More on Our Terrible Experience with Yoast SEO Review: Yoast Tries to Escalate (Updated)

Normally, I would not continue to give readers the blow-by-blow on our outstanding complaints with the company Yoast, which is best known for its Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, over a review of our site. We describe the numerous errors and omissions in this post; our fundamental beef is that the Yoast Review he gave us was not what he promised on Yoast’s website, as in giving recommendations that were based on an investigation of our site.

However, in comments on our post about Yoast’s poor performance on its Yoast Review, Yoast’s CEO Joost de Valk, complained that we had not published all of his correspondence with us. This again reveals his inattentiveness to details, since we had released the correspondence in full (save content-free cover notes) since the beginning of our dispute up to the time when the post launched.

Yoast’s demand is puzzling since it is what Lambert would call a reader assisted suicide request.

This is Joost’s e-mail on March 14, 7:02 AM (four hours after our post on the Yoast SEO Review of our site launched):

Hi Susan,

I’m sorry but as I said, no further discussion of how you perceive what we did will bring us closer together. We have given clear advice on what you should do, for instance with the CSS files. If you say “we only have one CSS file”, it shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about on the technical front. That’s not a problem, it just means you have to give the review to someone to deal with it. Blaming your site’s speed on your third party ad server instead of saying: ok, our site should be faster, what can we do about it, which would get you to a completely different position. You see, dealing with those CSS files better would improve your site speed, as would several other changes we’ve proposed.

Your other remarks were that we don’t understand your business. We do. In fact, I dare say I understand it better than you do yourself from the web publishing point of view. You obviously had a different expectation of what we’d say and obviously would have liked us to agree with a lot of the choices you’ve made for your site. We don’t. You paid us to give you our expert opinion on your site, that’s what we did. You don’t like that, that’s fine with us, but we did what you asked us to do. Large amounts of text won’t change that. I will not give you a refund, as we did good work.

In all honesty, having done almost a thousand of these reviews, I’ve had one instance before where we got into a discussion. In that case I said the same as to you, we worked with the client to explain some of the things they needed to do that they didn’t understand and in the end they had a better site for it. I’d love to do the same with you.

Kind regards,

Joost de Valk
CEO at Yoast

Note the disconnect between the tone and the substance. He acknowledges in the first sentence that he has now said twice that he is unwilling to consider our itemization of the errors and omissions in his report. He repeats his deliberate misrepresentation (or worse, misunderstanding) of the CSS issue, and incorrectly insinuates 1. that doing something about it would make a meaningful difference in site speed and 2. that there actually is anything we could do further. On 1. we’ve had our host prepare analyses of what causes our less than ideal loading speed, and the host performance is very speedy. As we told him, but he keeps ignoring, the speed issues are due entirely to third party served ads and related tracking. On 2, he refused to acknowledge a remark we’ve boldfaced repeatedly, that had we taken his advice on CSS and minifying, it would have broken the site.

So basically, his communication to us continues to be a Big Lie, that if he keeps saying things that we’ve told him in considerable detail are untrue, that will somehow make them true.

Joost e-mailed us again at 3:51 PM:

Hi Susan,

I see you’ve chosen to publish an article. I respectfully ask you to take down the report and all my emails from that article, as I haven’t given you rights to redistribute it and the copyright is mine. Failure in doing so will result in a DMCA request with your hosting provider.

We’re still willing to solve this differently and help you get the best out of our knowledge, I hope you will reconsider your actions and take advantage of my offer.

Kind regards,

Joost de Valk
CEO at Yoast

My reply:


As for your offer to “give us the best of your knowledge,” you were supposed to do that in the report you prepared for us and abjectly failed to do so. We’ve repeatedly told you how to remedy that, either by doing the necessary work to understand our site and business and prepare the report we were promised, or issue a full refund. We’ve gone to considerable effort to show you how pervasive and significant your errors and omissions were.

You failed to perform the basic work necessary to provide us with useful advice. Your replies to our e-mails have simply built on on and compounded your errors and omissions. Unless and until you redo the underlying work, your offers to answer questions merely assure a continuation of the “garbage in, garbage out” process that has characterized your dealings with us.

As to your threat, I suggest you familiarize yourself with copyrights. As a consultant and long-standing writer and publisher, I’m very familiar with the relevant US law and the attorneys who haev given us our foundational advice on intellectual property includes the attorney who wrote the US government’s very first licensing policies and contracts.

