Do Not Hire SEO Firm Yoast: Our Terrible Experience With Yoast SEO Review

Our bad experience with a vendor known as Yoast, in a perverse case of synchronicity, illustrates our theme of the crapification of everything. Yoast’s supposedly customized report to us is one of the shoddiest, error-filled documents I have ever encountered in my thirty-plus years as a professional. This Yoast SEO Review also provides a window into the power that Google has over Internet-based businesses. Plus we think you’ll find this to be an entertaining shaggy dog story, even though it was not at all fun for Team NC. (Busy techies who just want to see how wretchedly bad the Yoast SEO Review was, follow this link to see our discussion of the pervasive errors in their report).

By way of background, SEO optimization is “search engine optimization.” Since Google is the big kahuna in this space, SEO optimization is entirely about pleasing Google, so that your site come up well in its searches. I haven’t been eager to pursue this idea (after all, this site has done well by being feral) but after our redesign, I thought it might we worth considering.

Off I went to Yoast, an SEO consultancy which is also known for its Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. Yoast offers several level of review, but they all promise to be specific to your site, and they profess to do more than just look at SEO issues, even though on the intake form, we made clear that SEO was our interest. Even before we signed up, it was clear that Yoast makes its real money doing what amounts to consulting work for large sites (and of course, the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin). Thus its reviews for smaller sites are essentially repurposing the expertise they gained on big clients for smaller ones. In theory, this could be a good by-product business.

In our practical experience, not so much. The “review” Yoast gave our site was full of cut and paste boilerplate, and worse: chock full of flat out incorrect statements about our site and our business. Many of the recommendations weren’t merely useless; some would have damaged the site’s functioning or our business had we been foolish enough to implement them.

And even worse for prospective clients: Yoast has dropped its work standards even as it is massively upping its prices. We got in under the wire and paid their old price of €849, which was roughly $1100. They have since more than doubled their price for this type of report to $2500. Even Kristin, our designer and code jockey, who recommend Yoast told us that’s too much for the better quality report another client of hers got over a year ago (as many of their recommendations were not well spelled out, even after getting their answers to questions. They found they had to do far to much in the way of guesswork and experimentation to implement the Yoast advice).

But aside from the utterly embarrassing errors, which we detail below, Yoast didn’t bother to understand our business at all. As Richard Smith observed, “At one point he did actually notice that NC was a blog, but he didn’t really seem to make full use of that observation.” And there may be a reason for that. Our experience suggests that SEO optimization is not a great fit for financial and potentially also for political sites. The result is like trying to grow blocky, thick-skinned tomatoes because they’ll ship better, which has in fact become the industry norm, to the ruination of the taste of tomatoes. By contrast, NC’s discerning readership cares about matters of taste, and so conforming to the mono-culturist demands of Yoast would undermine many elements our readers find attractive.

Indeed, the idea that their could be such a thing as tradeoffs between SEO and business needs seemed to be an idea that Yoast was simply unable to grasp. As we detail, proof of our thesis comes via Business Insider, the most wildly successful site in our space. It started up in March 2008 and now gets more pageviews than the Wall Street Journal. Business Insider clearly, and deliberately, flouts some of the supposedly ironcast rules that Yoast insisted we follow. Yoast seemed unwilling to consider, for instance, that making people aware of your site and your posts isn’t sufficient; you also need to get them to click through and then stay. We happen to be particularly good at that, yet Yoast treated us as know-nothings who should swallow his advice without question.

Now to the slugfest.

We sent Yoast a letter and a spreadsheet detailing the errors (since they said they want feedback) and asked for a redo or a refund. In the interest of full disclosure, we are embedding that letter and the review itself at the end of the post. But our exchanges below do a good job of covering the ground of our missive, and will be easier for most readers to follow.

Since we had some back and forth, we’ll put Yoast’s responses, which came from Joost, the head of this small company, in italics.

After we sent our critique (and odds are high that NC team collectively spent more time on the letter and spreadsheet than Yoast spent on its report), we got a haughty reply that basically told us that since Yoast got hired by big clients, we were idiots and could take a hike. But that’s clearly a spurious argument. If a heart surgeon leaves a scalpel in a patient’s chest, how many successful operation he did in the past is irrelevant. He clearly made a hash of this one. In other words, this was a flat-out refusal to take responsibility for their deficient work product.

March 10, 4:44 PM EDT:

Hi Susan,

I felt obliged, seeing such an intensely negative response, to dive in and see what was up. First let me say that I appreciate that you took the time to write your long response. Regardless of whether we agree on a lot of topics, I think we don’t, I appreciate that you were so angered by the whole thing that you took the time to write this piece.

When we say we’re blunt we don’t mean to offend you, I must say that I got the feeling you were out to offend us, and with that I take issue. Now had you found a lot of things I could agree with, I would have understood your enormous anger, but I honestly don’t.

You make enormous assumptions about what we saw and didn’t see. You also seem to think that we don’t know the first thing about publishing on the web. You begin with all sorts of claims about McKinsey etc. Let me tell you my background and why I think you’re absolutely wrong in many, many areas. I work as an SEO and growth consultants to several big companies you’ll have heard of. To name a few we currently work for:

– the Guardian, for whom I recently completed their migration from to .com, as evidenced by this blog post;
– Disney, where I recently had the pleasure of speaking to their entire worldwide SEO team;
– RTL in the Netherlands, one of Europe’s biggest TV companies;
– etc. etc.

And these are only the publishers, I’m leaving out current clients such as eBay and Facebook as well as past clients such as The Next Web and other huge online portals. Now, why do I tell you all this? Because I want you to believe that I both know what I’m doing and I’ve had quite good results with many companies leading me to where I am and how I’ve trained my team. I honestly think that you’re making some huge mistakes in how you’re looking at our report. While there probably are mistakes in there, there always are, almost NONE of your remarks ring true to me.

To me, the two most important chapters would be:

-Ranking on keywords.
While this was a short chapter, it’s paramount to your future success on the web that you understand the thinking behind this. But let me combine it with two others you had objections to:

– Page Titles
– Activate WordPress SEO/Check WordPress SEO
You see, if you’re not willing to optimize your content, you might as well not have ordered our review. You claim to know journalism, well let me tell you this: every major newspaper I’ve worked with over the last 10 years of doing this, and I’ve worked with quite a few, has dedicated staff for content optimization. The Guardian has 24 hour SEO coverage, nothing important gets published without an SEO having looked at it. If you’re time constrained, writing LESS and optimizing it MORE is the solution, not the other way round. You called us insane, to be honest, if that truly is what you think, please go back to publishing on paper. You might survive on the web because your content is good (I’m not contesting that)

Now let me go over some other things:

Heading Structure
You’re unwilling to use headings, even though these could be made to look like any of the other ones, you’re not agreeing on Jetpack etc. It sounds to me as though your developer pushed back instead of reading and listening.

Combine and minify CSS and JS files.
“We have only one CSS file.” No. You don’t. You’ve got 5. Open your website, hit view source, search for .css and you’ll see I’m right. You make it very hard for me to take your critique seriously if several things you state are factually incorrect.

In all, I don’t like being this aggressive, so let’s see how we can both change our approach to this.

I’ll be honest: I’m not willing to give you a refund, nor am I willing to re-do the report. What we wrote down was the right thing to say. I am willing to shed more light on why I’m so passionate about this and why I think you’re so wrong. I’ve helped many many news portals gain many unique visitors a day and I want our customers to achieve greatness.

This remark:

“I’m highly confident that I have been in the professional services business longer and have dealt with far more professional services companies (other management consultants, top and mid tier law firms, accounting firms, IT consultants) than you have”

while it may be true because you’re older, is actually petty. Especially if you knew who we worked for and what we do. I urge you to re-read the report with an open mind (although I accept that after this exchange of emails that might be hard), and consider that we know very well what we do.

Kind regards,

Joost de Valk
CEO at Yoast

This was the last sort of response I expected, and I dashed off a reply at 8:21 PM the same day:

You team did grossly deficient work and I see you are refusing to take responsibility for it. You made specific promises on your website and did not deliver on them.

The work you did for others is irrelevant. I see you have made NO specific responses to the numerous deficiencies I pointed out. All you sent is “I do work for big clients, ergo my work is OK.” Sorry, that cuts no ice. You apparently couldn’t even be bothered to check my complaints in any detail to see what a shoddy job was done.

I’m publishing my letter and letting the world see how you engage in bait and switch with small clients.

