29Prime – Would you Buy a Used Car From These Guys Let Alone SEO?

This is a cautionary tale to 29Prime’s remaining 8000 clients. If this company abuses their own Google Places listing imagine what they might be doing in your name.

Let me be upfront with my bias.. 29Prime is not one of my favorite companies. And I have in the past commented on their abuse of Google Place’s reviews to hide the reality of who they really are. But reader Dave Middleton pointed out that in addition to abusing Google Places’s review policy they are also abusing the Google Places Guidelines as well by adding a tagline to their business name in their Places listing:

Their claim of having served 20,000 clients, while an abuse of Google’s guideline against tag lines in the business name, is an interesting one. Linda Buquet pointed out one of their recent PR releases where they claim to have a current client base of more than 8,000 small business owners. The article notes that they were founded in 2010 (although their website notes a start date of 2007 and the domain was claimed in 2008).

If we take their most recent word at face value (Tough I know but..) and assume (for the sake of simple calculation) a May 2010 founding we can get a sense of their churn. They have lost 6000 customers a year. It would appear that they have lost 1.5 clients for each one still claimed to  be under contract.

Still curious I wanted to see who actually owned the building that they show on their website as their presumed location so I typed their address into Google Maps to look at the Streetview of their location.

OOOPS. Turns out they violated another Places guideline and claimed their listing at the local UPS Store. The address, 2233 West Balboa Blvd # 115, Newport Beach, is the same one used in their Whois record and their website. This was no accident.

Still not convinced about 29Prime’s ethical behaviors? The image of their HQ on their website appeared to have been photoshopped so I dropped it into Google image search to see what I found.

Surprise! They seemed to be “occupying” the Unisys offices at 9701 Jeronimo RD Irvine, Ca. They may in fact be at that location occupying some space but the building most definitely isn’t labeled as 29Prime and they are but a renter. Hmm, stranger and stranger.

To any client of 29Prime: If these folks can’t get their own marketing story straight, how can you expect that they will get yours straight? They are obviously violating Google Places guidelines, run the risk of being suspended, are gathering fake reviews and are photoshopping images on their website that have one intention, to imply that they are more successful than they really are. Their churn rate is at best disturbing. They are willing to “cut corners” (to say the least) on their own marketing, can you really trust them with yours? Or will your listing end up suspended like theirs is likely to be?

Just for the record here is the image from the website and an unretouched image of the same location reflecting the actual occupant. It appears that they didn’t even take the time to take an original photograph and just used the one from the Wikipedia article on Unisys. They did appear to have adjusted the colors.

How many corners can one company cut?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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97 thoughts on “29Prime – Would you Buy a Used Car From These Guys Let Alone SEO?”

  1. Um…jesus H. Christ, Mike…are these guys for real???

    It’s firms like this that I fight against daily up here in Canuckland that have “poisoned” the clients who know little or nothing about SEO but are looking for online marketing to help bring new traffic to their sites.

    Poor company. Poor marketing. Poor Photoshoped phony HQ – that about covers it….sigh….

    🙁

    Jim

  2. The things I’ve seen and heard about them make me think they are currently struggling for business. They’ve used the paid rankings and marketing of topseos for quite some time to “show off”, they were even spamming the Google Places forum with marketing taglines. I also know about them trying to steal know-how of any kind from other companies. I’m not too sure how companies like this one are left to operate relatively freely in a (supposedly) first-world country.

  3. @Nyagoslav…

    Free market often means free rein for sheisters, thieves and reprobates. Our capitalism is dog eat dog…. functioning on the myth of let the “market decide” environment…. I have explored legal remedies and found very few that can be applied to this sort of deception…

  4. Amazing! They even have 14 Yelp reviews and a 1.5 star rating. I don’t care what anyone says about Yelp filtering review, this is a clear example of them getting the review process right!

    And for some reason their Google Places listing is not showing up for the query 29prime… 😉

  5. Goot catch Mike! Although I have found branded Places listings to appear for branded searches in the past, so I am a little surprised that it did not come up for that query.

  6. I would also like to point out that if you follow the web of deceit even farther you will find that they are operating multiple sites on the that are all “powered” by 29Prime which all offer different SEO “packages”.

  7. I thought the Places engineers had already “sanitized” those nefarious SEO shops using UPS Store shills as their USPS postcard validation routine? Maybe this kind of exposure “outing” of such SEOs will fast track Places to Brand pages?