To have an enforceable copyright, you must file with the US Copyright Office in advance of publication of the particular work and pay a fee of $35. If you can provide proof that I can confirm with the US Copyright Office, I will of course honor your request and take the report proper out of the post, but the rest of the post will remain up.

Admittedly, many parties do respect copyright interests even when the needed steps to perfect them in the eyes of courts have not been taken. However, you did not have me sign a non-disclosure agreement. Your report is also not password protected, so anyone who has the URL can view it for free. You’ve effectively made it public.

Finally, and far and away the most important, I paid for your report. That means to the extent that the report is intellectual property, it is considered to be “works for hire,” and my company, not you, is the party who owns any copyright interest.

As for the rest of the post, there is nothing that you can ask to have taken down. I warned you repeatedly that I would publish both my letter to you and the report, and you raised no objection at the time. And I must note with some amusement that you complained in my comments section about my failure to publish all of our e-mail exchanges, As I explained via a reply, the post launched at 3:00 AM on March 14 and the message you appear to have wanted published was sent after that time.

You have already made a public statement that you wanted our correspondence published in full. So your position is contradictory: publicly, you pretend to want full transparency, and insist I provide ever bit of correspondence between us, yet privately, you want confidential treatment. You can’t have it both ways. And since your request for to have all our correspondence published was made before the world, prior to sending your takedown request, that would seem to carry greater weight.

If you issue a full refund, I will remove the embed of your report from the post as a courtesy.



Oh, and I’ve told my webhost I’m indemnifying him, so the post is staying up.

Update 3:00 PM March 16: Joost sent this message at 9:39 AM. It appears he is sensitive to having the report accessible:

Hi Susan,

I have just issued a refund, so please take down the report. In hindsight I should have done that immediately and spared us both a lot of trouble.

I wish you all the best for your future business.

Kind regards,

Joost de Valk
CEO at Yoast

I thanked him in my reply and told him that my credit card issuer does not yet show that he has issued a credit, and once that they confirm that he has, I will take down his report as promised.

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  1. psychohistorian


    I read but did not respond to the first posting about your Yoast SEO experience….I am sorry you got taken advantage of and glad to see your evisceration of the responses from Joost de Valk.

    Joost de Valk does not seem to understand he is digging his own grave. And actually that is probably a good thing for the techie world. The world doesn’t need more dishonorable IT business bullies like him.

    1. shinola

      Dear Joost,

      I’ll pass on to you some very good advice (at no extra charge)

      “When you realize you’re in a hole, quit digging.”

      Kind regards,


  2. Ditto

    1. I can’t speak to the technical issues. This incident highlights one of the problems with expert related fields: measuring competence and dealing with asymmetrical information . Internet/IT/software can be three of the worst.i have had people quote me 1k for something that I later realized was two hours of work, However it happens in all fields. Eg I am a lawyer. I am able to spot incompetence quickly with other lawyers. However I could not tell what makes a good accountant.

    By the way, you have spoken of the decline of product. The is happening, I believe. In all sectors. I have seen counsel provide incompetent advice of counsel by not warning of risks just to get 10k probably bc the real services if risks were vetted would have cost 30 so they told the client what the client wanted to hear just to get the ten. They out the client in a worse position. T he lesson? Its hard to know what value is..

    2, I don’t see what he has to gain from this exchange.

    3 his DMCA claim made me laugh. He sounds like most marketing execs bc he thinks saying something makes it true. The only way that argument works is through intimidation. The Koch brothers he is not.

    With all that being said: some unsolicited advice that is not legal counsel: both sides should just settle the issue and move on before time and money is wasted on someone like me

  3. geoff gray

    Internet stuff including web seo is a major area for con artists as the writer above notes because of asymmetric information. My take away: just as the US ought not to get into a pissing contest with Putin, woe betide him who would take on NC. Best to know when to slink away.

  4. pebird

    Please do not publish this comment, or I will file a DCMA request.

    I will now press “Post Comment”

  5. Eric W

    Poor Joost.

    He certainly DOESN’T understand your site. Otherwise, he would never have taken you on, a well-respected, important voice with a particular interest in fraud, internationally read. He will now be able to date the beginning of the end of his business, if not his complete business career, to his attempt to scam you.

    His ego blinds him to how damaging bad publicity can be.

    Joost de Valk, CEO at Yoast

    Whatever happened to “the customer is always right?”

