Unbiased has come under fire for allowing some advisers to buy their way to the top of its consumer website’s listings.
The directory has introduced a Location Plus service, which allows advisers to buy the highest ranked listing in postcode districts.
A spokesperson for Unbiased said it “never has and never will make recommendations about which particular advisers people should choose”.
But Philip Bray, head of marketing at adviser network Sense, said the change “left a bad taste in the mouth”.
He commented: “Unlike Google, where your website will rank in the natural search results if their algorithm believes it to have sufficient relevance and authority in relation to the search term, Unbiased is already taking a monthly fee from advisers and in the case of new subscribers, an additional fee per lead.
“An extra payment for prominence in the search results feels excessive.”
Consumers searching on Unbiased are using a directory, which through its very name holds itself out to be impartial, independent and indeed, unbiased, he said.
“This changes if advisory firms can pay to get to the top of the results page, especially when their advert remains in place, despite the user refining the search to deliberately include areas on which they don’t advise.”
Mr Bray said he had been told by Unbiased this service would cost £100 plus VAT a month for each postcode district an adviser wished to reserve.
In October Unbiased launched subscription packages which allowed advisers joining the directory to manage their new business enquires through a pay as you go messaging system.
The ‘Plus’ subscription is a new premium package, which provides advisers with the same ‘accept and reject’ client enquiry management platform. However, on top of this advisers will also have access to the new Unbiased call tracking solution, Blue Book media access and Location Plus listings.
Mr Bray said he is a “huge fan” of Unbiased and will continue to recommend advisers take a listing, but added that the changes risk giving an advantage to firms with a larger marketing budget.
A spokesman for Unbiased responded that the concept of Location Plus was born out of feedback from advisers.
“We had contact from large numbers of advisers who wished to expand their coverage, and for whom our postcode-based search system proved too limited – such as telephone-based advisers not restricted by location, or larger firms keen to serve clients across a wider region.
“Only one adviser can purchase a particular district at any one time, and they must be able to service clients in that district, so they can’t advertise in places just for the sake of advertising.”
The statement added that Unbiased has and never will make recommendations about which particular advisers people should choose.
Matthew Clark, director of Devon-based Seabrook Clark, said: “It is no different really from paying for the top spot on Google. I wouldn’t really have a problem with that and at the end of the day they are a commercial organisation and are looking to maximise profits.”