TOPSEOs Deceptive Practices – An Interview with Jeev Trika
UPDATE 4/29/2010 – TOPSEOS issues Apology - But Is It Enough?
The TOPSEOs discussion (mostly industry leaders and participants calling for TOPSEOs to stop their deceptive marketing practices) has been raging for a while now. Not long after this all started, I attempted to contact Jeev Trika, one of the owners of the company. At first, I did this with a direct email to Jeev via his LinkedIn account. When I got no response to that after 2 weeks, I called them and was actually able to talk with Jeev himself. It turns out that Jeev not only stands firm in his view that they have a legitimate business model, but he even told me he sees this as just a witch hunt out to smear a good business.
My Apologies For The Delay
Before I continue I need to apologize for the lengthy delay in the time between that call and this article. The fact is that I have a life outside my blogging. Go figure. Sometimes I’m swamped with client work. Other times, personal life takes over. In any case, even though it’s now been a couple weeks since that call, I think this is still a timely article, and as a follow-up to my own original article.
Especially since Third Door Media has most recently contacted TOPSEOs and demanded they cease and desist with not only their blatant scraping of the legitimate content created by Search Marketing industry professionals, but that they remove the SMX logo from the TOPSEOs site, as they have used that without permission.
A Desire To Hear The Other Side
Okay – so I called TOPSEOs and asked to speak with Jeev Trika directly, because hey – nobody from their company has had the willingness to participate in a legitimate discussion about their business practices. And rather than just being one of the people who raises a concern based on personal opinion or just because several complaints have shown up, I figured I’d get Jeev’s take on this whole thing.
Jeev Sidesteps A Desire For Accuracy
Now mind you, I’m not a reporter. I don’t have professional journalism training. And I’m not an investigative journalist nor a private investigator. So I didn’t know exactly how to go about this. But I figured I would want to be as accurate in my reporting on this conversation as possible. And so I invited Jeev to either answer a series of questions by email, to get his replies in writing (can’t get much more accurate in quoting someone than that) or perhaps we could do this over Skype and record it, for later transcription.
Jeev laughed at both of those suggestions. And declined them as well.
Now, on the one hand, that decision can be seen as an innocent choice. On the other, given the situation we’re dealing with here, it could also be seen as Jeev not being willing to be quoted on the record with any of his responses to my questions – so that he could later deny everything.
So given the fact that this was purely a verbal conversation, I can not guarantee that everything I state as being attributed to Jeev is his actual words. All I can do is my best at paraphrasing and offering my own opinion on what I felt came out of that call. It’s not ideal, but this isn’t a court-room either, so it will have to do.
The Court Of Public Opinion
Okay so this isn’t a court of law. We’re not going to get all of the facts, presented as pure facts, when it comes to TOPSEOs official corporate stance on all of this. As a result of their unwillingness to provide an official response, as much as Jeev might not like the altnerative, it’s the alternative we have to go by – the court of public opinion. So here goes…
Jeev Shouts Witch Hunt, Tries To Evade Reality
When we first started talking, Jeev acknowledged having read the original Sphinn article, as well as my own original article. He summed all of that up as being a witch hunt perpetrated by a competitor of his (Edward, who runs SEOConsultants.com – he (Jeev) really was clear on painting the discussion as an unwarranted attack on his business. He even pointed me to an old article that was written a few years ago where that article painted Edward in less than stellar light.
Oh – Look – a Shiny Object
Personally, I read that article but will not link to it here. Not because I have any desire to prop up Edward as a saint or some such nonsense. Instead, I won’t because this discussion isn’t about Edward Lewis. It’s about Jeev Trika, TOPSEOs and the now growing list of complaints about their company. If Jeev Trika wants to try and get us to discount the entirety of the complaint base due to one person’s participation, that’s not going to fly with me.
The Link Bait Tactic
I need to say that overall, Jeev was quite pleasant to speak with – and communicated both an appreciation for my being the first person to actually call him directly, as well as for my willingness to actually get his side of this whole thing. He did, however, say that the thought the only reason I’m doing this is for link bait. Which is NOT true. And I informed him that when I write articles, I do so because I am passionate about our industry, and that passion leads to my writing on things I care about.
He also told me that while he was quite open to answering questions I presented, that it couldn’t be an unending list of questions – and I acknowledged the fact that I didn’t expect him to sit there on the phone with me for hours on end.
