Exclusive Insights – Bruce Clay talks TopSEOs

I was going to write this article right after SMX Advanced, but instead of settling, the dust has actually kicked up big time but since this is a holiday weekend, I figured it’s time to write up the one on one conversation I had with Bruce Clay regarding TopSEOS, while up at Advanced…

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In my last article regarding how TopSEOs continue to use deceptive business practices, I closed out the article looking for opinions by “award winners”.  Essentially, I believe that one of the most serious problems our industry faces when it comes to cleaning up the SEO cesspool is that seemingly upstanding and highly regarded companies don’t go far enough in railing against the scum that causes harm to unsuspecting business owners looking for services from our industry.

Looking For Opinions

To this end, I visited a number of web sites for companies that are listed in the TopSEOs system where those companies otherwise appear to be legitimate.  Believe me, that was a challenge simply because so many of those listed have turned out to be ripoffs.

Nonetheless, there are companies out there doing good work from an overall perspective, (or there are complaints floating I have not personally been able to verify) and I was curious to find out, directly from them, why they continue to sport TopSEOs banners that make the claim they’ve gotten an award for quality service even though everyone now knows that TopSEOs themselves don’t really perform an unbiased comprehensive review, and that their new disclaimer page actually states that there’s no reason to believe that their claims are based on any facts whatsoever.

By developing and posting such rankings, topseos.com makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or factual basis of the rankings

Now any reasonably intelligent human being who reads that line can clearly see that their “rankings” are complete bullshit.  Yet while that tidbit is buried deep near the end of a 942 word disclaimer (that only appeared on their site after my scathing Jeev Trika interview article and a plethora of complaints came out during this year’s initial Sphinn push initiated by Edward Lewis forced them to issue a public apology and vow to change), the fact remains that they continue to distribute and promote those asshat badges.

And those seemingly legitimate companies in our industry I reached out to continue to display them.

Which means a business owner who doesn’t know better will see that and may think “Hey – wow – this company looks legit – they’ve even won an award…”

Which we know is complete bullshit.

You Can Run but You Can’t Hide Forever

Long story longer, not one single response came from any of the companies I reached out to.

Until SMX Advanced.

Up in Seattle, the first night of the conference, Third Door put on a “Meet & Greet” – where early arrivals could socialize, get introduced, and begin the experience that I think is the most valuable of all at conferences – networking.

One of the first people I had the pleasure of meeting was Bruce Clay.  Generally speaking, I have always appreciated how successful Bruce has been over the years.  By some people’s accounts, the size, scope and scale of his company is something they only wish they could achieve.

Personally, I don’t aspire to run a company with a global reach and such a large staff, because I’m not that type of business person.  Let’s be real right?  I’m such a renegade, so fiercely independent, and thoroughly inappropriate in my approach that there’s no way even I could tolerate me as a boss.  :-)

Bruce, on the other hand, is obviously more than skilled at running such a venture.  His business acumen is proven through and through.  And his employees sure look like they have a lot of fun at all those company parties :-)

And while there has, over the years, been some controversy around Bruce’s linking methodology, I personally haven’t seen or explored enough of that to be able to say, with complete certainty, that it’s anything other than grey-hat stuff, if that.

Bigger Problems

Yet one of the biggest thorns in our industry is how BCI, with all their recognition and weight, sports a TopSEOs “award” right there on the BCI site – right along with their own Bruce Clay Inc. code of ethics badge…

(note – at the time of this article, that “award” has been removed from the BCI home page, replaced by their “SEO & PPC Competition” banner, however the “award” remains on their About page)…

So naturally, I felt compelled to speak with Bruce about that.

Curiosity And The Cat

Why, I wondered, would such a pillar of the search marketing community, need to display their “best in” badge, knowing full well that it’s not an independent rating? Why would they want to be associated with such a deceptive company at all?

To Bruce’s credit, our conversation was not only polite, it was downright relaxed.  Having never previously met or spoken with Bruce, I had no idea what to expect going into this.  It turns out (no surprise to anyone who has actually dealt with Bruce, I am sure), that he’s a really decent guy.  There was no arrogance, no holier-than-thou energy about him at all.

And he proceeded to explain to me why he continues to associate with TopSEOs.

Profit As A Business Motive

It turns out that BCI actually gets a fairly substantial amount of business that comes through that channel.  Even though Bruce told me exactly what percentage, he didn’t say I could share that here, so I’ll just say this – you might be shocked if you heard the number…

So that’s a major factor right there.  It’s not personal – it’s just business.

But what about the whole deceptive practices issue?

