TOPSEOs Apologizes – Legit or more Deceptive Business?

rankings bought and paid for

There’s been a flurry of renewed activity in the past few days regarding the fact that TOPSEOs has been caught using deceptive business practices in their operation.  Apparently someone at TOPSEOs, perhaps Jeev Trika himself, finally felt that enough pressure was being applied, because yesterday morning (April 28th), a press release was posted through PRWeb.com where TOPSEOs issued an official apology “to the community” for “confusion”, and where they vow “Changes to the Site”.

So did Jeev Trika finally get the message, and are they really going to implement the changes I called for in my article Monday as well as those required by Chris Elwell from Third Door Media? Will they go as far as Edward Lewis thinks they should?  Or is this just another marketing ploy?

Let’s Break It Down

Let’s look at the “official” word from TOPSEO’s and Jeev Trika in this release.

Scraped Articles

In a review of topseos.com’s operations, it appears there was a challenge with specific content having been placed on topseos.com/~/ This content was identified, and is in the process of being removed.

This, of course, refers to the fact that they had been displaying articles, without permission, some by highly reputable people in our industry.  While it’s nice to think they’ll actually delete those, as they legally should delete them, I have concerns about this actually happening.

How can we be sure that all of the illegally published content will be removed?  We’re talking about a lot of articles, across all of their sister sites and from their Visibility magazine.  That’s a huge amount of content that needs to be culled and removed.

Who’s going to know that this has been achieved across the board?

Scraped Profiles

topseos.com will also be changing its policy for SEO vendors who have not responded to requests for participation on topseos.com’s either as a sponsor or non-sponsor. topseos.com will be removing their content, and writing a brief synopsis about each company consistent with safe harbor practices used on leading review sites in all industries.

Really?  Out of the tens of thousands of profiles you have, you mean you’re going to remove the vast majority of them?

Will you then change all your banners, and marketing materials to reduce the false claims you used up til now proclaiming things like “Over 4000 firms analyzed”?

Will you then notify all of the news outlets you duped, and who’s references you make liberal use of in your marketing materials? (Like that reference to Entrepreneur Magazine you so prominently display on your home page?

Bait & Switch

topseos.com’s lead program is being altered, because despite the disclosure given to participating companies, there still was confusion amongst some companies, and topseos.com has decided to change the system to enable contact forms for all vendors listed on the site.  This means that if a potential client requests to contact the vendor via the profile on topseos.com, the email listed on the profile will receive the contact in real time.  This modification will be enabled within 7-10 days.

This refers to the fact that companies who didn’t pony up the thousands of dollars a month TOPSEOs charges to participate in the leads program, never, in fact, in at least some cases, received those contacts, let alone any notice inviting them to join in order to get the lead.

So what they’re saying now is that from now on (effective within 7-10 days), if a visitor clicks the contact form for any company that is NOT paying for leads, that contact form will go directly to the email on file for that company.  This also implies that this lead will NEVER end up going to members who pay for leads.  That would be refreshing, since the way it works now is a lead gets sent to 7 or 8 of those paying members chosen at the discretion of TOPSEO’s.  Which was one of my most serious concerns given how it deceives site visitors, and it causes undue harm to companies not paying for leads because site visitors were led to believe that company would get that contact info, and failing to respond then implied that company was less than professional.

Ranking That Never Took Place

While it is true that vendors do pay for vetting, topseos has always disclosed there are fees involved to be vetted to enable ranking.

That line is a very disturbing claim, because some vendors were initially ranked, WITHOUT paying, only to end up with lower rankings in an attempt to strong-arm those companies into paying the fees TOPSEOs insisted on.  So that statement is patently false.  A lie.  Verified by testimony from multiple sources, all documented publicly.

Deception Of Consumers

In the interest of consumer’s, topseos will more prominently include this detailed disclosure throughout its site.

The need for clear disclosure was another one of the action items I called for in Monday’s article.  So it’s good to see they’re committing to that in writing.  How they go about this will prove an interesting study in itself.  The key here is that though there were disclosures buried on the site a couple clicks down, it was NEVER clear to the consumer performing a search within the site or directory.

A Sincere Apology?

Jeev Trika, Managing Partner of topseos.com said, “We sincerely apologize to the community, both consumers and vendors, for the confusion caused. We deeply regret them. We have learned from our mistakes, vow to fix them to even better, more transparently educate the consumer, and with our forthcoming changes hope to provide an even more valuable, product to the SEO industry, and marketplace moving forward.

