It’s not often you get to feel a great sense of justice in the world. It may happen, but in the SEO and digital marketing realm there’s rarely any reason for that feeling to emerge. That was true until early this year with a little backhanded thanks to a Mr. William Stanley. (Full story here)
For internet marketing there have always been those who have operated outside the law, and generally speaking for SEO’s, that law was whatever Google had implemented and enforced through penalizations. However, there is a much more sinister and wicked form of SEO that doesn’t even worry about tricking search engine bots into increasing YOUR site’s rankings, but rather attempts to diminish your competitor’s rankings through various black-hat tactics and negative SEO tricks. This is already terribly evil, however, there is an even greater evil that lurks! There are those who actually extort businesses into paying them cash in order to stop negative SEO. Mr. William Stanley was one such individual and he wasn’t just engaging in illegitimate SEO, he was performing illegal SEO.
William Stanley entered into a contract with GE in November 2009 to perform SEO services and reputation management (how ironic). After approximately 1 year, GE wanted to end the contract with Stanley after GE concluded Stanley acted outside the range of their agreement. Stanley also, within that time, had created various websites that had the ability to endanger GE’s reputation by associating them with a scam. Stanley demanded additional payments to end his contract with GE and to surrender administrator rights to the questionable websites. From November 2010 through January 2011 GE reportedly paid Stanley a total of $80,000 just to end the relationship. But it didn’t end there. Stanley than began posing as “William Davis” and “William Lawrence” and further sent threatening communications to GE via email and telephone from various foreign countries stating that if GE didn’t pay more money Stanley would continue to slander GE’s reputation through comments and posts on digital media platforms. Due to these threats, GE paid Stanley another $29,556. GE then turned to governmental agencies and shared their little story of extortion.
During most of this, Stanley was actually living abroad primarily in Romania where his wife lived. However, after attempting to make a trip home to Texas, Stanley was arrested at the airport for extortive conduct for GE’s loss in revenue and extortive payments. The government, after conducting a thorough investigation into Stanley, found that GE was only one of Stanley’s victims and there were approximately another 40 – 45 businesses that he had extorted. Stanley was sentenced to 37 months in prison and $174,888 in restitution to a dozen different identified victims.
So great, right? Another criminal behind bars and justice has been served. This is certainly true but sadly putting one person behind bars doesn’t begin to undue the harm that black-hat and negative SEO agents have caused the industry as whole over the last decade. William Stanley’s story is a relatively severe scenario of corruption in the industry and I would venture to guess that this doesn’t occur all that often. Hopefully at least…
But for the lesser evils that still persist in the industry those that tarnish the reputation of what would otherwise be an honest and respectable industry has caused business owners to believe that digital marketing is a crap shoot. That the marketing/SEO industry is filled with frauds, quacks, charlatans, and snake-oil salesmen and you’re lucky to find anyone that can actually help you. Honestly, it’s both abysmal and saddening to hear a prospective client’s story of how bad they’ve been tricked and to actually visibly/audibly identify that they suffer from SEO-PTSD. They remain skeptical, nervous, unsure and rightly so! When you get burned once touching a hot stove you don’t immediately throw your palms on the next one you see. Caution and care become your mantra.
This is all to say… if you’ve ever been burnt, scammed, extorted, or tricked by an agency don’t lose hope. There are plenty of well-intentioned individuals out there who actually care that your business succeeds. There are a great number of digital marketers who do honest work and who desire to help produce the best results possible for you.
As a final note and tip of the day, if you believe your current agency is “giving you the business” have another agency do an audit of their work. Best case scenario you can rest assured they’re providing honest work. Worst case scenario you have to fire them and find someone who is better. Either way it’s a win-win. Most agencies provide free site and SEO audits. Take advantage!