I post at SearchCommander.com now, and this post was published 14 years 3 months 17 days ago. This industry changes FAST, so blindly following the advice here *may not* be a good idea! If you're at all unsure, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and ask.
Peak Studios is a “search marketing firm” in Colorado that deserves special recognition for being incredibly stupid. Apparently, they’ve decided to leave fake negative reviews on my local business profile in Google, and they’ve done the same thing to several other members of the SEMpdx board of directors.
The owner, Quince Wyss, has now moved from a simple ignorance about marketing tactics into complete and total idiocy, and I’m sharing the story here because he’s crossed the line with these personal attacks.
Back in October, someone posted twice in a row at the SEMpdx forums with two poorly written self promotional articles that were not only poorly written, but also had embarrassingly bad formatting, grammar, and punctuation.
As a forum moderator, I was just going to delete them when I noticed something comical – The “service” being hawked in these two pieces of junk were for an SEO / SEM company in Colorado named Peak Studios.
The person that posted even left their name, company name, and their email address, website and phone number, on both of these ridiculous “contruibutions”.
First I laughed, and then I Twittered this – “If you were an SEO company, would you forumspam us at SEMpdx? Duh. So, I’m calling [unlinked here] Peakstudios.com and I’ll report back”.
I realized it might just be someone trying to make Peak Studios look bad, so I decided to phone the company and alert them to what had been done.
How Did Peak Studios React?
You can imagine my surprise when the owner, Quince Wyss, told me that they DID have an employee with that name, and Quince said he wanted to see what the employee had written.
I forwarded the “articles” to him by email, expecting to get a message back that he was embarrassed and sorry, and that the employee would undergo some training about what is and isn’t appropriate. Certainly he’d train him more about how they want to portray themselves in the public eye, right?
I hung up thinking I had done a good deed, but an hour later I got an email back from him actually defending this crap, and he also “demanded” that I retract what I had said on Twitter!
Well, never one to miss an opportunity, I wrote an article called “Forum Spam is in the Eye of the Beholder” and posted on the SEMpdx blog, calling out Peak Studios by name as defending the practice of spamming forums.
Todd Mintz submitted it to Sphinn, where agreement was nearly 100% that this guy was in the wrong. Well known and respected internet marketers like Jill Whalen, John Andrews, Daria Goetsch, Nick Wilsdon, Kim (Krause) Berg and many others all seemed to agree that yeah, it was totally inappropriate.
But after seeing the internet community lined up against him, did Quince Wyss see the error of his ways and do the right thing and apologize?
No – of course not. Peak Studios continued to argue the point as the only defender on the thread, Opiumden. The debate got so ridiculous that commenting was turned off by adnimistrators.
Was that the end of it?
Oh no, not by a long shot. This genius then actually phoned both Kent Lewis, the past president at SEMpdx, and Ben Lloyd, the current president, and “demanded” that my article be removed, threatening lawsuits, retaliation, and blah blah blah.
Quince claimed both that I had edited his “articles to make him look bad” (LOL – why would anyone do that?), and he said that there was “nothing wrong with what he’d done”.
At that point it became even more ridiculous, as several emails went around among the SEMpdx board before we all decided unanimously that the article should stay up.
I mean, here’s a “search marketing firm” engaging in the same exact kind of forum spam that you see for Viagra, but it was for their own industry, their own business, and they were actually DEFENDING it! We all found it incredible.
So, Ben basically told the guy to take a hike and to go ahead and call his lawyer, because we all agreed he was clearly off his tree.
Was that the end? Oh no, just wait, it gets better…
Earlier this week, someone supposedly named “Jesse Vandalino” posted a silly but negative comment about SEMpdx on a very old outdated blog post at Matt McGee’s Small Business Marketing blog.
Matt emailed Todd Mintz and asked him if the name “Jesse Vandalino” rang any bells, which it didn’t, and we all suspected that it might be this guy from Peak Studios trying to engage in some reputation damagement.
Then Friday, someone at the office of Anvil Media noticed a negative review on their Google Maps profile, and Tom Hale, another SEMpdx forum admin and advisory board member ALSO had a negative review added to his Google profile.
I heard about this all on Saturday, and a quick look at my own Google profile turned up the one and only negative review ever written about my company. Sure enough, it too could be tracked back to this bozo at Peak Studios. Here’s a copy, in case I can get it removed…
Why am I writing this now?
Because after seeing this fake review, I was so mad that I picked up the phone and called Peak, leaving a profane voicemail that he should have some balls and call me. What did he do? Did he “man up” and phone me? No.
After editing out his own name, his company name, and the dirty deeds I was accusing him of, he then posted the voicemail on youtube in another public smear attempt. (I guess it serves me right, but I was genuinely pissed!)
That wasn’t enough tough, and he began contacting others, like the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, and linking to the Youtube edited voicemail with more comment spam.
THEN he went back into my Google profile and added another fake review, this one with reference to the voicemail!
If this guy will spam our forum, then go to all the trouble to attack us personally when he’s so clearly wrong in the first place, what might he do for his clients?