Bruce was very clear on this point.  He told me that he most definitely doesn’t like all of the things they do over at TopSEOs – from article scraping to the concept of bait and switch (for the record, Bruce said that to his knowledge not one time did any such unsuspecting prospect get referred to BCI), and just as important – he clearly thinks there’s a serious problem with how some highly questionable companies get top billing.

The Good Guy Hat

Since they do get a serious amount of business from that channel, Bruce doesn’t see any problem in participating in that way – he says that since his company does quality work, he figures if he didn’t get that business, there’s a good chance that those clients might just end up at a less than reputable company and get ripped off.

That’s an interesting perspective I hadn’t previously considered.  That while TopSEOs steers God knows how many unsuspecting businesses toward scummy solution providers, at least some percentage of them are potentially going to be sent to companies that actually deliver real solutions…

Now, personally, I don’t think it’s enough that legitimate companies are thrown into the mix.  The sheer volume and weight of the asshattery, in my opinion, far outweighs the good that might come out of this whole deal.

Yet as far as Bruce is concerned, and according to him, “I prefer to remain neutral in this” – it’s not his policy to address such concerns…

The golden Ticket

Here’s where things really get fascinating.  And why we have a critically serious problem in our industry.  What I’m about to share was, when I heard it, both shocking and not surprising in the least…

Bruce told me that he doesn’t pay TopSEOs one cent.  Nadda.  Nothing.  No monthly membership fee whatsoever.

Of course he doesn’t.  He doesn’t have to.  TopSEOs needs the “legitimacy” factor that comes with the relationship.

By sprinkling in highly visible and highly touted industry players into the mix of craptastic thieves, it lends a massive amount of credibility cache’ to what they’re doing.

So how many other companies (legitimate or otherwise) are not paying for those badges?  And how many who ARE paying, know that someone else ISN’T paying?  but I digress…

And That’s The Rub

As long as companies such as BCI continue to sleep in the same bed as TopSEOs, Jeev gets to play his game.  For all the negative that comes when the industry cries out against them, every service provider that plays, and every industry conference that continues to allow them to play the role of sponsor or “partner”, counters the outcry.

A Matter of Business Ethics Perspective

And that brings me back to a point I brought up a while ago in this ongoing discussion.  Business Ethics.  While many of us have defined the concept of business ethics, as it applies to the TopSEOs situation, to mean that you’re either against TopSEOs altogether (and refuse to have anything to do with them), or you’re not.  And if you’re not, in our view, you’re contributing to the problem, and that, in turn, means you yourself are running an unethical company.

Except to some people, that’s just our opinion.  And it’s not good business sense or realistic, according to them. In fact, when we look at what goes on in the business world – whether it’s participating in a TopSEOs type scheme through the display of phony “awards”, or it’s outsourcing overseas and paying people 80 cents an hour for work that generates your company hundreds of dollars an hour in profit, capitalism from a detached perspective doesn’t factor in moral or ethical issues the way some of us would prefer.

It’s a cold, hard, reality.

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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24 Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Siltala. Matt Siltala said: RT @AlanBleiweiss: New Article: Exclusive Insights – Bruce Clay talks TopSEOs http://bit.ly/BruceClay [...]

  2. “Bruce told me that he doesn’t pay TopSEOs one cent. Nadda. Nothing. No monthly membership fee whatsoever.”

    But wait, he has an Official Membership Badge and according to the TOPSEOs Advertising section, it costs $2,500 per month to sport that badge. Is there any portion of the TOPSEOs website that doesn’t contain deception?

    So, here the industry is thinking that ole Bruce Clay is paying $30,000.00 per year to sport that Ultimate Membership Badge and he hasn’t paid one cent? Heh!

    “Even though Bruce told me exactly what percentage, he didn’t say I could share that here, so I’ll just say this – you might be shocked if you heard the number.”

    Lets see if I can make an accurate guess, I’d say upwards of 70-80%. Enough that Bruce was able to open additional offices in other countries. Kudos to Bruce – a true TOPSEOs player.
    pageoneresults´s last blog ..Twitter 12 Step ProgramMy ComLuv Profile

  3. “Personally, I don’t aspire to run a company with a global reach and such a large staff, because I’m not that type of business person. Let’s be real right? I’m such a renegade, so fiercely independent, and thoroughly inappropriate in my approach that there’s no way even I could tolerate me as a boss.” If ever there was a paragraph that rang true for me, this is it. I could not have said it better with my own words. But…

    …does that make me feel good about what is going on here? By supporting BCI, is Bruce Clay really taking business away from snake-oil scammers? Or is he taking business away from everyone? I don’t know Bruce.

    I have no opinions of him or his company, other than those I read. Even if I met him, I would not form an opinion as to whether he is a decent guy or not (pleasant is not the same thing as decent). And I don’t know much about TopSEOs (I learned about a month ago from Edward and Alysson that TopSEOs might not be an awesome player in the industry).