Well heck – that’s a direct response to the outstanding footwork that Edward Lewis has put in on this endeavor, and exactly what Chris Elwell called for – an apology.  And it also responds to my direct call to Jeev in that last article for these exact changes to be made.

SEO Community Raised The Alarm

I also want to thank SEO’s around the world, both sponsors and non-sponsors alike, for suggestions about making topseos.com site an even more detailed, and credible resource for all.

You’re welcome Jeev. Though to be clear, we never said we thought TOPSEOs was a credible source.  In fact, we’ve consistently stated that we believe TOPSEOs is at best, a sham, at worst, a scam.  So if the changes you state are made, you may possibly one day become a credible source.

More Changes Must Take Place

While all the claims of reform sound good, in just the past 24 hours I’ve learned you’ve been deleting legitimate negative ratings from your site.

Deleting Legitimate Complaints = AssHattery

What gives you the right to remove negative comments?  According to at least one person, their complaints were removed multiple times, without having had proper explanation provided let alone satisfaction. Edward Lewis has been tracking other instances of this nonsense, so it’s not just one case.  Which means its a part of the overall pattern of deception and intentional manipulation for financial gain.

So for all the changes you claim Jeev, this one’s a new one you better have a valid explanation for because it’s a big one.

Member Badge Abuse

Given that badges are bought, the fact that members use the statement “Rated Best___” is also misleading.  The more I think about this one the more I believe the entire badge program needs to change and the actual badges need to make it crystal clear that these do NOT come from an independent unbiased authority.  If it was an open rating system that truly rated thousands of companies, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

But since the vast majority of companies in any given category are NOT actually rated, AT ALL, it’s a bogus claim and consumers visiting member sites that see that badge don’t know that given the design of the current badges, and clearly members spin the badge as if it was that which it is not.

Since TOPSEOs are the ones who created the foundation for this, and actively encourage members to market their companies based on this lie, it’s up to TOPSEOs to find a way to change this culture they themselves created.

Abuse Of The Press

Too many references exist that claim organizations like Entrepreneur, CNN, and SmartMoney have all given TOPSEOs high marks for their “independent” authority. They even tout the fact that they were interviewed by American Airlines for AA’s in-flight radio a while back. Heck, Jeev has enjoyed being interviewed a number of times within our own industry…. Knowing full well that his message of deception would go out to industry professionals, all with the intent of luring in companies.

And if these media outlets were used to unknowingly propagate TOPSEOs deceptive business model, this has to be addressed.  Equating TOPSEOs to be among such notable organizations as Good Housekeeping, J.D. Power & Associates, and Consumers Digest  is deplorable.  Something needs to be done to address this.

Perhaps it means they contact the major news organizations, Webmaster Raido, and the like directly, and request new interviews.  That would help.

And how about putting this admittance and forgiveness request press release on your actual site?  You seem to have conveniently left it off your own site…

What About All The Other Sites?

Now that this release has been published, it clearly acknowledges wrongdoing, and claims change is on the way.  Though it only references TOPSEOs.com, not their other sister sites around the world, let alone their Lawyer “ratings” site, or their Retirement community “ratings” site, nor their Magazine, or any other web property they own.  So that too will prove to be interesting to observe.

And ultimately, given how many companies have taken advantage of these paid-for ratings to make false claims about being the best in our industry, the question remains – is it all a little too little, and a little too late?

We shall see, indeed.

Regardless Of Outcome

Regardless of the ultimate outcome here, it’s pretty obvious now that Edward is to be commended for starting the ball rolling on this one and documenting as ceaselessly as he has.  And everyone in the community who has spoken up should stand proud that we’re all contributing to help clean up the SEO cesspool.

We’ll Be Watching

It’s also important to communicate that one press release that has a lot of marketing spin in it, and one outright lie, is not, itself, enough to compensate for the tremendous harm TOPSEOs and Jeev Trika have perpetrated on the business world.

And while a number of people are already calling for them to shut down altogether, I’m leaning in that direction, however to be perfectly fair, I’m at least willing to play the waiting game for a short bit of time.  Just to see exactly what they do and how comprehensive the changes are.  So just beware Jeev – we’ll be watching.

