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February 1, 2012

Bruce Clay Inc.’s Statement on Local Paid Inclusion

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Late Monday, we announced the service “Local Paid Inclusion,” which we said gives local merchants higher rankings in the Places and local search results in Google, Yahoo! and Bing. We believed that the service offering was finalized between our backend partner and the aforementioned search engines.

bruce clay inc logo

So far, we have determined that it is not a released program, made even more complicated by statements of confidentiality agreements that put the kibosh on further discussion. Bruce Clay, Inc. has ceased to engage in Local Paid Inclusion while we dig into confusing and contradicting statements.

We announced what we believed to be a legitimate program where Bruce Clay, Inc. was going to be one of several distributors of this service. Our understanding of this service was that it impacted the sequence of entries within the Places or local results in search engines. And within that separate area of the results, this service would validate local profiles, assuring those entries would naturally result in appearing higher in the local results.

There was misinterpretation of the information surrounding this service; mainly that it would impact the organic search results, instead of only the local results. We take responsibility for an unclear message being announced in an untimely manner, where specifics of the program were not disclosed and the messaging was jumbled.

Bruce Clay, Inc. also takes responsibility for the early promotion of the service Local Paid Inclusion without taking the extra steps to verify these contracts existed as we understood them. For that, we apologize.

We believed at the time that the offering was valid and acted accordingly. We did not collect money at this time, choosing to only set up a notification contact list dubbed “pre-registration” for when the program formally released.

Bruce Clay, Inc. has always been committed to ethical search engine marketing practices that work alongside the values of the search engines: to serve the end user and provide exposure to businesses. This program seemed to be a solid way for local merchants to validate themselves online and to have their companies be found.

At this time, it’s our highest priority to be as clear as possible on this issue with the business and search communities. Bruce Clay, Inc. is prepared to openly discuss this matter as best we can with media and community to be as transparent as possible.

We will make every effort to answer looming questions as soon as we know more, but please understand that we are forced to work within confidentiality agreements, and may be unable to talk specifics.

We are currently working to better understand all of the contractual agreements in place, if any, with those search engines regarding this service.

We also need to thank the various social communities and search marketers for their passion regarding this matter; the voices were heard loud and clear, showing there’s no lack of diligent, inquisitive and knowledgeable marketers and business people in our community.

In the meantime, Bruce Clay, Inc. has withdrawn Local Paid Inclusion pending our further research into this matter. And the site LocalPaidInclusion.com has been taken down while this issue is resolved.

Comments are welcomed on this matter below.

Thank you.

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46 responses to “Bruce Clay Inc.’s Statement on Local Paid Inclusion”

  1. Scott Holdren writes:

    Thanks for the transparency – TAGFEE FTW!

  2. Zach Thompson writes:

    Well done guys! Good job on admitting oversights and clarifying what transpired. This is an unfortunate situation – I hope it ends well for you!

  3. Keith writes:

    Thanks for the clarification Bruce, there was a lot of buzz about this on the web, most of which it sounds like was untrue…

  4. Alan Bleiweiss writes:

    Bruce,

    Thank you for taking this stance. While I understand you may not be able to discuss some things due to contractual agreement, if in fact such contracts become voided, I’d hope you’d then step up and provide more insight.

    For example, here today you say “Bruce Clay, Inc. was going to be one of several distributors of this service”. Except in the facebook thread yesterday, you claimed “this is an exclusive program”. That thread was deleted when all of this came to the light of day, so I’m just wondering about that issue.

    Was that too, a case where (not provided) made claims you believed, only to learn now that was also not true?

  5. TheMadHat writes:

    What a crock. You spent the last two days trying to figure out how to spin a total screwup. “yea, that was a bad idea in the first place” would have been a better response than this BS. I don’t have any problem with it, but this post just proved to me you’re just trying to cover your ass instead of admitting it was a screwup. You’re losing credibility by the second.

  6. Brien writes:

    I was quite surprised to see Bruce Clay’s name attached to LPI. That page I read didn’t pass the smell test for organic search so I figured it was just some fancy advertising gimmick to channel local money into the normal paid slots, but more easily. But if it did have something to do with organic search, I don’t have any idea how that got past the SEO gurus at BC. Thanks, I guess for getting in front of it, but I’m curious how it even got started.

  7. Rand Fishkin writes:

    Always had a lot of respect for you guys, and totally empathize with an agreement leaking out and changing course (and getting media spin) prior to things being formalized on the backend.

