IMPORTANT UPDATE: Jon Henshaw from Raven Tools posts his response.
One of the motivating factors for starting this blog was because I was sick and tired of seeing the reputation of the internet marketing/SEO industry getting trashed.
When I asked Matt Cutts what he likes & dislikes about the blog he said-
I have to agree with him – the best posts are the ones that cut through the underbelly of the Internet Marketing world.
So now it’s time to turn my focus to Raven Tools deceptive practices.
What you read here doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of their tools and I urge you to check out their 30 day free trial and make your own mind up!
A Brief History
On January 11th 2013 I published a post comparing the best backlink checkers which included Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, SEO Spyglass, SEOMoz & Raven Tools.
Out of a possible 516,771 backlinks the tools managed to find a combined total of 178,242 – 34% of them.
|Backlink Checker||# Total Found||% Total Found|
On the same day I published the post – I also applied to the Raven Tools affiliate program.
Jeremy Rivera – the Raven Tools affiliate manager at that time followed me on Twitter a few weeks later.
When I did my backlink checker test I was actually very disappointed with the backend of Raven Tools.
The front end looked very clean and well-polished, but the backend left an awful lot to be desired.
At that time I had no plans to follow up and take a closer look.
However I knew Raven Tools were working hard to improve the service and when they released the beta of their new Site Auditor they reached out to me for a review.
Jeremy acknowledges that my review of Raven Tools as a backlink checker was pretty poor, but he accepted it was fair & thorough.
Nearly 2 months after publishing the post and applying to the affiliate program – my application was approved!
Jeremy then very kindly reached out to me to offer his full support and any help with promoting Raven Tools.
They went on to highlight the fact that building honest & detailed reviews of Raven Tools was the best way to promote them.
Unfortunately in 11 months my honest review didn’t drive a single sale after 350 clicks and 72 trial signups.
But that was to be expected really due to their poor performance as a backlink checker.
In my April 2013 income report Jeremy kindly dropped by and left a comment.
We went back and forth a little discussing how Raven Tools could improve its affiliate offering.
As you can see Jeremy is very open and honest about the situation and we have a great relationship!
He even offered his advice on how to increase the conversion rate of the trials.
Jeremy was doing a great job as an affiliate manager. Since the initial post was published we had built a positive relationship!
We also discussed a follow up post comparing SEOMoz & Raven Tools after I had received requests from readers to create a more dedicated Raven Tools tutorial.
A Quick Recap
- Jan 11th – I publish the backlink checker post & apply to the Raven Tools affiliate program
- Feb 1st – Jeremy Rivera follows me on Twitter
- Feb 25th – Raven Tools ask me to review their new Site Auditor beta
- Mar 6th – My affiliate application is approved & I update the original post to include my affiliate links
- May 2nd – Jeremy & I discuss how to improve the affiliate offering for Raven Tools
A Positive Relationship Was Formed
At this point I felt I had a great relationship with Raven Tools.
The original post mentioned the fact they offer a full suite of tools to manage campaigns – but checking backlinks was still part of their front end sales proposition.
Sure they didn’t perform that well as a backlink checker but they acknowledged that the test was fair but were working hard to improve their service.
Everything was great and I had spotted that Raven Tools had completely overhauled the back end, something I was previously very disappointed with.
They have also been adding new features to the suite nearly every week which is impressive by anyone’s measure.
So a more dedicated follow up post exploring the progress Raven Tools had made was certainly on the horizon!
Readers were asking for it & I like to give my readers what they want.
So What Went Wrong?
On October 30th, more than 10 months after publishing my backlink checkers post they terminated my affiliate account without warning.
I was pretty shocked by that, I was under the impression we had a great relationship!
As you can see I copied Jeremy into the reply and even used my bestest /sadface
At some point it seems Jeremy Rivera left the company and with it, so did my positive relationship with Raven Tools along with the companies affiliate management skills.
This was the reply I received to my /sadface
It took them less than 30 minutes to reply and destroy what was a positive relationship with someone that could have been a key affiliate.
An affiliate with an audience that wanted to hear more about Raven Tools.
OBVIOUSLY when I wrote the backlink checkers post I wasn’t trying to see which was the best one. I went to all that effort purely to find a way to rubbish Raven Tools in order to promote others… Apparently.
When Founders Take Control
Interestingly this email came from one of Raven Tools founders, notice the use of the phrase ‘my company’.
A person that is in charge of key business decisions and the future direction of Raven Tools.
The direction they have chosen to take, is not a good one.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it had come from an affiliate manager, but the fact it has come from a key decision maker in the business sets off alarm bells left, right & centre.
They are certainly taking an aggressive approach to negative reviews.
Write Good Stuff About Us Or Else!