  8. Wow, Mike: that is slick, outrageous, and I suppose borders on fraudulent on the building picture side. Same picture…same cars, oh my….they photo shopped their logo over the truth.

    I used to be a commercial real estate person…and would lease up buildings like the one in the picture. Dependent on market conditions building logo on an office building like that is a very valuable entity. Its worth a lot.

    If the building owner got wind of that fake pic…he’d probably sue their behinds…put a lot of legal power into it…and make them sweat for their outrageous BS. then Unisys would be right behind the owner and sue them again!!!

  9. Whoa, nice detective work Mike. These guys are just beyond scammy! How do you even sleep at night when you tell that many lies and break that many rules? I can’t even fathom!

    Note another Place page violation – fake reviews. No surprise there. 🙁

    In one week this reviewer had windows installed in Canada, had landscaping done in Dallas, had auto body work in Ca, worked with a Property taxes company in Austin and hired a clown in Romeoville Il. What clowns!

  10. It’s also a bit amusing and ironic to see an SEO company stuffing their meta keywords tags with things like “seo expert” 🙂

  11. Not sure how they thought they were going to stay under the radar while being so blatant. The building image floored me.

    Great write up!

  12. Maybe they can offer a Fiverr gig?

    I will photo shop your business logo onto a large, impressive building and tweak your Google Places listing location for $5.

  13. @Dave

    Pretty amazing

    @Linda
    Yes they have sock puppets gallore writing their reviews…no real reviews here!

    @Eric
    Google’s image search is very slick. I once used it to help my college age daughter get a bonus point on her Math quiz asking her to ID a famous mathematician. 🙂

    @Andy
    There’s a lot of cruft out there!

    @Dana
    Thanks you

  14. It’s scary to think about all the people who “fell” for this. I’ve never seen it go so far as to photoshop their logo on an existing building!

  15. I thought it was ridiculous and misleading, but still mostly puffery, and then I saw the Unisys picture. That takes it to another level entirely. California’s a dangerous place to conduct business like that, they have consumer protection laws with teeth.

  16. I wish I had some power to ruin this business. They make us all look bad. Will someone please stand up and swat these guys 29 times back into the gutter? I’ve actually talked to a rep there on behalf of a very confused client who unfortunately became ensnared in their web of deceit. Slimy slimy slimy!

  17. I’m so relieved that you took the time to expose some of this. The picture of the building is flat out creepy!!! I’ve seen a lot of companies use PO boxes as addresses or lie about their customer base, but pretending to own an entire building is just nuts!

  18. Hey guys- everything is true. I attempted to work there for a couple days, but was so ..I guess “skeezed” would be the right word…out by the environment and their practices, I couldn’t even return. I wasn’t hired for sales but I sat through sales training…..it made my skin crawl.

    The hiding of the name is a joke…they occupy two floors of that building in Irvine. The location is a lie as well, in newport. Their billing system is constantly “in the works” as is their autodialer (Which is where the “Do-not-call numbers” are), so that it constantly “resets itself”. The best advice I can give for ANYONE scammed is make a complaint with the BBB and continually slam it until they finally respond-it will get their attention.

  19. Just a few of the names they use in addition to (or including) the ones Mike has mentioned before.

    29LOCALLISTING.COM. 2 29PRIME.COM. 3 29SERVICES.COM. 4 BIGFISHSEM.COM. 5 BILLBOARDLOCAL.COM. 6 GIANTSEM.COM. 7 GREENTHUMBSEO.COM. 8 NEONNEXUS.COM. 9 PARAMOUNTSEM.COM. 10 RELIABLEPLACES.COM. 11 RELIABLEPLACESRECRUITING.COM. 12 SUMMITSEM.COM. 13 TOPGIANT.COM. 14 VICTORYSEM.COM. 15 YMSLOCAL.COM.

    I’ve seen ReliablePlaces out there quite a bit. Talk about a branding dichotomy.

  20. Wow, I’ve heard of bad SEO companies but never seen one go so far as to photoshop their logo on someone else’s building! This was quite the catch and although I’m sure they have tainted the SEO waters with their malpractice, I’m just glad they got called out here.

    Good job.

  21. Mike: Well researched article. If googlers are reading this you would think they would take a hard look at 29M’s places record…and probably deep six it. It violates lots of terms of service rulings.

    On top of that they are selling their services to smb’s…and they’ll be violating a lot of TOS down the line.

    I found the photoshopping of the building logo fascinating. The logo has value. Its a bit like a billboard and folks pay a lot for billboard advertising. Building owners make building logos available…but it has a value. When made available it is accompanied by specific language in a lease.

