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Who is in Control of Your Obituaries? Legacy.com Sold Two Weeks Ago

I am not sure how we missed this, but we did and I apologize. On April 10th Legacy.com Inc was sold to Great Hill Partners in a deal reportedly valued between $50 million and $100 million. Legacy.com claims to cover 75% of all deaths in the U.S. through partnerships with nearly 800 newspapers. I have never really been a fan of Legacy.com and frankly don’t see where they provided any value to the funeral industry or funeral homes they partnered with. Oh, and that partnership Batesville formed with them in 2009, I really never saw the value in that.

I could be catastrophically off base by saying they (Legacy) provided “zero” value to the funeral profession, but I really struggle to see the plus side to the service they offered.

From my understanding it goes something like this; funeral home/director spends multiple hours crafting an obituary with family – family pays $400 to have obituary published in newspaper – Legacy.com grabs the obituary from the newspaper or serves the obituary to the newspaper depending on arrangement with funeral home – obituary now lives on Legacy.com where they are cashing in on visits to the obituary by displaying distasteful belly fat ads (among other crap) – someone in local community searches Google for the obituary – instead of the local community member visiting the funeral home website to read the obituary, they end up at Legacy.com because Legacy.com has 5 links that appear for the obituary ahead of the funeral home website in Google search results.

Am I wrong? Funeral homes have been sending their website traffic to Legacy.com for years and it makes no sense to me why funeral homes would want to do that. Web traffic for an obituary of a deceased that your funeral home is serving should come to your funeral home’s website.

One more thing before I am stop ranting like a lunatic; the distasteful belly fat ads that display next to obituaries hosted on Legacy.com are only going to get worse. Why, because the new owners of Legacy.com, Great Hill Partners, are also heavily invested in an online ad services business.

If you disagree or agree please share in the comments below.

Here is a link announcing the Great Hill Partners’ purchase of Legacy.com:

http://pevc.dowjones.com/Article?an=DJFLBO0020120410e84aqxs8d&pid=15&ReturnUrl=http://pevc.dowjones.com:80/Article%3Fan=DJFLBO0020120410e84aqxs8d%26pid=15

Ryan Thogmartin

Ryan Thogmartin is founder and CEO of two innovative companies. Connecting Directors LLC (www.connectingdirectors.com) and Disrupt Media Group, LLC (www.disruptmg.com). ConnectingDirectors.com is the premier progressive online publication for funeral professionals. ConnectingDirectors.com is a thriving global publication with a reader base of over 15,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the industry.

Disrupt Media Group, LLC is a social media marketing solutions firm. Disrupt MG focuses on proficiently assisting small businesses in creating engaging social media marketing strategies. Without a social media marketing strategy companies and brands are just aimlessly posting without any coherent direction. Social media marketing is more than just having a Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube page; businesses have to have a strategy to telling their story, one that opens the door and starts the conversation.

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  • Kevin Bean

    Ryan, Excellent commentary. Thank you. You are absolutely correct. Legacy brings “zero” value to funeral service. In fact, it is a negative insomuch as, as you have pointed out, it steers the public away from the leading source that drives the public to funeral home wesites, the obituary notice. When someone dies everyone who cares knows anyway. The obituary is kind of like a statue in the park. So what?

    • Fslprofessional

      The obituary is like a statue.  The statue of a family member that has been lost.  Someone that was loved and cared for.  However, this statue lives in the hearts and minds of every family member or friend.  You only remember the statue when you visit it.  The family visits their loss each and every day.  The obit is a true statement about the life that has been lived.  I spend numerous hours composing obit each and every week.  This is a document that is etched on the web and our families deserve the very best.  While the newspaper obit is never going away, the newspapers are now cutting daily delivery in many markets.  What other way to get the information out other than driving traffic from the web to the funeral home website.  We spend hours selling the obit for a newspaper that will not say thank you, will not give you a prompt payment discount, will not send you a Christmas card, and now has you compose each and every word, proof read each and every word, send them the obit in .doc format so that they do not even have to read it, and then charge a fee to the family which is between $275 and $350 in our markets, and then cut the newspaper staff from 4 humans to 1 part-time human with a computer.  Now that’s service at its finest!!!

