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It is with great regret that I have to inform you that Top-pile.com Ltd has no alternative but to cease trading with immediate effect. It is intended to place the company into voluntary liquidation immediately aftera shareholders meeting in 3 weeks time.
This situation has arisen as a result of very poor trading in the last 12 months, which in turn was primarily caused by the probelms we have encountered with search engines during that time.
Our problems began with the SALSA system in February, 2004. In the month prior to that we achieved record traffic through the SALSA system of over 90,000 visitors per day and client satisfaction was at an all-time high. Then in February we lost approximately half of our positions in Google and traffic dropped to about 50,000 visitors per day. We spent the following month conducting extensive analysis of the Google changes and trying to understand why one half of the SALSA sites had disappeared and the other half were still performing. This exercise became academic when, in mid-March 2004, we lost the remaining positions in Google and traffic dropped to 15,000 visitors per day.
The situation was worsened by the fact that Yahoo had just launched a new index and search engine and we had yet to feature prominently in it and inktomi's abandonment of Paid Inclusion meant that we were also suffering in MSN.
The combination of these three factors led to a very real threat of the domesday scenario of haing to refund all SALSA sites sold in January, February and March as a result of their failing to achieve the guarantee, a total potential refund of some £350,000 that would have been catastrophic for the company.
As it was, our analysis of Google led us to the predominance of well rated sites in the results simply because they had a page that mentioned the search term, and from this we took a number of well rated sites and built large directories off them related to the search terms being promoted in the SALSA system. This had a dramatic effect on our positions in Google and saved us from a refund situation that would almost certainly have bankrupted the company back then, although we did still refund approximately £100,000 over the course of the following months.
>From this experience we created top4clicks and partnered with well rated sites to create large directories of search terms and we would share the income. Top4clicks started off very well and within a few months we had 400 accounts open spending a peak of £3,700 per day. The sitiuation looked very good and we were well on course to achieve £10,000 income per day by January. This also gave us the opportunity to discontinue SALSA which could best be described as limping along but absorbing significant customer support resources (although many established SALSA sites continued to achieve good traffic levels from Yahoo and MSN).
Unfortunately, it proved to be a false dawn. Despite these directories complying in all respects with Google's guidelines, from November onwards Google's algorithms appeared to shift and the directories started gradually disappearing, to the point where we have gone in 4 months from 400 clients spending in total £3,700 per day to 1,050 accounts spending in total £300 per day.
Throughout the last year our cashflow has steadily deteriorated and we are now in a situation that even if we could fix the issues with SALSA / top4clicks we no longer have the time or resources to do so. We have cut the staffing levels down from nearly 40 to just 5 in the last few weeks and the turnover just keeps on getting worse. We now have no prospect of paying off the debts that have accumulated and we have no alternative but to cease trading.
I cannot over-emphasize how sorry I personally am that this situation has arisen. We had a great team here at top-pile and it has been heart-breaking to see it torn apart over the last few months. We prided ourselves on the fact that we represented one of the only realistic alternatives for SMEs who wanted success on the Internet but the search engines are determined to ensure that that is not the case and that ultimately all companies will need to do business with them if tehy want to succeed on the Internet. I continue to believe that this is not fair and that SMEs are entitled to a fairer slice of the search engine pie considering it is their content that has made the search engines successful in the first place. But I will not dwell too long on that thorny subject here!
As a result of the company ceasing trading, all services will cease with immediate effect.
The following additional comments apply to the specific products:
We will speak to the company's insolvency practitioner about resurrecting this service as it is very much a standalone service and capable of being relaunched. Service will no matter what happens cease for a few weeks but should we be successful we will continue to honour client's contractual periods.
SALSA is a complex solution in terms of creation, hosting and maintenance of the sites. We will again speak to the Insolvency Practitioner about the possibility of taking over existing SALSA contracts, but please note that the service will stop for at least a few weeks and when and if re-launched may exclude certain aspects of the previous service (for instance guarantees and rank tracking).
As mentioned above, there are 1,050 active accounts in top4clicks. All of these clients have balances remaining in their accounts and as such will become creditors of the company in liquidation. Due to the priority rules governing insolvency, I regret to say that there is no prospect of clients receiving any refund whatsoever. However, I personally still believe that top4clicks can be made to perform again in the search engines and it is my hope that a new company will express an interest in taking over these deposits and deliver the traffic until each account reaches zero. I hope you understand that I cannot guarantee anything and there will be no refunds given, but if we can deliver the related traffic over any length of time that is a better situation than currently.
