Why I don’t display my numerous TopSEOs awards

Ash Nallawalla

3 April 2010


A long time ago I alerted my friend Edward Lewis about this company that purported to rank SEO companies and awarded them badges. I had been working as an in-house SEO at a large IYP, so my own businesses had not been operating (or barely). Those websites, however were and are still up. (as it so happens, I have been downsized at Sensis Yellow Pages® as of this coming Friday, so I may need to revive those businesses):

Since 2008 I had been getting “award badges” from TopSEOs.com such as the following examples:

SEO July 2009
SEO July 2009
PPC Management April 2010
PPC Management April 2010
SEO Training April 2010
SEO Training April 2010

The reason I don’t display them is pretty simple: I didn’t deserve a ranking that could not be determined by anyone. It’s meaningless at best – do we rank our doctors? Is Fred Nurk better than me? Moreover, the list of my clients is out of date or taken out of context.

Here is an example of my latest #2 ranking for TrainSEM.com:

Rankings for training companies April 2010
Rankings for training companies April 2010

The list of clients is taken from my testimonials, with the odd exception of my soon-to-be former employer Sensis. The latter is mentioned on the About page as a place where I worked. The number of employees, active clients, client retention rate (!) etc is sheer fiction. Here is a screen shot of the detailed profile for TrainSEM on their site.

There is a similar ranking chart for PPC companies and one for Organic SEOs. I haven’t received a recent award for Organic SEO possibly because SEM911 sounds like it does SEM (which a lot of ignorant people think means paid search – PPC), hence SEM911 keeps winning PPC awards. In reality, I haven’t done any major PPC work since 2005, so it’s irritating to keep getting these flattering awards. OK, I managed a 7-figure annual PPC spend for my current employer, but that doesn’t count for SEM911. The profile for SEM911 is accurate.

My “rankings”? If I remember correctly, I might have been sent an email or three in the early days, encouraging me to get a paid listing. I used to get a #1 ranking for TrainSEM when Kalena Jordan was the only other person to offer SEO training. Sometimes her Search Engine College would rank #1 and sometimes it was me. Then as other companies entered the training market, we were demoted. In those days there was not a separate list for Australia, so we were on the global list. I hardly do any SEO training in Australia, but I’m not worried about the non-existent TopSEOs ranking for India where most of my students live.

This isn’t the first month when I have received two different ranks for the same website one minute apart, (ranks #2 and #3) – OK, this is because in the US rankings, TrainSEM is #3 but in Australia it is #2. However, in the column for “Comprehensive”, for Australia I score “Very Good” but in the US I am “Excellent”.

Some of my work colleagues have done Bruce Clay’s SEO training in Australia and I have seen the detailed course notes – they are comprehensive. In the Australian list he doesn’t make the top 10 but in the US, he’s #4 and Kalena scrapes in at #10. Jill Whalen offers SEO training too, but I can’t recall seeing her site on the list.

Begs the same question others are asking – who makes the list and who doesn’t?

I have never paid to be ranked by TopSEOs or to be a member. Initially, TopSEOs only dished out a free membership badge, which I displayed, but I dropped it some years ago. I don’t believe I linked it to them, or perhaps it was nofollowed – not terribly important. Each month I would get at least one award but no attempt was made to sell me a membership. Perhaps the time zone difference was too great. It was amusing to see who was at the top – either they were a new company or they had paid for top billing.

Fast forward to the present.

There’s a small tempest brewing about TopSEOs right now:

My verdict: TopSEOs have not tried the hard sell on me but I agree that a for-profit company is in no position to rank anyone or anything, particularly SEOs.

There is no comparison between an agency with 10 happy customers who were ranked #1 for non-competitive phrases and another agency with 10 equally happy customers who got #1 placement for very competitive phrases. If the set of customers were swapped around, the results might be very different.

The victim here is the SEO’s potential customer. It is bad enough that anyone can slap on an SEO shingle, but if they can also get a favourable ranking by virtue of a paid review/inspection, then there is a risk that a shonky operator might fall through the cracks and be awarded a high ranking.

Fortunately, my free high rankings have not given me a single paying customer (that I can identify) through TopSEOs. I think there’s a message there.

Ash Nallawalla

Search strategist experienced in large, complex websites. Ash's Google+ profile

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  • seo company uk on 5 April 2010

    Everyone who subscribes gets one

  • Chris Silver Smith on 8 April 2010

    I’d *like* to have my doctors rated!

    That’d be soooo useful! But, it’s hard/impossible to do.

    You’re right, though – attempting to rank in a for-profit model is either unuseful/untrustworthy or else it’s a bit shaky (citing Yelp as something of a recent example on this one).

    I did a blog post in 2007, “Top In-House SEOs”, which got a bit of attention back then:


    And I immediately ran into a minor amount of trouble. I didn’t see a lot of point in attempting to vet the SEO ability of each in-house SEO, since it’d be difficult/impossible to know precisely what sites they worked upon for each corporation and difficult to know whether an expert gave better advice than their engineers were able to implement. So, my criteria for the list at that time was to identify someone who identified themselves as an SEO working on behalf of a major Fortune 500 (or IR 500) site, and they also had to blog publicly and/or speak at conferences. I also used the top-linked SEOs listed on LinkedIn as a source, too.

    There were many in-house SEOs left out of that list, and many clamored to be listed after the fact. But, I tried to make the decision criteria to be consistent.

    Of course, my main goal was to publicize people who’d here-to-fore been working diligently away in the shadows of their companies without being really known for their work. Many of these were doing brilliant things, but had little recognition outside of their companies.

    I think my goal was satisfied, as my blog post shined a light on the people listed, and many of them were immediately head-hunted and moved on to higher positions soon after that.

    I was asked by many to do an annual list of Top In-House SEOs. If I did it again, I’d be more transparent about the criteria and methodology for selection.

  • Ash on 8 April 2010

    SEO Company UK,
    I must have joined them in 2003 when they were only handing out membership badges. I might be wrong but they might have sent some “leads” to whet the appetite for a paid listing.

    Being someone who rarely makes it to SEO or blogger lists, I have wondered whether I need to write better, more often, network more or change my after shave. I might have to start my own list. 🙂

    More seriously, I have known people who are too busy to be noted in such lists because they are not known within the profession. At the in-house SEO session I spoke at last Pubcon, almost everyone in the audience (~1000?) was an in-house SEO.

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