    What I do know, after reading a bit here, on Sphinn and a couple other places is that there is something very fishy going on here.
    David Leonhardt´s last blog ..SEOthropology 101My ComLuv Profile

  4. @Edward,

    You’re high. Uh… I mean your guestimate about the percentage of business Bruce gets from TopSEOs – that’s high – a lot higher than the number he said. The bottom line though is regardless of the actual amount, Bruce profits from his relationship with them. You know – They get to tout the fact that he’s one of their top members, they get links back from BCI, BCI gets to use their “best in” banners, and gets leads…

    @David,

    Having taken the time to do as much research as I have, and having read all the complaints from within our industry and directly from clients who hired companies they tout as “number 1 in…”, I’m beyond convinced that it’s more than “something fishy” – it’s downright scummy.

  5. Thos003 says:

    As to a couple of your points:

    1- Paying for a badge. The pest control industry essentially has the same thing, a Quality Pro badge, and a Green Quality Pro badge. Both come with a price. Bulwark is not willing to pay somebody of an endorsement so we are therefore not “Quality Pro Certified”. However, if I believed that paying them would result in leads and business at a good ROI then I would be willing to agree with Bruce, if it’s worth my money…. tempting. Gray area?

    2- As to their onsite disclaimer. “topseos.com makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or factual basis of the rankings” A company I use has this disclaimer at the bottom of their Places page: “Google does not guarantee the accuracy of the statistics.” So yes, its a warning sign, but no, its not a dead give away that they are full of it.

    So I have to admit that I remain somewhat neutral on TopSEO. Frankly, I don’t really know who they are or what crap they are promoting. Other than the fact that you are opposed to them. So yes, I will cite you as an opposing entity, but no, I have not done the research so I will not voice an opinion I have not formed.

    But I wish you well in your pest control efforts.

    …Don’t mind me I am just a pest control guy. =)
    Thos003´s last blog ..Happy 4th of July-My ComLuv Profile

  6. Halvorsen says:

    Yes, I have to agree with Thomas. There are thousands of industry companies that make a killing off paid memberships and a “vetting” process. There are even more companies willing to pay a yearly fee for the “privilege” to sport a badge or logo. But the most upsetting part of all the sheer number of consumers that buy into the bullshit.

    What sucks even more is a known and respected man such as Bruce Clay would allow a company like TopSEO’s to use his name. That is complete bullshit. I have to applaud Danny Sullivan’s SMX partner for making TopSEO’s remove all the mention of SMX. But I have no respect for Bruce Clay. I’d probably have more respect for the man if he actually paid for his badges. But he is allowing his company to legitimize a company that is in the business of scamming consumers. I caught them red handed in the “bait and switch” ( http://www.theseoblog.org/topseos-an-independent-authority/ ).

    If it smells like shit, it is probably shit.
    Halvorsen´s last blog ..Upcoming Facebook Privacy GuideMy ComLuv Profile

    • Michael

      No matter how many companies, in this industry or any other, buy into bullshit “awards” or “rating systems”, there’s no excuse for that from a consumer protection perspective.

      No, I’m not a bleeding heart liberal. You’d be surprised at some of my most conservative views. Yet I am, if you hadn’t learned by now, a fierce advocate for those who get scammed.

      This is where the dilemma is for me. I respect Bruce for the fact that he’s been able to build a serious business, I don’t respect how he plays the TopSEOs game. Should BCI be put out of business because of this? I think that’s a bit way overboard. Do they need to sever their ties with Jeev Trika? In my view, absolutely.

      And until they do, it makes me wonder – what else is Bruce willing to do for the sake of money?

      • Halvorsen says:

        Alan – I was not saying Bruce Clay should be put out of business or anything along those lines. What I was saying is that if he wants to be called a legitimate company, he needs to sever his ties with an illegitimate cesspool that is TopSEO’s.

        From a business standpoint, it must be nice to be in Bruce’s shoes. But if he wants to continue to be seen as a leader in our industry, he needs to stop feeding from TopSEO’s hand. If all the companies that AREN’T paying a dime to TopSEO’s asked to be removed from their site, TopSEO’s would have a hard time selling the badges to other companies. That is a selling point in itself: “you can be listed right beside Bruce Clay for a nominal fee.”

        Bruce Clay needs to man up and asked to be removed from the site just as the folks at SMX did.
        Halvorsen´s last blog ..Upcoming Facebook Privacy GuideMy ComLuv Profile

  7. paisley says:

    hmm.. what would any huge brand do if they found a sketchy website had advertised some type of association that did not exist?

    they claim DMCA and have their attorneys write nasty letters to be removed.