That led to politer in form but every bit as remiss in substance reply from Joost on March 11 at 2:58 PM:

Hi Susan,

I mentioned our clients in response to your very specific accusations. Now you see the work we did for others is irrelevant, even when it was you who brought up YOUR work for others. You’re unhappy with what you got, I’m sorry for that. But I in fact took (and still take) full responsibility for what we did, because it was good work. I have checked your complaints in details, I’ve even shown you that some of them are just entirely untrue. These aren’t opinions, I can count how many stylesheets you have for instance, and you apparently can’t. Further arguing doesn’t seem to make sense, so I won’t.

We’ll be here if you have trouble implementing some of our advice, or have trouble understanding specific bits. Until then, I wish you all the best, both in life and with your site.

Kind regards,

Joost de Valk
CEO at Yoast

We sent this message March 12 at 1:02 AM:


Thank your for your speedy reply.

However, with all due respect, your message to me of March 10 and your message below are not consistent with taking responsibility for your work. Merely asserting that you have done so does not make it true.

In my letter, I identified numerous, indeed, pervasive errors and tacit assumptions about our site, That is conclusive evidence that you failed to do the review of our site that was promised. You have failed to denied any of the issues we have raised about the pervasive deficiencies in your work.

Moreover, punting on the necessary effort to do an adequate review led to either irrelevant or, even worse, potentially damaging recommendations in your deliverable.

As we will demonstrate, the two issues you attempted to address merely confirm that your firm did even begin to do the investigation necessary to provide the bespoke review your promised on your website. Hence, you have not delivered the service we paid for.

From the very start of your report, it is blindingly clear that:

– You could not be bothered to understand Naked Capitalism’s business at all, even though your promised to do that on the intake form on your website

– Substantial portions of the report are canned with at best token customization

You thus owe us a full refund or must provide work that was stipulated but has yet to be delivered.

I have already identified the following inaccurate statements and tacit assumptions about our site. These errors and misguided assumptions in turn produced irrelevant and, even worse, counterproductive recommendations:

1. Assuming we have a high bounce rate when we don’t;

2. Assuming we are selling a product (this false assumption is pervasive and repeated in various ways throughout the report, with cut-and-paste text that was not adequately edited, such as the clearly canned discussion under Testimonials: ” “bragging about you and your product…asking some customers…might convince him to make a commitment by subscribing to your newsletter or buying your product.” We do not sell products. We do not have customers, we have readers. We do not sell a newsletter;

3. Assuming we have a conversion problem (contradicted by our high # of page views per visit and high time spent on site per visit). Did you miss that addressing this non-problem was among your highest priority recommendations?

4. Not recognizing the site is a financial journalistic/analytical site, which is reflected in various ways, such as #2 above, and in your recommendation that we have testimonials and have introductory content (two separate poor ideas resulting from failure to examine our site enough to understand what business we are in, a remarkable oversight, particularly since I said in your intake form that we are a top financial and economics blog);

5. Making aesthetic calls that are debatable at best (and with which our readership, which includes numerous web designers, disagrees) as if they were gospel (for example, the claim we needed more whitespace for headers to be identifiable);

6. Assuming that we sell our own advertising and serve our own ads. This is a major miss and as with all your other errors, was the result of a failure to investigate (it was easy to ascertain by multiple means, by seeing how the site loaded and by looking in our backstage, to which you had access, at your request, as an administrator). The resulting off-base assumption produced numerous other errors as we discussed in the letter, such as number 7:

7. Assuming we did not have expert advice on our ad sizes and locations. We’ve had extensive input from our ad service, and its professionals have considerable expertise by virtue of having sold ads to large agencies for 15 years (as well as a clear monetary incentive to get this right);

8 Assuming our remnant ads were not well optimized (we get a very good CPM on them) and that we could sell ads directly (a remarkably uninformed suggestion; sites in our space do much better in terms of CPM by being bundled with sites with similar demographics and sold as a bigger ad buy to much larger advertisers);

9. Incorrectly assuming simple keyword searches are germane to our site. In addition, as we elaborated on our spreadsheet which we previously supplied to you as an attachment, implementing your strategy would be extremely costly in terms of ongoing maintenance (the extremely large range of topics we would need to cover, as opposed to “Florida housing” and “Florida real estate” and for a real estate firm in Florida) with vastly lower payoff than for a product firm. Again, your remarks here looks like cut-and-paste advice intended for product-oriented sites;

10. Assuming readers prefer excerpts to the ability to scan more posts faster (this based on specific feedback from our readers);

11. Failing to recognize that the two main authors on the site use pseudonyms, as do many of our other authors, and that this practice is prevalent in the financial blogosphere. We thus cannot disclose more about most of our writers. That makes your author page advice moot;

12. Assuming that we have not experimented with both Google search and WP search for internal searches. We’ve already picked the one we find works best for us and our readers;

13. Making incorrect assumptions about the number and preferences of our email subscribers;

14. Presuming that our site has child-of-child pages (for instance, Shoes -> Women’s -> Sandals -> [price]) when it was trivial to ascertain that we are not a product site, and readers are only at most one level below the site landing page. That led to an irrelevant, cut-and-paste breadcrumbs recommendation;

15. Missing that we serve our mobile version through the third-party service Onswipe;

16. Missing that we allow readers to opt out of Onswipe, and that the overwhelming majority do;

17. Failing to investigate how the desktop version of our site renders on smaller devices;

18. Failure to consider that short titles are counterproductive for many of our most important audiences, such as journalists and busy investors, who will not read an article with a vague general headline (unless you are Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman). I just looked at the wildly successful financial blog, Business Insider, which having started less than six years ago, now gets more pageviews than the Wall Street Journal. Of the 20 most recent posts in its RSS reader, 18 have headlines longer than 60 characters. Moreover, some chose to add detail in ways that specifically push them over your supposed ironclad rule: “The DOW FALLS: Here’s What You Need to Know (DJIA, SPY, SPX, QQQ).” We are also close to the publishers of another high traffic site, Alternet, and they experiment obsessively with headlines. They too use longer headlines due to the resulting much higher click-through rate. In other words, your cookie-cutter advice fails to consider: getting someone to see a headline is insufficient, you need to induce them to click on it; and that our audience consists of particularly voracious news consumers who need to be told why an article is different from the 5-10 others they’ve stumbled across on the same topic to motivate them to read ours.

19. Describing our modest blogroll as enormous;

20. Treating our site speed issue as if it was native, as opposed due to ads coming from a third-party server;

21. Failing to test site speed on the desktop version of our site on small devices;

22. Failing to recognize that we have already combined and minified, and taking that recommendation further would break the site;

23. Cutting and pasting your Jetpack discussion from another review, and failing to edit out the blatantly incorrect “since you don’t have comments on most of your site”;

24. Related to 23, incorrectly stating we have hovercards enabled and suggesting we turn them off. Had any actual review of our site been done, you would have seen that hovercards were not enabled at the plugin level, in Jetpack;

25. Assuming all the stat packages are for our use, as opposed to dictated by our advertisers (we have only one for our purposes);

26. Incorrectly assuming that because we have had a lot of authors over time, that we have a complex managerial problem. Had you bothered looking in our backstage, you would have seen that on any one day, only one person is running the site, and the exceptions are rare days when two people split the load;.

27. Saying we don’t have a sitemap when we do.

We also pointed out that your report was unclear or unimplementable given our business on the following issues:

1. The use of schema

2. What you meant by “pages” in Meta Description

3. Blogroll

Your response of March 10 simply provides more evidence that the investigation of our site, and your reading of our letter, was superficial at best. Of 30 issues above, you addressed all of two, and in a way that frankly only dug your hole deeper.

You reply provides more proof that you did not read what we wrote with any degree of attention and thus failed to provide anything approaching a bona fide response.

Headers. On the matter of headers, you attributed my comments about headers as “pushback from my designer”. That confirms you did not read my letter carefully. First, we conceded the <h1> header was a glitch, something that was never intended to be part of the template (one of the h1 headers should be rendering as an image, as we explained, and not as a header). So pray tell, how was that “pushback”?

Second, we also raised the issue that your concern about duplicate <h1> headers could have been dated, since Google Webmaster Tools removed that check in an update of two or so months ago, suggesting they have likely devalued this as something they care about in site rankings/authority. You failed to respond to this query.

The third reading comprehension failure was attributing the objections raised to my designer, and not bothering to understand them. The objections were clearly presented as mine and those of my fellow authors. We are not about to use h2 or h3 headers within the text of a post, which is under the control of authors and editors. We have a following among policy-makers and need to use the visual vocabulary that orthodox for that space and that is not large, magazine-style headers.This is based on the fact that the heaviest heading weight we can use for a policy audience is a simple bolded text of the same size as the main text. At most, that could be a h4, making it of limited SEO value. We use h2 and h3 for more prominent template elements. The visual differentiation of larger size text is important there given all the ads.

