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I have been waiting for a dispute to be settled before posting about this, but it looks like it's back in my face again so I'm going to share it with you in hopes of getting your thoughts on it!

When I started my website a year ago, I hired the SEO company Future Ranking to help my site get picked up in the search engines. This was a very expensive service - $1500 up front plus $100 "monthly maintenance" fees.  I did get some prominent listings, but this company proved to be a constant headache.  First of all, they are all very young and amateur.  They clearly have no professional experience and their customer service skills are weak at best.  They have an appallingly ignorant copy-writer who posts absolute garbage live on your website! They go for weeks with no action on your website and then charge you for...what??  The monthly maintenance fees rarely match any monthly action on your site, and when you contact your appointed customer service rep, you receive no reply at all, but you do suddenly get an "update" report from the one guy who actually does the SEO work.  The "update" is simply that they re-submitted your website url to the search engines.  It didn't take me long to realize I had been ripped off by a bunch of kids who are doing nothing more for my site than I can do for myself.  In other words, they are not offering a professional service: if you google "SEO basics" you will learn what you need to do to submit your url to the search engines and how to choose keywords, and that is all these guys are doing - nothing more advanced or skillful.  I was totally new to the whole concept of SEO a year ago, so fine - learn my lessons, and keep moving forward.  But here is the problem.  I expressed dissatisfaction with their service several times, and never received a single reply. I finally told their billing department I no longer wished to receive their service.  No reply.  They sent me another bill.  I complained again by phone this time about wishing to terminate. I was told I would hear back from their customer service director, Russ Johnson.  I never did. I kept getting bills!  So I stopped paying them in hopes they would stop "updating" my website.  Nope!  I finally heard from Russ Johnson who told me if I didn't pay my bills he would send a collection agency after me!  I told him my history of unanswered complaints and he said if I paid my December bill he would waive the other two bills.  So I promptly paid that bill.  I never heard from him again.  But a few days after paying that bill, the "billing department" sent me an email saying I still owed two months!!  I explained my agreement with Russ Johnson, and I never heard back from them again.  That was six weeks ago.  Today I received a collection notice in the mail!! 

The contract: I signed a contract obliging me to one year of service.  When I signed up for this service, I was told by phone that I could terminate whenever I wanted, but somehow I signed a contract that said otherwise.  I remember reading through the contract, but I don't remember that clause!  But when they re-sent my contract, there it was!  This was an on-line contract.  No actual pen-and-paper.  So maybe I did not read the fine print carefully (quite possible) or maybe they inserted this little "clause" after the fact! I don't know.  But I do still have the email exchange with Russ Johnson where he said he would waive a couple of months fees because he was the one who was negligent about getting back to me when I first expressed my desire to terminate.

The collection: it is only a little over $200, so I could just pay it an be done with it, which is most likely what I will do. 

The dilemma: what are all my options for expressing my discontent with this awful business as far and wide as possible, to make sure others don't get scammed by these guys?  I have found a number of complaints online about this business, and they are remarkably similar to mine! Tomorrow I plan to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and include my email exchange with Russ Johnson.  They have had 37 complaints filed in 3 years with the BBB.  Any other ideas?

Lesson: Do a very thorough online check of a business' reputation before signing on to any kind of service like this.  And read ALL the fine print, ALWAYS! Make sure you can terminate any service anytime!  Don't sign anything that locks you in for more than a month!

I've learned a lot in the past year, and this is the only real doozy!  But I don't want anyone else to go down this road!

Tags: Future, Ranking, SEO, engine, optimization, scams, search

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Update: within 24 hours of posting this, I received a "damage control" phone call from Future Ranking.  They apparently saw this discussion on Indiebeauty.com and were quite concerned!  I had a long talk with someone from their company who seemed very concerned about my negative experience.  He wanted lots of details about my interactions with some of his employees and was especially concerned that I had received a collection notice after having reached a deal with Russ Johnson.  He refunded me the $202 right away and I told him the only thing I would really appreciate at this point is official notice that I am done with his company.  That should be coming in the mail along with the refund.  I was contacted yesterday by their billing department to confirm details about my reimbursement check. 

I did in fact file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau earlier that day, but the Future Ranking representative I spoke to was not aware of that at the time he called: this thread here on this site was what alerted him to my problem with his company!  I was impressed with the power of this site to get the word out!  I was told that the customer service rep I had the most problems with had indeed been transferred to a new department for "re-training", as others had had problems with him, too.  He told me he was in the process of re-structuring the company, whatever that means.  But he did listen to me, and I took the opportunity to let him know that responding promptly to customer complaints seemed to be their weak spot, and it's completely inexcusable considering how much money they charge for their service.  It was the lack of communication, coupled with arrogance that turned this in to a horrible experience.  They did get my page highly ranked for a few keywords, but the cost and the headaches were not worth it. I am pleased with their quick response after I posted my complaint here on this site, but it would have been better had they responded quickly to the complaints I had filed directly with their employees!  That would have gone a lot further in preserving their online reputation! 

