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Redmond Search Engine Marketing Firm Ordered to Refund Clients

 3:52 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Internet Advancement told to refund clients

The state attorney general said yesterday Redmond-based Internet Advancement must pay penalties for failing to get its customers top placement on major search engines.

Internet Advancement, which also goes by 4GreatBuys.com, must refund customers, pay $24,432 to the state for costs incurred and a civil penalty of $25,000.

The company had promised to get its customers ranked in the top 10 to 20 results on the search engines for $980 to $1,500 in set-up fees and monthly fees of $79.80 to $89.95.

The case involved "search engine optimization" services, which attempt to get businesses high placement in search-engine results.

"Internet Advancement misrepresented its success rate, promised more than it could deliver, then refused to provide refunds to customers who didn't get what they paid for," said Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

Full Article [seattletimes.nwsource.com]



 4:37 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Whoa, great find Andrew!

So, what do you think this means for the industry? I'll bet many will be scrambling to rewrite their guarantee policies huh? ;)


 4:46 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

This is the first case I've seen, I'd been wondering how long it would take...


 4:49 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think all it really means is that if you offer a guarantee, you better honor refunds if you fall short.


 4:50 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

When enough complaints are filed by consumers with the BBB, FTC and State Attorney General's Office, things begin to happen.

The BBB is under obligation to report companies to a higher authority when they receive too many consumer complaints. I'll bet that is how this one started.

I think all it really means is that if you offer a guarantee, you better honor refunds if you fall short.

Either that or stay away from guarantees period. The only guarantee these days is with PPC/CPC.

[edited by: pageoneresults at 4:52 pm (utc) on Aug. 12, 2004]


 4:52 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

And you better detail which engines you are going to get them top page rankings on. It is certainly possible in the PPC space, and the smaller engine space.


 4:58 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

You know it's good to see marketing companies/competitors held accountable.


 5:03 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Ha! This is great! Maybe it'll help staunch the flow of ridiculous promises from competitors.


 5:06 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

exactly. Lots of companies offer "guarantees" and as long as you give the money back - you should be ok.

It is misleading to say "We guarantee you will lose five pounds", but if you say - "we are so sure of our program - that we will refund your money if we ..." I don't think it is that bad.

Of course, you can't mislead people about your prior "successes" either.

Looking at some of their pages - I am not so sure their clients realize there are hidden links on their pages - to what appears to be other clients.

If you have a guarantee - you need to honor it.


 5:07 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Interesting, i wonder if any of the clients sued becuase they were in the top 10 only and hence not between 10 and 20!

Defintely a lesson - if your going to make the claim - then you defintely need to get the fame.


 5:11 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Wait till someone sues for having their site penalised.. ;-)


 5:22 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

>>Ha! This is great! Maybe it'll help staunch the flow of ridiculous promises from competitors.

My sentiments exactly.


 5:23 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Many SEO companies should revise thier performance, and find out whether they need to offer this services.

Also its better to inform the customer that internet marketing can do no magic in bringing position and potential sales.

I hope its no way easier than tradtional marketing, except that it has no market boundries.


 5:23 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

How about this for an evil spin using the courts as your income stream :)

Find these firms making these offers and give them a list of 20 innocent looking terms and get top 10 guarantee (or even try for top 3).

Then get 10 SEO friends together then hire one of the firms to optimize your site, meanwhile your 10 friends go crazy on the same terms, making it almost impossible for the firm to rank your site. You then go after punitive damages in addition to your refund for breach of contract, loss of business etc.

Settle out of court and repeat.

Stupid I know. At least this would quickly get rid of firms offering guaranteed placement.


 6:02 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

If the story makes it big a lot of people are going to be contacting their sem's and seo's about their ranking so if your in on one of those top 10 schemes be prepared. :)

again i never promise any top placement, it just happens to get there. :P


 6:14 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

All this says is that you can say whatever you want as long as you give refunds if you don't deliver. You don't even have to give full refunds. You can also word the contract in such a way that you don't have to give back much. You can also have small print on the site that gets you out of most problems.


 6:23 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

It's possible that this could be the precedent setting case for the industry as a whole. I've never liked seeing advertisements for guaranteed search engine placement as I know most of them are marketing hype.

There are no guarantees in search engine placement unless of course you are using PPC/CPC. That's the bottom line. You cannot publicly advertise that you will guarantee top ten positions using traditional SEO. Well, you can, but expect some fallout if you do not live up to those guarantees. ;)


 7:10 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

..but once the precedent is set, then it is only a matter of time before someone gets compensatory or punitive damages issued IMHO.



