Part 1: The Bait
I am a former assistant prosecuting attorney in Cleveland, Ohio. I have a small law firm that has a good reputation, but I could always use more business especially with a family of my own. I had been managing my own SEO (limited as it was) and advertising through adwords as my main sources of internet income.
On September 7, 2010, a salesman from Web Tools and Technology called me representing that he worked for one of the leading SEO companies in the world and that their founder, David Barry, was a former high-ranking member of Google who was well respected for his work at that company. Like many salespeople Michael promised the world, so I requested that he send me evidence that his company was as closely associated with Google as he claimed.
On September 7, 2010, at 1:15pm EST Finegold emailed me a rather lengthy email detailing the very basics of their proposal. At the end of the email his email contained the GOOGLE emblem itself, and in a follow up phone call he insisted that this means that only certain companies can hold themselves out to be Google certified, and that it is a difficult process to go through.
I was skeptical, but at the time I signed up I could find NO negative information regarding this company on the internet so I asked more questions. Finegold promised that I would see an increase in organic search results of 500 to 800% almost immediately, and that after 9 months I should be seeing results closer to 1500 to 2000%. He wrote on September 7, 2010 that:
My average client gets 500% to 800% more visitors to their site now.
He also wrote that:
"So...as the largest SEO Content Management company in the world... I'm proposing to put your company in the top of the actual results...for all your services...PERMANENTLY.
At this point I believed I was speaking to a company that was essentially an arm of Google, foolish I know at this point, however, one of the things that sells people on my business is that I am a former prosecutor experience that is invaluable. So when someone represents that they are former high ranking Google members AND are certified to do this work by Google I believed them.
Part 2: The Pitch
Finegold initially quoted a price of $28,000.00 as the total price for what it would cost to rebuild my
website to what he repeatedly called 100% technically correct. I was somewhat shocked by the cost, however, considering what I had spent in Adwords at that point I was not really opposed to paying alot for something that would work. If I made even 1.5 dollars for every dollar spent, I considered that a good investment at that point.
Finegold through in other incentives though when I balked at the price. He agreed to lower the price to
$18,000.00 and threw in a number of other add-ons that no one else gets if I agreed to do them the favor of speaking to potential customers and selling them on the idea of buying from Web Tools and Technology. (More on this later, how I was asked to post a false response in regards to the other Ripoff Report posted regarding this company and how I refused)
In the end I agreed to a web-page package that came to a total of $20,000.00, and over the course of the next several months I spent approximately $25,000.00 attempting to get the page to work. When they failed to get results they insisted I needed more content pages, so I paid for them. They then insisted I needed more press releases, and that I could do them on my own through prweb so I did. Until February and March of 2011 I was blind to what was really going on.
In early September 2010 I signed up with them, and the work on the website was supposed to start right away. It took Webtools and Technology nearly four entire months to even design the website, which I have discovered is a ridiculous amount of time and outside of the time they said it would initially take to design. One of the reasons it took so long is the person developing it apparently had an incredibly poor grasp of the English language. I repeatedly had to point out that Associates is not spelled Accociates, simple enough but it illustrates one of the problems that happened with the development of the website.
On, approximately, December 14, 2010, the website went live and in a couple of days the website was ranking well for several keywords that would be somewhat relevant to my website. It turns out that if you make a reasonably content rich website almost ANY website will rank well for keywords if the competition is not incredibly tight.
Part 3: Questions abound
Almost immediately I began to see a drop in the MAJOR keywords that we had agreed upon the city that is closest to me is Cleveland and that is the city I really wanted the results in for a lot of reasons: (1) It is the closest major city so naturally people would use that as a location reference, (2) it is where I practice and do most of my business out of.
What I am most ashamed of is that I sold quite a few other people on the idea of Webtools and Technology because at the time I was at least seeing rankings in cities around Cleveland. I would routinely, as part of my agreement with them, take phone calls from potential clients looking to invest in their SEO services.
Webtools and Technology strongly suggested that I should pitch certain aspects of their service and that I should avoid asking the potential clients how much they were being quoted OR what I was paying. I rejected their suggestions as to what I would say, as a lawyer I consider it important that I always be up front with others. At first this angered them, however, after the first two potential clients signed up they had no problem with me talking to their potential clients.
Even though my website had only been live since December 2010 the lawyers, and I, were impressed that we were seeing results so quickly in the minor areas. It turns out this is a scam as it is INCREDIBLY easy to replicate that result as I have done so for four other websites of my own, on my own... more about that later.
Part 4: The Scam revealed
In January 2011 I began asking questions of my sales-rep as to what was happening with my website,
why the results were not showing up, and why the results were tailing off. Response was that I did not have enough back-links and that I needed to purchase a few press releases... so I did. Nothing happened. I was offered a few extra pages of content and was told this would help the situation. Of course I accepted.