  • Jenkinsfh

    Can an obituary be copyrighted?

    • Nancy Burban

       Yes.  © 2012

      • Fslprofessional

        How?  Each obit would have to be registered, just like music to ASCAP and BMI.

      • Efish

        Where do I find that symbol? Is it on the keyboard or Microsoft word?

  • InformedFuneralDirector

    Now you have Tributes.com trying to capitalize on the same thing. Stay clear.

    • Fslprofessional

      Tributes.com does not try to sell anything else!  A one time, lifetime fee.  You must be the UnInformedFuneralDirector!

    • Flsprofessional

      I just checked so that I would be accurate, but according to Google Analytics, the tributes.com link on my website, and the links to two local TV stations, are generating 3 times more traffic to my website than legacy.com.  Each click on tributes.com, sends them back to my website.  There are no ads, except for my local florist shops.  I am pretty sure that you are mistaken about tributes.com and legacy.com being the same.  They are diametrically opposites!
      Just the facts, just the facts…

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/WR552ISK3MABX6P2A4BRY4NJ5A Alan

        But did you know that none of the obituary traffic is actually going to your website? Tributes.com hosts the obituaries on their own subdomain, not yours, meaning any traffic or links to the obituaries are NOT helping your stats or SEO.

        • Fslprofessional

          Since you obviously have not spent any time on tributes.com or a funeral home site that uses tributes.com, the funeral home chooses the five ad units on the page. Each ad unit click sends them directly back to the funeral home page selected thus, increasing traffice to the funeral home landing page. SEO drives the funeral home to the first page of the Google search. When a family is on the funeral home tributes page, each click takes them to the funeral home site.  Never anywhere else, unless directed by the funeral home.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/WR552ISK3MABX6P2A4BRY4NJ5A Alan

            Try this out: if you click on an obituary from a funeral home’s website that uses tributes.com, you’ll see that the domain changes to .tributes.com to show the actual obituary. What that means is that you are NO longer on the funeral home’s website. Any traffic or links to that obituary are NOT actually pointing to the funeral home’s website, but instead are helping bump up Tribute.com’s SEO.

          • Chris

             Alan,

            You are absolutely correct!  I have argued this very point for sometime.

          • Fslprofessional

            Click on the ad blocks, and you are back on the funeral home website.  If you are going to compare, make sure you have tried all the features, otherwise, the information or statements you make are not correct!

          • Chris

             The statement Alan made is correct, when viewing an obituary posted with Tributes.com, you are not on the funeral home’s website.  Simply put you are paying to send visitors away from your funeral home website.

    • FUNeral Director FIL

      when leaving a message to the family, Tributes directs the family back to Our FH Website, Legacy has their own “guest book”;  not quite the same thing.

  • Steve68

    Oh, Jenkinsfh, now that is a really good question.  I just wonder how much said copyright would cost per Obituary.

  • Nancy Burban

    The funeral home owner & client family own the content of the obituary by law. If every funeral home put a disclaimer not to reproduce, Legacy would not exist. They are stealing paid content & making a profit. They also use re-targeting tools to steal client families’ info & send them third party content -often Batesville preneed ads.

  • TheSouthernFD

    This was well-written, and hit the nail on the head. I went on the Batesville trip a few years back where they try to sell us on everything Batesville. Of course, they came up wanting everyone that didn’t already have one to buy an over-priced Batesville website for their funeral home, and then pay this ridiculous fee for some marketing program that links your funeral home with Legacy.com. I pointed out to them way back then that it was a waste of my money because #1 - Their websites for thousands of dollars were no better than the website that I had, which was built for free. #2 – Their web hosting was severly over-priced. #3 – Legacy.com was nothing but confusing, because every obituary that we put out contains the fact that the Memorial Page and Guestbook are available at our funeral home website, but then Legacy.com adds their own b.s. weblink to each obituary. & #4 – We’re in a rural area where the closest Legacy.com partnered newspaper is an hour away, and because of the “non-declinable” Legacy.com obituary fee imposed by that newspaper, our entire community has cut ties with that newspaper and it’s over-priced obituaries. Of course, from that point, it took Batesville less than 6 months to buy out the company that my website was done through. I guess “if you can’t beat them, just buy them out!”