 7:58 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Here's the official release from the Attorney General...

AG Gregoire Settles with Internet Advancement [atg.wa.gov]


 9:08 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)


It's about time, there is no way an up and up firm can guarantee results!

We do not guarantee results and loose many deals over it, not any more with an Attorney General backed suit!

This really is about time.. we have been waiting for this for over 1 1/2 years here at our HQ location.


Shawn Steele

 10:59 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

"When enough complaints are filed by consumers with the BBB, FTC and State Attorney General's Office, things begin to happen. "

I could be wrong here, but If I remember right the BBB does not help consumers unless the business is a registered member with the BBB.


 11:22 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I came from another industry (Life Assurance in the UK)and remember when anyone could set up as a Broker/Adviser.
Then cases similar to this started to appear in the press and Hey Presto we had the Financial services Act which made all operators register etc
Just prior to that everyone was running for cover by joining various semi-professional groupings of advisors(Like SEMPO I suppose for SEM)hoping that together they could influence(and to some extent they did) the pending legislation.
So something like SEORMS (Search Engines Only Rank My Sites- That should reduce the legal fees!) should be started(Excuse my ignorance if similar exists already)

Anyway,joking aside if this is not already being done we may,as a fledging industry,learn something from the path others have taken and be prepared instead of letting the lawyers set the standards for the "profession"



 11:44 pm on Aug 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

People that 'guarantee' outcomes over which they have no direct control are generally naive or stupid.

Now they will also be poorer.


 12:56 am on Aug 13, 2004 (gmt 0)


Hahahaha - Just had to get a laugh in, all those clients I let go who wanted a guarantee... I really knew in the end I would laugh last.

Some of them are even calling back, hmmm, no idea why.... Not!

This is great really, why guarantee something that has billions of technology dollars behind it and is based on a mathematical equation that changes probably daily.

I like being ethical, we say look at our past etc etc and look at our current clients, ya want a guarantee do the math and make a decision. (In short)

In the end all those clients that company took on a ride all lost time and money, while our clients are on the first page, every one of them. We guaranteed nothing ever...

1+1 still equals 2 here.

PS - Also DMOZ editors as of last week, so be good. (Smiling)

All best



 3:48 am on Aug 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

exactly pageonresults..

The whole purpose of the "guarantee top 10 results" approach is the get the toe in the door and put one of the aggressive sales closers on business owners (who have their hands full already juggling a thousand different issues)..

This is definitely a good trend if the companies that base their SEO business models on high-volume cold calling with aggressive sales people selling the "money back guarantee if you don't reach the top 10 (for what? money phrases...not likely...most likely these type of companies will claim top 10 for any phrases...what a ripoff)..get nailed for this type of deceptive business practice..

This doesn't even bring into the picture how they achieve top 10 rankings...but I can tell you from one of the client's I looked at from this "seo? company" they spammed the crap out of this poor fellow...probably got his domain banned or at least severly penalized...

I have been in the SEO industry for 6+ (jesh close to 7) years now and I have actually done some outsourcing for these type firms and you never get a happy customer being promised one thing to close the sale from their sales contact and then having the seo technician trying to explain reality to them...what can actually be achieved and the real timeline...

Glad I don't do that anymore...(been a couple of years now)

This industry is ripe for aggressive sales teams to attack and then not produce results thus devaluing the process for everyone while they hold on to customers money indefinitely..and giving the future of this industry some mirky waters to wade through...

I know of one individual who has built his success on the "close them at all costs and put out the fires later"...with the idea being that his carefully written contract was designed to let his company hold on the funds for at least 4 months before the **** hit the fan...



 5:06 am on Aug 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I love this: "Over 851,000 monthly submissions on the Client's behalf" - Internet Advancement.


 5:21 am on Aug 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Made me laugh!

The only time I ever aproached an SEO firm they told me that I didnt really need to target the terms I wanted them to target but should try others...

In other words they didint have a clue.

This is a great result.


 10:32 am on Aug 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I have to admit, I have always wondered how people got away with these claims and in particular the ones such as, "we'll submit your site to over 300,000 search engines"!

I've told people I would hire them in a heartbeat if they could provide me a list of the 300,000 SE's. For some reason, I never seem to get a reply! :)

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