    1. Mondo

      I am not a web developer so this Google sight was news to me – its results and recommendations do however seem to make a lot of sense, especially the ‘should fix’ suggestions for mobile web. Mobile access to NC is pretty slow currently, those suggestions should speed up the experience quite considerably.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As we’ve said repeatedly: we only have one CSS file under our control, meaning in our template. If you examine “View Source” more carefully, you’ll see that some that are attributed to the site are plugins. That is functionality we need (our WordPress person is very careful about testing plugins) but we do not control that code, and we are not about to disable those plugins.

        The site’s slowness is due entirely to our ads and related stuff served by our ad service.

        The good news is that they are implementing a solution that should improve loading times greatly.

        On mobile devices, did you try opting out of Onswipe? You have the option in the upper left corner (to get the desktop version on your mobile device). If you choose that, the choice persists for a month. Many readers find that to be faster.


    I wrote another post in our “SEO Industry Demystified” blog explaining what the SEO game is, but will repeat the main points here for NC-reader’s benefit.

    SEO=search engine optimization

    To understand how to “optimize for search engine”, one needs to know how search engine works. How Google works is explained clearly in a paper published in 1998 by Larry Page and Brin, and it is easily available from Stanford website. Strangely, I did not find many SEOsters to be familiar with the paper.

    Prior to Google’s arrival, search engines were extremely crappy and it was impossible to find anything relevant. Google’s algorithm completely changed that, and Page/Brin were so confident that search would lead to right results, they added ‘I am feeling lucky’ button. Since then, Google made several ‘evolutionary’ improvements and the main purpose of those improvements were to make sure nobody could game their search algorithm and relevant results were returned.

    If you see from that angle, SEO is not about pleasing google, but rather a cat-and-mouse game with Google closing every loophole as soon SEOsters figure them out. Trying to hire a SEO person to defeat Google is similar to figuring out IRS tax-avoidance schemes.

    1. TimR

      Even assuming that Google’s algorithm was designed with some benevolent ends in mind (eg “let’s try to deliver content-rich websites, not just shallow SEO optimized click farms”) that still contains an assumption about the “purpose” of the internet.. Maybe hard to avoid that, my point is the one-size-fits-all nature of a search engine puts a burden on anyone who doesn’t fit the dominant paradigm, regardless if that “outsider” has something valuable to offer users. To give a specific example — a local small business may want locals to easily find them (which would be good for locals, sometimes that’s all they want) but to optimize their SEO for Google, the SEO adviser might tell them “Oh, you have to have articles about your field, to make the site ‘content rich’, and update your site weekly, daily, etc.” In other words all this irrelevant BS that adds crap to the web, but is appealing to a Google algorithm, because the algorithm imposes a preconceived notion of what the ideal searcher is after; it doesn’t recognize that sometimes you don’t want “rich content” for ex. That said, this may be a little overblown; sure, the person will probably find a local shop; but if that shop site has a bunch of BS “rich content”, they can blame the need to conform to search engine algorithms that don’t understand sites that don’t fit their assumed ideal website.


        Agree completely. Google is just one algorithm or one possible way to arrange billions of webpages out there. Its claim-to-fame was to be way better than the other competing bad CS products in 1999, but having done that, it has become the primary go to place for everyone online.

        That makes the lives of contrarian information sites like nakedcapitalism difficult, but, I guess, word of mouth is still a powerful factor in the internet.

  7. abynormal

    “Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it.”
    Robert Heinlein

    de Valk: CALUMNUS, n. A graduate of the School for Scandal. /Devils Dic.

  8. alex morfesis

    “honestly…(as in I usually mislead, but…)
    having done almost a thousand of these”

    claiming only one unhappy person other than NC ??

    not mathematically possible…but worse…

    refusing to hand off a refund to the one person who has obviously
    not been “tooken”…??


    he’s booked a few million on these reports and is not smart enough to even consider
    the refund as just a cost of doing business…


    more lost morphins…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There are 7 boutiques in the US who specialize in intellectual property law and are recognized at being better at it than the big white shoe firms (the one exception is Covington & Burling, which also has a top notch IP department) One of my attorneys worked for one of them. Her advice to me has long been that the odds of PREVAILING in copyright litigation without having registered prior to publication were pretty close to nil. Filing a suit and prevailing are two different matters.