Your brush off here shows you didn’t bother to read or understand our objections.

CSS. On the matter of CSS, your efforts at a “gotcha” backfired. I don’t see how anyone can take anyone seriously who looks at “View Source” and fails to comprehend the information it presents.

“We” have only one CSS file. “We” means the the code we design and control. We do have only one CSS file in our template. There are CSS files from plugins, Google fonts, etc. that we have tried to combine using plugins like WP Minify and CSS Combine and found the site to break. We cannot manually combine these files, as you know. Our only recourse is to leave as-is and to periodically check new combining plugins to see if they work for us.

You can see that we indeed have only one CSS file in our template from “View Source.” But you either failed to do more than a cursory look or chose to misrepresent what you saw.

And your “gotcha” also appears to be a device to distract attention from a far more serious bit of bad advice you gave, that of taking minification and combining further. As we said, and you have not disputed, had we implemented your advice, it would break the site.

You raised a final objection to our point about the failure to qualify customers. As for your “if you don’t have a lot of resources to do SEO on an ongoing basis, you should never have hired us,” that is YOUR failure, not ours. In my letter, I stressed that it is incumbent upon service providers to qualify their customers to see if they can do a decent job. For instance, if someone goes to a trainer and says, “I want to lose 100 lbs. in 2 months,” an honest professional does not take their money. He says he can’t do what they want and indeed no one could do what they want. If he still wants their business, he needs to talk to them to see if he can deliver results that might fit their limitations and needs.

I told you on your itty bitty “don’t tell us anything” intake form that our site was severely resource constrained. At that point, you had taken our payment but had not started the report. The onus was on you to ask what that meant if you didn’t understand what “severely resource constrained” meant. Saying we should have known whether you could serve us well, given your refusal to do any sort of intake assessment whatsoever, is tantamount to asking us to do self diagnosis. We are in no position to do that.

Conclusion. Based on your responses thus far, it is unlikely to be productive to continue this conversation. Your actions in the last two messages are inconsistent with your statements. You offered to “be here” in case we had questions. However, your continuing unwillingness to do the basic investigation required to understand our site, as reflected in your cursory, dismissive, straw man answers to our letter, confirm that you refuse to do the work you promised you’d execute for us.

(Techies, click here to return to the beginning.)

And for your further delectation, here is our letter and the Yoast report. Don’t waste your money on them.

UPDATE: Lambert here: We received a final email communication from Yoast. Since it adds nothing new, I won’t bore you with it. A reader summarizes:

He just says no point in discussing further he won’t refund and he did a good job and he knows your business better than you do.

He says we are technical idiots and he would love to explain things to us so we understand.

I’m paraphrasing. A little.

It’s like Team Yoast is bucking for coverage in an HBR case study entitled “Exactly How Not To Handle an Irate Customer.”

Naked Capitalism Yoast Response

Yoast relented and provided a full refund, so his report to us has been removed.

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  1. Jim

    Working in the tech industry, I can tell you that the report you received from them wasn’t even generated by a junior person filling in a checklist. It was just a bot!

    They have some application that scans a list of attributes about your site, the coding, the interface, and some ancillary items, based on SEO “best practices” that you could have found using a Google search of your own, and dropped (or excreted, may I say?) that report based on what the bot found. $2,500?! That report was worth, literally, $19.95, tops.

    At worst, that document should have been used for an up-front “requirements gathering” session with you, in order to gain some information about the site, not as the final deliverable. If this had happened to any other site, like say, Fox News, I would be laughing my *** off, but as it is, thanks for the general warning.

  2. John Mc

    I do not know what is worse. The SEO solicitation process of which I can imagine manna fell from the sky after the product left the salespersons lips, the delivery of a boilerplate product where the parasite assures the host as is well like Kevin Bacon in the ending of Animal House, or the Monty Python flesh wound, titanium cloaked gonads of arrogance begging for another argument.

    There should be a corporate aggravation tax for shoddy service, hollow promises, Jeff Spicoli excuses and the overall loss of time-productivity in dealing with the common clay of the business world —- you know morons. When people use the phrase: “I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas kills one”, I think they mean Yoast. Yoast is Texas Toast.

    Sending you positive vibes today!

  3. El Guapo

    Yeah Yves, you really do need testimonials on the site. Naked Capitalism does sell widgets right? What a joke.

    1. Clive

      Ha ! Yes, and their report also mentioned there wasn’t enough whitespace. I think it would have been better for them if their report had been comprised entirely of whitespace.

      And author pages too. As a very occasional author, obviously I must rush — rush — to submit one of those. Perhaps I’ll start of with a brief resume. “Clive, who has substantial experience of — and has wasted far too many hours of his life dealing with — hopeless tech consultancies both big and small (size, in this case, matters not a jot when it comes to avoiding rubbish-ness) and has had the dubious delight of sampling more suck-ey software or hardware products and services than you’ve had hot dinners.” Oh, and maybe a picture of me acting out a fantasy where I get to shove a Cisco router up Accenture/Oracle/Microsoft/BT/Wipro’s collective corporate you-know-what. I wonder if that’s what they had in mind ?

  4. big ed

    I don’t think you could reasonably have expected more from anyone dealing with corporate goliaths. They are all about manipulation, form over substance, bullshit and nonsense. You seem determined to report economic truth, something very few people even dimly suspect to exist. They know they are being screwed every which way, but that’s about it.

    Time is on your side. Just keep doing a good job and forget the consultants. Very few honest or competent people work in this space. And of course it’s getting worse, like just about everything else.

    1. big ed

      About the only thing that would improve your site is to stop blocking perfectly intelligent and innocuous comments for no apparent reason, which you have done to me again this morning on the Pinkington piece. No doubt the comment will appear in about six hours, by which time nobody will have any interest in answering it. What on Earth are you so afraid of?

        1. EconCCX

          Lambert, I can’t discern from the rules or policies any prescribed and polite way, place or manner of inquiring about perfectly good ones that don’t take. For example, when there’s no “in mod” note but pure disappearance: how many attempts should one make, how many hours apart, and what to do next?

          Hoping that a meta thread within a meta post is a proper “amnesty” space for this sort of inquiry.

          1. Lambert Strether

            Not on topic here. This a permathread that goes round and round and round. See the link above; it’s written the way that it is, and makes the point that it does, exactly because of immense amounts of thread time consumed to no purpose. As here.

          2. alex morfesis

            maybe your lost post could just be your wireless connection is bouncing in and out when you hit send…

            sometimes i wish my long winded comments might get moderated as i give off a big oops after i hit send…

            but as for me…finding NC was a typical alex…

            have (had, we are having a minor business dustup in our treasure hunting co) a friend who is a massive gold bug, burried cans of krugz on lots no one knows he owns, insisted I look at a Mr Panos video on ZH. Watched it, laughed off ZH as a koch brothers kgb randonomyx site and did not go further. He asked me later to look at some gold article on ZH and after rolling my eyes at the story, decided to slide over to its blog roll and clicked on NC. Have some mutual friends with April Charney and so I read some of your pieces about her…and now I am stuck here…happily stuck here…but that’s how you found me…or I found you…

            SEO is a joke, in that no one has a clue how to make the bernayz sauce work. as to clicking on ads, I only do it to confuse the cookies that float on my screen. I speak greek and cuban and can read a little german, so it is fun watching ads in english for things I am not interested in ( I keep about ten screens open at all times with half of them things I have not interest in, to help confuse the cookie monsters)pop up on foreign language web sites.

            Fearless leader doesn’t have any testimonials on his website though…I wonder why…

            hey you tried…hopefully soon you will hit that critical mass to allow you to not have to work 400 hours per week on NC…

            just sad you had to have this AH-ROW-GYNT clown burn up your morphins…

  5. Clive

    Oh, sympathies, I cannot help but commiserate. Where to start with the guff you were told ? The whole industry is swarming with out and out hucksterism now, I could cite and cite again instances where I’ve encountered similar both personally and professionally.

