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…


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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