      Most litigation related to copyrights is actually over contract claims: “you didn’t pay me” as opposed to IP violations: “you are using my intellectual property without having the right to do so”. Copyrights are also a Federal law matter, and the backlog in Federal courts is long, typically over two years in New York districts. If you file on contract claims, you can file in small claims court if the amount is small enough or in state court and get resolution faster.

  9. harry

    “which is best known for its Yoast WordPress SEO plugin”

    Not anymore. Now it is best known as being a clear example of global Crappification.

  10. Patrick

    I love it when a business runs up against someone who knows the rules of the game. Mediocre businesses routinely play the threat card when someone exposes their shoddy services or products. Well done Yves! I hope these posts end up with a high page ranking for any Google search done on Yoast. How has someone who handles clients like this remained in business?

  11. casino implosion

    This whole fiasco is comical. If the guy had done the most basic research about NC and the most excellent pitbull qualities of Yves, he’d have either declined the job or–having taken it and botched it–would have given her a full refund and walked away as fast as possible.

    I know it’s lame to stereotype and I’m sure there are millions of wonderful tech entrepreneur CEOs out there, but I dislike the breed as a rule and this public flogging is delightful.

    when the whip comes down… [/jagger]

  12. scraping_by

    I think Mr. de Valk is used to dealing with large corporate enterprises where a consultant’s report is nothing but a political token.

    I could see his initial report being thrown around at a meeting among people who have no idea what it means. Or if they did, wouldn’t use their time opening the cover. Or if they did, they wouldn’t bother reading past the first line.

    Some middle manager could wander around claiming ‘the consultant’s report’ supported whatever he wanted it to say. Whether it was expanding his sector or creating new job titles, wave around a binder and the world falls at your feet.

    Office politics is still the same old clown act. More Dilbert than Hayes. Not so funny in the real world, however.

    1. Belieber

      I think Mr. de Valk is used to dealing with customers who are clueless about SEO and/or intimidated by the jargon in his reports.

  13. In The Business of SEO

    Frankly I am not surprised at this sort of an attitude from Yoast. It is widely known in the industry that he is fairly arrogant. In private and public forums he is known to lash out at anyone who goes against his opinion or thoughts.

    The shame is that he does know SEO, but the problem is that trying to make money has, by the looks of it, made him deliver a sub standard product. Something that a person so well known in and out of the SEO industry should not be doing; adding to the seo is snake oil perception.

  14. Hugh

    Well, it may be premature to say that Yoast is toast. Certainly, de Valk has managed to give himself a black eye in particular parts of the US market and internet. Europe, especially non-English speaking Europe, might be a different matter.

    But Yves’ experience does raise awareness not just that Yoast is a crappy business deliverig a crappy product with crappy attitude but also that the SEO field is largely unnecessary. If you are a small to mid-size concern, there are a few commonsense things you can consider doing to raise your profile. But most of this could be found out by doing a little googling. If you are a mega-business, then you likely already have a large presence on the internet and have implemented the commonsense stuff. There are only a few, and usually dubious, businesses that would have an interest in trying to skew google results on an ongoing basis in the way Yoast seems to promise. So SEO’s market seems to come down to this, rubes, CYA execs going through the motions, and crooks.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agreed re Yoast’s business. This dispute may lead some smaller customers to think twice about using him, but you have to drill a bit to find our post, and most people won’t do that. He’s got a brand name in this space. Now if others come forward and present similar stories, then you’ve got a different picture.

      1. In the business of SEO

        The thing is its people like him that make people that Seo has no legitimate standing. Fact is if two like for like sites were submitted to a search engines index, if one of the site then got seo implementation (where possible) then the site with seo is more likely to get traffic.

        Anyway, having read Yves’s comments, the single BIGGEST failure was for Yoast not to understand the business and the people behind it. Ideally a discovery phase would have made it fairly clear that traditional advice for NC was a waste of time.

        My primary concern would have been to make sure that the site structure and indexation is well built, that internal linking is better used for example. Over and above that, I would have asked WHAT keywords the site really wants to rank for, and then tailor a 3-6 month strategy to help ranking for those KWs as long as NC felt that I could follow the guidance without stressing or putting pressure on its resources.

  15. Dr Duh


    I called it, the whipping out of ye olde DMCA threat was a foregone conclusion.

    But it was parried and stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

    Nicely done, Yves, nicely done.

    1. Dr Duh

      Actually you should have offered to sell him the report back for $10,000.

      When he inevitably cried “extortion” you could have said, “It’s not extortion, that’s its comedic value. My readers are having a field day with this.”

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