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Opinion & Essays - August, 2002 Issue #96 

By Lon Woodbury, C.E.P.

Our children are our most precious responsibility, and few, if any, parents want to entrust them to strangers. When parents seek professional assistance to better serve their child’s needs, they want to feel confident that they are entrusting their child to competent people with proven records of success. Yet when a parent of a child with problems looks for placement ideas on the Internet, if they don’t adopt a healthy skepticism and look behind marketing agendas, their first phone call will likely be to an unnamed, unknown, total stranger.

I recently did a survey of the most aggressive marketing sites for Emotional Growth/Therapeutic schools and programs. That is, I surveyed the ones that had the top places in relevant keyword searches, which reflects those who were paying the most money to achieve that rank on the search engine placement. I found 27 sites where the business was paying one dollar or more per click through to the web sites, to be included at the top of the most popular key words searches for Special Needs Schools and Programs. This amounts to serious money being spent for Internet keyword marketing!

Nine of those sites, which include the most aggressive marketers with the highest bids for top placement, were referral agencies that are using what I like to think of as Anonymous Marketing. That is, there is no information on the site as to which individuals are running the site, and in most of these sites, no substantive information as to what kind of schools or programs will be recommended to a parent who calls the phone number that is prominent on the site.

Furthermore, five of the most aggressive sites went to the same phone number. This shows that they were really only one marketing entity, but were presenting an image of several different independent agencies, thus giving a false sense of competition and popularity. In essence, these marketers are saying, “Even though you know nothing about who we are, or how we conduct our business, trust us to know how to find the right place for your child.”

Compare that with the sites of most independent educational consultants who prominently identify themselves on their sites. None of them are spending the amount of marketing money that is being spent by the most aggressive marketers. As an example, when a parent visits our Struggling Teens site at www.strugglingteens.com, a parent can know in advance they will be talking to myself or Loi Eberle. Our pictures are on the site, along with brief biographies, and dozens of articles explaining our philosophy. A parent who calls our phone number can know something about us before they ever dial our phone number.

This is also true of most Special Needs Schools that advertise on the Internet. A couple of clicks will give a parent names, credentials, experience, and often even a picture of the key people

Private parent choice schools and programs are, unfortunately, a “buyers beware” market. Parents of course should make every effort to entrust their children to responsible schools and programs. It follows that they should also make sure the advice they receive comes from equally responsible people. Anonymous marketing on the Internet is only marketing, not information. If you as a parent, don’t know anything about the referral person with whom you are planning to speak, you will not be aware of very important information such as their track record, competency, credentials, or whether they have any “special” arrangements with any schools or programs. For the best placement decision, background information about the referral person you are speaking with can be just as important as background information about the schools or programs you are examining.

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