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What can you do about websites that destroy your reputation online?When people trash your name online, it can kill your business and destroy your personal reputation. In fact, many have committed suicide over what is said about them online. That’s how serious this issue is. Whether the allegations are true or not, when people search for you or your company’s name, if they find dirt it can be devastating even if it’s unfounded. Contacting Google or Bing on the grounds that it’s not true are nearly hopeless. You’ll have two chances of getting them to override the algorithm; slim and none. Google does not care about you specifically, they do the best they can at creating a system that works on autopilot and they are not designed to manually override their algorithm unless you are a Democratic candidate for President. Google absolutely has a Liberal bias. For example, when someone went viral with a photo of Michelle Obama blended with a monkey’s face, they manually panned the ranking of that photo in no time as where Google bombs which put George Bush in a bad light continued to rank highly for an extended period of time. So, if you’re not married to a Democratic President, don’t expect Google to help you set the record straight. The previous CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt and the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, promote Democratic causes. Many of them are public.

If you’d like to contact Google and ask them to help you, knock yourself out, here is the Google phone number and contact info (good luck!):

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: (650) 253-0000
Fax: (650) 253-0001

Or, even better, just drop by in person and ask Google for help (see map and may the Force be with you):


View Larger Map

The process of cleaning your reputation can involve contacting the webmaster/author or administrator of the site where the negative piece is and negotiating the removal of the negative content. If contact information is not available on the site, sometimes you can use the WhoIs Database to find out who owns the site. When the registry says the domain name is owned by proxy, you can email the custodian and they will forward your email to the owner/administrator. When these methods are fruitless, you can use DomainTools.com to do even more private investigation research, but there will be a nominal charge to use their service. If they remove it, then mission accomplished, but often if that person holds a grudge against you, then they’ll be happy to know that you are twisting in the wind over their hit piece, so often this is a last resort. If they know it is keeping you up at night, then they’ll promote it even more causing you more pain.

The safest approach is quietly pushing positive content higher than the negative and they won’t even know you’re being proactive. The higher the positive sites rank, the further down the page the negative will drop until it’s off the first page. Then, you keep going until you scrub the second page of a search as well. The first page of a search is the most critical because most people never even go to the second page, in fact, studies show that 42% of clicks done after a search go to the site in position 1 on page one. About 12% of the clicks go to position 2. The last listing on page 1 in position 10 only get less than 3% of the traffic. You can mitigate over 97% of your problems by getting the negative off of page one of a Google search. You are golden if you can push the negative off of the first three pages of a Google search (SERP: search engine results page(s)).

Expected Traffic from Google Ranking

Traffic by Google Ranking Graph compliments of Aaron Wall (SEObook.com) at: http://www.seobook.com/google-serp-ctr-data-search-rank.

One solution to someone slamming your name on the Internet is to hire an online reputation manager. A good one is worth every penny. Short of that, you can do some DIY or do it yourself online reputation management. If someone has something positive they wish to promote, then I push those sites higher in the Google ranking so they will get more sales and promotion, thus killing two birds with one stone. My services often more than pay for themselves using this technique. I find this personally gratifying.

Online Reputation Management Tips

1. Start by buying every domain name associated with your name or your company’s name you can afford. For example, if your name is Barack Obama, buy BarackObama.com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, .us, .co, .ws, .mobi and .tv, etc., because people with bad intent can nab those and use them against you and they tend to come up higher in the search engines just by Google giving them a boost in ranking as part of their algorithm. If you can’t afford them all, the most important ones are the .com, .org and .net, in that order. Publish them as a website immediately, even if you don’t have time to put up any content. The sooner you publish them, the more authority they will have in ranking. I recommend putting them up as a self hosted WordPress blog if you can, because of the built-in rss feeds and free plugins to assist you with SEO (search engine optimization). I’d recommend hosting them at Bluehost.com; they have the best 24/7 American customer support I’ve ever experienced. For less than $8 a month, you can easily host 50 to 80 sites and you have push button installation of WordPress blogs. If you know what meta tags are, then you should at least put those in with your name or your company’s name in the title, description and keyword tags. Google will give you extra points for adding that optimization.

Next, buy the most obvious negative domain names with the words scam and sucks in them. There is evidence that Google ranks negative words like scam higher in the search results, especially in their drop down list in the Google suggestion list of relevant searches that appear instantly below the search form as you’re typing in your search. For example, if you are Wal-Mart, buy WalMartSucks.com and WalMartScam.com. An ounce of prevention gives you a pound of cure. Why leave those out there on the market to those with bad intent to use them against you? Those are super powerful negative domain names which are easy to use to put a cloud of doubt over your reputation. Often, perception is reality. I recommend buying your domains at: GoDaddy.com as they have some of the best prices in the industry along with 24/7 customer support by phone.