  • Mitch

    As a family owned and operated funeral home and crematory operation we spend a great deal of time directing folks to OUR website; why would it be a good idea to to direct anyone to some other website?  Our local paper includes a fee of $20.00, on top of the obituary charge, for every obit, the paper says it is not an option to not have it go to the third party.  I like the copyright idea.  How might this work; ideas?

    • Nancy Burban

        © 2012

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WR552ISK3MABX6P2A4BRY4NJ5A Alan

    Exactly, Tributes.com is doing precisely the same thing. Because of their size, their links will show up before your funeral home’s listing when someone searches an obituary on Google, and then they monetize that obituary with their distasteful ads. 

    • ryanthogmartin

      Alan,

      I used to throw Tributes.com in the same boat as Legacy as well, that was until I sat down with different executives from Tributes.com and drilled them on how they could possibly be providing any value to the profession. I walked away after an hour long conversation with a whole new opinion. I made a lot of misconceptions about Tributes.com because I perceived them as just another Legacy.

      Tomorrow I am recording a Skype video with Tributes.com VP John Helad to discuss the very topic at hand.

      • Chris

         Ryan,

        I believe your original perception to be correct.  Tributes.com represents to enhance the funeral home website Google rankings and directly traffic to the funeral home website, however, this is not the case!  The obituary will be listed near the top Google rankings, but this link directs traffic directly to Tributes.com, rather than your website.  Basically, you are sending traffic away from your site and directly to Tributes.com, and to top it off you pay Tributes.com.

        • Fslprofessional

          The funeral home website will be on the first page, many times in first position!  If you are looking for an obit, don’t you want the obit on first page?  Click on ad blocks on family tributes page, and VOILA!, back to fh web link…

          • Chris

            Fslprofessional,

            You have restated our point!  Often the funeral home is not the first listing in Google, it is often Tributes.com, Legacy.com and the funeral home site normally follows. As for clicking on ad blocks from Tributes.com, that confirms that you are not directed to the funeral home site, rather you are directed to the Tributes.com site.  During a Tributes.com sales presentation, it is represented that Tributes.com will boost the funeral home website to the top position in Google followed by, Tributes.com and Legacy.com.  It is also represented that Tributes.com will lead traffic directly to the funeral home site, however, the traffic it lead directly to Tributes.com and then the visitor has the option to link to the funeral home website.  If someone is performing a Google search for an obituary and those searches are directed to the obituary listed on Tributes.com, how likely is it that a link over to funeral home site will occur?  Based on our experience it is not likely at all, after all they have found the information they were looking from Tributes.com and need to look no further.  I would much rather that people searching for obituary information visit the funeral home websites directly.

          • I_Know_SEO

            Position on the first page of Google/Bing organic search results depends on the keyword search term you use and the search engine’s algorithm.  If you search by the name of an individual (as if you are seeking an obituary notice), Tributes and Legacy are quite often ranked above the funeral home serving that family.  Legacy gets nearly 17 million unique visitors per month and Tributes sees 1.5
            million unique visitors per month.  That indicates lot of SEO power at
            their disposal. 

            Try it yourself — pick a name of someone you’ve served that also appears on Legacy or Tributes and search for their name — you’ll see if Legacy and/or Tributes is listed first and (presumably) seeing a lot of the traffic for that online obituary.

            As for having Tributes host your online obituaries, my opinion is that you’re paying them to take your obituary content and that THEY receive the SEO benefit.  Google claims to reward websites with fresh, original website content, and you’re just handing it to Tributes even though it appears integrated with your website.  Just look at the URL structure– that says it all.  I’m still waiting for someone from Tributes to be able to persuade me otherwise.

