Posts Tagged ‘reputation managment


5 Ways SEO Can Be Used as a Weapon Against You

Be afraid! Be very afraid! The evil overlords of SEO have the power to destroy you! Well, maybe not destroy, exactly. But an unscrupulous competitor, disgruntled employee, unhappy customer, or personal enemy can use SEO techniques to cause you and your business a fair amount of grief. Some of these tactics can be defended against, some of the damages can be repaired, some of them you really may just have to live with. But you should definitely be aware that these things are out there, and happen.

  1. Google bombing. This one is a fun trick to play on Presidents and other public figures, but can also be used against businesses or non-public individuals. You may remember the “miserable failure” incident from a few years ago…  Here’s how it works. The Dark SEO Lord (DSL) marshals some substantial resource (social networks like DIGG and 4CHAN have been used this way) to generate massive quantities of links that point to your site using an unpleasant link text. If you get enough of these (and it takes fewer than you might imagine) you can end up becoming the very definition of, say, “greasy booger.” Or worse. Just ask Rick Santorum.
    SOLUTION: Maybe none. If it’s a significant attack (as was the case with the attack on George Bush) Google may be induced to step in and end it. They stopped the “miserable failure” attack after two years. The Santorum situation has been going for a while now with no signs of  changing.
  2. Bad neighborhooding. This one is devious, but not every site is vulnerable and it’s somewhat difficult to pull off.  The DSL first scans your site using a readily available link scanner looking for old links that now point to abandoned domains. (If your site is big and/or old, and you don’t do rigorous link maintenance, you probably have some.) Once the abandoned domains are identified, the DSL registers them under an assumed name. After that, it’s a simple matter of either publishing “bad” content, or 301 redirecting the site to porn, spam, phishing, or other icky places. Get a handful of these in place, and suddenly Google thinks you link to bad neighborhoods. And that can hurt.
    SOLUTION: Monitor your outbound links! Regularly! Get some link checking software, use it, and fix any broken links immediately.
  3. Link spamming. You gotta love the lengths some DSLs will go to.  This is where a whole bunch of crappy links are created (usually purchased from some spam broker) pointing to your site. They all will probably use some generic link text, just so they don’t accidentally do you very much good. This is designed to make it look like you were buying spammy links. They will then report you to Google anonymously. And your site might get penalized.
    SOLUTION: About all you can do is to file a complaint with Google. Tell them what you think happened, and supply a list of bad links. They will often just discount the links and restore your search posture. But it usually takes a while and a bunch of effort.
  4. Spoofed landing pages. Suppose your business is ACME Froo-Froo and your website is Then imagine some pissed-off DSL registers the domain and then uses it to publish a fake homepage. Maybe it looks a lot like yours, maybe not, but it is sure to contain damaging content of some sort. Maybe “free” offers or illegal merchandise. Or maybe more subtly just full of misspellings and crappy images. Or less subtly, full of scantily clad orangutans. Whatever. Then just suppose that said DSL works his/her/its SEO magic to get their fake page to rank above your real page when somebody looks for your favorite search term. You see a possible problem?
    SOLUTION: This attack is probably illegal, particularly if it uses your branding anywhere on the page, but also if the spoof domain is similar enough to yours. Report this attack as soon as you notice it. Report it to Google, and report it to whoever is hosting the site. If you have lawyers, get them to send take-down notices. All this remedial effort will work. It will also take time and resources.
  5. Review spamming.  Some person with anger management issues starts spreading malicious information about your products or your business. This sort of thing is as old as business itself. (“Not buy mastodon meat from Og. He not wash hands after he use bushes.”) And it’s been used a lot on the internet, from the very first. Now, though, with Google’s emphasis on “visitor interaction” the importance of reviews and comments will only grow. And so will the art of review spamming. We’ve seen reviews-for-hire packages cropping up all over the web in the last few months since Panda. We are sure that negative-reviews-for-hire are out there also. Can your product or service withstand 50 one-star reviews? What if it’s worse than just PR? What if those one-star reviews also cost you search position?
    SOLUTION: Well, you can contest the reviews, one at a time, and hope the review venue takes pity and removes them. Could take a very long time. The other option is fight ire with fire: buy or otherwise launch your own review campaign hoping to dilute the effects. Twenty five-star ratings will bring twenty one-star ratings up to a three!

Sigh. The evil DSL usually wins—because it doesn’t matter whether their campaign works or how bad it hurts or how long it lasts. Their real victory is that it costs you either search position, reputation, or at best it costs you the time and effort it takes to monitor, remedy, and recover.


SEO: The Beast with Two Heads (part three)

Yesterday was all about links, which we all know are like puppies, ice cream, unicorns, and bacon-flavored martinis, all rolled into one. Yum! Backlinks are the new bacon!

Today, we end the discussion of the two heads of SEO with a topic that sometimes comes up at search marketing meetings,  but is rarely approached as an important off site SEO element. Until something goes horribly, horribly wrong and the CEO starts looking for goats to scape.

Reputation Management
First, let’s define our terms. In the non-internet world, “Reputation Management” falls under the more generalized concept of Public Relations (PR), and typically includes press campaigns, brand-awareness strategies, damage-control efforts, any all other topics related to the way a market space (or “bunch of customers” to those of us without MBAs) feels and reacts and labels a company or other entity.  Those are some pretty elusive metrics to work with, there: emotions and opinions.

  • Perceived associations. What if your brand gets connected through search engine results to criminal or unethical activities?
  • Common “knowledge.” What if  search results surrounding your brand develop into an accepted “urban myth” that your products are dangerous? Or made from the noses of cute furry critters?
  • Brand recognition. And what if nobody every associates your brand with your product? Even if you rule the results for product searches, if searchers don’t see your brand as a viable representative for that product, they won’t click.

Yes, I think reputation management is important. And it is very closely tied to search marketing in a couple of ways.

  1. Reputation Damage. The internet can be a very dangerous weapon, particularly when used against people or businesses who depend on a their public persona for their success.  Google “Santorum” and ask yourself if Rick Santorum feels at all wounded (WARNING: very icky concepts alert). This damaged was caused by a tactic known as “Google Bombing,” which is an off-shoot of some standard SEO techniques. Remember “miserable failure?”
  2. Viral wildfires. In the internet age, a single gaffe, poorly timed product release, a deliberate attempt to cast aspersions, or even inadvertent connections to a brand name can spread to millions of viewers in mere hours. No PR Department has a chance of responding to that kind onslaught—and if it isn’t dealt with quickly and effectively runs a risk of turning into a “meme,” which means that the slur (whether accurate or not) can develop a life of its own that is virtually impossible to stop. This rapid spread is due in very large part to heavy search weight given to blogs as content generators. Blogs are huge SEO vehicles for good and bad.

Is there no defense?
Of course there is. The power of SEO can be used for Good as well as Evil. First, try to not do really stupid things. Ok, that one may be unavoidable. But you can make a habit out of doing smart things.

A robust, long-term strategy for reputation management through search optimization can take any number of forms.

  • Surveys that ask questions but subtly suggest as well
  • Product or service reviews are huge in the fight for positive brand awareness
  • Press relations are always important for any business, but the old fashion Press Release can be huge tool for internet brand management. Write them well and often, and distribute them widely.
  • Content campaigns
  • Deliberately launched, positive-connection memes. Not so easily done. But with a dedicated effort and some clever planning and a little luck, you could be the next Mentos/Pepsi video sensation

So that’s the gist of it. Try to stay of of trouble. Try to keep a vigorous brand awareness campaign going at all times. Think ahead for opportunities to score big.

And pass the Mentos.