    I forwarded this to a real estate attorney with extensive corporate real estate, leasing, sales, property owner experience. Can’t wait to see his reaction.

    29Prime doesn’t seem to mind overstepping bounds where ever it tends to act. I’m interested to see how google handles the Places Record…and if there are ramifications for photo shopping the building pic.

  22. I thought I posted this but in never showed up. Here are some other names they go by.

    1 29LOCALLISTING.COM.
    2 29PRIME.COM.
    3 29SERVICES.COM.
    4 BIGFISHSEM.COM.
    5 BILLBOARDLOCAL.COM.
    6 GIANTSEM.COM.
    7 GREENTHUMBSEO.COM.
    8 NEONNEXUS.COM.
    9 PARAMOUNTSEM.COM.
    10 RELIABLEPLACES.COM.
    11 RELIABLEPLACESRECRUITING.COM.
    12 SUMMITSEM.COM.
    13 TOPGIANT.COM.
    14 VICTORYSEM.COM.
    15 YMSLOCAL.COM.

    RELIABLE PLACES is one of the names I’ve seen a lot. Considering all the violations above I think the name is a branding dichotomy.

  23. Insane…just crazy. And I just got off the phone with a business owner explaining to me that he had been cold called and pursued by this business. What a coincidence! Honestly…the logo on the building really takes the cake. Gee, I think I’ll put MINE on the top of the Empire State Building.

    Good sleuthing, Mike.

  24. Mike,

    I’m sorry you are so troubled with our company, but your article is very misleading. You can choose not to show this comment, or discredit it, but it contains the truth, which is what you should be interested in.

    The Newport Beach address is a PO box. Many reputable companies and even government agencies use PO boxes for mail purposes. If you do not believe this, check your utility bills, DMV bills, tax filings, and the like.

    The building shown is the office building, in Irvine. The building is shared with Unisys, who occupied it prior, and has the better signage rights. The company also has signage rights as well. Unisys leases 2 floors, and the company leases 2 floors, around 45,000sf worth.

    As for clients, churn is a reality in any recurring revenue business model. If you don’t believe this, I suggest you compare how many customers Direc TV has today to how many they have sold over the years, or AT&T Wireless, or Netflix. They all have sold many more customers than they currently have. Our research indicates our average customer life is higher than many competitors in the space.

    With regard to brands, 29 Prime is an IP company. It has a affiliations with a number of other companies, largely to grow its distribution. Many of them have their own sales brands. This, also, is not unique. Numerous industries offer white label brands, and sell through agents, resellers, etc. Kirkland is a white label product Costco uses. Does that mean they are performing some sort of scam because their Firestone manufactured tires say Kirkland on them? When you buy Virgin Wireless, you are really getting Sprint service. I can name example after example.

    You paint a pretty ugly picture through innuendo, but the reality tells another story entirely. We would appreciate it if you were more responsible in the future, but we cannot make you be.

    1. Dear Milton

      Thanks for stopping by. I give you a 10 for chutzpah if not for a well articulated argument.

      You need to read the article more carefully. I criticize your use of the PO Box not because I think they are disreputable but because Google long ago banned their use in Places. Google also clearly articulated guidelines that prevent the use of taglines as a business name in Google Places. As a company that sells Google Places optimization this distinction should be clear to you. My point is that of all companies, yours should know the rules about Google Places. By stating the obvious and noting that government agencies use PO Boxes you are creating a straw man argument that does not speak to my original point.

      As to the photo: Do you have your name out in front of your actual location or do you not? Was the image photoshopped or was it not?

      Whether you own the rights to signage is immaterial. What is material is what is on the signage vs what is on your website. Please enlighten me.

      As to your IP and affiliates, that has been shown in the past to be somewhat disingenuous. I did not address that issue in my article but you provide much if not all of the services of these “affiliates” including purchasing the domain name, creating the website, providing backend support and training the sales people and they frequently are located within your same building. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a duck. In this case I would call many of them divisions… as to why you have so many I will not speculate.

      I take full responsibility for my opinions. They are solely mine. They are not innuendo they are clearly stated and I stand by them.

      However with or without my opinions I think most people would agree that the facts speak for themselves.

      I am not painting a picture rather I am reproducing one that it appears you have created. Please correct ANY factual errors.

  25. I just searched the address in Maps to see what the building really looks like.

    The only business listed there was Place Prime. Checked the Place page. One review from an honest impartial customer I’m sure.