2. Grab all the social media accounts in your name that you can. The most powerful ones are Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter, but I suggest you use a tool to help you get a comprehensive list of what’s still available on lesser known sites. A great tool is NameChk.com. Before you do a search for your name, be sure you select the option under the search box that says: “Show All (159)”. See illustration below:

 

NameChk.com - Online Reputation Management Tool

 

Other social media username availability sites are: KnowEm.com, CheckUsernames.com, NameCheck.com and NameCheckList.com for starters. Mashable.com has a list of 7 of the top social media username checkers here: http://mashable.com/2010/08/17/reserve-social-media-names/. I’d take every one off the market you can. It’s time consuming, but you can outsource it. To really get the most bang, I’d put a link to any site that you wish to rank higher in the profile of each account when permitted so you can promote the good while you’re fending off trolls who would love to drag your name through the mud. Make sure the link is complete by adding http:// and http://www. when appropriate to increase the probability it will show up as a live link. An anchor text link surrounded by relevant content is the most powerful link of all. Google anchor text link and learn how to create them on the highest ranking authority sites you can.

What Is an Authority Site?

3. If they have a place for comments, you can give your rebuttal. I usually don’t do this because it fans the flame and draws more attention and it will likely start controversy and welcome other people’s opinions. The more comments and discussion, the usually it creates even more traffic and ranking to their position on a Google search and now traffic and time spent by visitors on a website are now part of the Google algorithm and it is usually best to let sleeping dogs lie. In rare cases, I have gotten things removed by countering the negative by telling the your side of the story, but it’s usually a risky tactic.

4. Get a YouTube channel in your name or your company’s name immediately. Google bought YouTube several years ago because of its popularity and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that Google favors their products in searches. Yes, they cheat, but what would you do if you were Google since they make a fortune from the ad network on YouTube, not to mention the killer traffic. It’s usually ranked in the top 3 for Internet traffic by Alexa.com/topsites and YouTube’s search engine has been ranked the 2nd most used search engine behind Google.com for a couple of years. Yes, the YouTube search engine beats Yahoo and Bing. Talk about owning traffic, whew! So use YouTube’s traffic to your advantage and as they say in advertising, ‘shoot where the ducks are flying’.

Next, put up a video and in the title, description and tags, add the name (keyword or keyword phrase) you’re are doing reputation management for whether it’s your personal name or your company’s name. If you wish to drive traffic to your primary site, begin your description with a link back to main site. Do a search for your site and see the complete url that Google has indexed on the search engine results page. If you died today, that video would keep sending your site traffic while you are playing your harp in the heavens. In order to make the link a clickable blue hypertext link, you’ve got to start with http:// or http://www depending on your actual url. For even more traffic, tell people in the video to click on the link in the description. It’s best to do a really good description loaded with your keywords because the search engines will index the whole description and it will help you come up higher in more searches for the keywords you add in the content. Most people don’t add the link or a good description; they usually just add a line or two because it takes extra work and they’re not aware that it can help them in the rankings.

YouTube is not just a place to watch videos, it’s a major social network as well and Google will reward you with higher search rankings and more traffic if you get involved with the social network. Frequently, friend people, watch their videos and comment. If you see a channel that you really like, subscribe to it. Every time you make a comment, it will leave a clickable link back to your channel and that will help you in ranking and more views. The more social you are, they more traffic you’ll get. Being social within the YouTube network is critical to rankings and traffic even if your videos are bland. So, if you don’t have a video of a water skiing squirrel, then you’ll need to be social and create value through virtual friendships. The difference is like night and day.

Another reason you’ll want to use YouTube videos to protect your name is that Google often shows a color thumbnail of the video on the search page and like a moth to flame, searchers can’t help but notice them more than a text listing, humans are naturally visual creatures and images paint a thousand words as the song goes. There are only 10 links on the default setting of a Google search, so have a goal to take up all the real estate on that page. The more of those 10 spots you control and the higher they rank, the more likely you’ll push the negative off of page one. If  you focus on this technique, you can get several color thumbnail links on page one as well as page two, so jump in, the water’s fine. By ranking highly with YouTube videos, you can begin to control the two largest search engines, Google and YouTube.

Go to YouTube and create an account: http://www.youtube.com/create_account. It takes about 60 seconds. They just want the name of your account, an email and a password, so no reason to procrastinate.

