Local Paid Inclusion Scandal – a PR Nightmare for Bruce Clay

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A legendary name in SEO, Bruce Clay is involved in an SEM PR nightmare of proportions.

As if SEO was not enough under scrutiny, the news about a “Local Paid Inclusion” program still raises eyebrows in the industry. Heated conversations, involving the crème de la crème in SEO, are ongoing on all major social media platforms and industry blogs. Among them, of note today, an editorial by Barry Schwartz, at Search Engine Roundtable, titled Bruce Clay Lets The SEM Industry Down.

For many young professionals, such as myself, Bruce Clay is synonymous with SEO – the man is a legend. But not a black hat SEO legend. In fact, many of us learned SEO ethics from Bruce Clay’s SEO Code of Ethics. Few have imagined a scandal of such proportions.

To summarize a story already detailed by Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable, Bruce Clay is involved in a project called “Local Paid Inclusion” that promised businesses “a Google, Yahoo and Bing contracted service” offered as “an approved official program in cooperation with those search engines.” In other words, the service alleged that businesses could pay to increase ranking in organic search results of Google, Bing and so on.

The official description of the programme (which has already been removed from www.localpaidinclusion.com, and the page redirects to a Bruce Clay property) implied that this was a “NEW program offered by Google, Yahoo!, Bing and 18 other major directories and indexes that places a business profile into a premium area above all other local profiles.”

What we know, regard and respect as the ethical SEO industry reacted promptly, denouncing the programme as shady and unbelievable at best. Google and Bing denied any “interest in paid inclusion into the local algo that artificially impacts ranking of algo results” and any involvment in the programme, and today, finally, the Bruce Clay PR machine finally reacted, with a statement that comes a bit too late to matter: Bruce Clay Inc.’s Statement on Local Paid Inclusion.

Another relatively questionable strategy for Bruce Clay was to remove all possible traces of the programme, instead of updating specific pages with the correct information. If we go on dissecting every small details, we can only make matters worse for the company.

But in life, we all deserve second chances. Let’s give Bruce Clay the benefit of a doubt: after all, they are SEM experts, and not PRs. Crisis management is not one of their strengths. But whoever wrote the aforementioned statement is a crisis management expert. Bruce Clay manages to find excuses for every single error, and in the end comes out pristine clean.

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.

And the statement continues:

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.

That last sentence says it all. The gray areas of the deal will remain gray. We’ll keep you posted.

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