    Thanks for the transparency and the details – wish you all luck!

  8. steve H writes:

    As is so often the case, what seems too good to be true, probably is.

    BC mentioned several ‘partners’ by name in early communications of the service. One or more may have lead you to believe they had a service ready for re-selling that was worked out with the engines to provide high positioning of local pages. I have seen and heard these claims in the past that, when vetted, turned out to be bunk. Fortunately, we were able to clear out the smoke and mirrors to see the reality.

    I bring this up in the hope that you will be able to illuminate the players in this. Our industry has enough trouble with unscrupulous practitioners without seeing one of the reputable firms (BC) drawn into the quagmire by the unethical companies. I understand there are legal implications in doing this, but visibility into the action of the partners would be good for all.

  9. Sigmund Fraud writes:

    Based on my vast psychological experience, it looks as thou der is a wittle bit of ze funny business going on here….

    Me heard it once said dat ze “controversy” can cause good web traffic eh?

    Or dat zer is no such thing as “bad” publicity?

    Zounds like a cheap attempt at getting some of ze attention and it worked!

    Crap! I’m even leaving a comment here!

    Auf Wiedersehen!

  10. Bill Slawski writes:

    Local results are “organic” results and are algorithmically determined. They just come from a different repository than web search results. To sell them to the highest bidder is just as bad as selling web results to the highest bidder.

    I can’t even begin to imagine that Google, Yahoo, or Bing would sign off on a service like the one that was described on the Local Paid Inclusion pages, but I would imagine that the FTC would be pretty interested in learning more if they did.

    Google, Yahoo, and Bing all have ways for business owners to verify their businesses in their local repositories, however, verification has never ever meant that a site will rank higher in those results. It might help, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. Also, a business doesn’t even need to have a website to rank in those results.

  11. Ben Cook writes:

    I’m sorry but are we seriously THANKING a company for issuing what is essentially a press release trying to spin themselves out of the mess they created?

    This isn’t TAGFEE, it’s PR.

    BCI claimed to have an exclusive agreement with Google, Bing & Yahoo.

    BCI claimed that the program “places a business profile into a premium area above all other local profiles.”

    The website was called Local Paid Inclusion.

    But somehow thanks to a self serving statement we’re expected to forget the completely BS claims BCI made on their own website?

    This post tries to blame their partners and the reporter that broke the story but none of those people were responsible for the obviously false claims made by BCI on the website.

    The fact that so many people in our industry just want to all get along & keep the peace while sweeping crap like this under the rug is a big portion of what’s wrong with our industry.

    So, no, I do not thank you for spinning the events to try to portray yourself in the best light possible. I don’t feel sorry that you got caught making obviously false claims, and I sure don’t respect your company for being involved in this nonsense.

  12. Jessica Lee writes:

    @Alan Bleiweiss, From what I understand, the terms of the agreement for BCI were to be an exclusive vendor for the service on behalf of the partner for a specified period of time before it was opened up to the public to sell. Hope that answers your question.

  13. Rob Woods writes:

    I have to say that this does feel like a CYA press release. The original claims were either a) an attempt to convince small businesses that there was such a service (i.e. paying for the submission will guarantee top results) when there never was such a service b) a complete misrepresentation by UBL that was given no due diligence, analysis, or even passed through a common sense filter on the BC side. Either way it doesn’t look good. The claims of the service provided (that paying for the service would result in higher rankings) were dishonest at worst and I’ll advised and sloppy due diligence at best.

  14. Alan Bleiweiss writes:

    Since that’s a “from what I understand” perspective, as much as I appreciate you desiring to help clarify, it really doesn’t.

    Other questions I have include:

    Who wrote the content on the web site?

    Did nobody at BCI honestly actually read that site’s content before it went live, if UBL were the ones who wrote it?

    If BCI wrote it, who was tasked with ensuring facts in the content?

    Was this all just a case where UBL snowballed Bruce into believing the claims?

    Will Bruce still be putting on his “theater” presentations at SES and SMX that were clearly sessions designed to pitch the service?

  15. Jill Whalen writes:

    Someone pointed the LPI site out to me yesterday morning. I read through it and wasn’t at all surprised that yet another SEO company would misrepresent a service they were offering. It’s what so many of them do, and why we all have a bad name. To anyone in the know, the service was described in a way that would easily dupe the unwitting customers it was trying to attract.