The Honey Buys More Than Venom Tactic
I need to mention up front that at one point toward the end of the conversation, Jeev mentioned my being a columnist at SearchEngineJournal.com and he invited me to write articles for the magazine they (Jeev and his cohorts) put out. You know – the one that happens to share part it’s name with that of the company they rank #1 in the SEO field… I thanked him but declined. go figure.
Why Complaints Matter. And Don’t.
So on the one hand, there’s an ever increasing list of companies complaining about the TOPSEOs service. Some have paid money to companies that TOPSEOs rates as highly rated, only to believe they’ve either been ripped off, or at the very least, that they’ve gotten far less in services than they were promised. Others have complained that though they’ve never paid, and nobody from TOPSEOs has ever spoken with them, that they were rated nonetheless. And in those situations, some of them have reported that they then got a call from TOPSEOs offering to boost their ratings in direct relation to that company paying into the company’s monthly fee structure.
Still others have complained that TOPSEOs took their articles without permission, and the list of other complaints of varying types just keeps mounting.
According to Jeev during our conversation, the reality is that they rate thousands of companies, so it’s reasonable that a few people would complain – you can’t satisfy everyone all the time. At that point, there had only been perhaps five specific companies that had come forward online (that we’d been able to find or who joined the conversation at Sphinn). So Jeev was like – what’s 5 complaints compared to 3,000 companies in their system? That’s like a 99.8% success rating.
The Illusion Of Numbers
Truth be told – by itself, that concept – in its most simplistic form, is not unreasonable. The fact is that in all my years in business, from time to time, I screw up just like everyone else does. Occasionally, clients end up unhappy. For a host of reasons. So in that light, if that was the only issue, TOPSEOs would be considered an outstandingly good service provider.
Yo, Dude, It’s Not So Simple
It really isn’t so simple in this situation though. Because we have to also look at the type of complaints, and the response mechanism in place to determine, in this court of public opinion, whether the “vast majority are happy” claim is true or not. And how severe the complaints are. And how TOPSEOs responds.
The Toyota of the SEO World
Okay so this isn’t a perfect analogy, but it’s close enough. If the complaints that come out against a company are of the “we’re not satisified, or “we didn’t get what we paid for” type, then the easy fix is to do what I do – to refund your client’s money. And acknowledge that you’re far from perfect. And to strive to do better next time.
But if the complaints are ones like Toyota recently faced – failed brakes, stuck gas pedals… well, those are much more serious in terms of how you need to go about addressing the complaints and what you’ll do to compensate for them, how you’ll take corrective action. Because people die otherwise.
Now, I’m not saying that TOPSEOs is causing SEO industry people to die. No, it’s not THAT serious. What I am saying though is when we look at the complaints, – like stealing other peoples articles for your own gain, or claiming to allow site visitors to contact a company in the database even though that company has not paid to receive leads (and therefore that company will NOT receive those leads, but a company – a DIFFERENT COMPANY than the one the site visitor EXPECTS to contact, one that pays TOPSEOs for leads, will…
See – now we’re talking about some very serious complaints indeed. Ones that you can’t rectify through reimbursement. Because in both those cases, we’re talking about people who did not pay TOPSEOs in the first place and- in the case of stolen articles, TOPSEOs did NOT seek permission nor did they obtain it.
SCRAPED PROFILES – OR NOT
In at least one case, it was reported that a company had NOT paid to be listed, and that their listing was scraped, without permission or knowledge of that company. It turned out, during my call with Jeev, that someone at that company had, in fact, a couple years back, submitted their company for a free listing. I confirmed this with the person who made the original complaint. Except Jeev told me that the person who had submitted the info originally had even contacted them afterward to have the profile updated. That aspect of the rebuttal from Jeev is still being denied by my contact. He says the profile info is at least 3 years old.
Either way – whether it’s been updated or not, in this one case it turned out that someone inside that company did, in fact, submit the information to TOPSEOs.
So that begs the question – of all the other companies claiming that nobody in their organization submitted their profile – that it was scraped without their knowledge – how many of those instances are like the one I investigated, and will turn out to be situations where one hand doesn’t report to the other what they’re doing?
I expect that at least some of the profiles in the system were scraped, because that’s how most directories get the beef of their content – they go out and gather information. They don’t in fact, wait for companies to submit profiles, nor do they bother to contact those companies directly to ensure the information they are posting is 100% accurate.