The key quote from that email is this-
I seriously don’t mind fair criticism (which that was not) and I also don’t think it’s my place to tell you what to write. However, until we’re removed from that article, I have no desire to have you as an affiliate.
In essence, until I write something good about them, they are holding my affiliate account hostage.
Previously Raven Tools had told me my test was fair & thorough. Now they are telling me that it’s a misrepresentation & I was just looking for an opportunity to unfairly rubbish them.
They also don’t feel like it’s their place to tell me what to write but in the same sentence tell me to remove my honest review from the original post.
This certainly challenges their earlier communication to affiliates that stated the best way to generate sales was to provide an honest review.
What they actually meant to say was if you don’t write a positive honest review, we will shut you down.
Perhaps that’s why the affiliates that don’t write ‘honest’ reviews perform so poorly, because they don’t have an affiliate account anymore.
Sloppy drive by emails like that certainly don’t encourage me to write anything nice. But I will be honest.
Do Not Trust Raven Tools Reviews
So with that in mind, how can you trust any positive Raven Tools reviews?
They are actively scouring the internet and threatening people to remove any form of negativity about them across the web.
This sort of practice really grinds my gears.
Previously they were reaching out to people, building relationships and looking for ways to improve. What happened?
Although this email doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of their tools, you should check out their free trial and do your own evaluation!
What Are They Hiding?
I wanted to find out what was going on and had suddenly caused this threatening backlash.
So I responded with this email-
A pretty reasonable set of questions I thought.
They didn’t agree and ignored the email entirely! After throwing their toys out of the pram they wanted nothing more to do with the issue.
Over the next 2 weeks I sent them a few emails, each of which were ignored.
It really baffles me how we went from a positive relationship to this.
The Raven Tools founders were happy to slam me with threats and hold my affiliate account hostage. But when challenged on that, I might as well have been speaking to a brick wall.
Enough Is Enough
I gave them plenty of time to fix the relationship and after being continually ignored it was time to take action.
I sent them a final email this morning-
And I jumped onto Twitter to shine some light on the issue-
The Oldest Excuse In The Book
Taking the issue to Twitter certainly caused some alarm internally at Raven Tools.
Very quickly I received this email from Jon Henshaw – one of the company founders and coincidentally the chief marketing officer.
Notice the subject line of the email chain leading up to that is Matthew Woodward which involved Nate (user support specialist) and Courtney (community manager).
There had obviously been some internal discussion about this.
But instead of being straight, Jon went with one of the oldest tricks in the book claiming ‘for whatever reason he didn’t receive my responses’.
Raven Tools have created some of the world’s leading Internet Marketing tools but their founders & support team haven’t grasped email yet?
It took them 30 minutes to reply to my original email asking why my account was terminated.
It took them 2 weeks, 3 emails and a tweet to stop ignoring my questions.
Something doesn’t add up.
In their initial response it was clear I had touched a personal nerve of one of the company’s founders. They spat their dummy out said their piece and then flat out ignored me.
Only when they realised I was going to expose the fact they are strong arming affiliates were they interested in speaking to me.
As a former slave to the corporate world – this is pretty standard corporate behaviour.
Raven Tools Cannot Be Trusted
How can you trust a company that is either trying to force its affiliates into writing good things about them or to remove anything they don’t like?
That sort of attitude breeds a certain culture within businesses and as you can see.
Users trust their businesses and livelihoods with Raven Tools to help them make good business decisions.
Why can’t Raven Tools just be honest with us?
What Do Others Think?
I reached out to some other affiliates in the industry to see what they thought of this kind of practice.
Matthew Barby – FindMyBlogWay.com
I’m really surprised that a major player in the market would essentially deny affiliate access of an account based on not performing well within a test. I read the article that was written on the blog that ran a full comparison of all the tools and it seems to be a completely legitimate test?
This is a shining example of how not to manage your brand’s reputation, whether it’s openly across social media or privately within email, you’ve got to be fair and open to your customers.
Suggesting that negative results around your product be removed in exchange for an incentive isn’t a way to deal with an issue (yes, that isn’t explicitly stated, but I think we all know where they were going with the email).
The solution is to take on board the comments from a user and adapt your offering.
Jacob King – JacobKing.com
As affiliates, we deal with this type of crap all the time. 99% of affiliates lay down and take it. It can often be a powerless position giving us few options when wronged. Unfortunately for Raven Tools, Matthew is that 1%.
This situation obviously should have been handled differently. Although I must say this is an interesting approach to rep management, strong arming affiliates that rank for brand related terms with poor reviews.
Bottom line is we aren’t powerless if we speak out, so let’s make this real simple, reactivate Matt’s affiliate account and step your game up.