I also started a murder trial in February and did not come back to the issue until March 8, 2011, when I requested that the problems with my website be addressed. Only approximately 24% of my traffic was coming from the organic results and approximately half of the keywords being used in the organic results were some variation of attorney patituce or attorney joseph patituce or 4404717784 (my office number). When you exclude the organic results that include my IP address or that of the developers from Texas and Florida the organic rate plummets even lower. This was unacceptable and I wanted answers.
After a couple of days of searching my sales-rep came back with the answer that there was allegedly duplicate content out there on other websites that was causing the problem. He claimed that the other websites, that they already were aware of and had reviewed, had duplicate content that was sinking www.patitucelaw.com. To say I was shocked is an understatement because if this was true (1) why did it take so long for them to discover it, (2) why did they not say anything about the allegedly duplicate content prior to putting the website up, (3) in what way was it duplicated? The sales-rep was incredibly nervous as well it was if he was trying to sell me on something, again, and he begged me to take the websites down. I obliged and took them down, even though they were in no way duplicate content. In fact anyone reading this can see for themselves <a href=http://cleveland-criminal-defense-attorneys.com/>cleveland-criminal-defense-attorneys.com</a>, <a href=http://cleveland-federal-criminal-defense.com>cleveland-federal-criminal-defense.com</a>, <a href=www.patitucelaw.net>www.patitucelaw.net</a>, <a href=http://cleveland-ohio-dui-lawyers.com>cleveland-ohio-dui-lawyers.com</a>
These are all almost identical to what was up at the time it was alleged to be duplicate content and it clearly is not.
To be blunt, I did not believe that there was duplicate content... I had wrote it myself and knew what was there. In fact the sales-rep had called it real good content writing after he had looked it over in September-October. To say that this was a bit outrageous was an understatement. The sales-rep begged me to stay on with the company so I agreed, I had already invested a lot of money and wanted to see it through but as I was learning more about how SEO actually works I was starting to get incredibly suspicious about what was happening.
In May 2011 my sales-rep suddenly left the company for a new one, he called me on his personal cell phone to tell me this and he had no explanation as to why he left. I attempted over the next few weeks, to no avail, to reach someone to have them help with my website.
In late June 2011 I received a call from my new sales-rep during this conversation he AGREED that the results were horrible and not where they should be. In fact he brought in Scott Johnson the director of content to help, they offered to write one new page per month for four months. They also wanted to re-write a lot of the website to make it work the way they intended. The new sales-rep brought up the duplicate content briefly and when we discussed it he reached the same conclusion that I had it was not duplicate content. He made suggestions to how the website should look, changes that should be made because in his mind even with the organic traffic they claimed to be generating the phone was not ringing and people were not making submissions via their contact form.
Part 5: Dave Barry himself.
As a preliminary matter I want to say that I found my conversations with Dave Barry to be very polite, he made no personal attacks and did not make a lot of excuses. Dave pointed out that there were a number of technical errors that existed with: (1) the website itself, (2) the way the anchor links were setup, (3) and the way the blog was setup to help with 1 and 2. The result of this he explained was that the rankings were being suppressed because of the technical errors. NOTE: Mr. Barry did not claim that the results were being harmed because of duplicate content I found this incredibly honest.
Mr. Barry came back with a proposal to fix the problems and asked that I give them a month to solve the issue. I agreed, I was impressed that I got to speak with the CEO of the company. He agreed with me that the website at this point was a failure and that his job was to make the phone ring. I was impressed by this apparent honesty, because at this point I was very familiar with the similarities between my experience and the experiences discussed in the ripoff report located <a href=http://www.ripoffreport.com/search-engine-optimization/web-tools-and-techno/web-tools-and-technology-llc-33755.htm>here.</a>
After approximately a month had passed no results were seen, no improvement had been seen, and the website was not attracting clients.
Part 6: Wordpress and SEO
Let me make one thing clear: I am a trial attorney, I am not a web designer or SEO expert. However, in June 2011 I created four websites for my different practice areas and used the Genesis wordpress theme and the Thesis theme. I did ALL the work myself.
In June 2011 my firm, in part because of my experience as a prosecutor, was hired to be Of-Counsel by a much larger law firm out of Cincinnati to take over and handle a very specialized area of law for them. The owner, and the managing partner, of this law firm setup a meeting between myself and their business consultant because in their words while my experience was fantastic my web page looked horrible.
There is no substitute for personally meeting someone, looking them in the eye, and talking about business. This consultant was able to quickly point out a dozen mistakes that Web Tools and Technology had already made mistakes that ironically other salespeople from other companies had been trying to point out.
