accumulates bad press, links on scam sites and Google Adword account suspensions, it is probably advantageous for the operators of this scheme to change to a fresh company in order to free themselves from the accumulated badwill. So right now they are using "chrome-media" domains and running under the company Dotcom Chrome Ltd, and also Chrome Marketing.
The next incarnation of this scheme may in fact already be in production as a new company called G Media Marketing Solutions Ltd., also based in Manchester, seems to be in the process of starting up running the same scheme on the following web addresses:
The domains, which are not fully functional yet, are owned by a company called Digital Solutions (Manchester) Ltd. (reg: 5996806 / www.digitalsolutions.uk.com)
G Media Marketing Solutions Ltd. trades under the name GMedia or GMedia Marketing on their website. Both Digital Solutions (Manchester) Ltd. and G Media Marketing Solutions Ltd. have different company appointments to DotCom Chrome and to Dotcom Chrome Ltd., and yet, they all seem to be connected in the "fixed fee links" scheme that is being run. There is also a testimonial on the Digital Solutions Manchester Ltd. website from one of the directors of DotCom Chrome extolling Digital Solutions' virtues, so they most certainly are connected in some way.
You just have to compare the websites to confirm this connection. For example, here are the two UK sites www.chrome-media-uk.com and www.gmedia-uk.com side by side:
Everything is identical except for the some of the graphics (although design structure is identical). The wording throughtout the sites is also identical except that "GMedia" or "GMedia Marketing" has been substituted for ".Com Chrome". Even the server and IP address of the sites, at time of writing, is identical — Uh Hosting in Leeds, England, and both sites have the identical IP address 188.8.131.52.
By using 'GMedia', G Media Marketing Solutions Ltd. give the impression (maybe inadvertently) that GMedia Marketing is connected to Google, just as DotCom Chrome's use of the word "chrome" and its "google experts" adwords also give the impression of a connection to Google., something that is central to DotCom Chrome's cold-call sales campaign. Of course, to cover themselves (you don't want to annoy a massive organisation like Google), both companies have in identical small print at the bottom of their index page:
"… we are not Google, we are not agents of, endorsed by, a subsidiary of or a marketing arm of Google."
It remains to be seen whether GMedia Marketing act in the same way as DotChom Chrome and Dotcom Chrome did, but the fact that everything except brand name and graphics is identical implies that the same people are most likely behind it. Although Dotcom Chrome and GMedia Marketing could have been set up to run concurrently, what is more probable is that, as mentioned above, this scheme needs to work through a rapid succession of companies for it to be most profitable:
DotCom Chrome Ltd - reg: 06705547 - dotcomchrome domains - 2009
.Com Chrome Ltd - reg: 07162523 - chrome-media domains - 2010
G Media Marketing Solutions Ltd - reg: 07140507 - gmedia domains - 2010/11?
Apart from one director who moved from DotCom Chrome to Dotcom Chrome, company directorships for GMedia are different. However, because the company sites and operations are related in so many ways, this is likely to be just more obsuration.
What do you do if you fall for this scheme?
First off, we have to say that the scheme itself may or may not be legal. We are certainly NOT implying that these companies are doing anything illegal, only that there seems to be a high level of customer dissatisfaction. The legality of the scheme really depends on how it was sold to you in the first place. As it was probably sold verbally, that can be quite difficult to ascertain at a later date. Most of those complaining seem to believe they did not receive the service they thought they were signing up to, thought they were dealing with a representative of Google and/or did not get what they were promised.
If you fall for this "fixed fee links" scheme and are unhappy with the service, here is what you probably need to do:
- Cancel immediately with a registered or "signed-for" letter to the SEO's office. We understand that recently G-Media / Dotcom Chrome claim to allow cancellation by email, although if you do not receive a timely recipt for that email then it is hard to determine when and if that email was ever received. In the letter or email explain why you are cancelling and state that you believe you were mis-sold their service and that you will be reporting them to trading standards. (There are laws to protect people from being mis-sold, and by writing the letter you have given notice of this issue.)
- Explain the situation to your credit card company if you feel there are illegitimate charges on your card, and see if they will cancel them for you pending investigating. This is important as, despite customers claiming to have canceled their contracts, some claim to have had their credit cards charged for more services.
- Report the SEO company/individual running this scheme to your local trading standards if you feel that they have been less than honest with you. If you felt they not only mis-sold the service to you but also passed themselves off as Google or Facebook representatives, you must report this.
- Complain to Google Adwords or Facebook about this scheme if you feel that the SEO company/individual passed itself off as Google or Facebook representatives. (You should include details of the ads placed for you so that Google/Facebook can trace the Adwords account being used.)
- Ask for a full-length recording of the sign-up cold-call which they hold as your agreement to contract. They will probably only give you the sign-up part at the end but insist that they give you the full call. This will be absolute proof of how the scheme was sold to you, making it much easier for any court to decide whether or not it was a legal contract.
- Decide whether you are prepared to withhold outstanding fees you owe to them on the grounds that you were mis-sold and/or possibly that they passed themselves off as Google representatives. (If you do decide to pay them, use a cheque or direct bank transfer rather than a card so they have no opportunity to re-charge you at some point in the future.)
Number 6 is obviously the hard step, and we cannot advise you on whether to pay up or not. You may well feel that although their service was not helpful to your business, the SEO company or individual did not in any way cheat you and that you were the fool for not monitoring things more closely. Or you may feel cheated but not want to spend the time and effort fighting it out. If this is the case, you may want to pay up, chalk it down to experience, and move on. As a general rule, NEVER sign up to anything from a phone call — always check it out in your own time on Google etc. (Anyone who tries to pressure you into signing up to something then and there on the phone probably knows you are unlikely to if you have more time to research things. Stay well clear!)
If you feel that you have been cheated in some way and wish to withhold final payment (or even sue to get back what you have paid claiming you were mis-sold) then you might want to get some legal advice in your particular country on this. Maybe ring up a consumer organisation or Trading Standards for advice.
Remember, to successfully challenge the individuals behind these sorts of shemes, you will need to have a very thick skin and really know your legal rights etc. and be prepared to fight it out in court, if you have to. They may well threaten to put a debt collector onto you if you do withhold payment, and it is up to you to show the illegitimacy of the contract. We recommend that you take legal advice on this.
Our verdict: Stay clear of any company involved with fixed-fee adwords and Facebook ads. Sign up to a Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising yourself (or get a friend or family member to do it for you), and you will not only end up saving money but potentially avoiding a great deal of stress and agro. Signing up to the likes of DotCom Chrome / Chrome Media / Chrome Marketing / GMedia Marketing, on the other hand, can turn very nasty and expensive.