All other ancillary services will cease immediately and will be dealt with by the Provisional Liquidator.
Please once again accept my apologies for this situation. I sincerely hope that we will all meet up again under better circumstances.
They banked on Google, and didn't have rankings in Yahoo/MSN. Google dumped most of their stuff, and they got caught with their pants down.
I think every SEM company has experienced some form of Top Pile's dilemma. Our roller coaster ride goes back as far as AOL dumping Excite in August, 1999. That notable event in our SEM life cycle, encouraged me to always try and distribute effort/resources between multiple SE's...
I'd seen the SALSA system around, but really wasn't that familiar with their topology and structure... Sounds like they scaled up big at one point.
Maybe many here can learn from Top Pile's demise, be pro-active rather than re-active as much as possible.
Develop other technologies and traffic sources, so your company isn't 100% reliant on SE's...
There is life after Google, many are experiencing that fact in present day.
I mean they are free to do what ever they want to rank higher.. when it works they are are on cloud nine ..when it dosent they blame Google?
thank you paddy for your frankness which should make us all go to back to our business plans and do some reavaluation on
WHAT IFS! and effects to viability of our business
If I've misunderstood what they were doing, please don't flame me, just explain why I should take off my hat and shed a tear instead of heaving a sigh of relief.
At one point in our SEM life, 99% of the traffic we generated for clients was from our own domains. We pushed the limits in every form possible. BUT, we saw that these topologies were becoming less successful, and found we could integrate many of our techniques directly into our client's web sites. SO, we shifted from 100% traffic delivery from our domains, to 100% organic consulting over an 18 month period.
Am I sorry for the techniques we utilized to deliver traffic from '97 through 03'? Hardly...
We still do some testing on our own domains, so we have a measuring stick for how much gray area we can dive into, on direct client consulting.
I think Top Pile's demise is a wake up call, regardless of the methods for traffic delivery. There are 1000's of websites out there that were buried for months by Google, that don't have a clue what cloaking or link directories represent.
It's not about who deserves a "tear shed in their direction".. It's about finding the path of least resistance to acquiring quality traffic.
Maybe "guaranteeing" top results is not a great strategy.
Couldn't agree more. I closed my SEO side of the company back in 2003 - up till that point I was guaranteeing top 10 rankings for every site (and managing I might add!) but like many others in here I saw the storm brewing and started building my own sites instead and working solely on them.
There are still many companies guaranteeing top 10 rankings for their clients, I even saw one that said "Google top 3 ranking guaranteed" - they had some very interesting small print I might add ;) Snake oil has gone up in price again I see ....
Am I sorry for the techniques we utilized to deliver traffic from '97 through 03'? Hardly...
I used to loathe the concept of guestbook/blog spamming, doorway pages etc. but for the past year Google has continually dropped my good quality unique content sites so I feel "forced" to build junk pages to rank well and drag visitors to the main sites.
Old Motto for High Google Ranking: Content, content, content .....
New Motto for High Google Ranking: Build junk and they will come ........
I'm always sad to see someone fail at an internet business if they really were a customer orientated firm (which I get the impression Top Pile was). Best of luck in the future mate - next time remember the words "eggs" and "basket" ...... ;)
I shared the podium with Paddy on many an occassion and I think it was always obvious that we had very different business models and ideas of what was best for the client. But I have to say that I know nobody that showed more belief in his product than Paddy.
Paddy will be back for sure, but will need to be careful to run with a business model that is cleaner than Imperial Leather but much less slippery when wet.
The final analysis, though, is that a business must not live or die by natural search alone - and that has serious long term implications for Adsense affiliates as well as "pay per click only" business models - which is what Paddy moved to when the rankings and refunds started to bite. A site or business must build a reputation - for sure - and that is not just going to be achieved by reciprocal linking, cloaking or keyword density. And even if it does succeed on the engines with those techniques, it shouldn't and therefore - in the end - the business model fails. You can make the quick bucks, or build a business... but few will achieve both.
This tells me (again) the natural SEO has a basic flaw in its business model beyond the Salsa solution business model. It fundamentally aims to get "something for nothing" for the web site and that is a huge HUGE flaw. Search engines aim to give the user something for nothing - but their idea of something is not - as a rule - the SEO's idea. So real sites with real content BBC - WebmasterWorld - many millions more - have a "right" to be in natural SERPS but everyone else should consider this a privilige unless they really are "best of breed".