But given that in at least one instance a person at the company did submit the profile, it’s a legitimate question that I ask of our industry.
Clearly, in the case of those people claiming that TOPSEOs took their articles without permission, I tend to lean toward believing that to be a serious, legitimate complaint. After all, if I wrote an article, I know damn well whether I gave someone else permission to use it or not. And honestly, I’d love to see how Jeev counters this one. We didn’t discuss it on our call so I can’t even begin to imagine how he’d dodge this bullet.
DECEPTIVE VISITOR SERVICES
Here’s one of the more serious charges – a visitor goes to TOPSEOs, scans the list of companies in the directory, clicks the link to contact that company, reasonably expects that someone from THAT company will contact them, and then gets pitched by another company.
I don’t care how you couch it, that is scum tactics. Nowhere in the form process are you informed that you may not in fact be contacted by that company unless they pay a fee for leads, but that instead, you’ll be pitched by another company. It’s not like the form says “Fill out this form to have an as yet undisclosed company pitch you on services”. It specifically communicates that this is a form being sent to a specific company. A company you, the visitor, took the time to select.
Heck, the moment you fill out the form, the confirmation even says you’ve contacted that company. The one you THOUGHT you were contacting.
A Glimmer Of Hope In A Sea Of Bile
To Jeev’s credit, when I brought up that concern, he did tell me that “maybe I can improve that”. He alluded to the possibility that disclosure could be improved in that contact form process.
But that was weeks ago. And when I tried just now, nothing has changed. There’s nothing obvious or clearly communicated, either on the profile page, or in the contact form process that states at all that you may or may not receive a contact back from the company we just told you that you contacted.
Why That’s Serious And Disgusting
It’s been said by others, but I’ll say it here. In my own words.
Deceiving a site visitor into believing that they are submitting a contact form to a specific company and then diverting that contact form to another company is pure bullshit.
Jeev Has An Answer For Everything
Jeev’s rebuttal to my view on that tactic was cold, matter of fact, and pure “unethical business 101″. He said – when that form gets filled out, we do send a notice to the email we have on record for that company. We then invite them to join our leads program (the one for the hefty fee). If they decline, it’s not our problem. We then pass that lead along to another company.
WOAH JEEV – THANKS FOR NOTHING
This is simple business ethics. Really people. It is. If the recipient declines to participate, the ethical thing to do would be to inform the person who filled out the form that you could not, in fact, pass the lead along because that company chose not to participate in your leads program.
Better yet, you need to inform site visitors of how your system works in a clear, obvious and reasonable manner BEFORE they fill out the form or AS they’re filling out the form. On that same form page. Not buried in some disclaimer somewhere either.
And by failing to do that, your actions cause the person who filled out that form to consider the possibility that the company they tried to reach doesn’t care to even bother to respond to a simple contact form request. Even though that’s not what happened.
WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON HERE?
Jeev was quite clear with me in stating that they make it perfectly clear that TOPSEOs is a lead generating company, and that if you want to get those, you have to pay. He also confirmed that their rating system and their SEO / PPC Competition are two distinctly separate services. But he also confirmed to me that he thinks it’s quite reasonable to give only companies that pay a fee consistently high rankings in the general rankings system. Jeev’s stance, as far as what he communicated during our phone call, is that they run a legitimate business offering legitimate and perfectly reasonable services.
My take on it is that Jeev and whoever else runs that company are of the “business ethics is a game” mentality. If you do a whole bunch of scuzzy things, it doesn’t matter as long as you convince enough people that you offer a legitimate service.
And that’s where we cross into no-mans land….
Questionable Ethics In the SEO Industry
The SEO industry is just like any other in many ways. One of those ways is that many business owners think that it’s either perfectly acceptable to buy awards, buy ratings, or buy a place in some phony “Who’s Who” book (SOOO 20th Century), or that it’s actually a legitimate business marketing tactic that helps you differentiate your company from the rest. Even if they’re not truly unbiased, truly independent awards or ratings.
Some business owners are perfectly happy to pay their way to the “appearance” of being the best. They just don’t care about consumer rights, or fair play, or anything else in that realm of life. They’ll do whatever it takes, or almost anything this shy of their own ethical threshold, to get ahead.