  • Chuck

    Ryan…not saying your wrong with your assessment, however, it is interesting to see the disconnect between what we think families want and what the market is willing to pay for connection to people.  We believe that folks want dignified services to honor and respect their loved ones.  Reality is, however, that Legacy recognizes that people search for information and if they can connect people to pages (that by the way have unrelated ads on the side) they have created value that seems to be worth $50+ million.  So…they seem to be laughing themselves all the way to the bank with their valueless website.  Not saying that it’s right, but it is reality.

    • TheSouthernFD

      The unfortunate thing is that they have not even really given anyone any value, but that they have force-fed it to those people through mindless newspapers and funeral homes who push people to it rather than to the funeral home website that they should have been directed to in the first place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Young/1385592892 Brian Young

    Ryan, Thanks for pointing this out.
       When we created online obits back in 1997, we saw an 8-10 times increase in traffic to web sites that had them and really made families aware of the service. The increased Web traffic proves that this service was greatly valued by some families, and it was also some of the best “brand” exposure a funeral home could get for a couple hundred bucks a year. I think the biggest reason Legacy has achieved what they have is that the majority of funeral home owners haven’t stopped to realize the value online obits to their families and their businesses. After all, only 2.5 years ago, 1/3 of American funeral homes didn’t have websites, and 20% didn’t have a computer in-house. Also, many of those firms that do have a website consider it little more than the replacement for their phone book ad, which your readers know is ignorant. I think the technology disconnect between many busy, tradition-oriented funeral home owners and their more tech savvy families is what really opened the door for Legacy to come in “get something for nothing,” or pretty close to it. And you are absolutely right that that move offered zero value to the funeral profession, because Legacy is not the funeral profession. Legacy is in the “memorial profession,” and, as you point out, the “online ad sales” profession.
       As more and more funeral home owners awake to the value and potentials that providing good online obits on their website provides both their firms and the their families, doing so will increase the value of the funeral industry and put the obit back into the enviornment it really belongs in: the funeral service environment. So, thanks for making this a topic of discussion.
       And to prevent “scraping” of your obits, take a look at the rules on Legacy.com’s website. Doing what Nancy said, along with posting on your Web site the terms of use of your website’s content creates an (arguably) enforceable “agreement” — as long as you aren’t putting the obit in the paper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Young/1385592892 Brian Young

    One clarification… when I said “opened the door for Legacy to come in “get something for nothing,” I meant they were giving nothing to the funeral profession that often writes and helps the family get the obit into the paper.

  • Fslprofessional

    Great article and well written.  The funeral home has an opportunity with social media, but it must be in their best interest.  Legacy.com, after a few weeks, sells for large dollars, an opportunity for a family to continue with legacy.com or be frozen!  Today, traffic to the website from whatever source that you have, can put you ahead of your competition in a Google search.  The newspapers have you compose their paper product, edit their paper product, send their paper product, invoice their paper product, collect their paper product, and you receive NOTHING for their paper product.  Not even a Christmas Card!  Look at the cash advances to see what your families are paying and tally the time your staff spends for the newspaper.  Gotta be a better way!

  • Lszabo

    Here are the reasons why you should care abou this issue. To the extent
    Legacy.com controls the eyeball traffic it will diminish the local funeral
    homes website ability to educate and benefit from that traffic. Every website
    visitor lost is educational opportunities lost and revenue opportunities lost
    as well. Ecommerce stores are generating up to $.10 per unique visitor so you
    are just giving that money to legacy.com and to add insult to injury many are
    paying a fee of up to $30 for that privilege!

    Also why do you
    think an investment firm like Great Hill is willing to pay $50-$200 million for
    Legacy.com. Trust me they are not a charitable organization, they believe they
    can monetize this website traffic that the funeral homes are paying them to
    take! And at a rate to make that astounding investment pay off!! One way to do
    this is to provide ads that are not consistent with the nature of funeral
    service. I just got off the Legacy.com Korean Memorial webpage where I saw ads,
    for Verigreedy, Wrinkle fighting berries smeared over a face, a bikini clad
    rear end, car insurance tricks, etc.  Is
    that the family experience that will make your firm successful into the future?

    Do everything you
    can to protect the asset (website traffic) you create through your hard
    work.  Find alternatives to the one way
    traffic and revenue solution that is being forced on you and make sure your
    family experience is tasteful and consistent with the service you provide.
    Otherwise, a few years down the road you will only have yourself to blame.