Sure - it's not "nothing" in that it can be hundreds or thousands of hours of work, but it is nothing to the search engine in terms of money if the site in question is not the best one on the topic in question - or worse in the engine's eyes, a site that could have paid to get on the PPC side of the listings.
In marketing terms, Toppile's approach to marketing was the equivalent to fly-posting and stickers on underground in the real world. Currently PPC is the equivalent to Neon lights in Time Square. But even those analogies will be short lived. PPC is on its high now, but get ready for that model to falter very soon as well.
Internet marketing is becoming a much more subtle instrument and blunt approaches will be less and less effective. Internet brand is coming into its own...
Beware the agencies?
Low Search Engine Rankings killed the business.
I can see the non-internet savvy Human Resources Department mulling that one over during the consideration process.
As the severity of future implications for others who rely so much on engines for traffic goes, look out. The fallout may not have all fallen just yet.
let me see. You have your own powerplant or rely on your power company? How bout food, water etc. Should you feel bad if the road that leads to a store closes for 5 months?
[edited by: walkman at 10:28 pm (utc) on Feb. 28, 2005]
Its so easy being stood on the other side looking in and passing comment on someone who tried but did not quite succeed, give the guy a break he does not need ripping to bits, your acting like a pack of wild dogs hiding behind your made up names, at least he has the guts to send out an email with his own name on it...
Good luck for the future Paddy
Salsa GUARANTEES your site top ranking in the search engines under key phrases that your potential customers will key into the search engines. Using proprietary technology and 6 years experience of what works with search engines, Top Pile create hidden 'Salsa sites' that concentrate on your top phrases and that re-direct users automatically to your web site.
Top Pile update their central system every day to reflect the latest criteria used by all the major search engines. Their proprietary software then re-generates every single Salsa site, so that they are permanently optimised to achieve top ranking.
When the user clicks on the search engines' link to your Salsa site they are forwarded straight to your main Web Site, using unique cloaking technology that is undetectable by the Search Engines. "
I would say good riddance.
I give him high marks for honesty, and telling it like it is. I've seen many companies going into bankrupcy that still keep telling everyone, not to worry, they will get paid. Third party payment processors seem to favor stringing their clients along.
I regret to say that there is no prospect of clients receiving any refund whatsoever
I agree with Ledfish top marks to Paddy for honesty, have been there done that in a non internet based business seven years ago.
Morals aside to the business concept/ethics, insolvency is NOT a pleasant thing to go through and i wish you luck for the future.
I'll miss the days of proxy rotation and telling the technies at the big search engines how their spiders work.
Good luck Paddy find something different as fun left this sector with Inktomi paid inclusion.
We had a horrible year in 2004 for the same reasons as Paddy has outlined. We lost 70% of our revenue on the 12 March last when our equivalent to his Salsa also died. Fortunately we didn't have 40 mouths to feed.
We were still promoting this service till about last summer which still works great in Yahoo & MSN but is dead in Google. Yes it uses cloaking (big deal) but no it isn't spam.
We learnt the hard way last year what a business model was & feel quite a bit safer now although I'm sure something I haven't spotted will jump up and bite at some stage....
To those of you who are smiling to see the end of Top Pile, fair enough, you might not like the methods Paddy used which in the long term haven't worked out.
However, of the many SEM people, search engine reps & engineers I've met & spoken to, I know very few with the guts to build a company with 40 staff however flawed the underlying business model is with 20/20 hindsight
Henry Ford, who had two flops before striking lucky with Ford, defined failure as "the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."
Well done Paddy for having a go. The sun is still shining over Dublin 4 this morning :)
Having also shared a panel with him (and a pint or two) at SES a few times in the past, he always made the point that his loyalties lay towards his clients. He never hid what his methods were, always let people know when things were going awry (as when he changed his business model earlier last year) and genuinely believed in being as transparent with his customers as possible.
However, we all are learning the lesson of building a business model around "free" SE traffic and most of us in the SEM industry seem to be diversifying (I certainly am).
I'm sure that Paddy will be back, with a business model which has learnt from these experiences.
I wish him luck and a speedy return to the "front line".