In August 2011 my websites were generating either the same, or more, organic results than the www.patitucelaw.com website was. Dave Barry, admittedly, was shocked and embarrassed by this. I completely understood his shock as it was at least equaled by mine. At this same time I finally requested and received access to my own website, something I had never been allowed to have.
What I expected to see and what I found were two different things. I expected to see a program that was what they had promised, instead I found that it was completely lacking.
My new SEO company downloaded their entire site, and we made the choice to retain it in case we needed to justify our growing outrage.
Part 7: Negotiating a Refund
As a business owner I have a policy: I do what it takes to make my clients happy, sometimes I have to compromise money that I worked hard for, and sometimes I have to be willing to admit that I made a mistake. Fortunately, the later does not happen often but when it does I have to be man enough to admit it.
Here, I to the surprise of almost everyone did not ask for a complete return of my investment.
Remember, I had invested almost $25,000.00 money I would have probably turned into $125,000.00 through Adwords, or money I could have used to hire more employees. Instead, I requested a partial return of $17,500.00.
This request was flatly rejected. The counter-offer if you want to call it that was that they would keep all of the money and would be willing to build me an all new site. They said I was a good and honest guy who had helped them out a ton but that I needed to accept the fact that it was all my fault. An individual by the name of Nick, out of respect I will omit his last name for now, called me explaining that he was the Director in charge of handling these types of matters. He explained that he wanted to fight for me to get me a refund and that he felt that there was responsibility on their side.
He tried to get me to say that I was responsible, but I think even he knew how illegitimate that argument was. I agreed to make a second offer in order to resolve the matter, thinking that they would counter with some financial compensation. I offered to resolve the matter for 50% of my investment, I agreed to only take back $12,500.00. I also agreed that I would sign a confidentiality agreement and forgo any civil suit I would have against them. I made it quite clear that I did not want to engage in a long, ugly, fight over this matter.
Simply, I have a law firm to run and did not have the time to engage in this. Over the course of several days Nick and I exchanged phone calls, emails, and other documents. I showed him the emails sent by Finegold with the Google seal on it, I showed him the websites that had the alleged duplicate content. He, at least, sounded as if he agreed with me even though I suspect it was his attempt to try to get me to give up on filing a suit.
Nick went back and forth, allegedly, with the higher ranking members of the company. Each time he came back he reported that they were not willing to settle. Each time I agreed to compromise my offer some, but there was only so far that I was willing to go. I even went so far as to point out where exactly I believed the fraud was. In the end the response I got was a dare to sue... that's right a bold, aggressive, DARE to sue. And while that is what I am going to do, I wanted to start here. I wanted to start here because back in the early part of this year my original sales-rep had asked me to come here to the Ripoff reports and post a testimonial talking about how happy I was with their services and how I never experienced anything close to what that guy had experienced. I was told it would shut him up and end any debate. Personally, I was not comfortable with this and at first I simply did not commit to it either way but in March 2011 I had to flatly decline.
Part 8- Cold, hard, facts: Web Tools failed based on the numbers.
After my refusal in the beginning of March through the end of June 2011 the organic traffic to my website was down to approximately 13% of the traffic with the top 15 organic results being:
1- patituce law - 39 visits
2- patituce & associates - 21 visits
3- patituce and associates -20 visits
4- patituce - 18 visits
5- patituce & associates, llc - 9 visits
6- north olmsted attorneys - 8 visits
7- patituce & associates llc- 8 visits
8- www.patitucelaw.com- 8 visits
9- cleveland family law attorneys - 6 visits
10-personal lawyer cleveland law offices - 6 visits
11-internet sex crimes attorney cleveland - 4 visits
12-patitucelaw.com- 4 visits
13-pattituce (sic)- 4 visits
14-vhttp://www.patitucelaw.com (sic)- 4 visits
15- 440 471 7784- 3 visits
So... out of the top 15 keywords used, constituting 162 organic visits in almost four FULL MONTHS only 24 of those visits were related to my practice of law. Of the 24 visits only FOUR visits were related to one of my main practice areas. This means that 14% of the organic keywords, and only 1.47% of the total traffic from March 16 2011 through June 30 2011 was actually related to my practice of law. Of the total traffic in that same time period only 0.245% of the traffic was actually, DIRECTLY, related to my practice.
0.245%. If I told you that there was only a 0.245% that I would win a trial, or handle your case correctly, you would find a new attorney.
Part 9- Conclusion
I was ripped of, defrauded. I understand that now. What angers me is that I was foolish enough to fall for their scam and that is just what I feel it is. I look forward to reading what their rebuttal to this is.
In the end they wanted to argue that their contract protects them. It does not. They committed fraud, failed to even put a legitimate product in the field. I was able to put up FOUR webpages in a week that all out perform theirs, yet they claim to have done over $25,000.00 worth of work. Their fraud cost me a substantial amount of money.