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Old 04-11-2008   #1
Kevin Heisler
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SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

An SEO firm near Seattle was sued by the Washington State Attorney General and settled for more than $100,000. Plus, all clients must be given a full refund. Plus, SEO firm can't advertise SEO services to new customers.

Rand Fishkin will need to defend himself against Chris Boggs in the Standards debate:

SEO Standards anyone?
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Old 04-11-2008   #2
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Interesting timing. Wonder what Jason Calacanis would make of the debate, since on top of his SEO opinions, he just recently preached a similar sermon about affiliate marketing at Affiliate Summit.

There couldn't be standards for SEO, there isn't enough transparency (or agreement) and they'd be unenforceable. There could be those who commit themselves as subscribing to a roughly pre-defined "Code of Ethics" but even that couldn't be enforceable other than kicking out violators.
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Old 04-12-2008   #3
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

What were they doing?
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Old 04-12-2008   #4
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Here's the official document with details of the complaint.

For one thing, notice the reference to use of "directory information pages" to direct traffic to clients.
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Old 04-12-2008   #5
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Excellent question, seoranter. Thanks for posting the link to the complaint Marcia.

A big part of the problem was their sales and telemarketing pitch. They were promising guaranteed top search engine rankings in the engines:

The petition accused Internet Advancement and three of its officers of misrepresenting the company’s ability to provide top search engine rankings and increase Web traffic.

They were also accused of making unauthorized charges to consumer credit cards, failing to honor guarantees and refunds, unfairly structuring cancellation policy terms and making false statements concerning the company’s standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Attorney General’s Office.

Every SEO who has clients needs to read what mistakes Internet Advancement made. To my knowledge, it's a watershed for the industry: the first time a state AG has successfully prosecuted a search engine optimization firm.
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Old 04-15-2008   #6
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

HALELUIAH!!!....and now I hope they get the rest of the scammers. I ran an internet marketing workshop in Phoenix on Saturday for small business and every site that had been touched by a so called SEO was total spam. The small buisness are easy prey for these people and its time we as an industry stepped up and said no more. I hope people who are against standards realize now just how bad it is out there for the most vunerable consumers.

Last edited by Fionn : 04-15-2008 at 11:00 AM.
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Old 04-15-2008   #7
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

One of the reasons I continue to do free SEO seminars for small business (even though they are not my target market) is that (aside from the fact that I like to teach) they help keep me grounded.

I suspect that if you looked around, the people most often saying that standards are not needed are those working in agencies, have big clients, or are in-house SEO's.

I suspect that those who have to work with small business people everyday are the ones who are doing much of the pushing - because they know first hand what's it's really like out there.

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Old 04-15-2008   #8
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Ian, in the past two months I have been in front of up to 300 small businesses through the work I do with SCORE and not one of those was a prospect for my business. I do it for the same reasons you do, I love to teach and I have not forgotten where I came from. I remember when $500 was a small fortune for me to spend on anything and the last thing that I would have wanted was to get scammed out of it.
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Old 04-16-2008   #9
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Quote:
5.2 Defendants offer a “written money-back guarantee” to purchasers of their search engine optimization services. www.internetadvancements.com/seo/services.shtml, April 6, 2004. According to the terms of their contract with purchasers, defendants guarantee that their clients will “obtain at least a top 10 placement on one or more of (the client’s) ‘key words’ or key word phrases’…on at least 6 of the major search engines” for the 6 month term of the contract. The contract goes on to state that if defendants fail to fulfill the terms of their “Warranty and Guarantee,” the client is entitled to a refund.
You know, I'd almost be willing to bet that this is/was an arm of Traffic Power/1P. In fact, I'm almost certain it is and/or was. Its the same MO and I've seen/heard that name Internet Advancement back in 2004 when the TP stuff was at the forefront of discussions.
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Old 04-17-2008   #10
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

One of the things I find with small businesses though is the sheer utter ignorance many of these people have about business itself, much less SEO.

I've encountered some that want "trade" services, "test" out the service, or confuse SEO with lead generation or sales generation and the like.

Having done work for past clients from church, many small businesses come with exactly that mentality - the small business, the employee mentality.

It's one thing to not be able to afford to invest in a service. It's another to have no clue and refuse to be instructed. Many also only hear what they want to hear.

You could make the counter argument that because of this, there needs to be standards so that companies like Internet Advancement doesn't hustle the small guys.

I personally think the whole "democratization of business ownership" that is being sold by "gurus" is a bunch of crap. Not everyone is fit to be a business owner or to be their own boss (seriously, the church and church people have taught me this reality - not everyone is qualified to be their own boss).

But, I do think there needs to be a more concerted effort on the SEM industry to woo the SBA and other gov't agencies. It behooves us to present to them some solid information about what an SEO does, what a good SEO will do, what to watch out for, and what to expect. This would be laying the groundwork, seeding for the next generation. Plus, it would probably help protect us all in the future in case of other politically minded AGs (like above) has any ideas.
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Old 04-17-2008   #11
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Brilliant idea to educate the SBA, Better Business Bureau, SCORE and other public-private business organizations. I hope that SEOs all over the world volunteer to speak at local chamber of commerce meetings and other educational forums.

The challenge with educating government agencies comes when SEOs - as an industry - can't agree on what practices are acceptable and which aren't.

That's what lies at the heart of the SEO Standards debate that Chris Boggs started in Search Engine Watch. It's not a "black hat" vs "white hat" issue, per se. It's much broader and speaks to the whole government regulation vs self-regulation debate that many industries face.

Search is maturing as an industry just the way email marketing did. Spam (or what the engines consider spam in their ecosystems) is a huge issue for Google and other search engines. We could very likely be heading toward Can-Spam hearings and FTC regulation, as aussiwebmaster pointed out in his SEW blog post.
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Old 04-18-2008   #12
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

You know who currently owns the largest SEO firm in the world? Google. Yep it was owned by doubleclick

Now google is trying to sell it off because of the obvious conflict of interest.
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Old 04-21-2008   #13
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Re: SEO Agency Sued, Loses, Pays $100k+

Performics SEO division is for sale but they are keeping the affiliate marekting arm.

Performics Divesting SEO
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