Charles Floate – GodOfSEO.co
Now, I’m not one to get under people’s boots (hehe) but this was pretty stupid. There is some pretty reasonable things to assume out of this though. Either when their old guy left they’ve bought in some one new and he’s basically not been told what is going on OR (excuse my use of a Google footprint) the new email correspondent seems to of read your blog post and taken a Majestic stance even after building this relationship, though at least Majestic don’t call you ignorant and a few other insults thrown into the mix.
I’ve actually spoken with a few of the main guys at Majestic before, Raven just runs of Majestic’s API but only tends to update their index from the API every few months, and let me tell you Raven spend a quite large chunk of money on running through said API.
Also, a follow up to add onto this is that maybe we shouldn’t be promoting these damn marketing suites. This is the 2nd time I (and by my remembrance) Matt has been screwed by the exact same product, just by another company – Without any pre-notice (aka warning) Moz randomly shutdown their affiliate program when they were changing their brand from SEOMoz to Moz. In my opinion that was more to do with as they change brands, they get a ton more traffic from news/blog style sites and wanted to keep all that good PR money feeding their new bankroll.
Devin Santos – IMDevin.com
It seems like Raven Tools completely went about this the wrong way. If this were my software or service receiving a less than stellar review of my product, the first thing I would do is reach out to the author to see if we can work together on improving the product.
Hell, I would even offer some compensation to the author just to provide me a list of all the areas they feel would make the biggest improvement with my product.
The way I see it is when something like this happens the company has a few different choices.
1) Talk to the author about working together and making improvements towards their product
2) Ignore the review of their product completely
3) Become defensive, ignore the opportunity for product improvement and make negative accusations towards the author.
It’s unfortunate to see a well-established company like Raven Tools took the latter route.
There is no doubt that this will end up hurting the company more in the long run then if they would have just reached out in the beginning and worked together to improve their product, but I guess even well established companies need to learn a lesson every once in a while.
Tom Ewer – LeavingWorkBehind.com
While one can argue the accuracy/fairness of your post if they want to (although from what I can see, one would be silly to), what you can’t argue with is that Raven Tools’ management of this incident has been terrible.
Put simply, from a brand management perspective, you shouldn’t — nay, mustn’t — treat people with anything other than respect, regardless of the way they treat you.
This situation reminds me of someone who left a review on Amazon saying that a Kindle book I was selling contained no useful information and was a “bait and switch” ploy. This was from someone who hadn’t actually purchased the book, and the product I was supposedly trying to bait and switch people into buying wasn’t even mentioned in the book.
I responded in a respectful manner in an attempt to clarify that I wasn’t trying to rip anyone off, and I still got torn to pieces by a bunch of people who couldn’t wait to get involved. Sometimes you can’t win, so at least do yourself a favour and give yourself the best possible chance!
You can be a complete angel and there’ll still be people out there trying to get you. Or you can screw up or provide a poor service and be the “victim” of some savvy reporting. It sounds like Raven Tools are in the second camp in this case and have dealt with the situation in a pretty shocking way. It’s a great example of what not to do.
Raven Tools Responds
Well you have to give it to Jon Henshaw – he has handled this like a true gent.
Matthew, after reading your post I have a much better idea of why you’re upset. I don’t think any of this would have happened if it wasn’t for me. I was having a bad day, saw your post and did something stupid. It’s easy to be passionate about something that is basically your baby.
I personally screwed up several times. First, I cancelled your affiliate account without having a dialogue with you first. (I just fixed that mistake by restoring your account, and I hope to talk to you person-to-person soon.) Second, I sent you a reply that was not professional. Third, I had communicated internally at the office that I was monitoring and communicating with you, so my team assumed that I had seen your followup messages that you sent to the affiliate email account. I didn’t see those until yesterday.
This really isn’t a Raven thing, it’s a Jon thing. Unfortunately, my actions are also connected to the company, so I also let down the amazing people who work here, along with my partners.
I want to publicly apologize to you and my company for how poorly I handled the situation. As you stated in your post, it’s an example of when a co-founder gets in the way of a good company trying to do good things.
It’s great to see that Raven Tools can be honest with us after all =D
Kudos to Jon and the rest of the Raven team.
A Shining Star
Jon has provided us and other businesses with a shining example of how to deal with things like this.
He took ownership of his mistake with great courage and lets be honest, he nailed it.
I haven’t had time to speak to Jon directly yet as I wanted to get this update published ASAP but we will catch up soon
There is great opportunity to create a very unique case study off the back of this
Try Raven Tools For Yourself
Don’t let Jon’s bad day reflect on the quality of the tools Raven Tools provide.
While I haven’t tried them myself, they do offer a free 30 day trial so you can make your own mind up!