    • ReallyInformedFuneralDirector

      FH’s aren’t really charity organizations either, and neither is a posting in the newspaper. AGAIN, I point out a few points:

      (1) I’m pretty sure most of those advertisements are actually newspaper hosted ads… not Legacy ads. And… there are so many ads on this blog it’s insane…
      (2) Pricing to FH is not something that Legacy controls. It’s controlled by the newspapers. 
      (3) I have heard that Legacy actually actively patrols advertisements for “distastefulness”, so they actively remove ads based on comments and their own discretion. 
      (4) No one is stealing your content, you are asking the newspapers to publish it and your customers want it in the newspapers. The newspapers need someone to help host the obits and that’s what Legacy does. People now expect to see the obit on the newspaper and the newspaper’s website. Everyone goes to the newspaper to look for obits, that’s just a fact of life. That’s not a need FH’s have ever been able to fulfill.
      (5) Legacy actually filters comments on the guest books of people’s obituaries. EVERY SINGLE POST for every single obit. Can funeral homes do that? I don’t think so. That is a pretty serious value add right there. That’s why the newspapers like them so much.
      (6) If you want more traffic, you should think about working with Legacy or Tributes to help host your website or advertise on Legacy vs. your local yellow pages or something, which no one reads. 
      (FINALLY) I do what my families want… and so far they want their loved ones obits on the newspaper and website… I see a bunch of directors here complaining because they want to make money… not because they want to properly represent their families… kind of reminds me of wall street more than I would like to admit

      • Fslprofessional

        Legacy often has Viagra ads, Trappist Urns, which are distributed by ???????. And they charge a fee to have a 1year extension or a larger fee for permanent.  The paper does not have an option with legacy.com if they are their partner.  The fee has now become embedded because so many funeral directors wanted to opt out.  Not an option.  The newspaper keeps 1/2 of the legacy.com fee and legacy.com keeps the other half.  Legacy is was previously owned by the Chicago Tribunes and Gannett.  If Legacy is so fair, why hide the fee in the newspaper fee to families.  Wouldn’t that be transparency?

        • ReallyInformedFuneralDirector

          I’m not sure where your sources are, but clearly they are incorrect. 
          (1) Ads: So here is some education from those who don’t understand the internet ad business. Many ads are based on your own searching patterns, so if you see Viagra ads, it’s because you are interested in Viagra ads. that’s how ad networks work. I have never seen a Viagra ad anywhere, on any website. So the reason why you are seeing those ads are because you are interested in Viagra.  (2) Newspapers: Absolutely have an option. They are the ones who tell Legacy what they want to sell and what FH want to buy. The online portion hardly costs anything, to the point that newspapers many times just offer the internet piece for free… I have called around and asked to confirm. (3) Fees: Clearly incorrect, because neither the newspapers nor Legacy disclose fees. You are just sticking your finger up in their air and making random claims. Could you tell me how much restaurants or construction companies pay their suppliers, and then tell me if 50% really is an accurate number?(4) Transparency: FH’s get billed by the newspaper, and they breakout whatever they want to breakout. Not up to Legacy.

          Also, let’s be honest as FH professionals, we don’t mark-up the costs of caskets or services? I would say the margins we make in the FH business is much higher than any internet hosting business. Hosting is based on volume, not pricing. Before judging a company/service, I would suggest that people understand it first. 

          Based on comments here it seems like most people are very uneducated about what Legacy.com actually does and the author here clearly is biased towards other competitors. Worries me about the validity of the content here. 

  • ReallyInformedFuneralDirector

    Let’s be completely clear here, because it seems like most of you are missing one piece or another about Legacy.com or Tributes.com. What Legacy.com adds in value is hosting the obituary FOR the newspapers. Your customers want the obit the newspaper, and as a service to your customers, the newspapers host them online, except, it’s expensive to do in-house, so they outsource it. The majority of the advertisements are actually hosted by the newspapers, because newspapers also need to stay in business and given how much they have been through in the past few years, can’t blame them. Also, if I had to guess, I would say the hosting fee is probably pretty cheap compared to the print obit, so doubt these companies are price gouging you. Also, one more thing… if you just read the disclosures on their websites, they don’t disclose any information to any 3rd parties at all, period. 