5. As light overcomes the darkness, promoting good content will overcome the negative content. Unless you’re dealing with a black hole, darkness can never overcome light. Light is more powerful than darkness. Simply walk in to any dark room and turn on the light and the darkness is gone. You can’t walk into a room filled with light and turn on a darkness switch. This principle of physics applies to the Internet as well. 99% of all negative pages can pushed into oblivion by simply promoting content you are comfortable with over negative links. When you push your good sites to higher positions of a search, the bad sites will vanish like roaches into places where no one will see them. If a tree falls in the woods when no one is around to hear it, then the noise it makes affects no one, so the hit pieces remain on the web, but no one sees them, so their power to hurt you is minimized to the point where you can have a normal life again.

Some people call this technique Reverse SEO, but it’s not, one selectively chooses which content they wish to promote while avoiding doing anything to help the bad urls. Reverse SEO would be doing something to harm the ranking of the bad content. Short of hacking in to the negative site’s account and changing or deleting the content, it shouldn’t be attempted by doing anything offsite to the offending site. It is possible to run bots building massive spam links to a harmful site and have it drop off the first page, but the results will be temporary. After a brief sandboxing or Google Dance, those spam links will likely end up helping the bad site in the long run. If Google permitted this tactic, then the healthy search process would be destroyed. E-commerce sites would have SEOs build bad links 24/7 to their competitors sites to destroy their ranking. So, the rule of thumb is that you can never hurt the ranking of someone else’s site by off site link building.

Analyze which sites you think say positive things about you and promote them by quality link building, the bread and butter task of an SEO. Those sites do not have to be your sites, they can be anyone’s site you think represents you or your company in a good light. Link building and SEO strategies are evolving daily because Google can tweak their algorithm overnight so that is a topic I can cover in another post so you can do it yourself or you can hire an SEO expert to do this for you. A good link builder is hard to find, they are not created equally. You can do a search for a link builder or SEO specialist, but odds are against you to find a good one without a lot of frustrating trial and error.

Be relentless in building quality links to your positive sites until the negative site is relegated to a page you can live with. Make sure your site has the keywords you are trying to protect in the title, description and keyword meta tags. Meta tags are published in the admin account of your website and they are not visible by simply going to your web page, only people who pull up the source code to your page or the search engines will ever see them but they are powerful strategies for ranking. Also, it’s good to have them in the h1 title tags on the actual page which are visible to all. Usually, this is displayed at the top of the page or in the header in large bold type. If this is beyond your ability, any common web developer can do this for you for peanuts as it’s a task that can take as little as two minutes if you know the basics of HTML. Using the keywords you are guarding in the regular content is a plus as well.

6. How do you fight a major media site like the New York Times if they are bashing you or your company? This is the nightmare scenario that hopefully never happens in your lifetime, but if it does, you are facing the black hole of search engine reputation management (SERM).

In this dire case, you’re going to need to pay a lot of money, especially if you are a presidential candidate where the media is just itching to devour your reputation. Different strategies are:

1. Spin the story to your advantage.

2. Beat the others to the punch by getting ahead of the story so you can frame the bad news and control the message. Speed is everything.

3. Hire a company like Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm, to change the news even if you have to massage the story. Large Public Relations firms have many people on their staff that used to work in Main Stream Media and they use their connections to syndicate your story among the top influencers while making them think they are breaking something juicy.

4. Publish a bogus study or whitepaper to support your argument.

5. Do all the above while doing a massive link building campaign to push sites you’re comfortable with thus making negative stories fall in the rankings. Pull out all the stops.

6. Simply tell the truth. Admit you screwed up. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness. Move on to other pressing issues. The public is forgiving and it makes those who attack you look like vultures. This technique is my favorite.

As I’ve been adding additional content to this post as time allows, I can’t help but remember where I got my original foundation in SEO. Several years ago, after investing $40,000 in courses on Internet marketing and SEO, one name kept popping up over and over: Brad Fallon. I wish to shine a spotlight on Brad Fallon, because after I realized  that most of what is out there on the net about SEO is snake oil, I came across an 8 hour audio interview that Andy Jenkins did with him in a course called, ‘Stomping the Search Engines’, and it literally changed my life. After hours of listening to Brad talk about techniques that work along with the logic behind them, he said that SEO is a moving target because the algorithms are changed all the time, so it was his intention to equip his listeners with the ability to respond to the changes in the Google algorithm in realtime and therefore one could always stay on the cutting edge based on solid principles and not Internet chatter. Brad gave me that solid foundation and everything I have built since then began with his rock solid SEO understanding. Brad Fallon saved me about 3 years of aimless wandering and for that, I am grateful.