When you file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau you are asked how you would like the problem resolved.  This is a really good exercise to keep your intentions pure.  You can't just file an angry rant and say you want to hire a hit-man to take them out!  You do have to take the time to think hard about how you would like the issue resolved.  This forced me to really think about what I was complaining about and what I wanted to get out of it.  Being able to think it through carefully goes along way toward getting our problems resolved quickly and satisfactorily.  Instead of ranting on Ripoff.com, I actually received a quick and satisfying response to my problem by choosing my words carefully and staying focused on my true intent, which was simply to be done with this company once and for all. 

As for SEO, my advice is to hire one person locally who will take the time to get to know your business well and interact with you one on one.  There is no need to hire a company that charges a lot of money.  As for customer service, we can all learn a lot from this company: if you ignore unhappy customers, they will find another place online to rant.  That will destroy your online credibility, and that is a very difficult thing to fix.  Always respond, even to the most troublesome customer!

Ohhh, Katie. I'm so pleased for you. It takes a lot of bottles, jars and soap to turn around money in this economy. Not to mention the sweat and the tears. It's so good to read that you've had a proper completion to this headache, and it's great that you can draw a line under it.

-Susan

Reach out. Make friends. Let's lift each other!

Thanks, Susan!  I agree, it's nice to be done once and for all!  And now I can spend my money on that Vermont-distilled frankincense I've been coveting! : )

Katie and everyone,

This is a very short article, but it speaks volumes about the direction Google may be going when it comes to SEO.

Google Is Planning To Penalize Overly Optimized Sites

I don't think this is anything new, but I do think that the growth of social media and non-Google informational sites have made it important for Google to make sure (as much as possible) that no one is gaming their system. This means making sure that keyword cheating is minimized so Google can return results that naturally reflect what people are asking and talking about. (Emphasis on "talking about ...," as in emphasis on the importance of content marketing, as in emphasis on blogging, as in make sure you have and use one ...)

Keep an eye on this, and if you are hiring an SEO firm for your sites, be sure to ask them how they are keeping up with Google's changes.

dM

This is a good piece that reinforces the "content first" mantra!  There is no point in having highly optimized pages if your bounce-back rate remains over 50% for lack of engaging content! And it reinforces what Katherine says about letting the process unfold naturally.  Thanks for sharing!

I think this is a common problem for many small business people. I've been ripped off by more SEO companies than I can count over the twelve years I've been online. I started doing most of it myself, which is a lot of work, but I have fairly good rankings.

Good for you! This is what Indies need to do! Learn to do it yourself, and then delegate. I very rarely delegate anything I don't understand myself. That's the only way I can supervise someone else and hold him or her accountable.

Your experience has been quite an eye-opener for me.  So glad you finally got a good resonse from the company! 

I was steered towards an SEO co. called Engine Seeker by an aquaintance who told me she build her business with them, and said she was charged only a nominal amount. She was so enthusiastic I later thought maybe she got paid for recommending them! I looked online and they require all your information before allowing you in to their so-called free trial. There were lots of complaints.  And I was put off by needing to put so much info forward with no idea what they were going to do with it, or how much their services cost, so I passed.  Glad now that I did!

That was smart, Patricia!  Go with your gut feeling! That does sound a little shady.  I doubt you missed anything by not signing up!

Katie -- Yikes, this is quite a story, and a huge wake-up call for anyone thinking of hiring an SEO Company.  I would not pay the latest invoice they sent you.   Seems to me you have the e-mails, complaint reports, etc. to back up your position. You might also consider reporting them to your Attorney General - they could point you in a direction.  

Most of the SEO work many companies market (not all) is minimal, at best.  Often times, if you have the right key-words and use them in your posts to your site, you have self-made "SEO".

Keep us posted on how this progresses.

Update from the Better Business Bureau of Washington State: Russ Johnson of Future Ranking responded to my complaint by essentially editing a copy of one of his emails to me (making it sound a lot more professional than it was originally!), lying about the status of my website still containing their work (it does not) and referring to his "assistant" being the one who just issued me a refund.  I thought that last one was interesting as the "assistant" was the one who represented himself to me as a higher ranking employee who had the power to overturn Russ Johnson's billing decisions and who also wanted specific information about Russ Johnson and a few others in the company.  This whole ordeal still leaves a bad taste about this company.  I'm glad they offered me a refund and issued it quickly, but I still think this is an unprofessional bunch of people who would rather react defensively than try to understand their customers concerns and address them proactively.  They've had a remarkable number of complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau just in the last three years, which suggests they are slow to learn how to best service their customers.  That's a shame.

The only thing I wanted from this company is official notice that I am done with them.  They sent a check, but no notice!  No apologies that things didn't work out, no confirmation of completion of our transactions, nothing.  So once again, I have no idea whether they will be back haunting me again in 6 weeks! I told the BBB that I would like to consider the case closed, and will take the refund check as confirmation, but that my original request through them was confirmation of closure, rather than a refund. 

This whole ordeal has definitely been a good education in how NOT to conduct business! If you have an unhappy customer, call first and address the problem - follow up with a letter! Good communication goes a long way.  Future Ranking is only just getting this.

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