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AnnoyancesCanadian SEM IssuesSEM Best PracticesSEM Studies & Research/// Posted by Alexandre Brabant on Thursday, November 26, 2015

4 ways Yellow Pages Canada is screwing you up without your consent

Recently, a new client of mine in Vancouver Canada brought something puzzling to my attention and needed my help to decipher across various discrepancies while they were working with Yellow Pages Group (YP) Canada with regards to their Pay-Per-Click (PPC) AdWords Campaign. As I was collecting many data points, I thought it would make sense to warn people on working with YPG as they may be double dipping in your wallet behind the scene. I basically was tasked to reverse engineer all aspects of their contractual agreement as YP Canada were unable (and probably unwilling) to shed any lights over a large number of data points. That in itself seemed troublesome enough to me to raise many red flags so here they are. 

1. CPC Cost Discrepancy
When comparing AdWords campaign reports from within Google Analytics versus YP’s monthly PPC reports, we noticed a discrepancy between the stated cost per click with a higher cost from YP’s own reporting. That difference is not significant but it remains unexplained. Considering the baseline to be around $5.00 per click, (which is a shameful amount per click for this client’s automotive repair industry to begin with) one can’t help but wonder if this alleged *overcharging* is systematic to the entire YP client roster and or if this is an isolated incident. According to some experts, this is a clever way to double dip on management fees, by hiding the PPC monthly management fees within the CPC metric itself. Or could it simply be a difference based on $USD currency vs $CAD currency? Assuming it is the case, why can nobody at YP Canada explain it?


2.  PPC Budget vs actual Cost Discrepancy
Another major concern my client raised right from the beginning was the actual reported monthly PPC budget-used, which was far lower in comparison to YP corresponding monthly invoicing. Long story short, the client received only 53% of the monthly spending compared to what they actually got billed for! Over the course of several years this resulted in a substantial unspent surplus PPC budget. For an industry that usually operates under a 15% PPC management fees, those of YP at 47% is a blatant rip off. Needless to say, YP has refused adamantly to either admit any wrongdoing or be helpful in resolving this with the client in any fair manner.

2013:
Cost: PPC Contract from 2013-05-09 to 2014-05-08 $4,000/month contract, total billed: $48,000
Received: YP reports show they spent $25,080.80 on PPC or 52.25% of the budget

2014:
Cost: PPC Contract from 2014-05-09 to 2015-05-08 $3,500/month total $42,000
Received: However, again YP reports show differently with $22,241.25 or 53% of the budget

It is quite fascinating that between 2013 and 2014, they had the opportunity to revisit the monthly contractual agreement to better reflect the actual delivery of traffic to this client and failed to do so.

3.  Management Fees, a lack of transparency
It gets worse. As part of this horror story, we were trying to determine what exactly is their PPC management fees monthly portion and what portion is payable to Google. In order to do so, we had to dig into the actual contract. During correspondence with the client, YP’s third party lawyer stated that the fees were disclosed on the initial contract and stated again within the monthly PPC performance reports. This is when I learned a new word: Obscurification. We scoured through several years of contracts, invoices and monthly reports but at no point could we be able to find any information detailing amounts for monthly management fees either in dollars or as a percentage. This obscurification of contractual agreement ends up being in total breach of Google’s SMB Third Party Partner policy which states clearly that any management fees must be clearly disclosed and made available to advertisers.

In lack of further evidence on management fees or legal explanation on this matter, a few calculations over 3 years brought us to the conclusion that YP Canada has been operating with a 47.42% profit margin on PPC management

4. Adwords Account Access & Ownership
And it keeps going. Another Google’s SMB Third Party Partner policy makes it clear that whoever is the supplier of such services, there has to be one account per advertiser and this account must be owned by the advertiser. The problem is, since the *contract* does not state anything about management fees, it is easy to imagine it does not include any information about account ownership.

After numerous and unfruitful discussions with Google Canada, they concluded that the client must own or at the very least have admin access to their AdWords account, but were unable and unwilling to help on this matter, and account access remained denied and consequently all historical data is lost along the way.   

Bonus: Intimidating Behaviour
Last but certainly not least, I was able to go through some of the last legal discussion between YP and my client and the tone of those discussions, the way to fail to admit any wrongdoing, the lack of explanation, clarity, support and empathy to address any concern only motivated us to document this story to the best of our ability. Any time the client brings up any issues or questions, YP was quick to dismiss them, either providing extremely vague answers or ignoring the issue altogether. Yet they appear very quick to remind the client about contract renewal.

Conclusion
From those various data points, our understanding is that YP Canada is deliberately misleading their customers, making it impossible for customers to follow the delivery of services, deciphering contractual information by hiding crucial elements including monthly management fees, in order to create alleged fraud. The lack of clarity makes it difficult to prove unless, as a YP customer, you are also a search marketing expert and even so, the writing of such contractual documentations & reporting make it virtually impossible.

If you have had a similar experience, please share it here and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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