The truth is, it’s just marketing to them. And at a societal level, it’s condoned across the board.
Fact – Fast Food will kill you.
Fact. Smoking Cigarettes will kill you.
Fact. Taking prescription medications based on a doctor’s best guess that they’re what may help you, may also kill you.
Fact. The fine print that flashes on the bottom of the television screen for 3 seconds is so tiny and gone so fast, that no reasonable human being will ever be able to read them during that commercial.
But we don’t live in a society that truly cares enough about the consumer – we live in a society where those facts are discounted, laughed at, and otherwise spit upon by business owners, politicians, and the sheep society they’ve mastered.
So a company like TOPSEOs will, in all likelihood, continue to prosper. Because so many companies will continue to pay for bullshit awards that aren’t otherwise worth the toilet paper they should be printed on.
CALLING ON TOPSEOS TO REFORM
Okay so lets pretend we live in an ideal world. One where a serious bunch of legitimate complaints are filed against a company. Complaints that point to flagrant abuse of industry companies and clearly stolen content. In that ideal world, here’s what I think Jeev Trika needs to do.
1. Remove the Stolen Content
Delete every single article ever re-purposed that came from people or companies that did not provide clear, written permission to use those articles. Not only is their use wrong, it’s a crime.
2. Clarify The Lead Re-Routing
Provide a disclaimer directly on the contact form on company profiles that unless the company in question has signed up for and paying for leads, that the form will be rerouted to another company of TOPSEOs choosing, and to offer the site visitor the option to opt out of having that form submitted if they don’t want another company to contact them.
3. Get Honest About Ratings
Provide a disclaimer directly on the top of every page that lists companies currently billed as “Best companies” in a given field that not all of the companies listed have, in fact, been thoroughly vetted as is claimed in the vetting process descriptions elsewhere on the site.
4. Declare A Spade A Spade
Provide a disclaimer plainly visible in a substantive way on the site as appropriate, that informs visitors that only companies that pay a fee for a rating are going to end up with the highest “awards” and that “awards” are tied to money exchange.
5. Stop The Spam
Clearly the volume of “press releases” sent out by, for or on behalf of TOPSEOs is at a volume directly proportional to the shear asshattery that this whole sham of an awards system is at. Either stop sending them out altogether, or include the above mentioned disclaimers directly in every press release.
6. Respond To Complaints Maturely
When so many perfectly legitimate companies complain and get no positive resolution, it’s disgusting. There should be a clearly explained mechanism for complaint handling and every company that has lodged a complaint in this discussion to this point should be contacted by a TOPSEOs manager with the promise to resolve this issue to the complaintant’s satisfaction (within reason). And then that needs to be carried out.
7. Remove every single reference to the word “independent”
Look – billing your company as “independent” gives the appearance of being unbiased, and that you really do rate all companies fairly, not based on financial compensation. If you don’t make it crystal clear that this is a paid rating service, at least you can have the decency to not claim independent status. Because you’re not independent. You’re bought and paid for.
I am sure there are plenty more desired goals that will come from our industry peers, however personally, I think if Jeev steps up to the plate and does these, I’d be quite surprised, and would be happy to write a new article detailing those actions, and show that TOPSEOs really does care about ethical business practices.
What do you think?
As I was perusing the TOPSEOs site just now, I came across their complaint form. The one where you get to register a complaint against a member. So of course, I took the time to fill it out, given that I have a legitimate complaint.
See my latest article detailing the litany of complaints that now add up to a clear situation of deceptive practices, questionable yet clearly unethical business methods, and outright theft of other people’s intellectual property. Would love for Jeev to dispute these in a public format or in writing. Otherwise we will have no choice but to contact every company in your public database and challenge them to stay with you or bail.
Have a nice day.
I hope they’ll make an appropriate response and chastise themselves because after the form was completed, I got a little popup saying how seriously they take complaints.4
FOLLOW-UP TO THIS MORNING’S UPDATE
I got an email response back from TOPSEO’s regarding my submission of their complaint form – where I complained to them about them
The form you filled out is focused on trying to resolve issues with those who have purchased internet marketing services and tools and with those who provide such services. Your complaint doesn’t meet that criteria.
THANK YOU? You thanked me for not using the form as it was intended? And that’s all? < sigh > I guess they only care about complaints against their members, not against their own company. How unexpected.