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TopSEOs: Kill The Hypocrisy, It’s Time To Take a Stand

17 January 2012 BY

Disclaimer: Just to make sure there’s no confusion, the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of State of Search or any of its affiliates, etc etc.

Now, with that out of the way, cue the rage.

Yesterday a press release, uncritically regurgitated by The Drum, made the rounds on various social media platforms. It concerned a company’s “number one UK SEO company” ranking, as awarded by none other than TopSEOs.

Aside from the editorial blunder of publishing this drivel, there are massive levels of fail in evidence here. Anyone in the SEO industry who can rub more than two braincells together knows that TopSEOs is a scam (as should be evident from the links provided later in this post).

Advertising itself as an ‘an independent authority on search vendors’, the marketing material distributed by TopSEOs seems to suggest that a top ranking on a TopSEOs list is a mark of quality. This is, of course, a big fat lie, as rankings on TopSEOs can simply be bought. The more money you give TopSEOs, the higher they will rank you.

Apparently the UK company in question has a lot of money to burn to pay for that (expensive) TopSEOs ranking, although it also seems the actual quality of their delivered services, at least in a few cases, is inversely proportionate to their TopSEOs spend.

A Tangled Web

TopSEOs has been outed for their deceptive practices on numerous occasions (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here – for starters) yet somehow they just don’t seem to go away. Many reputable SEOs have written about them and outed their industry-polluting crap, again and again, but TopSEOs just seems to get bigger and bigger.

In fact, they’re even buying exhibitor stands at big, high-quality industry conferences including SMX, SES, and PubCon.

This is, of course, utterly farcical. Everyone who works in SEO is aware of our questionable reputation, of the mostly negative public image SEO enjoys, and the scammers that contribute to this public image. Yet somehow we as an industry allow one of the biggest scammers to thrive and continue to spread their manipulative marketing-muck, thus damaging our industry’s credibility even more.

What hypocrites we are when we rally against the craptastic spammers that infest our industry, but allow one of the biggest scammers in our midst for our most highly praised industry events?

The fact that these TopSEOs scammers give large amounts of money to these industry events is, I suspect, somewhat related to this epic hypocrisy.

The irony here is of course that the companies who host these events also own some of the publishing platforms that serve as stalwart defenders of the reputation of SEO: Third Door Media runs SMX as well as Search Engine Land, Incisive Media runs SES as well as Search Engine Watch, and PubCon is run by the same folks who own WebmasterWorld.

What Can We Do?

Now in the face of such monetary and political powerplays we are not entirely without leverage ourselves. If we are serious about cleaning up our industry and improving our reputation in the wider world, we at the very least have to make sure our top conferences contain nothing but the highest quality exhibitors. That means we need to get companies like TopSEOs out of those events.

For example you could get in touch with Third Door Media, Incisive Media, and WebmasterWorld, and ask them to stop giving space and lending their credibility to scammers such as TopSEOs. In fact, everywhere you see companies like TopSEOs advertised you might want to contact the relevant party, explain the situation (politely, please) and ask them to remove any implicit and explicit endorsement of TopSEOs.

Especially if your own company is involved with these industry events as a sponsor or advertiser, you could get in touch with your sales rep at those events and explain that you do not want your company’s reputation sullied by sharing space with such vulgarly deceptive liars as TopSEOs.

We can talk as much as we want about cleaning up our industry, improving our credibility, and helping SEO mature… but if we fail to act upon these words and oust the scammers from our midst – starting with the highest profile scammers – it will all just be vacuous hot air.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Barry Adams is one of the editors of State of Digital and is a freelance SEO consultant based in Belfast, delivering specialised SEO services to clients across Europe.
  • http://www.maurinesarse.co.uk Maurine McCluskey

    The numpties at the drum must have given up reading the press releases, or maybe they just have no understanding of digital marketing at all – that release hasn’t got a single jot of qualification, rating rationale or verification.
    P.S. looks like no.2 with their exact match domain are going to need to change their title tag.

  • http://www.jamescarson.co.uk/socialsearch James Carson

    I agree – it’s ridiculous, and even more ridiculous that The Drum actually puts this as a news piece. You’re completely right to out them.

  • http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/ Geoff Jackson

    Age old discussion and still TopSEO’s continue on – fully agree that there rankings make a mockery of the industry and it’s just a case of whoever has the biggest pockets, gets ranked.

