In mid-October, I conducted a study on various search engine results on the Internet. My goal: to get an idea of how many websites offered to help parents select the best school or program for their child who needed some kind of residential intervention, and the identity of the people behind these sites. At first glance, there appeared to be dozens and dozens of different organizations and educational consultants clamoring and competing for the attention of parents. There were all kinds of groups with teen or parent in the title, as well as numerous other appealing titles. Each of these sites claimed to have several years of experience in working with troubled teens and helping parents; they promised personal individualized services while also claiming extensive personal knowledge of numerous schools and programs. (While researching these Internet sites, I found they are in a constant state of change. I made every effort to accurately depict the proper groupings and relationship between people and web sites, but I apologize in advance for any possible misreading.)
At first glance this sounds good for parents because there are so many choices and people ready to help them. But as in most things, especially on the Internet, things are often not what they seem.
By using various keyword searches on Google, I came up with 80 websites that did well in the searches due to their marketing ability to help parents select the right program. Initially it appeared there were 80 different entities competing amongst themselves for the parentís attention. However, I found that by comparing the various websites, there were shared phone numbers, alliances, website ownership, etc., which showed a considerably different reality then the one initially presumed.
Of these 80 websites, almost half or 36, were anonymous. Except for their self-proclaimed expertise, there were no names, credentials or any other indication of whether the operators of the site were competent or not. A few did not even have a phone number. These sites expect parentsí to just fill out and e-mail a form with their contact information, but there is no indication of who this personal information is going to.
In addition, 47 of the 80 sites, almost 60 percent are traceable to three groupings of people. What does this mean? It means that on the Internet, as far as marketing for parent inquiries, there is a limited number of effective players. In simpler terms, though these sites appear to be in competition, they are actually part of a coordinated marketing plan with each site focusing on different niches, and all inquires flowing back into a central operation.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Many businesses in several different fields have multiple websites. They do this to take advantage of the way search engines operate, and/or to focus attention on specific products designed for specific groups of potential customers.
My purpose in this essay is transparency. It is important that parents are aware of the associations, loyalties and reputations of the specific professionals they choose to trust in this field of struggling teens.
With the information from my survey, I counted only 11 significant referring entities on the Internet that parents will most likely find. I reached this number by counting the three most aggressive marketing groups, and adding eight other websites that seem to also have significant Internet traffic.
The first of these aggressive marketing groups is Parent Help, headquartered in St. George, UT, and headed by John Bundy. They operate seven websites, four are anonymous with no indication of the people behind the sites. However, there are overlapping phone numbers and all seven are owned by John Bundy of Parent Help. They might have several more sites I did not find during my search. The seven Parent Help sites that came up in my survey are:
The next most aggressive collection of sites are those related to the World Wide Association of Speciality Programs (WWASP). In my survey, I came up with 19 websites that one way or another connected back to WWASP Programs or people. A couple are anonymous, and others have names such as Teen Help or Teens In Crisis, but through overlapping phone contact numbers, common site ownership and other factors, they all have a common focus to the collection of WWASP schools. Most of the ownership information on these websites shows the site owners reside in and around St. George, in southern Utah. The sites included in this grouping are:
The most aggressive Internet marketing group consists of 20 sites centering around Dore Frances, an Educational Consultant in Coeur díAlene, ID. With six of the sites featuring Dore Frances, a couple also refer to her associates Brendan Dalley and Russ Talbot, who have their own websites and share a common phone contact number with the USAGuides website, a transport firm based in St. George, UT. This commonality suggests they are either one business with many branches, or several people with tight business connections. Another commonality is a majority of these sites are owned by a Washington, UT, (a suburb of St. George) business operated by Trent Staheli and Ryan Kohler. The date of registration indicates all of these sites were created less than two-years ago (most in 2003), and 12 of these sites are also anonymous, meaning there is no indication of who is actually running the site. The sites included in this group are:
Again, I want to emphasize that the only purpose of this report is for transparency. Multiple websites by a single business or tightly bound collection of people is a common and accepted practice on the Internet. The information in this report, however, is offered to parents or professionals in the field to help them gain some idea of who is behind any of the specific websites listed, and to provide insight into their associations and loyalties. In a parent choice environment, parents need all the information they can get. I caution you to remember that I compiled the information in this report in mid-October 2004. With the minute by minute changes of the Internet, websites will come and go, contact numbers will change, and they will gain and lose the amount of traffic they receive. What this means is that if I were to repeat this survey now, some of the details would of course be different.