    • Fslprofessional

      But Legacy does!

      • ReallyInformedFuneralDirector

        Please provide evidence?

  • Johannes

    Wow. So much controversy about a minor issue compared to the rest of the problems FHs are facing. Nancy is right and I would suggest  two more protective and proactive steps: When you are writing an obit create a standard document template that includes your funeral home’s web address at the bottom of the obit file you send with the copyright symbol and year clearly shown directly beside your FH’s contact information. This copyright symbol will encompass all of the content in the obituary. Use this template for every single obit you email to your newspaper. You may even want to include a disclaimer with each obit file sent to your newspaper clearly indicating that your FH is the creator and owner of the information in the obit. Work that is copyrighted cannot be reproduced or altered without your permission or your FH receiving published credit as the source. Problem solved. The newspaper will be forced to rewrite the obit if they want to sell it but it is very unlikely you can prevent them from doing a rewrite since the general information in an obit is a public notice and therefore in the public domain. 

  • Lgervais

    interesting comments made her today. I will be looking forward to the tributes interview as Ryan has had many points/questions/concerns handed to him. Ryan should then follow up with an interview with legacy.com to give both perspectives including copyright concern, revenue generators and profits for newspapers and funeral home. Both companies need to clarify their offerings as there seems to be some confusions between he two companies,

  • Dawn

    I always thought Legacy.com would face a potential class-action lawsuit based on the fact that families cannot decline the option of having the newspaper turn their loved one’s obituary in to the Legacy database.  I convinced our local newspaper, which is part of a large media chain, that Legacy was a monopoly created to make profits for themselves and the newspapers….our local paper announced it was charging a $5 non-declineable fee with obits because the families would get a Legacy guestbook.  I pointed out that all the funeral homes in town already provide a FREE guestbook that stays up forever as opposed to having to pay Legacy to keep the postings up online. We do not hold their friends’ condolence messages for ransom after 30 days.   I also said I would be sending families to their office to pay for the obituary because our FTC Fuenral Rule states that you can not charge a family for services they do not want….and if they don’t want their loved one’s obit in Legacy…they can take it up with the editor!  I also pointed out that Legacy.com is a mecca for scam artists who prey on elderly or grieving survivors.  They used to have to look in the newspapers…now crooks can look on Legacy.com and have a whole nation of homes to rob during service times!  And, do you know what?  The editor agreed with me and the paper did not proceed with Legacy.com! 

  • Edmac3

     Funeral homes have been sending their website traffic to Legacy.com for years and it makes no sense to me why funeral homes would want to do that. Web traffic for an obituary of a deceased that your funeral home is serving should come to your funeral home’s website.

  • Georganne Bender

    Here’s a comment from the consumer point-of-view. I used one of the popular obituary sites to post a remembrance page for my father. It made me sick to see my Dad’s face next to a graphic ad for weight loss. On-line sites like these need to be careful of how they choose advertisers and where the ads are placed. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-DiCecco/14309852 John DiCecco

    Found this site while trying to figure out whether or not Legacy.com is committing fraud. Here’s the story: I paid to keep my father-in-law’s site hosted online permanently. I never actually posted anything to the guestbook. Today, however, I received an email from Legacy.com indicating the site was being archived and for $19 I could “sponsor” it for another year. The email indicates I am receiving the email because I posted something to the guestbook. I realize this is a robo-reply but it must also be a robo-reply to everyone who DID post. That means somewhere they are fleecing people for $19 each to sponsor a site that has already been sponsored permanently. This sounds an awful lot like a scam to me. I’ll be contacting our state’s Attorney General to look into this but my guess is they’ll back-pedal and say it was a mistake. But the real issue, of course, is how would anyone who ever posted to the guestbook know for sure that the site was not going to be archived? Anyone of them would gladly fork over $19 and there would be no way for everyone else to know they did so.