    #imjustsayin
    paisley´s last blog ..djpaisley- DJ Kaz – Stay Supa Dupa Fly ♫ http-blipfm-t2klvMy ComLuv Profile

  8. “That is complete bullshit. I have to applaud Danny Sullivan’s SMX partner for making TopSEO’s remove all the mention of SMX.”

    Ah, but TOPSEOs have not removed all mentions, only those on the US based site. The rest are still as is. They even have banners for SMX that make them look like they are SEO providers in the mix.

    No, SMX didn’t do anything but make a showing and then disappeared. They could care less. They still promote Visibility Magazine which is another TOPSEOs backdoor into the industry.

    I believe SMX is still in bed with TOPSEOs too. Their little comment at Sphinn was just for show.
    pageoneresults´s last blog ..Twitter 12 Step ProgramMy ComLuv Profile

    • I don’t know if it’s complete bullshit or not. They may not have taken the time to review all of TopSEO’s sites. If Third Door made their decision based on the fact that TopSEO’s has made public-facing gestures to make it appear that they’ve reformed, that could be what’s up.

      The fact is that they do receive plenty of revenue from TopSEO’s as an advertiser/sponsor of events. Does that mean they’re also just putting on a show? The jury’s out on that one til I can get an official response to an inquiry I have yet to make. #SoMuchToDo #SoFewHoursInTheDay

  9. Jim Rudnick says:

    Alan…

    RE: “…It’s a scam. Pure and simple. Cut and dried….”
    says it best.

    I’m ashamed of this type of approach to the SMB marketplace….and after reading your expose of BC and their involvement, I’d have to agree with those here as well as yourself, that such ethics are shameful!

    Makes me rethink my own opinions of all involved ie not only TOPSEOs, but their listed clients as well…all suck!

    What a shame, eh….

    :-(

    Jim
    Jim Rudnick´s last blog ..2011 Search Marketing Report from MarketingSherpa is Out-My ComLuv Profile

  10. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for sharing a different perspective!

    I personally respect Bruce Clay, his company and for what he does and has done to help evolve our industry. I have not meet him in person yet, but have spoken with him via email in the past.

    That said, I also have been reading all of the great articles about the who Top SEOs scam. I personally would NEVER pay $2,500 a month for a membership for something that is a “pay for play” type of thing. I tested Top SEOs in the past for my SEO/SEM firm (through a banner membership) and no surprise I had a terrible ROI.

    I think that Bruce (along with others out there) should pull the plug on Top SEOs! Seriously, legitimate SEO service providers should be able to generate their own business through SEO, PPC, Social Media, etc and should not have to rely on Top SEOs. Maybe if the honest folks like Bruce Clay pull their business from them then others will follow?

    Anyway, this is my 2 cents! :)

  11. Adam says:

    I guess I see your point here. I understand the arguments and can see that the financial relationships are, well, complicated and politically charged… But a few thoughts.

    1) This is true in every industry. I only arrived in SEO a few years ago (though in IT for 15), and I have seen far worse stuff there.

    2) I firmly fall in the camp of: “If you are going to rant on something (especially this hard), you had better have some well thought-out solutions to propose.”

    Not trying to sound harsh on that, and they may be posted elsewhere and I missed them. But what is the alternative you are proposing? This strikes me as similar to the problems with the ratings institutions on Wall Street – who failed to steer millions of investors away from toxic asset investments, instead opting to keep them at AAA status – sometimes with clandestine financial arrangements in the back-office… But in the end, nobody really had a better alternative, so the rating agencies remain… Isn’t the marketplace supposed to sort these things out in the end?

    Just a few random thoughts. Interesting discussion you had with Bruce.
    Adam´s last blog ..Googles Next Big Move- VoiceMy ComLuv Profile

  12. if you are attached to an illegal/unethical business in any form, your business practice is equally un-ethical. sorry to say it straight out, but in cases likes this being diplomatic does not works, unless you are a politician :(

    i would advice the good guys to stay out of the bad companies, no matter how much profitable it is, maintaining a good business standard/reputation is as hard as creating one, no point wasting the image by joining hands with the bad guys…

  13. Frank says:

    Bruce is as full of it as most Seo shops. Only bc he has been around forever and he shows up with his doll at every show doesn’t give him any legitimacy. If you need Seoservices hit up a natural linkbuilder and combine with selective link buys at one of the brokers. Seo in 2010 is a money game.

  14. Does anyone know of a reputable SEO company for a small business? Everything I read makes me not want to do SEO for fear of being ripped off!
    Thanks!!
    Lori
    lhollander@RelationshipsWork.com

  15. [...] hate to talk about my fellow SEOs: by-and-large they’re a great bunch. But. They will often make a big deal out of getting paid [...]

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