    BUT the impartial reviewer’s profile clearly shows he’s ODDLY partial to the services of companies that happen to have the number 29 in them.

    Oh lookee here… in that list of businesses he reviewed – another keyword stuffed 29 Prime Place page. This branch office is located at a UPS store.

    I didn’t bother to check out all the other related Place pages the impartial reviewer reviewed.

  26. Mike:

    I was fascinated by the pictures with signage. The paragraph wherein Milton describes his company’s “signage rights” is pure malarkey.

    I negotiated lease deals for years. The clauses are very very specific. Frankly signage has some value. Its significant. A tenant could pay for signage. Its like a billboard.

    With signage rights comes a lot of specific language about items as where the signage can be placed, things like dimensions, rights of review by the landlord or his representative(s) specifics about materials, who is responsible for putting it up, taking it down, materials used to secure the signage, maintenance, etc……

    Lots of specifics.

    A tenant could have an option on signage should a tenant with signage leave the building or violate some other lease clauses. You could call that a “right of signage” if using loose language….but that is dramatically different than a specific lease clause detailing all the specifics of that signage on that portion of the building, along with the signage on the architectural piece in the front of the building.

    I can think of landlords that would have blown a gasket on this visual misrepresentation and called in the attorneys. I can recall incidents and periods when signage on major roads had tremendous value and importance. I can imagine Unisys’s legal and real estate team being tremendously aggravated should they see the altered photographs.

    I have no idea if the particular leases associated with that building have any language associated with the photograph that was altered and misrepresented the building.

    Knowing the real estate industry and the legal teams that put together lease language I’m sure they’ll get wind of it and start to address it.

  27. Wow! At first, I was bummed that I missed a chance to get a comment in earlier, but now it looks like this comment feed should really heat up!

    I can speak first hand about my experience with 29Prime. I am grateful for their methodologies, as I was able to get another client that was NOT happy with their services. They would send my client a report with links to show their work. You would click on the link, go to a search result, and NOT see the client listed anywhere. Yet, in the report, in read that the client was #1. I wonder how few clients actually click thru to check?

    Then, I had to undo some of their spammy work in MapMaker. Interestingly, the client’s listing included a website that WAS NOT THEIRS! 29Prime had created a “website” on a sub-domain of 29Prime.com for the client and used that for the Places listing. I highly doubt that this is what the client was told upfront. Makes good advertising for 29Prime, but not the client.

    I’m glad to share my opinion here and look forward to a reply from Milton. And I’d really like to see how he responds to the photo of the building.

  28. Mike:

    Can’t get off the signage topic. It has real value. If it didn’t have value, why else would 29Prime have altered the picture? Its one thing to use pictures that imply your business is legit and substantial. Its another thing to create an entirely fake image. It has value to the building owner, who granted Unisys the right to place the sign on the building. It has value to Unisys, needless to say.

    Mike: I would guess that some landlords, some property owners, some corporations such as Unisys, some real estate attorneys would define the recreated image as very material. Local jurisdictions have restrictions about signage, zoning boards wrestle with the issues. citizen groups battle about it. Its not a trivial issue.

    When a market is very tight and space is at a premium the landlord will charge for building signage rights. When a market is soft the landlord will provide signage availability and “rights” as an inducement to attract a tenant. Either way there is a lot of value.

    Meanwhile I noticed the 29Prime logo on the architectural piece in the front of the building covered the street number. I wonder if that would violate any covenant, building ruling, or local regulation about signage or not? The building is over 20 years old and there are older pictures on the web with former tenants with signage on the building and the architectural piece out front. In the 2 examples I’ve seen the address street number, 9701 shows.

    Meanwhile I worked with a lot of real estate attorneys for a couple of decades on commercial leases. I saw how leases got more and more complex and covered more and more issues, many of which related to changing technology.

    If its not already covered some real estate attorneys are going to have a field day with this. Seriously 29Prime’s action has the implication of devaluing all signage everywhere, on buildings, billboards, the huge amounts of money stadium’s make for signage rights and everywhere else signage is placed.

    If I were in 29Prime’s shoes I’d replace that falsified picture of the Unisys Building at 9701 Jeronimo Road, and quick.

    …and then i’d start cleaning up a lot of the other irresponsible activities that they engage in.

  29. @Eric Christopher

    There are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of these pages on a sub-domain of theirs. You can see them all here.