    I’ll concentrate here on the ridiculous notion that was peddled which along the lines of “hey, we’re a load of big shots, look at our client list, you’re just a load of numptys”. Well, I work for a blue chip huge scale enterprise which has an army of people on six-figure salaries paid to pick good suppliers in the software sector and good products. We are currently trying to make something of a silk purse out of an unutterable sow’s ear of a product into which we’ve sunk close on £4M — this has created a “service” which does not and never really will meet the user’s original needs and has a business case which now resembles a piece of rather creative fictional slapstick. The corporation where I work (well, I call it work) who the supplier obviously saw coming could I suppose sue, but then we’d have to ‘fess up how far they were taken and for how much.

    From the sublimely ridiculous to the tin-pot: I’m trying to type this comment on a premium FTTC internet connection for which I have the privilege of paying a well known UK supplier the best part of 50 quid a month for which has a nasty habit of dropping the connection now and again (not often enough to get the ISP to undertake serous investigation, but often enough to be a right pain in the rear). Got the predictable fob offs “oh, it’s because you’re using WiFi” (no, it’s not, I switched to Ethernet and it still happened) “oh, it’s just while we’ve had heave rain recently, it’s affected our equipment in the street” (no, it happens come rain or shine). And so on.

    Yep, the crapification of everything continues apace.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I just got this comment from someone who worked 14 years in the Netherlands via e-mail:

      I have worked in 23 countries and have never seen such an arrogant group of businessmen providing such poor to mediocre work and promoting it as the best on the planet. I always used to say, “the guy is an entrepreneur in clogs” – as a means of insulting them. But really, they have no shame.

      I had suspected even before that that his meeting with the Disney SEO team was a training session on his plug-in. I’ve moved the odds up.

      1. Howard Beale IV

        His presentation follows the stereotypical “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much” kind of pattern. The only other group that gives them a run for the money in the superiority complexes are French Canadians.

        1. Martin_leV

          I’ll give you partial points for that, but keep in mind that prior to the quiet revolution in the early 1960s, the French population accounted for 90% of Quebec yet had less than 10% of the total wealth of the province. So they kind of have a large chip on their shoulder.

          Funny part is that in many ways the soverignists are a centre-left/centre-right coalition that has a the same amount of xenophobia as the most ardent t-bagger.

        2. Paul Boisvert

          A run for the money? Sacre Bleu! A Dutchman’s megalomania is to that of my fellow Quebecois as his useless pinky stuck into the dike is to Jean Beliveau’s mighty flashing hockey stick whipping the puck effortlessly past a shamed and broken goalie. Beale, you egg-sniffing eel–how dare you imply otherwise? We Canadiens would normally crush you like a week-old boterkoek, but we’re too busy laughing derisively at your so-called comment.

          A run for the money indeed!

          1. bob

            I always get a kick out of french canadians. They are awful, awful people, and yet, I appreciate that. I also think they appreciate me appreciating that, but would never admit it.

            Long live Quebec! (just stay there, please, and if you do leave, wear proper pants. Bike shorts…arg..)

  6. Mister Bunny

    What you got was the high-end version of those free “virus scans” you see in web ads that find all sorts of non-existent bugs and then sell you some bullshit spyware to fix them. The whole SEO field is full of crooks, and the stupid ones will tell you to do things that piss off Google. Rule Number One of stayin’ alive is DO NOT PISS OFF GOOGLE, because you will blink out of existence, commercially speaking.

  7. Mister Bunny

    “Conversion Optimization: The most important thing in conversing a visitor into a client is the creation of trust.” Huh? Is “converting” insufficiently smarmy for this guy?

  8. Foppe

    Putting the phrase “hiring yoast” into google shows this article as the 4th result (and a crawler (regator) as the 5th).

    1. Erik


      This site falls into a very dangerous category for someone like Joost: a small site (to him) with a smart readership that has a certain degree of concentrated Internet power as a result of the passionate following. Joost should understand the power of cross-posting from similar, trusted sites within the Google algorithm. Unfortunately, that’s the one thing Yoast CANNOT help out with or provide suggestions above, because it’s organic. Business Insider, Riholtz, and all the other comrades that link to NC make you a power adversary and they didn’t do their homework before stirring up the hornet’s nest.

      Yves, please do one thing: Change the title of this post to “Should I hire SEO firm Yoast: No! Naked Capitalism’s horrible experience” or something like that.

      Part of the key to organic SEO is writing titles with the exact words that people may search for, and people will search “should I hire Yoast” and will never use the work “hiring”. That’s one reason why you’re #5 on the search term “hiring yoast”, because it’s an odd construct and therefore a rare search. If I were you I’d go after the more common phrasing, and make sure that any update rolls through any related meta-data such as the title, headings, etc.

    2. Kurt Sperry

      I got this page as a #1 google result for “hiring yoast” *chuckle* in an incognito window. So, I really think it’s likely you’re doing great on SEO as things stand. I used to obsess over SEO with my site, then figured out it was a waste of time. At least it wasn’t a waste of money however and I learned a little stuff along the way. If I’d paid someone good money to do that hocus pocus I’d be less sanguine about it. SEO is >90% grift.

      1. tswkr

        I get #4 on ‘should I hire yoast’ and 4&5 for ‘hiring yoast. This post shows on the 2nd page of a ‘Yoast Review’ search with most of the hits on top of it being Yoast content or relating to the plug-in only.

  9. Sneeje

    Your disgust and anger sound justified, but I have to wonder if this was something best resolved over email. Signs point to a better outcome not being likely, but in my professional experience with disputes like this, exchanges over email only entrench each party more with each response.

    I realize meeting face-to-face is not possible, but would a phone conversation been possible? That would have toned down some of the pejorative language from both sides.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I knew the odds were high he’d not redo the report. You don’t do such crappy work in the first place if you have any standards or ethics. Rest assured I have other motivations. His emails are damaging to him on multiple levels.

      And my instinct that he’d be very unlikely to concede regardless of what approach I took were confirmed.

      Please see this comment:

      My contact also wrote:

      I got triggered by PTSD reading your correspondence with Joost de Valk. After 14 years in Holland, his arrogance, phrasing, entitlement and callousness were so GD familiar to me. Sorry to stereotype, but so damned Dutch. It reminded me of how much I hated working with Dutch businessmen. They still think they are in the Gilded Age and they are the world’s best traders. And Joost is f’n classic! Sorry for all of the foul language but man, he’s a real piece of work. And in Holland, so common…

      And you apparently didn’t look closely at the number and significance of the mistakes. They dialed it in.

      1. Foppe

        I would agree that the willingness to outright call your technical capabilities into question, and to bluster his way out, is very typical among certain dutch people (especially those who have limited technical skills plus an MBA), although this one rather more willing to be outright insulting than most. (I am not convinced that the mentality is very different from salespeople with marketing training who live elsewhere, though, just that dutch people feel less of a compunction to hide it, especially when helped by the fact that his company is in a different country from yours.) That said, it doesn’t surprise me that he “works” in SEO, considering how that whole industry is so closely related to marketing/advertising.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Rest assured the source who ranted about the Dutch has a terrific Dutch partner, and also stresses that there are plenty of Dutch who are deeply put off by the stereotypical Dutch businessman.

          1. Sneeje

            You’re right, of course. Email can definitely contribute to entrenchment behaviors, but your instincts were obviously correct in this case.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Plus they insist on e-mail for customers for this type of review, so calling would not have been an option. And I want a paper trail. So multiple reasons for going this route.

  10. monday1929

    Passive aggressive is he- after calling you petty, he called you old. Best advice was to “write less and optimize more”. And you apparently are not a true journalist because your primary concern is not optimization, like those other “real” news sites.

    Oh, and a testimonial:
    “Before reading Naked Capitalism I was Fat and Bald. Now, I am Fat and Bald and well informed.” Monday1929

  11. yenwoda

    “the crapification of everything”

    Thousand dollar tools to game internet search engines sure aren’t built like they were in 1974!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, I’d never give them the main password, and I thought that request was remarkably cheeky. I gave them an admin account (which is still an awful lot to hand someone) and closed it down when they delivered the report.

  12. McMike

    Yet more evidence that in a massive cosmic irony this entire allegedly democratizing decentralizing internet is in fact a conduit for centralization and monopoly to a extent previously unimaginable.

    Nearly every business or enterprise, no matter the industry or interest or location, personal or commercial, is in some way or another held hostage to and hamstrung by the whims, designs, and rent-seeking of a single company. This, plus a cluster of four or five related companies squats over the entire daily lives of nearly the entire developed world.

    If I was going to write a book about economic history it would be this: Everything you know about economic history is wrong…. Restraint of Trade: how US economic history is actually one long story of monopolies and monopsonies, and of the perpetual holding back of innovation and free trade.