I took a look at just the first client listed in their “web portfolio” and here’s a short video of how they “market”, including:
- Making up fake user profiles
- Leaving fake favorable reviews for clients
- Slandering client competitors by leaving fake negative reviews
Here is my proof that they are leaving fake reviews!
What’s the most disturbing is NOT that he’s too stupid to realize that they spammed in the first place.
It’s not even that he’s so dumb that he used the same user accounts making this so easy to uncover.
No, what’s most disturbing is that there are businesses in Colorado that are falling prey to the supposed “internet marketing services” of Quince Wyss at Peak Studios, and they are risking their business reputation .
Don’t take my word for it; check them out for yourself! Here are a few fake user reviews I found for ChemDry carpet cleaning, a Peak Studios client – One, two, three, four
Here’s one where they also did a fake negative review of a competitor, and here’s another fake negative competitor review. Here’s one competitor hit with 5 negative reviews
It’s one thing to engage in some negative smear campaign against me or SEMpdx – we’re big boys & girls and can take care of ourselves.
What they’re doing is posting fake reviews of their own clients, and they’re posting fake negative reviews about their clients competitors! That is SO far over the top that I I think they should be sued.
Only the most despicable company would engage in a negative campaign of actual lies about the competitors of their clients, right?
Do you think their clients have agreed to let them play that way?
Update – 14 months later, Peak Studios is at it again so i’m closing comments here – please go to the new thread…
I think not. Where is Donald Trump when someone needs a good firing?
I think its funny, I just did a Google search (wiki and personalization turned off) and this blog post ranks #4 right underneath their own domain. I hope their clients beg to be removed from their portfolio! These kind of tactics are sad and need to be stopped! Here’s hoping a lawyer goes after them.
Wow, this has gone way beyond a flame war.
Negative reviews for competitors? That is beyond low. If someone did that to my biz, I would freak. They are just begging for a slander lawsuit.
APM is my business landlord.
Wow…just wow. The video of those reviews really got me going. Diving into their backlinks on Site Explorer brings up even more lols to look at. Hopefully they learn from this bad practice as it will only save themselves in the long run.
Ouch! I love the little link that says “Peak Studios” to your other blog. Nice touch 😉
It amazes me still that people go to idiotic lengths to reinforce their stubborn egos. The SEO/SEM business gets a bad reputation because of these haywire “mom and pops” that try and go big by faking everything and lying to clients about great success.
I applaud you Scott for going toe-to-toe with this idiot. It appears they have no idea about reputation management, that they probably also claim they are amazingly good at in some fake review somewhere. 😛
You might be interested to know that ‘sock puppetry’ tactics like the false positive/negative reviews is against the law in the US and also in the EU).
Report them to the police.
I hope that whatever next steps they take they can heed this sage advice, “Let your speech be better than silence or be silent”
Scott – I think what is best is that you call Peak Studios and suggest a truce and removal of this post and You Tube. Really this is a zero sum game. Although you may be mostly in the right this guy can cause you a lot of problems – with the internet open as it is he could attack you in many ways. And as it is I think you must hold your hands up and say that your voicemail reflects very badly on you. Meanwhile your expose on his business could cost him a lot, and leave him feeling that you escalated a personal vendetta to one that TOOK HIS LIVELIHOOD. Look who cares if you are right, just think of all the repercussions. And maybe take a step back and think, ‘did i kinda take advantage of my profile to hold this guy out to ridicule because of his spammy ways when i could have written a more general post about these habits without hanging him out to dry. hmm did i start making this personal. could i have just deleted his thread and made that general post.’ now i am sure you have lots of justifications against this POV, but honestly i dont see upside for either party in continuing this. This guy has built some kind of business since 2000, and folks are employed by him. I think he has seen that his methods can lead to trouble and we should call it a day and delete all reference to this flame war. I am a neutral in all this, but i work in business outside SEO and i have seen these things escalate to the situation where only the lawyers win. The guy who wins the case, doesnt win, the guy who loses the case doesnt win.
If nothing but ill from your keyboard fall, than may nothing come from it at all.
@stopper – Thanks for the thoughtful comment – you’re right, and no good can come from this, but he won’t take that voicemail down.
It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong at this point, but since he chose to attack all of our businesses, I felt like that sort of forced my hand.
We’ll see if he wises up and removes the negative stuff, but I’m not holding my breath, ’cause he seems to be as stubborn as I am!
hehe, well good luck!
I agree with everything you’ve said, but I do think you’ve missed two very important points. First, when dealing with anyone so incredibly stupid and clueless, you have no idea how far they might go. Anyone that stupid may as well be crazy. Their thought processes make no sense to the rest of the world. Second, while you may be as stubborn as he is, he’s a lot more stupid – and stubbornness and stupidity is a very dangerous combination.