    I’m surprised that Bruce announced it so publicly to the very people who would see right through it. That was the big mistake of this whole thing. It could have gone on quietly without anyone taking notice if he didn’t announce it to other SEOs who would be sure to scrutinize it. In fact, it would have gone off without a hitch if he hadn’t attached his name in on the About us page as there are zillions of other sites already out there making up crap about “special relationships.”

    Has anyone ever noticed that those who have the word “ethics” all over their websites and marketing materials seem to be the worst offenders of this sort of BS?

  16. William Alvarez writes:

    I’m still wondering what would have happened had nobody started the protest. How far did you think you were going with this?

  17. JohnC writes:

    Why isn’t anyone pointing out the fact that Bruce has been on the Board at UBL for many years. My guess is if he still is, he won’t be for much longer. The phrase “Jump the Shark” comes to mind here.

  18. Rob Woods writes:

    JohnC – to be fair I believe Bruce is on a Board of Advisors there, which is very different from being on a Board of Directors, who should know much more about the internal workings of the company. Boards of Advisors can be anything from very involved in a company to essentially a position which gives occasional advice in return for both parties getting some PR. Being on an advisory board doesn’t necessarily mean you have in depth insight into the company in question.

  19. Alan Bleiweiss writes:

    Rand,

    You may have missed some critical facts. For example – the site was live. Bruce promoted the service. He himself claimed some outrageous things that didn’t even stand up to even the lightest scrutiny. This didn’t happen “prior to things being formalized”. This is a back-pedaling issue.

    Yes, I empathize with the pain that came from a public process having had to take place. We’re all human, nobody’s perfect. Yet at the same time, a lot of questions remain, and owning up partially, while leaving those serious questions unanswered isn’t going to cut it as far as “this one can be put to rest”.

  20. Aussiewebmaster writes:

    Our industry always seems so friendly until someone makes a mistake and then out come the knives. Obviously the announcement may have been premature and written by someone who did not fully understand what was happening.

    What many seem to have overlooked is that the engines would happily leave any of us out in the wind.

    Creating a system where you could inject paid listings at the top of local map/places results for specific words and locations is a platform I would be selling to many many companies.

    If this does eventually roll out I wonder how many people will retract the harsh criticisms. We all know Bruce and I for one give him the benefit of the doubt.

  21. Duncan Yodelay Johnson writes:

    Well BC you’ve done the right thing, by the business bible book, and put your hands in the air.

    If you didn’t… you would have looked a right bunch of muppets. So respect where respect is due.

    No doubt the “loose lips” in your business will be getting served up in your local Chinese restraunt any day now.

    I’m still scratching my head trying to understand why the 3 largest search engines were all in on it. (officially they deny it but the leeks say otherwise)

    Yes all the search engines have cooperated with each other on different levels one way or another for different tactical reasons but this simply doen’t make any sense.

    These three SE’s own the Search Industry. Y & B on one side big G on the other. Why would they come to an agreement to work with 3rd parties to monitise a massive part of their respective services.

    They could all develop this themselves. Why outsource it? And why together?

    Is this the first step towards monopolising Search?

    Are the Search Giants that afraid of Social? The sheer volume of traffic it generates?

    Are they afraid of what Facebook are about to offer businesses?

    (I realise Micro Bing and FB are in bed together… Fingers in pies and all that)

    The cost of the LPI services looked seriously affordable for most businesses. Could this have been a first attempt at the SE’s coming together to give businesses a better ROI than the Social Networks?

    A preemptive strike? Search against Social?

    I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy here, but can someone pass me my foil hat?

    Cheers all,

    Duncan

  22. Sage Lewis writes:

    I’ve known Bruce for years.

    He doesn’t come across as gullible or easily mislead.

    Everything seems to appear that UBL somehow convinced him that this was actually a real thing.

    That is probably what is surprising. That Bruce Clay was lead to believe there was some sort of global local paid inclusion program.

    But for all I know they showed him precisely how they were going to do this. I believe that he was sold a bill of goods by a really smooth sales person at UBL.

    And for all we know, UBL might have believed they had a way of somehow artificially inflating local results on the major engines.

    It appears to me that UBL is the culprit here and they somehow convinced Bruce Clay to come along for the ride.

    I would give Bruce this one piece of advice: Screw the confidentiality agreements. If what I am suggesting here is true you need to come out clean and honest on this whole thing.