    I somehow can’t see anything changing however :/

  • http://ww.i-com.net/ Mindy

    Ironically – we have had a listing on TopSEOs for years and have never paid for it – but apparently it does send business to the people that do pay them, so I can see why companies cough up money. It doesn’t mean it’s good for the consumer, obviously, when hacks are getting recommended.

    As an industry, however, we encourage this behavior in a lot of ways. It’s not just allowing services like TopSEOs to advertise on good SEO sites and turn up to conferences; we also tacitly encourage them and the companies who pay for rankings on TopSEOs by our own practices of buying and selling faked rankings/ratings/reviews for our clients; for welcoming companies who provide these services for us for our clients into our midst; for giving them our clients’ money. For god’s sake – I’ve seen falsifying ratings via microformats being recommended at conferences as a good way to get rankings.

    As an industry we have no problem with lying and faking legitimacy if it helps us in the SERPs and let the consumer be damned as it’s his own fault for not understanding this.

    If we don’t change our views on ethics very quickly, then we deserve all the negative press we get.

    • http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/ Geoff Jackson

      I think you’re speaking for yourself/own company rather than the “industry”…. :/

      Our agency is fully transparent in our approach – we don’t lie or fake legitimacy at all, and there are many others like such out there – however, there are also many that will bull$hit their way through anything.

      Just because those that are not transparent and honest, does not mean the industry has to a) suffer as a whole and b) means the industry workers are necessarily deservant of the negative press nor the businesses that haven’t got the knowledge within the field to distinguish between agency A paying for reviews / rankings and ripping off their clients and agency B which may not be listed on a TopSEO’s top SEO companies chart but their work ethic goes far and beyond those of many others….

      • http://ww.i-com.net/ Mindy

        We don’t fake anything either. But you only have to go to industry events to see people selling their services to do just that. And if you’ve not witnessed discussions on how to fake these things and not get caught then you’ve been hiding in a cave.

        How is buying Facebook likes or positive Amazon reviews for a customer any different from buying a positive rating for your own company? It’s all about pulling in extra leads via misleading advertising.

        • http://www.clubnetsearchmarketing.co.uk/ Geoff Jackson

          I understand it happens, it’s everywhere on the web.

          But how is “If we don’t change our views on ethics very quickly, then we deserve all the negative press we get.” going to resolve the situation, you cannot refer to the industry as ‘we’ as if we’re all partly to blame for companies such as TopSEO’s profiting from unethical SEO agencies ripping customers off and misleading buyers.

          Removal of the problem(s) is one step towards the solution(s).

          I think it is only a matter of time before there is an official governing body launched for the SEO industry – it’s just extremely difficult to measure and gauge… Plus there is the issue of who is even best placed to ‘officially’ regulate in the field anyhow. Hmm.

          • http://ww.i-com.net/ Mindy

            Geoff, WE ARE ALL RESPONSIBLE because for years we’ve all turned our heads at these things – as Barry says quite rightly in this article. By top sites and conferences accepting their advertising ££, buy us as readers & conference attendees not complaining to those taking the money; by people continuing to pay TopSEOs.

            What I’m saying is this problem goes far deeper – apart from letting dubious SEO service providers buy rankings and referrals off dubious websites claiming to rank things based on skill (rather than ad spend) – the industry as a whole is tacitly encouraging of the same practice for clients by also allowing people selling similar faked ratings to advertise and sell their services as well.

            It is a we – or are you not part of the same industry? And if you are, where have you ever complained about these practices before?

    • http://www.returnondigital.com/about-us/dave-ashworth.php Dave Ashworth

      I agree Mindy – there’s definitely an Animal Farm mentality when it comes to this sort of thing in terms of what’s acceptable and what is not. I.e. all spammy tactics are bad but some spammy tactics are worse than others.

      The industry probably does need standardisation but when it’s still possible to buy your way to the top of the SERPs with paid listings/likes/tweets/reviews and whilst Google, who’s tune we’re all trying to dance to, carry out practices such as the recent Mocality debacle then we still have a long way to go.

      I don’t agree with TopSEO’s model, I don’t agree that The Drum and SEO Consult should be able to report this like it is some sort of prestigious award but I do think that as hypocrisy goes within the SEO industry, they are far from being the worst culprits.

  • http://www.internetmarketing-seo.co.uk Alan Charnock

    The drum obviously have no clue about what makes good news, or are they now taking money for like topseos to give false press,
    Like Barry says we need to get rid of the scammers and bring some order to the industry instead of the money grabbing fools blagging everyone.
    Barry I would be willing to set up a site for real listings if you fancy helping populate and promote it?