I’ve had one or two brushes with someone like this, and you just cannot win. They’ll push your buttons until you lose your cool, then use that to make you look bad. They’ll keep on coming back, doing more and more harm, no matter what you do to them, until they can convince themselves they’ve “won”. I don’t know you; I only found this post via a link from a post I was reading. But I hate to see anyone dragged into this kind of quagmire. Yes, you’re right, and most of the world has figured that out, but by the time he drags you through an endless round of battles he’s too stupid to know he can’t win, a lot of people will forget everything but the two guys who caused all that carnage. Is it really worth getting your name linked to all that carnage?
The lengths this guy has already proven he’s willing to go to scare me. The name is real (for once, a common name turns out to be a plus 🙂 ) but I kept it to a first initial because I don’t even trust him not to go after sympathetic bystanders. And even stupid people can do a lot of damage when they’re crazy enough. Sure, you can call in the cops – but I hate to think what frame of mind he’d be in once he got out.
Also, I don’t know anything about this jerk’s employees, but it seems obvious only two kinds of people would work for a creep like that; @$$wads, and the truly desperate. If there’s anyone out there so desperate they feel they have to put up with the kind of crap you’d have to if you worked in a place like that, I hate to think of them cast adrift in this economy. I understand stubbornness, but there are times when no good can come of it at all. You could spin this as a gesture of holiday season generosity towards his employees – and even to him (which I’d bet would sting worse than the chance to whine about how you’re “persecuting” him) – and get a real reputation boost out of it. If you take that high road, anything he does won’t stick to you. Just a thought…
I recently almost got involved in outing some spammers (who I’d read about here: http://tetlaw.id.au/view/blog/insidious-new-blog-spam-scheme/). After about 20 minutes, I thought better of it and removed my blog post. Kind of glad I did after reading this!!!
I have to wonder, this sounds like libel & slander to me. A lot of client competitors might have a case for this kind of fraud. It seems suspiciously illegal. Perhaps the Colorado DA would like to hear about it? I’m not a lawyer, etc etc… but this just isn’t right.
It also brings to mind a quote I hold dear: “Never argue with idiots”.
This is great… I just revisited this post and see that it ranks number 4 for “peak studios”. I love the power of the web.
That video is just great. Did all their clients see it already?
Thanks – I’m not sure if any of their clients have seen it.
I do know they’ve been forced to delete some of the fake reviews this past week, but I’ve not been following it.
This whole ugly incident is something I’m pretty embarrassed about, but I thought I needed to write this because there are others they’ll victimize if someone doesn’t call ’em on this stuff.
It’s clear that Peak Studios of Boulder is one of the boldest scummiest underhanded companies on Earth. It’s companies like Peak that cause the SEO and SEM industry to be labeled as a bunch of hacks and scammers.
It’s blatantly obvious that they intentionally had people post multiple fake reviews for their clients. Their tactics are deplorable, and the arrogance expressed by Quince Wyss makes me want to vomit.
@Adam, @Tony [email protected], I’m glad you agree, and thanks for commenting.
Just before reading this post I had read an article by Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design about conflict resolution in this new era of social media and review sites. It conveyed the consequences of negative reviews to both the reviewer and the business owner. Prior to reading that, it had never occurred to me that a negative review could lead to a lawsuit. Your post has frightened me even more. It’s a shame that the SEO practices of Peak Studios could prevent forum/blog owners from calling out spammers and that the potential for getting sued might prevent an actual customer from leaving a genuine negative review. I hope Google penalizes Peak Studios’ website for promoting and practicing such dishonest tactics.
Ahh, look like this is the article you mean, huh? I doubt that Google will do anything to them, but you never know!
Nice work on this. Saw this floating around the Tweet-Tubes this evening. GOOD. FOR. YOU. I definitely wouldn’t put with that ignoramus’ crap.
I’m glad you torched him. And Peak should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for that kind of immoral, unethical behavior.
This is exactly the reason and type of behavior that, people like Peak, can smear an entire industry in one fell swoop. Great work!
P.S. I’m from Milwaukee, I noticed they had some “reviews” from the area. One, I’ve never heard of em’ around here, secondly, don’t let this taint your view of the Midwestern SEM community. I promise we play a clean, agressive game. 😉
I noticed they say “Greater Milwaukee Area” too in a couple places, but I’m sure they’re in Boulder Colorado. I met someone at a search conference that has some experiences with them…
Search Commander, you don’t deserve all this crap-ola. Peak Studios should spend the time they’ve taken to slander your good name and take the time to learn acceptable SEO practices. And stop being jerk-faces.
To all the commenters out there so far…
Since most of us are SEOs…and this post currently ranks #4 or #5 for the query “Peak Studios” I don’t suppose there’s anything we could do to make it rank higher is there?
Hmm, what might it take…? 😉
Looks like the video on YouTube is gone, so that’s good on your side at least.
Yep, I actually had to spend a little money to get the voicemail video removed, but now I wish I had a copy I could post !
After 14 months, Peak Studios guys apparently got tired of seeing this post at the top of the search results, so they sent me an email threat, that they then carried out…
Want to read more? I’m closing comments here on this old thread, and moving the discussion over to my post about the Peak Studios blackmail threat!