How To Evaluate Services Like Sensis Yellow SEM 3000

8 Steps any small business owner can use to evaluate services like Sensis Yellow SEM or similar from marketing agencies.

How To Evaluate Agencies like Sensis by Paul D'Ambra Marketing Consultant


We were asked by a Client to review the Sensis Yellow SEM 3000 service they were considering using. Our Client had been trying to do their own Google Ads and had spent thousands of dollars for their small business without any solid results. It is a fairly common scenario that we see amongst many business owners who are trying to adapt to the changes in digital marketing but are unsure how.

For this Client they had already been paying for an ‘SEO Service’ that was costing nearly $500 per month, but weren’t being shown what Country their website was even ranking for or even the relative volume of the keywords they were ranking for vs what was more popular. With no phone calls or leads coming into the business they wanted to advertise and started getting proposals from various digital advertising agencies. We helped them review the Sensis Yellow SEM 3000 proposal and these are the things we looked at;

What do the reviews look like?

Reviews can be found on lots of different profiles like Product Review, LinkedIn, Google or Facebook.

  • Positive and negative reviews are a good thing;
    If you can find a company that has a mix of reviews then there is a higher chance they are authentic. It can also give you an idea about how the company handles negative feedback.
  • Be wary of one time reviewers;
    If the profile is filled with people who have only ever left one review it can sometimes indicate they aren’t genuine.
  • What if there are no reviews? 
    In today’s world it would be unusual not to find at least one review for a company
Sensis Product Review Listings photo

In this example (as of April 2020) Sensis has over 190 reviews with an average rating of 1.1 out of 5. 

When you read the general sentiment across the various Sensis products or services that have been reviewed you can see a fairly consistent view being formed by their Customers. It looks as though there isn’t clarity about Terms and Conditions or value with the performance being delivered. There are lots of sources of online reviews and looking at a cross section from different websites can provide better perspective. What is important to remember is, generally, people will write negative reviews with less hesitation than positive ones, especially if they’ve had a bad experience.

For a small business owner this becomes one of the critical steps to working out if the service is going to be a wise investment, especially if there is a general consensus of negativity or worse, no reviews to be found.


Can you easily understand their pricing & packages?

Sometimes there is no pricing at all or only some of the details are shown.

In this example being reviewed the Sensis Yellow SEM range of packages only show ‘from pricing’ and their Terms and Conditions document you can access via the very small print at the bottom of their webpage.
Example of the From pricing table photo
  • Why most agencies don’t provide lots of details;
    Sometimes it is too hard to present a ‘one size fits all’ service so it is easier to talk about services or pricing very generally but require a follow up for specific information.
  • What does ‘From $XXX’ mean;
    It could mean there are other options, upgrades or add-on services that are available. Other times it could mean additional charges, fees or costs that are added later. Either way it is important to ask.
  • Look for the Terms and Conditions, how easy are they to understand?
    Nearly every company or service will have some form of Terms and Conditions that need to be agreed to when using a service. Although sometimes these can be either tricky to find or even harder to understand. 
Example of a Sensis Yellow SEM Service Page layout and terms and conditions photo

Do they disclose their fees? Some might charge up to 50% for management.

Contracting an Agency means getting expertise & extra resources, but there is a cost.

You’ll notice in the the pricing screenshot from the Sensis Yellow website there wasn’t a mention of the % of the spend that goes to fees, it wasn’t stipulated in their Terms and Conditions either. In this example it took a number of emails to get clarity on what portion of the monthly spend went to advertising, in the end it was confirmed that 35% went to management fees
  • You couldn’t read about this in their FAQ section.
  • It wasn’t mentioned in their Congratulations eMail.
  • It wasn’t listed as a line item on their Invoice.
  • It isn’t mentioned in the service pricing on the website. 

What are their cancellation policies or termination fees like?

Can you easily locate and understand what the policies are and easily calculate the penalty fees?