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      Don’t think that’s a good idea Alan. How would we rate companies? How would we prevent bias – or the suggestion of bias? I do think the industry needs standardisation, but who, what or how are questions that have been floating around in our industry for years. No credible answers have been forthcoming so far.

      What I do know is that deceptive paid listings like TopSEOs are NOT acceptable, under any circumstances.

      • http://www.internetmarketing-seo.co.uk Alan Charnock

        Good points, but perhaps it’s time to set up a regulatory body of elected experts like fifa, and not force people to join (free membership) but offer free advice and free reviews, the reviews could be acquired by asking companies to submit one or two new clients at the start of a new seo campaign, so there progress can be publicly tracked and a score can be gained with feedback from the client and listings achieved, (the client first hand quotes maybe a bad idea, but at least it will be real). We prevent bias, by electing a new panel every month or so, (also to lighten the load), each panel member will also receive reviews from users of the site, companies and clients.
        I’m sure people will want to get involved to sort out the likes of TopSeos. Maybe run a poll to see if it’s worthwhile?
        Just a thought!

  • http://andybeard.eu/ Andy

    Websquash are the #1 SEO company rated by real users
    http://screencast.com/t/sGxs6dcE

    I can come up with tons of reasons to disagree with that.

    And congratulations… the press release is currently the most popular article on the whole Drum site, you have to register to leave comments and they don’t show trackbacks.

    Ultimately both TopSEOs & the UK company in question win this round.

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      I’m glad that press release is the top article on The Drum – anyone glancing at the comments will be made aware of the drivel that it is. And no, neither ToPSEOs nor the SEO company in question have ‘won’ this round, Andy – the industry has won by making this a more widely known and supported issue. Small steps, but we’ll get there in the end. I remain hopeful.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregflewelling Greg Flewelling

    Thanks for raising the Top SEOs issue. I hope this post helps more than a few people avoid the company.

    I would have included, if not highlighted, Webmaster Radio, the podcast partner of State of Search. WMR may be the worst offender, with Top SEOs’ ads running on SEO 101, a show targeted to small business owners and marketing people learning about SEO. Even the State of Search radio show runs Top SEOs ads. What’s an inexperienced listener supposed to think when respected professionals advertise Top SEOs?

    In the USA we could try convincing Angie’s List to add an SEO or advertising services category.

  • http://www.robweatherhead.co.uk Rob Weatherhead

    I see this one has come back around again!

    I dont think we will ever ‘win’ against companies like this whilst there are businesses out there willing to line their pockets. It is wrong that companies such as this are able to run such a service but even worse is the fact small businesses will be convinced to part with their hard earned cash safe in the knowledge they are working with the ‘#1 SEO Company’.

    All we can hope is enough people out them and enough companies pull their advertising that they are forced out of the market. The same happened to Verified SEO (see here: http://www.robweatherhead.co.uk/search-engine-optimisation/verified-seo-scam/) but it is easier said than done.

    For those wishing to make a stand you could also use my handy badge created back when the verified SEO debate was on going ;) (http://www.robweatherhead.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/topseos1.gif)

    • http://www.internetmarketing-seo.co.uk Alan Charnock

      Cheers Rob, just added it to my site.

  • Pingback: TopSEOS Search Rankings Questioned; Google Search Plus Your World « State Of Search - Online Radio - WebmasterRadio.FM

  • http://www.traffick.com Andrew Goodman

    Sorry, but can’t stay out of that last point.

    Angie’s List is for the consumer market. They’d be particularly badly placed to handle the minefield of rating and reviewing business services in complex, technical fields. Bad idea.

  • http://www.google.com Rich

    It’s interesting to see how TopSeo’s influence outside parties like CEO’s & CFO’s who don’t really understand the web. I have had a few conversations with C-level execs where they search online for an SEO firm and then a PR is picked up that says “SEO FIRM Y” is highly recommended and a Top Firm per TopSeo and they get influenced in a decision to contact them.

    I certainly agree that TopSeo’s are a scam and we should take a stand on this as it makes the industry look bad. What about exhibitors such as Text Link Ads? Or Link Worth? Do they get a free pass from exhibiting as the Search Events?