    1. Erik

      I have to agree with (interesting moniker!) and I clicked through to his blog and, lo and behold, he appears to use the very same WordPress theme I do that I mentioned in my comments above! Atahualpa, right?


        Yes, it is Atahualpa and I did not even bother to change their generic images, because they are pretty. Our primary blog is on genetics/bioinformatics ( and the name is a common biological term (homologous) related to evolution.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      That would be great! Please do, with the usual indication that it’s a cross post from NC and a link back.

  13. Erik

    Having had some experience in small and mid-scale SEO, I can say that this is part for the course. For ~$1,000 a “Standard Recommendations and Site Scan” report is about all you’re going to get. I don’t know how Yoast sold themselves or what they SAID they were selling you, but it really is a buyer beware type of scenario. For that amount of money you’re going to wind up with pretty generic advice. In the management consultancy world, how much customized value would you expect from a flat-fee $1,000 offering? I’d be hoping that there would be a few very useful things to glean from it, but I wouldn’t expect soup-to-nuts, especially if they are expecting to help support your tech crew with questions in implementing their recommendations.

    I DO understand your fury that their recommendations are wrong. The truth is that NC is unique and its readership is unique and therefore SEO is a bad fit in general for it. Think of the 80/20 rule, which in this case is probably the 95/5 rule. 95% of Yoast’s clients are similar to one another and the other 5% are behemoths who get truly custom work (and are still probably pretty similar). NC doesn’t fit in.

    For my own small site, what worked was picking the right WordPress Theme from the very beginning that had SEO built in, so that whatever I wrote, it automatically did a few things to add an invisible layer of SEO, without forcing me to change my ways. It’s produced unexpectedly good results.

    As you mentioned, SEO is for generic, simple sites. Sites like NC don’t rely on google so much as word of mouth, and quality rather than volume. I do think it would be nice for those random pockets of humans out there who aren’t connected to anyone who reads NC but who might be enlightened by it and warm to it to be able to find it. I would just pick the top 3 articles that these people might search for and go after those terms with something like a cheap Google Adwords campaign. I know, advertising is kind of antithetical to this site, but so is SEO!! I can bet that the Adwords would be cheap because you would want to be very specific in what you buy and no one else will be bidding on this complicated subject matter.

    In general SEO is real and if you can hire someone during the initial site build who is knowledgable and can provide custom advice on a full-time basis for a while, it can be pulled off. However, the industry in general of after-the-fact, fixed-fee SEO consulting is a black hole nest of vipers!

    1. Clive

      The big problem I had over and above the sheer dumbness of the report which was produced (an intern fresh off the street would have done a better job and if not they would have been fired at any reputable operation for sending such tripe to a customer) was the stunningly inept premise that the whole analysis was based on.

      In a single sentence, the report’s recommendation was “You need to make your site look unique. So here’s what everyone else is doing therefore you should do that too”. Okay, that’s two sentences. But even being generous and thinking that Yoast’s consultancy at the price point NC paid for it was a generic offering targeting vanilla sites, it is quite simply bad advice to suggest that, in a crowded market, you want your site to look like every other one.

      In fact, I’d go further: in a generic, commoditised type of marketplace, you really need to offer something different, engaging. The Yoast analysis kinda- started suggesting that. Then — in the same document ! — they ignored their own advice and waffled on about how you don’t want to scare the horses and you want to have your site look like every other site because that’s what visitors expect to see. Because they see that everywhere else.

      Enterprises with big advertising budgets spend a fortune trying to differentiate themselves in the online channel. It’s something that can take a lot of time and branding trouble to establish. NC manages to do this effortlessly by both not going deliberately out of its way to follow the crowd or, conversely, commit the major mistake of being too in-yer-face anti-establishment (the latter simply gets too grating after a while — that’s you I’m looking at, Zerohedge). It is I’ll admit a difficult balancing act. Get it wrong in one way, and you turn your site into a carbon copy of a hundred other similar sites. Get it wrong the other way and you end of being too whacky.

      Given the complexity of the area they strayed in — and their obvious inability to offer anything remotely useful by way of advice — why didn’t Yoast stick to their original brief of SEO ? Maybe — just maybe — it was because they don’t really have the faintest idea how to actually do that properly but still wanted to “earn” their 1000 Euros and thought they could do that be sending out a load of old toilet paper instead of a report.

    2. McMike

      SEO is not interested in content, it is interested in clicks. Doesn’t matter if they are accidental clicks, entrapped clicks, or phony clicks. Doesn’t matter if the clicker hates the fact that they got suckered. Doesn’t matter if the clicker immediately shuts off their computer and smashes the hard drive. Doesn’t matter if the clicker wants to know where the salacious naked celebrity story with the hot chick in the bikini went to.

      The apex of the SEO model are those completely computer-generated aggregator sites whose sole reason for existence is to hoover up clicks. taking readers into an incoherent sea of auto-filled headlines, nonsense text, and eye candy, strategically located amongst a minefield of pop up adverts.

      It is, by definition, the opposite of NC.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        In practice definitely (SEO opposite of NC), but It doesn’t have to be. From Wikipedia on the distinction between white hat and black hat SEO.

        An SEO technique is considered white hat if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and involves no deception. As the search engine guidelines[27][28][40] are not written as a series of rules or commandments, this is an important distinction to note. White hat SEO is not just about following guidelines, but is about ensuring that the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see. White hat advice is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose. White hat SEO is in many ways similar to web development that promotes accessibility,[41] although the two are not identical.

        Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines, or involve deception. One black hat technique uses text that is hidden, either as text colored similar to the background, in an invisible div, or positioned off screen. Another method gives a different page depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine, a technique known as cloaking. [emphasis mine]

        1. McMike

          Interesting. Thanks.

          Not so sure about the “search engine disapproves” part though. Something tells me Google is not blameless here.

          Meanwhile, being a white hat SEO in a crapified world, is like being a bank that doesn’t do subprime loans, or a manufacturer that doesn’t enslave its workers. Have a nice time with your cute little ethics sucker.

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Google has turned the net upside down in so many ways and made search optimization far more difficult/complex and commercially oriented than it need be. They really are the evil empire in so many ways and their size and sphere of influence is a big problem. But they are hardly alone as you observe in your crapified world example.

    3. Yves Smith Post author


      With the benefit of hindsight, your premise is correct.

      However, consider:

      1. We got a recommendation from Kristin, who did increase their site’s traffic using the Yoast SEO Review. Sbe sent us their review (after we sent her our Yoast Review) and volunteered that our review was lame and clearly cookie-cutter. So Yoast downgraded his product.

      2. The site that he reviewed for her client is A Blog to Watch, which reviews astonishingly expensive watches. So it is a narrow product site, so a better fit for Yoast’s simple-minded approach

      And drumroll, the most important….

      3. They promised a customized review. Not my business how they deliver it for that price. So this was a bait and switch.

  14. TimR

    I think it’s a mistake to flirt with the shallow short-term SEO mindset too much; IMHO, read a few books/articles so you are familiar with the key points, but NC seems better suited to the long-term approach of building a quality site that people actually like. As you said about Business Insider, ultimately that approach snowballs and grows a dedicated audience.
    Side note: Can anyone shed light on why pseudonyms are common for financial blogs? Is this to separate work with business clients from controversial opinions?

  15. Brooklin Bridge

    Crapification. What a great term. I’ve seen the cut and paste technique used on several occasions and calling out the source on it must have had a certain element of satisfaction just in itself (perhaps not much, on second thought, after subtracting the frustration of wasted time and money).

    In the cases I dealt with, the cut and paste was used to generate proposals for a customized software solution and the proposals cost us nothing other than our time to review. With one of the two vendors that sent in written proposals, I considered calling him out on it because it was so obvious, but decided against it as it would have taken some effort to document and why should I do his QA work for him.

    That said, I’m not sure this hasn’t been going on for a long time and isn’t simply more noticeable because there are so many more “small” clients who are in a better position (more directly affected and more motivated to get it right) to catch it. Regardless, crapification remains useful because it reflects something that IS happening.

    Incidentally, this sort of frustration is exactly what I was referring to the other day regarding a Bill Black post when I questioned how much “drudgery” (perhaps I used I different term) was part of blogging. If the actual writing is the good part, what is that compared to the overall or more accurately to the un-exciting/un-fun/un-rewarding part, 10%, 30%? Just curious.

    1. different clue

      Would the word “crapization” be as good even though shorter? If maybe, let people feel free to experiment. If not, let it sink in silence.

