SEO Firm Settles Case With Washington AG

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Washington's attorney general agreed to a settlement with a Redmond, WA, SEO firm it accuses of not delivering promised top search results to customers.

Attorney general Christine Gregoire filed a lawsuit and settlement in King County Superior Court on Wednesday laying out a case of business deception against SEO firm Internet Advancement. The company, which also operates under the name, is alleged to have promised clients top rankings on search engines, then failed to deliver or refund customers' money.

The attorney general's office said that it, the FTC and the Better Business Bureau received more than 100 complaints against Internet Advancement, which charged clients $980 to $1,500 upfront and $79.50 to $89.50 a month for SEO services that would land their sites in the top 10 or 20 results of major search engines.

Under the settlement, Internet Advancement is barred from misrepresenting its services and required to clarify its refund policy and respond promptly to customers' complaints. The firm also was fined nearly $100,000 and ordered to pay restitution to customers who lodged complaints. The suit named Internet Advancement's executives: Todd Wickham, Ken Committee and Ernesto Villamor.

Internet Advancement is not the first SEO firm in hot water. Traffic Power, Las Vegas, has been the subject of at least 18 complaints to the BBB and numerous complaints on industry forums. Its search optimization practices, such as the use of doorway pages to fool Web search spiders, led some clients to get banned from major search engines.

At the Search Engine Strategies conference last week, Search Engine Watch editor Danny Sullivan said the SEO industry had developed a reputation as a group of shady operators. He urged the development of an industry-wide code of conduct, possibly through the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, an industry trade group set up in August 2003.

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