"You can cancel at any time. Just let us know by writing, email or phone & we'll action it within 14 days.

Sentences like this are fairly common for most contracted services across lots of industries. So even though the service can be cancelled quickly what is the penalty or administration fee to do that? For a mobile phone contract it might be the balance owed on the cost of the handset, for a property rental it might be the number of weeks until a new tenant is found or at other times it may be a flat cancellation fee.

 What if you cancel 3 months into a 6 month Sensis Yellow SEM 3000 service package?

  • $16,362 ex gst is the minimum 6 month cost.
  • $5,730 ex gst is the Management Fee
  • $10,638 ex gst is the amount of Advertising
  • $8,184 is the cancellation fee after 3 months ie you pay the balance of the 6 month contract

That’s right, if you decide to cancel after 3 months you still have to pay the $8,184 balance that is remaining on the contract. So maybe your Advertising isn’t giving you the results you wanted, maybe changes are made that still don’t work, either way if you cancel you pay the balance of the contract. 

In this example from Sensis Yellow you can get this information by reading through the Terms and Conditions document that is on Page 8 of the 13 page file.

Has the agency won independent industry awards?

Award winning agencies can be the ticket to success, or are they?

"We've been named a finalist in Google's Growing Businesses Online' category"

When awards are handed out by independent bodies they can be a great way to identify great companies to work with. It is always good to investigate what the award was about and what is the process for companies to be nominated or to win it. 

In this example when talking to a Business Development Consultant from the Sensis Yellow Sem team they included a mention of an award from Google. Upon investigation though entries for this award program require agencies from around Australia to ‘enter’ so they can be considered.


So if there are 10,000 agencies in Australia but only 20 decide to submit, how credible could any winner be? For this award program its run and held by the same company receiving the advertising revenue, it isn’t chosen by people receiving the actual service.

Who will be doing the actual work day to day?

Agencies will sometimes send in a good looking sales representative or the Director only never to be seen again.

It is a cliche and a top story amongst professionals in the industry. ‘The Agency Pitch’ where you have someone doing the selling then another team or staff member doing the actual work. In many situations this is efficient as it means each person specialises in their task, although in most cases you have no way of knowing the skill level of the people you don’t get to meet and all communication is 2nd or 3rd hand.

    Do they provide previous examples of their work?

    Being able to see details about the previous work done can help gauge their level of expertise & credibility.

    For many agencies they may be under confidentiality clauses that prevent them from sharing the details of their previous work.

    • What to look for
      • A single image of a Client’s business with no other information.
      • A large section of previous client logos with no highlights or achievements.
      • Estimates of ‘ROI” but not real context or explanation.
    • What questions to ask?
      • Can you speak to any previous Clients?
      • Are there any written testimonials?
      • Can you see actual live examples of current work?
      • What proportion of Clients are on retainer vs Project work

    For any performance claims being made, always ask for the context or whether there was proof. A lot of the time the information will be high level achievements but not explain the million dollar budget, a competitor leaving the market etc. So for example we grew Scootering’s Rental business by over $500,00;

    • There was no heavy discounting.
    • We maintained an average rental price 30% higher than the market.
    • The budget available was under $20,000.
    • The category had new competitors enter the market.

    Do you have a clear set of goals and budget?

    Being clear about these elements helps you focus on finding the right service to meet your needs.

    For a business owner the first step to successfully evaluating the hundreds of SEM or SEO service providers available is to be very clear about your goals and the budget you have available to achieve them. Every single agency will ask these two questions & it can help you compare responses more fairly.


    • How to set a budget?
      A budget could be a fixed total amount, a monthly amount, a value based on % of sales or profit.
    • What are goal examples?
      • Increasing visitors to your website.
      • Selling a new product or service.
      • Increasing the average sale price of a business category.
      • Reaching a new geographic area

    There could be many others but the most important thing is having clarity about what you want to achieve & the resources available.

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