      1. HotFlash

        It’s the meter that makes it work. Eg, “the CRAPifiCAtion of EV’rything” Dactylic trimeter. Are they not teaching this in schools anymore, or do we just have to internalize it from rap?

  16. jfleni

    RE: Yoast scam and froth nonsense!

    A site like this needs a very firm vision in the mind’s eye:

    A threadbare, Persian carpet, piled up with old pots and pans, and useless knicknacks (and maybe a few old oranges), manned by a character with an insincere toothy grin, saying “Welcome!”

    You might be agreeably surprised, but probably not!

  17. just_kate

    What a complete rip-off! There is almost nothing recognizable as NC in that review. And the section on Social Media Marketing reads like satire if you spend much time here. Video testimonials?? I cannot believe how they handled your complaint and will be passing this on to some colleagues as fair warning.

  18. David

    I have a friend who is an expert in the SEO field and does great work for a lot of specialized clients. She read your post and recommended “” (not her firm). Hope that helps.

  19. Anarcissie

    I am kind of surprised NC got taken in by the SEO con. As the author and manager of several sites, I received a lot of advertising for this supposed service, but it all seemed like spam to me. Google and other search services constantly revise their criteria and methods precisely to avoid being gamed by SEO players. I myself never even dipped my toe in that pond.

    However, one of my clients, who runs a small business providing mainly a service (design, installation, and maintenance of solar heating) fell for this scam and spent some hundreds of dollars to get a report, similar to the one you received, but even more obviously generated from boilerplate and having little to do with any facts. For example, it criticized the lack of meta tags such as keyword and description lists, when in fact every page has them. (It is doubtful whether they do anything, but it case they do, there they are.) There were similar mistakes about content; as in your case, the SEO scammers simply assumed that some sort of material product in the form of discrete items was being offered.

    I don’t know if there are any honest people in the SEO business, but I haven’t encountered them yet.

    As for NC, it is a reasonably well-designed site whose most important characteristic is the high quality of its content. Intelligence, good information, perspicacity — these will never make you rich and famous, because most people desire bullshit. But you get the contrarian pleasure of providing something really excellent. That’s why I read it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I guess I didn’t say it directly enough in the post. I too think SEO is a scam, but we got a recommendation from our designer/WordPress tech/code jockey Kristin who got a positive outcome. She both said our report sucked (and sent us theirs so we could see how different they were) and said she’d back us 100% in going after the Yoast SEO review product, that even the better report her client got was not worth $2500.

  20. EmilianoZ

    Custy testimonial #3:
    I ordered a bunch of NCs last week. I got myself a good deal: 3 for the price of 2. They were carefully packaged and delivered promply via tracked USPS. They work as described. My house is still infested with banskters but at least I’m no longer accusing my neighbor’s cat for the mysterious disappearances in my kitchen. The blank fiend detector was particularly useful.

    Small gripe: why does the anti-demon suit only comes in 2 sizes?

  21. allcoppedout

    Yoast is smoking cannabis with close friends, preferably out of a blunt A little literature search might have saved the pain. No doubt Yves and Lambert will be getting a knock from cops leaked NSA surveillance and very interested in the ‘Dutch’ connection. One can only imagine what federal agencies will swoop in if the truth of NC is raised as a defence against these speculations! I may have to re-read Tom Sharpe’s ‘Wilt’ to provide the way out.

  22. TMc

    Epic and complete take-down Yves. Really applaud you for not taking it from the likes of Yoast, and the dodge from CalPERS, and I truly hope this Yoast review will rank high and long on google for a bit of richly deserved comeuppance.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Reading comprehension fail. We got a referral from someone who HAD gotten good advice on their Yoast SEO review at that price. So it wan’t unreasonable to expect that he could deliver.

      He’s running on brand fumes, which is one of the forms of crapification we’ve discussed in past posts (some establishes a decent brand or product and cheapens it, knowing they can still make sales based on their reputation).

  23. Julian Ware

    Having some insight into SEO, marketing, and development, it’s clear to me that both sides here have made some valid points. I took the time to read the Yoast report and the NC response. I wish people wouldn’t be so polar.

    The Yoast report is certainly NOT worth $1100 or more. You could have charged me half that, and I would have provided the same report, hand written, and spent a couple hours on the phone answering specific questions. Clients don’t need the boilerplate, and some of the recommendations reflected a lack of focus on the kind of site they were aimed at. I think NC had reason to be frustrated, mostly based on the expense. If they had paid $300, they would have NO reason to complain. It was useful information.

    On the other side, NC’s response wasn’t at all savvy about the nature of SEO and what SEO services are intended to provide. An SEO report isn’t going to explain development methods, like how to implement Schema. You hand the report to a developer who can implement those changes. Also, an SEO report like this may tell you about best practices, understanding that making those changes would be altering the character of your site. Sure, NC doesn’t need testimonials. BUT, it could have them. It wouldn’t undermine the mission or credibility of the site and WOULD be good for SEO and trust assurance.

    Another example is the argument about taxonomy. There are many reasons why having 60+ categories is bad. NC argues against the suggestions without indicating any understanding that they are based strictly on SEO practice and not on what visitors what. NC keeps arguing that the recommendations don’t reflect what it’s visitors expect, and yet that’s not really on topic. Now, Yoast put themselves in that position by including marketing info in their review, which I don’t think is a good idea. However, regardless of how your visitors use your site, the basics of SEO strategy remain the same.

    Also, the response to ranking on keywords is REALLY off base. Sure, Capitalism isn’t NC’s core keyword. But the response sounds like NC wants SEO enhancement that doesn’t focus on keywords, and that’s a real head scratcher. Also, the response to heading in content is equally off base. The response implies that simply because NC doesn’t do that, that they couldn’t start. It also makes a really wonky claim that Google isn’t concerned with headings, which is where it was most obvious to me that NC’s response had lapsed into anger and away from reason. Once again, Yoast isn’t telling you how to maintain your status quo. Yoast is telling you ways to enhance your site that would require changes to your approach.

    Ultimately, I think that this article is very vindictive and slanderous. Yoast didn’t publicly undermine the reputation of NC in any way. This post has an impact on the bottom line at Yoast and yet deals with a technical topic that most wouldn’t understand well in a fairly naive manner.

    I do appreciate that NC has been openly critical of some lazy business dealings. I’m very much hoping that along with their increase in price that Yoast is not offering better service. I wouldn’t be surprised if they realized that they couldn’t offer good service at that price point.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      With all due respect, you comment engages in a considerable amount straw-manning and concern-trolling. And like Yoast’s review, it also illustrates the mono-cultural “grow tomatoes that ship well” headset of SEO “professionals”.

      Our fundamental objection to the Yoast Review is not about price, although the fact that Yoast has just doubled his price makes this picture even uglier. It is that he made specific representations about the review he’d do, and as we documented in great detail, he didn’t even come close to doing what he promised.

      As to your argument that there was perhaps $300 of value in terms of general SEO advice, that it utterly irrelevant. I would never have purchased, nor was I sold, a general report. That is completely useless given how thinly staffed we are. He did not deliver what he described on his website, and he refused to either provide what he had promised or give us our money back. That is fraud.

      As to your “you should be savvier about SEO,” you have it utterly backwards. People running businesses hire experts precisely because they have better uses of their time than becoming experts in everything. Your remark is tantamount to saying I should know how to do heart surgery if I go to a cardiologist, or know how to do wiring to hire an electrician. And as a professional (remember, I’ve been a consultant and banker and have spent my career working with professional service providers of all sorts), a basic step in ANY professional relationship is to qualify your customer to see if what you provide is a fit for their needs. Yoast skips that step and takes people’s money without asking any questions.

      On the more technical issues, on the issue of schema, you either did not read or did not comprehend our objection. Yoast recommended a particular schema tool which is badly documented and notoriously difficult to use. We happen to have a very highly qualified tech team, both our designer/WordPress expert/code jockey Kristin and our host, who has an impressive roster of companies for which he has done development (mind you, our setup is not ideal, since we’ve had to go for more expert individuals given some of the requirements of our site, with the tradeoff that we aren’t really 24/7 on the tech side, which is not a comfortable place to be).

      The subtext of your assumption here is that what Yoast recommended was a mere “dev issue”. Wrong. Recommending a lousy tool and not telling the people the tricks of how (if it is possible) to make it less bad is poor professional conduct.

      If something is difficult or costly from a dev standpoint, it becomes a managerial issue (is this really worth doing?). Moreover, Kristin, who wrestled with this issue on a previous Yoast report (where he made the exact same recommendation) found that Yoast only went through the motions of addressing her questions. And even after working through this problem, Kristin tells us that without more guidance, it’s going to be a similar untidy process at NC. So either Yoast doesn’t understand or care how bad this tool is, or worse, is finessing that he doesn’t haver the tech chops to provide the needed guidance.