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About Alan Bleiweiss

Just another guy. Who happens to have a lot of experience living, breathing and sleeping organic SEO. So that's my primary focus - high end SEO audits and consulting for sites ranging from thousands to tens of millions of pages. In my spare time I blog, rant, write eBooks, and speak at industry conferences.

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20 Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Edward Lewis, Edward Lewis, Alan Bleiweiss, mercylivi, Kev Strong and others. Kev Strong said: RT: @AlanBleiweiss: TOPSEOs Apologizes – Legit or more Deceptive Business? New Article: http://bit.ly/bDmG3W (via @pageoneresults) [...]

  2. [...] TOPSEOs Deceptive Practices – An Interview with Jeev Trika Posted on April 26, 2010, 4:09 pm, by Alan Bleiweiss, under SEO AND SEM SCHEMES, Search Engine Optimization. UPDATE 4/29/2010 – TOPSEOS issues Apology – But Is It Enough? [...]

  3. Wow, that sounds decidedly dodgy to say the least.

    Let’s hope that apology is followed up with some meaningful changes.

  4. Jim Rudnick says:

    ….good good gosh…your ‘dissection’ of their Press Release is muchly appreciated, Alan…

    while I too will await further developments…. in my heart, I know that topseos biz model is truly a scam….

    :-(

    Jim
    Jim Rudnick´s last blog ..To Dot-CA or not to Dot-CA? My ComLuv Profile

  5. [...] 29th 2010: TOPSEOs Apologizes – Legit or more Deceptive Business? by Alan [...]

  6. [...] WTF?  Not trying to control ethics?  What the hell does that mean?  – It means that Ken Styles happened to listen in on the WebCology radio show this week where we talked about services just like SEOHonesty, and figured that before they launch this crappy service that’s just begging for abuse, that he should throw in a reference to ethics in the SEO industry, so as to prove to visitors that they’re different than TOPSEOs. [...]

  7. Jim Rudnick says:

    How about this one — a PR sent out today by TopSEOs, ranking the best SEO copywriting firms….sigh…

    http://www.seopressreleases.com/search-engine-optimization-copywriting-firms-announced-topseos-2010/8620

    Makes me wonder what those guys PAID to be listed too!

    :-(

    Jim
    Jim Rudnick´s last blog ..ConsumerReports on:Social Media “State of the NET!” My ComLuv Profile

  8. Andrew Stafford says:

    Good job people but you’re all missing, or under emphasizing, a very serious issue that topseos.com has yet to remedy. This being the fact that they are, and clearly have been for some time, in direct violation of FTC fair business practices. Yet no where does a record of a filing against topseos.com and Jeev Trika exist?

    Additionally, the damage they have done to the aggrieved parties can should result in individual or class action litigation. Again, there’s no record that this taken place?

    The ‘apology’ is akin to an admission of guilt that would make litigation for past damages relatively easy to prove along with the collection of facts present. Until the harmed parties are compensated for lost income, reputation damage or being the victims of deceitful practices there will be no closure to this matter.

    Andrew Stafford

  9. Andrew,

    Since I’m not an attorney, nor an expert on FTC regulations, I can’t offer any insight or counters to your belief that TOPSEOs is in direct violation of FTC regulations. I believe Edward Lewis is on top of that particular issue. Perhaps he’d care to let us know where he’s at with that.

    Personally I’ve begun reviewing the “apology” press release against their latest claims that they’ve implemented various changes, which I’ll be documenting and posting in a new article this coming week.

  10. [...] “independent authorities” selling rankings for profit, lead generation businesses selling badges that let buyers claim they’ve been “rated” as being the best in our industry.  [...]

  11. [...] get his side of the story and wrote about it on April 26th.   Three days later, TOPSEOs issued an official apology press release, vowing to [...]

  12. Sergio says:

    I was on the search for a web site that could help me decide which company to contact in India to develop a web site. Then I found Topseos.com page and I was very happy indeed. Then I found your post. Thanks everyone! Anyway, the question remains open: is there any independen ranking I could trust and where I could search for possible companies in India that could develop a web site?

    • Sergio
      Unfortunately there are not any companies that exist that the community at large knows of as far as legitimate verification or rating service in our industry – most of us believe it’s not possible for such a company to operate sufficiently and remain unbiased or free of corruption.

      The best suggestion is to speak with other business owners in your line of business who are happy with their provider – get referrals, check them out.

  13. Thanks for bringing this to our attention – I had no idea at all about this.

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