    This polished, politically correct piece here, while safe, is not worth letting your reputation stay tarnished.

    Transparency will set you free.

  23. Bill Slawski writes:

    Google has a system that you can pay to use to insert your listings at the top of the local search results for specific words and locations in Adwords. They are separate and distinquishable from the organic local listings for a reason.

    A system that you would use to insert your listing at the top of local search results that wasn’t identified as an advertisement would be misleading to consumers who would expect those results to be algorithmically determined.

    The FTC sent a pretty stern warning to the search engines in 2002 about sponsored or paid listings, and how they had to be distinquishable from organic listings.

    As I noted above, just because these are local listings doesn’t mean that they aren’t produced algorithmically. In addition, if Google inserted paid-for-inclusion local listings into the middle of search results as place page listings, they would be running pretty afoul of the FTCs shot-across-the-bow warning in 2002.

    Is it a surprise that the search engines denied everything about this as quickly as they did?

  24. JohnC writes:

    Good Point Rob.

    I guess I’m am just very disappointed that Bruce would even contemplate a move like that, no matter who brought it to him or how. He has been in this industry much longer than most and knows all to well the history and issues surrounding “paid inclusion”.

    What was in his mind to make him think this was a good idea in any form. That’s what I am interested in hearing, not the transparent snow job above.

  25. Colin writes:

    Amazing how people can get so angry over something so small.

  26. Jim Rudnick writes:

    The words that “jump out” at me, when reading the comments here are….PR…fraud….publicity….promoted….back-pedalling….smell-test….quagmire…

    Let me add one….sigh….

    :-(

    Jim

    PS no wonder us SEO practitioners face such an overall “snake-oil” reputation….

  27. Yousaf writes:

    Nice viral campaign.

  28. Sanjay Prakash writes:

    I couldn’t agree more with Rand Fishkin.

    Bruce, I’m sure I speak for a majority of the people who know you: we have the highest regard for you, both as a person and a professional, and know you’ll come out of this stronger than ever before.

  29. Pavlicko writes:

    I’m not going to throw you under the bus for a mistake, even if it was a really really really big mistake.

    If this was actually a real service – after all, I could totally see Google doing something like this since they’ve been experimenting with boost and tags – I doubt anyone would even blink an eye. I think the bigger issue is with the way the copy was written…it just smelled spammy.

    Just hope you’ll spill the beans on how all this happened soon.

  30. steveplunkett writes:

    May I propose….

    We give him a mulligan?

    Let us remember however, the “Bruce Clay Local Oops”.

    Why?

    Because it shows that we all need to do our due diligence for clients,(and OURSELVES), including those of us who have been doing this since day one.

    For everyone of you that shared the Bruce Clay SEO chart from 1996, posted it on your website, used it in presentations to make your career.. some of us.. 16 years now…. this is your payment..

    #givehimamulligan

    and remember to fact check what you have on your website or blog too.

    Peace, Love and Conversions….

    =)

  31. Nick writes:

    I guess you could say that Bruce Clay has lost all credibility. I would say, what credibility?

  32. Jim Rudnick writes:

    why can I NOT unsub from a post? i made a comment and then have tried to use the link in the email you send subscribers to “unsub” and it’s broken???

    http://blog.bruceclay.com/comment-subscriptions?sre=jrudnick%40kkti.com&srk=36425a45b44fe83d487a6bb012aaf1f2

    — is the broken link…ie it does NOT work

    THIS needs fixing Bruce….

    ???

    Jim

    PS commenters be warned…there appears to be NO unsub to be found!

  33. Gary Andrew Lacanilao writes:

    Hi Bruce,

    I’m very interested on how this thing works.. I had a couple of months research and experiments on how to tweak both SEO and Places. So far I’m very successful on my experiments about SEO and my projection meets my time-frame and expectations.

    Since, Organic SEO affects how Google Places positions. All of my efforts on ranking Google Place depends on SEO efforts. The moment I’ve heard about this “Local Paid Inclusion” I’m pretty sure there is a chance for us SEOs who dive in too deep to metrics on work very hard to learn how these stuff works. This opportunity might give us another leverage and hopefully we can help thousands of business as soon as this much awaited “Recommended by Bruce” project launched.

    Hope to hear from you Bruce.

    @Colin:
    “Amazing how people can get so angry over something so small.”