      On keywords, you fail to understand our issue. We will just about never rank first page on any keyword search like “index funds” or “Jamie Dimon”. We’ve got way way too many MSM outlets on the same topics. There is almost no point in having a page 3 or 4 ranking for our type of reader, if we can even get that high, they will almost never drill that far. So if working on SEO keywords merely gets us from page 12 to page 4, which seems probable, it isn’t worth what it costs us. My time is better spent making more TV appearances. We might rank on a combination of keywords, but from what I can infer from Yoast’s plugin, you can’t optimize for combinations. And that also becomes mathematically very bushy.

      On taxomony, again a fail due to the “shipping tomatoes” headset. A taxonomy has to consist of categories that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. I challenge you to come up with 4-8 categories for NC that have any utility to readers. We can make our Links posts a separate category, but we need content-based classifications (as in “guest post” v. “original post” v. “interview” could be a valid taxonomy but isn’t useful and thus is pointless to implement). We cover far too many topics and worse, those topics have fuzzy boundaries.

      On headings, this is a reading comprehension failure. Yoast recommended headings of 60 characters or less. That is ridiculous in our space. As we said, just go look at Business Insider. You and Yoast fail to appreciate that getting a high SEO ranking is UTTERLY USELESS if readers don’t click through (and many reader see our posts through our auto-tweeted headlines and RSS, Google is far from our only channel). We and many other sites find specific and colorful headlines, which often means long, are essential to getting click-throughs.

      As for your diatribe in your penultimate paragraph, you need to consult a dictionary. Slander is a false spoken statement that damages someone’s reputation. You’ve got this wrong on two counts: our remarks are written and they are truthful.

      The other three team members who reviewed my material before I sent it all have considerable experience in IT, and they often recommended changes to my drafts that were harsher than what I had originally stated, as a result of clarifying the nature and significance of Yoast’s errors and omissions. The statements we have made are factually accurate and well documented, and hence not slander.

      As for having an impact on Yoast’s bottom line, we’d be delighted if that occurred. Are you seriously suggesting that a business that does a bad job, like a restaurant that serves burned steaks and refuses to either serve a properly cooked steak or give the customer his money back, shouldn’t suffer the consequences? Word of mouth is one of the few methods of recourse that wronged customers have, and I hope it works.

      And we aren’t the only ones who find that Yoast is running on brand fumes. The article Is WordPress SEO by Yoast Broken?:

      I figured that it would make sense to see if other people were experiencing similar problems, so I headed over to the Plugins Repository. The first thing I noticed was the huge proportion of unresolved support threads for SEO by Yoast:

      [image showing that 29 of 432 support threads have been resolved in the last two months]

      A 15% rate of resolution isn’t particularly encouraging.

      The next thing I noticed was the sheer number of support threads — there have for instance been twenty-four new threads submitted in the last twenty-four hours. While SEO by Yoast is a popular plugin, the number of threads does not compare well with plugins of similar popularity. For instance, WP Super Cache (with ~5,000,000 downloads) has had nine support threads submitted in the last day, and WordPress Importer (with ~4,700,000 downloads) has had zero support threads submitted in the same period of time.

      I moved onto another good indicator of a plugin’s health — the compatibility ratings. Here’s what I discovered regarding SEO by Yoast’s compatibility with the latest version of WordPress (only recently introduced):

      [image showing 2 people say it works, 18 say it’s broken, leading to a red “Broken :-(” label]

      And here are the ratings for version 3.5.1:

      [image showing 1 person say it works, 7 say it’s broken, leading to a red “Broken :-(” label]

      None of this represents good evidence of SEO by Yoast’s efficacy.

      Unlike Yoast, we have delivered on our promises. We told him repeatedly that if he did not make this situation right, either by redoing the work or giving us a refund, that we’d publish our detailed compilation of his errors and his report. On every level, he has only himself to blame.

  24. Paul P

    A visiting British Marxist economist suggested Naked Capitalism when I asked him if he could recommend any websites.
    If you want to increase readership, you might want to open the blog a discussion about this.
    It is obvious that Naked Capitalism had some great in house SOE from itself. So, a lot of what readers would propose would be redundant. But some one might come up with a new idea.

  25. Deloss

    I started a long post about 1. my experiences of management bringing in useless consultants (“Everything is fine!”), and 2. of working with consultants as a tech writer, where in my very arrogant opinion, the one on the team who did all the work was the tech writer. But Yoast/Joost came with blue-ribbon recommendations, so I’ll just say: I’m sorry you got [0] for your money. I will continue to read your blog with interest (not infrequently with terror) and recommend it to friends. I’ll bet Yoast is sorry they misjudged you.

  26. Arno

    He is a probably a skilled guy but you are not the only company where he has not delivered to a promise. I have had that experience myself with Joost. We made a deal in the past and he simply never even responded anymore while we kept our part of the deal.

  27. Joost de Valk

    I would have appreciated it if you had openly shown all the communication. Including the moments where I was saying I’d love to help you get the best out of our report. The fact that you chose to nitpick and show parts of the communication over the argument of not “boring” your readers seems rather ridiculous to me, given the copious amount of text you’ve already used. We didn’t agree, we probably never will, but this is slander and will be treated as such.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is the funniest thing I have read in some time. It confirms our contention that you don’t bother reading or doing much of anything carefully.

      We DID publish ALL of our correspondence with you, from the time we sent our document detailing the errors in your report (well, save our no-meaningful-content cover note), except your very last message, which appeared AFTER we published the post. We were under no obligation to provide an update (if you have familiarized yourself with our site, you’d see we almost never update posts) and since that message was redundant, our update was only a summary.

      Or are you referring to the fact that we didn’t include the cover note which came with the report, which despite presumably being standard text, had a typo? I think readers can judge for themselves from the subsequent exchanges how meaningful your promises are regarding questions when your work is below standard. We did have questions and issues interspersed with our itemization of errors and omissions. To the very limited extent that you engaged with these matters, your replies simply confirmed you hadn’t investigated our site adequately and were either unwilling or unable to give good faith, helpful responses.

      As we noted in one of our e-mails to you, you seem to like digging your hole deeper.

  28. scraping_by

    Ooh, awkward situation. $2500 is too much to shrug off, not enough to threaten legal action.

    Only real alternative is find some public forum and put the facts out. Oh, wait….

  29. Dr Duh

    Great take down…

    Appears that Yoast is seeking to ‘scale’ through automated SEO optimization, both openly through their plug-in ‘tool’ and more covertly through their website evaluation tool (bot) that they used to produce your report (steaming pile of dog shit). Great to see the CEO is a bully as well quite provincial. I’m guessing he has no experience with McKinsey people. Branding FAIL!

    Expect a DCMA take down notice for publishing his “IP”. Might as well prepare your response to your hosting service.