    A couple of quick searches shows that they use those sub-domain profile pages for all of their clients’ Places pages. We obviously don’t know if they are transparent about that, but it’s definitely not a strategy that’s good for the client they are working with. They very well could use that as leverage to keep the client by having the ability to “turn off” the Places page and ranking at any time.

  30. Mike:

    I know I’m fixated on the building signage issue, but I can’t overestimate its commercial value. I looked for some information on values and income streams associated with signage and naming rights. This article: http://businessofcollegesports.com/2011/06/21/naming-rights-on-college-stadiums-and-arenas/ from last year just looked at college stadiums.

    That leaves out professional sports teams, transit systems, billboards, the naming rights real estate firms charge for allowing signage, etc etc etc. Taxpayers often support new stadiums often paid for by bonds whose valuation is based on income streams which include some hefty naming rights fees.

    The implications are enormous.

    Total up the contracts listed in the above article and there is about $240 million in total payments for naming rights. And that is a tiny tiny fraction of income associated with signage and naming rights.

    29Prime blithely decided to devalue that process with its little photoshop effort. Then a representative of the company defended the practice in a comment above.

    Big, big issue, IMHO. Has huge huge financial considerations. And all because of what appears to be a purposefully developed misleading photograph to give the impression of significance and substance.

    Not a smart move as I see it. 😉

  31. Has anyone made mention of this company to Vanessa. She should have the power to just destroy them, no?

  32. @Andrew: I’m not sure if Google Places turned the “we do not support this location” penalty on the places record would make an enormous difference.

    For a variety of searches in google.com for SEO, seo company, advertising agency…in either Newport beach or in Irvine I never saw a PAC an example of universal search. Google has turned off universal search on SEO companies a long time ago and never turned it back on.

    If its not visible as a record in universal search…I don’t see it getting much discovery traffic. It was interesting when I tried a lot of phrases on their business name…I didn’t see the record turning up in google.com either. Looks to me like google has already taken some actions that acknowledge the record is very much off base.

    Who knows the history of this record? Frankly, Mikes research suggests that the location was deliberately and carefully tied to the UPS location years ago…in a lot of ways.

    Oh yeah…even when searching on different terms like SEO and advertising agency in Maps itself the record/business doesn’t turn up first in rankings.

    The business seems to generate revenues connected to massive amounts of calling and robo calling.

    People may go to the site or some of those other domains via direct reference to the business name….but the business and the site aren’t all that highly optimized against other businesses in their own town.

    Just don’t think even if Places took the site down for violations on Google TOS it would make a critical difference…….but it could 😉 😉

  33. Oh Look, all those reviews on their place page are gone. As are all their photos, and the link to their website. I wonder how that happened? 😉

  34. If you go to the page on the website that shows the photoshopped signage it now has a small reference under the picture

    (artist rendering)

    http //www. 29 prime.com/AboutUs.aspx (sorry…couldn’t see linking to them)

  35. Mike Blumenthal says:
    ‘Our capitalism is dog eat dog…. functioning on the myth of let the “market decide” environment….’

    Myth?

    And what would be more efficient than the free market in a case like this?

    State licensure and review of credentials for the “Internet marketing” consulting profession? Think that would do it?

    The irony here is that this very thread illustrates the efficiency of the free market.

    Getting a business reporter to help spread the word will help the free market correct this even faster.

    Better than any government oversight committee, I would say.

    As for legal remedy, isn’t it likely a client or two was induced to buy services through deception? Isn’t that actionable?

    1. The theory of market efficiency assumes two things:
      1)The purchasers are rational and
      2)the knowledge is equally available.

      Theoretical market solutions make these fundamental assumptions. It is built into the theoretical model and integrated into the effective policy. Neither is in fact the case thus the theoretical model (and the attendant policy developments) breaks down.

      In the real world what happens is that this company calls a small business owner and convinces them, based on half truths and (in my experience) untruths to use the service. There is no opportunity for market efficiencies to play a role. When they report back to the SMB, he or she has no idea whether the reports are truthful.

      I have explored legal remedies on behalf of a number of SMBs abused by businesses using Google Places. The standard response is that there is no legal resource to help most of them.

      I think that having both some upfront licensure and a clear path for enforcement would be a step in the right direction.

      Getting a reporter to spread the word is beyond the reach and knowledge of most SMBs. I have a privileged position in this world that elevates some of my content to visibility BUT my actions in no way will protect most SMBs.

      This thread does provide a proof of sort but not of the efficiencies of market. This thread provides proof of the value of free speech. Although I do run the risk of a lawsuit

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