    • http://www.qualifiedimpressions.com/ Elyse Bernstein

      Could not agree with you more!  While yes TopSeo can be clarified as a scam, what about all the other services that continually make our industry look bad?  Eventually Google will catch up to many spammy services, however TopSeos will remain somehow….further perpetuating the rage of Barry :)

  • http://www.joseuonline.com Jose Uzcategui

    “Now, with that out of the way, cue the rage.” – Awesome start :)

    Great point of giving them the credentials and credibility by allowing them to have them present at industry events.

    If I’m not mistaken, they’re pretty clear that you need to fork out a bunch of money to be considered for rankings. So I’m not sure if this would qualify as regular scam… It seems they’ve been exposed but people keep giving them money.

    Having said that, I see very reputable companies, including a past employer that I know is very trustworthy and (during my time there) wouldn’t have paid…. hm.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    I haven’t written about them in a year, yet three of my expose’ articles still show up in good placement for “TOPseos Complaints”. And if you Google Jeev Trika, the face behind the scheme, my article on him is in the top five results. Here’s another thing we can do. Whenever I’ve seen a company displaying their “award”, when I’ve been inclined to take the time, I’ve contacted the company and every one of them to date has ended up removing the bogus award from their site. Even BCI removed it after I spoke with Bruce Clay and did a follow-up article on his perspective.

    And of course, our concerted industry effort, combined with my multi-article approach, and speaking directly with Jeev, did get them to clean up some of their most egregious tactics and issue a formal apology release.

    Ultimately they continue on because they make a lot of money. And they’re not just in the SEO industry – they’ve been found running the same scheme in the legal industry.

    At the end of it all, I’d love to see Third Door, Incisive and WMW dissociate with them, yet it would take a heck of a lot more outcry than even we achieved last year at the peak of the outcry.

  • Pingback: The TopSEOs Scam / SEO and Quantum Theory | Barry Adams

  • http://www.qualifiedimpressions.com/ QI, LLC

    Doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks about them. As long as they rank high, their service can be monetized. They’d have to lose all of their rankings and that might be the only thing that ends the era.

    The question would then be, who is going to take their place? Is there an opportunity for growth in the area of “certification” or “independent ranking system”? Will the individuals that step in next monetize their service as well? Does accepting money to be listed, even if you really provide unbiased data, make it unethical?

    Alan mentioned companies that were once listed – then removed. Very interesting. I’ve seen the exact same thing. I think we all know Bruce Clay has put his time in and is one of the industry greats so it’s likely that he should be at the top of that list. And he was. Weeks ago. I believe he was in the top 3. I check again today, he’s all the way towards the bottom of the list. I’ve seen that happen a dozen times.

    And, what I just realized is that if you look back at the press release dates, where a company is announced as the “Top SEO Company by TopSEOs”, you’ll notice that recent winners that were #1 or #2 or #3 are completely removed from the list or put back down at the bottom. 

    If TopSEOs did perform such “thorough” research, they wouldn’t put a company at the top that didn’t deserve it in the first place, right? That’s their job – their specialty. So why are some SEOS placed at the top and days or weeks later at the bottom? Is it because they stopped paying or all of a sudden they are no longer great at SEO? How does that happen?

  • Don Eagle

    Barry- Great article. We’ve known this for a long time but didn’t know how to point out these bogus rankings are bought – plain and simple. In our industry – website videos and website spokespeople, we have a competitor that use them to scream how they are number #1. Sadly when you scream it in Google ads there is no one to call them to task. I guess you can write competing ads or stoop to out lying them – but that is no good either. At Tweople.com we’ve tried to let our customers speak but the voice is too gentle next to the loud lies that companies like this help copy cat companies drown consumers with. I know I am ranting but I’ve been pissed about this for a long time. There is no policing of facts in advertising on the Internet.
    If nothing else- thanks for your voice!
    Don Eagle
    Tweople.com

  • Newton

    I just called them last week. Got THE SLIMIEST pitch of all time from them. Tried to sell me on a $7500 PER QUARTER email blast. Told me ‘that price wouldn’t be around for long’. Little did they know I was pitched that same price 2 years ago. And when I said I had only gotten 3 of those email blasts myself as a registered member of TopSEOS – they said it was because they only allow it to ‘special clients’. 3 times in 2 years huh? Yeah right. More like no-one is buying your slimey pitch.

  • @gregcoopersmg

    interesting – im the CEO of a search firm and I remember when we first started the business i spoke to one ” industry body” – you know the main one for marketing and they only wanted money – i asked if they needed to see our work or speak to our accountant etc etc – oh no baby – just send us the cash – disgraceful ! have a good day – @gregcoopersmg

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