    Exactly! Currently, for SME/SMB, we SEO’s think BIG by going small.

    Thanks,
    Gary

  34. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Sorry about that, Jim. We’re disabling the subscribe to comments plugin. Let me know if you still are getting updates.

  35. Marty writes:

    Three words: I Believe Bruce.

  36. Kevin Gallagher writes:

    I’m Sorry,

    I think I’m missing something here. Im pretty sure Yahoo has been doing this for years I remember them offering the service for £200 to show above the Yahoo local results x amount of local keyphrases not sure what’s the difference.

  37. Bob Shirilla writes:

    Bruce

    Followed you for many years and have benefited greatly from your advice. Bruce, thanks for being clear and taking responsibility for some confusing relationships.

    We will continue to follow and learn.

  38. JohnC writes:

    This is an interesting counterpoint …

    http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/the-bruce-clay-local-paid-inclusion-ubl-kerfuffle/

  39. Mike Stewart writes:

    I vomitted in my mouth just a little when I first read the LPI website.

    As much as I respect the visionary engagement from BCI, I can’t help but wonder if this was all some sort of marketing ploy. My agency also provides UBL and Localeze listings and local listing optimization.

    Monopoly and special relationships with Google would cause a serious issue with agencies not involved and left out.

    I spent 10 years with crooked yellow pages executives and terrible abuse and leadership, let’s keep our white hats on folks!

  40. steve sux writes:

    thanks for the transparency
    extra steps is always a
    good corporate policy

    steve

  41. Joe Laratro writes:

    I agree with Steve, #givehimamulligan
    Bruce, I have a lot of respect for you in the industry, I think this was a well thought out response. I believe you thought you were launching the next great thing for local. Oh well. You have given us greatness in the industry for years, everyone deserves an oops.

    If LBI ever comes back, I would stay away from the call tracking numbers though. I think everyone would agree that is against local optimization best practices.

    Your first few drinks are on me next Pubcon!

  42. Steve Driver writes:

    Bruce,

    Your response to this whole mess included the following statement…
    “We will make every effort to answer looming questions as soon as we know more, but please understand that we are forced to work within confidentiality agreements, and may be unable to talk specifics.”

    and the recent response by a member of the UBL advisory board found here… http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/the-bruce-clay-local-paid-inclusion-ubl-kerfuffle/ says the following … “…The blog post did take some responsibility and apologized some, but it also continues to muddy the waters by hinting that there’s a nondisclosure in place keeping them from revealing the full truth of the matter. This mystery partner, we’re lead to believe, is being mean to Bruce Clay by keeping him from telling on them. He’s trying to have it both ways in that blog post, which just isn’t cool.”

    so what’s the deal? If there is no confidentiality agreement, why don’t you come out with more details as promised. We are waiting, and reputations are on the line.

  43. Chris Reilly writes:

    Said provider is a purveyor of most of the vaporware in Local SEO. Not naming names, but they have rolled out many promising packages that have only resulted in broken promises. Sorry that BC was wrapped up in this.

  44. Dennis Yu writes:

    I personally know Bruce as well as the other players involved. And we were one of the early customers of this service (before it was white-labeled), so we understand the confusion.

    I’ll just say this– I have 100% faith in Bruce. He is as legit as they come. There are MANY other players that will misrepresent services (I’m not going to name them, but you can tell by how they market themselves) who will want to ride on Bruce’s good name.

    This particular reseller had claimed to have numerous signed contracts with the search engines, but upon our pressing, admitted they didn’t have even one. That was two years ago, but things may have changed since then.

    Kudos to Bruce for disassociating himself from this.

  45. Marc Lindsay writes:

    Well I don’t know Bruce yet.

    But I do know we’ve all been “had” at one point or another and this may be no different.

    Who knows, perhaps he got excited by it.

    It happens…. Eitherway you can guarantee this has been a big lesson that will serve BC well going forward.

    Then of course Media gets on it and things become a shit storm.

    Then out come the hero keyboard typers

    One thing I do know, that based on this and in the past, BC has always believed in coming out with their view and what they plan to do about it.

    Live, Learn, Evolve

    Marc

  46. Andy Kuiper writes:

    Joining the party a bit late – my take is that BC would never, ever try and dupe the public, or the SEO community. Bruce’s explanation will be made clearer at some point… I’m waiting to see who led him astray in all of this. Perhaps the arrows are pointed the wrong way here.



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