    As for constructive advice. (Disclaimer, I’m not a marketer, much less an SEO guru, but I waste a prodigious amount of time on the internet and I got >6hr sleep last night, so please indulge me.)
    1. Is there a way to improve the graphic that shows up when I cross post to Facebook? Many of the stories have compelling charts, but these don’t always show up. I suspect it’s a copyright issue, but if you find yourself linking to the same sources again and again consider working something out. I think it would help generate click throughs. Also, while I enjoy your writing style, FB only shows the first few lines of a link. Can you attach a subhead that is written as an ‘informative tease’ (not clickbait).
    2. Speaking of which, it appears your SEO goal is to attract new readers; rather than trying to optimize keywords, perhaps you should work on optimizing shares. Analyze which posts get shared and which of those get clicked through then see if you can figure out why. Personally, I share posts when they point out really egregious behavior, when they summarize the big picture very cogently, when they dissect popular misconceptions very cogently or when they encapsulate the recent developments in an ongoing story.
    3. Realize there are two types of shares (at least for me) first, when I want people to see something (usually new posts) and second, when I want to use your post, or elements there of, in an argument. In that second case, I often find myself hunting around for a particular post on your site. Perhaps another level of organization beyond the keywords would help. For example, perhaps you could organize the Subprime stories into some sort of tree that would let a newcomer (or someone looking for a particular story) follow the narrative. (I know a lot of work)
    4. Along those lines, when searching on the site, you could give the option of searching in a combination of title, body, tags or comments.
    5. To enhance the value of the comments section take a look at Arstechnica, which in my mind is similar to NC in that it has expert writing and expert commenters, yet remains accessible to people of moderate technical ability. (like myself) Consider giving people the option of logging in and having a persistent handle, with which they can develop and cultivate a reputation. People already do that, but they don’t actually own their name, which forfeits an opportunity to maximize their attachment to the site and leaves them open to impersonation. It will also help with the persistent whinging about moderation (since you could program the spam catcher to be more lenient with registered posters, particularly well established ones) and allow better community self policing. (When the 1000 post commenter tells the one post troll to get back under the bridge, other people will see that it was taken care of can pass that by.) Consider allowing people to up and down vote posts, as well as flag spam posts. You could give the option to hide posts that have too many down votes. (Another aspect of Arstechnica, is that they have sections, so that people with narrower ranges of interest can sift through recent articles.)
    6. Take a look at Reddit. They have strong community and almost the entire value proposition is the comments. They too have up and down votes and they allow people to view the comments in chron, threaded chron or in most up voted order. (This is big because it makes it easier to skim the cream off long threads.) Consider a mini-economy along the lines of reddit gold. Where people can reward each other with premium membership. Look at the benefits of premium membership that reddit offers. No ads, highlight new comments, notification when your name is mentioned.
    7. Take a look at SBNation. They offer readers the ability to write fan posts that exist alongside site generated content. (But are clearly marked as such) If you’re worried about Koch agents hijacking, you could always moderate them, restrict them to registered or even premium members.
    8. Develop a clear privacy policy. Make it clear that we are merely being served ads and not also being tracked by you or the ads. Make sure your ads are malware free. There will be some people who for professional reasons, cannot afford to be publicly linked to their comments. Offer them the ability to post anonymously. (Perhaps through Burner if they want a persistent anonymous identity)
    9. Finally, and I really mean this in the nicest, most friendly, most well meaning way possible. Consider dialing down the prickliness. I’ve read this blog for seven years and I’ve noticed a change in tone. Clearly you were radicalized (and rightly so given where the world has gone in the past 10 to 30 years), but I think the stress of managing this enterprise is getting to you. (Earlier you mentioned being sick for a week) You’ve also been trolled quite a bit (perhaps by paid agents). And you’re on the internet (so you’re subjected to kooks and retards) I get it and I sympathize. But *you* Yves, are the heart of the NC brand. By far the most important thing you bring is your expertise and the perspective that grants you, which remains unique in the space. I always cite that when I recommend your site. But I also recommend you as a fair dealer. And while your posts remain fair, I think some of the prickly responses to (potentially) innocent comments might give someone new to the blog a different impression. I’m not asking you to tolerate fools (much less trolls), I’m suggesting constructively giving people the benefit of the doubt, assuming misunderstanding rather than malice.

    With nothing but love, respect and gratitude,
    Dr Duh

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      These are enormously helpful comments and advice, and thanks for weighing in.

      Yes, I am aware that I have been testy, often too testy. I am seriously burned out and this is a symptom. But it is also that the stakes on many of the topics on which we write are extremely high, and I find I am losing patience with arguments that are willfully uninformed or intellectually dishonest. The person presenting that point of view might think they are sincere, but they refuse to consider evidence and reason (in other words, they might not formally be trolls, but the results of their behavior winds up looking an awful lot like trollery). I used to be more tolerant of that sort, and I’m not sure my changed point of view is a mistake.

      1. Dr Duh

        I am so happy to be of service.

        As for burnout. I can tell… I apologize if this is overstepping boundaries, and feel free to delete after reading, but you really are an important and unique voice as well as a leader, so I strongly encourage you to pace yourself. Easy to say. But important. Perhaps a brief value analysis (80/20 rule?) will tell you where to focus your efforts and where you can cut back to a more sustainable posture. Consider more fun things either on the site or in your life. (I think the meetup is a great idea. Sorry I won’t be able to attend.) Do you exercise? I’d recommend some ‘right brain’ change of pace activities whether sports, music, painting, yoga, etc. Are you embedded in a RL community? My bias is that face to face interactions provide a bit more spiritual sustenance than online communities. Particularly if they involve any form of touch. Committed outrage is hard to sustain. But there are examples of truth-tellers who have persisted over time. Perhaps you might reach out to Noam Chomsky, BIll Moyers or Chris Hedges and ask them how they manage.

        The one thing I would say about dealing with trolls is that insofar as they are actually trolling, i.e., attempting to stir up trouble, spread FUD, etc, the best response may be a simple, “Back under the bridge troll.” There’s an element of guerrilla warfare involved and trolls can ‘win’ a war of attrition if they manipulate you into expending more effort than they do, particularly if imposing this ‘cost’ on you that prevents you from accomplishing a separate objective.

        On the flip side, many of these people may not be actual trolls. I’ve found that many people can be incredibly close minded once ideological filters are activated. I have friends who despite expensive educations, above average intelligence and a setting of social trust, will still deny global warming and insist in turning it into a discussion about the ‘hockey stick’ graph conspiracy. It’s painful, but I don’t think they’re trolling per se.

        Is it worth actually engaging with a potential troll to see if they’re sincere? Perhaps the 80/20 rule applies. As always, there’s an XKCD for that

        Be well.

    2. Foppe

      Most of these suggestions strike me as quite good. To add a few words of my own:

      1. Even assuming it’s possible to tell facebook what it should use in the caption, one huge problem with their system is that the maximum character count is very low. I would point out that you can edit the caption; this has the (dis)advantages that it allows posters to tailor the caption to his/her audience, but it also requires a decent eye for what a catchy caption would be.
      DrDuh: I assume that with ‘graphics’ you mean the icon that shows up next to the caption? Afaik Facebook decides which graphics you can choose between (via the arrow buttons), I doubt it has much to do with linking (as Yves seems to host most pictures locally anyway, copying them from the source website).
      2. pretty much the same for me, although this is not to suggest that my interests are representative. In fact, you might consider holding a poll+discussion on the topic of what people like to share, it might yield useful results, and shouldn’t cost too much time to set up, aside from thinking up a few decently open-ended, spread-covering questions and answer options.
      3. The only thing I would say about this is that google search is sometimes a bit frustrating, because quirky. That said, unless you can afford to integrate search functionality into the website directly (do you know how many searches are performed and what kind of load this might generate?), I doubt much can be done about this. There seem to be two functional wordpress plugins for user/reader-created tags, the most promising of which seems to me this one; here is a post by somebody who is apparently doing research into tagging motivations, (s)he distinguishes between tagging for the purpose of categorization and tagging for the purpose of description, and suggests that users generally tag in only one of these two ways. Presumably, adding the plugin would result in tag bloat, though it might also aid retrieval.
      4. not possible using google site search
      5. I think this could be very helpful to you to offload part of the moderation duties to us, as well as being useful in its own right for people who want to see if any particularly interesting comments have come up after they posted. You might want to have (someone have) a look at this WP plugin, which adds support (in the 21$/y version) for per comment like/dislike tallying, as well as for sorting comments by like total. Adding such a feature could of course go horribly wrong, but it seems to me worth considering.

  30. David Law

    Interesting discussion, prompted a post on my part about optimizing your type of site at

    For the record not trying to convert you to buy an SEO service, I used to offer SEO services, but don’t any more.

    Would be interested in your feedback on whether you’ve gained anything from the advice specifically regarding your long titles and how to also target search engine users.

    BTW you have a broken link within this text:

    “In my letter, I identified numerous, indeed, pervasive errors and tacit assumptions about our site, That is conclusive evidence that you failed to do the”

    If you don’t already run a link checking plugin I use

    David Law

  31. Jonathan Hinshaw

    Wow, this was very insightful… I guess I didn’t expect YOAST to get suck a bad review. But, we have our good days (and our bad ones). Personally, I think you were miss managed. I would never treat a client this way, so that’s their fault. But, I do have to say that maybe this was all related to a “Sales” issue. Quite simply, you were expecting something that you didn’t get.

    This is the reason I came up with the Small Business Owners Guide to SEO (for FREE) – to help educate everyone in the SMB space as to what “SEO” is and/or “should be.

    Small Business Owners Guide To Search Engine Optimization

    I hope everything works out for you. Truth be told, maybe something simple like $99 fee to RavenSEO would do the trick and give you the tools you need to actually make it happen.

    We stopped selling “SEO” a long time ago specifically to get away from being put into the same bucket at “SEO’s” – we now do what’s called WPO (Web Presence Optimization) and it’s been amazing to see what high quality content does! Especially now that “technical seo” is only 10% of the game anymore. Wish you the best!

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