But there are key lessons to be learnt from other peoples mistakes (these are ALWAYS the cheapest leassons to learn).
1. This business model is flawed. It is a very high risk proposion to go against the way google wants to classify the web (relevant link popularity on-page stuff ect).
2. Understanding the basic theory of how search engines WISH to classify sites (relevancy) enables a business model that is more sustainable.
I suppose compassion is one thing. I never agreed with the way Top-Pile got it's traffic but we all have different ways to improve results. Importantly Top-Pile were honest about what they did, that's probably why most people in SEO know their approach. They also tried hard for their customers, kept them as well informed as possible and even in defeat are concerned with providing good information.
How many of your clients 'deserve' to be at the top of results for their business area? Are they the authority site for their niche? Thought not. Unless you are dealing with an authority site or a huge budget you simply have to push the boundaries, let's not forget that Top-Pile tried to get a fair slice of business for very small and micro businesses. They had to do it that way, better that than promise more services and not deliver. Imagine the cost of 'White-Hatting' a small business in a competitive area into the top 10!
I say we should save the contempt for those who promise more effort than they expend and hope that those who have lost jobs through the Top-Pile closure are able to find good jobs. I have bills to pay, I bet they do too.
You have your own powerplant or rely on your power company? How bout food, water etc. Should you feel bad if the road that leads to a store closes for 5 months?
Although the remark wasn't aimed at me I feel I should jump in as that was a really poor response. I would have no intention of re-selling my own power to others. I do not go to the shop to bring food home to sell to other either. Therefore, relying on Google alone as a business model is not a good plan - fair enough if you're doing it for your own business but re-selling Google traffic was risky to begin with and I don't think their customers were made aware enough of those risks. Poor show in my opinion.
It is better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried...
Again, yes if it is your own money you are risking. But not other people's money.
I agree with Ledfish top marks to Paddy for honesty
The honesty should have been months before they went into liquidation i.e. stop taking on new customers and taking deposits back when the end was in sight. I'd be interested to see all the "bonuses" that were paid out to staff and directors in the final months instead of issuing the rest of the refunds ....
But then again, these are just speculations based on the dozens of companies I have seen first hand do to their customers. I'm currently involved with Trading Standards in shutting down one firm in Liverpool who offered a similar service (though they never provided ANY traffic to their customers) ....
I closed my SEO side of the company back in 2003 - up till that point I was guaranteeing top 10 rankings for every site (and managing I might add!)
Come on even a 5 year old child could get a ranking back in 2003 on any of the engines, you only had to put a page on the server and it would rank (or it did for me!)
Most of the top CEO's have failed more than once in building their empire, even Henry Ford had two failures before finally making it, are you telling me he used his own money and everyone got paid?
I don't think for one minute that "most" company directors or CEO's set out to swindle money out of anyone but as long as they learn from it they will go onto be a better and stronger person in business
Having talked to his client I was informed from them that the SEO offered the number 1 spot on Google for 8k.
I told the SEO guy that what he does is unethical and I don't want that deal.
The answer to funding SEO's is find content, content, content and have patience.
Come on even a 5 year old child could get a ranking back in 2003 on any of the engines,
ncw164x - pardon me for not being in tune with your supreme intellect but back in 2003 there were only 10 places available in the top 10 - right? As far as I'm aware there are still only 10 top 10 places today. So how can ranking be easier in 2003 compared to today? The same number of places are available and yes, maybe there are many more people trying to get those positions but alluding that a "5 year old" could do it means that all the people not in the top 10 in 2003 are less intelligent than a five year old in your estimation? Would that be a fair interpretation of your comment?
Again, as far as I'm aware there are still results 1-10 on search engines, they don't start at 11 yet do they? Saying "it's harder to rank these days" as an excuse for legging it with other people's money is not really acceptable in my opinion when you're charging to get people rankings.
Imagine an insurance company who sold insurance policies and when the first customer has a crash they turn around and say "ooops! sorry we don't have the funds so we're going to liquidate, have a nice day!" The owners would be arrested, not pitied ..... they sold ranking/traffic insurance and when things went pear-shaped they weren't ready. That's incompetance, not bad luck.
Disclaimer: I do not know the individual who owned Top Pile and my comments are based on the information provided in this thread and threads in other forums. This is not intended to be a slur toward the individuals responsible for the running of said company and is more a generalisation of activities and situations of this type.