Remove Negative Publicity Online: How Difficult Is It?

by Brett Borders

It’s important to act quickly – the moment an online reputation issue is first detected. The longer you leave an undesirable search result to sit in the open, unchallenged, the more likely it will get “cemented” into place. When an interesting result stays on the first page or two of the search engine results, people (and automated content scraping sites) have a tendency to link to it and reinforce it.

Here are 13 types of pages that can contain negative buzz:

1. Authoritative Government Pages

sec-gov1.jpg

Difficulty: (10/10)

The reputation management kiss of death is an entire negative page on an powerful government website. If the US Embassy, Federal Post Office, or the Securities and Exchange Commission dedicate a web page to warning about you, it’s almost impossible to compete with.

2. Feature Articles on Top-Tier News Sites

kobe.jpg

Difficulty: (9/10)

Top-tier news sites (CNN, BBC) pack a lot of domain strength – and they stick to search result pages pretty hard.

3. Popular Wikipeida Entries

wikipedia.jpgDifficulty: (9/10)

The general populace has adopted the site it as the quickie research tool of choice – and their countless citations have strengthened it. Many Wikipedia entries on companies or public figures contain a “criticism” section, but the contents are supposed to contain verifiable facts (lawsuits, convictions, news incidents). You generally don’t have to worry about people saying you “suck,” but widely-held opinions and factual incidents can get worked into Wikipedia.
mlm1.jpg

4. Articles On Authority Blogs

authority-blog.jpg
Difficulty: (8/10)

Removing negative blogs can be difficult. A post with dozens or hundreds of comments denotes significant buzz and interest, and it also creates copious amounts of keyword-rich content. Best try to remove negative blog posts quickly – by contacting the author, responding in the comments and taking SEO action – as appropriate.

5. “…Sucks.com” sites.

sucks.jpg
Difficulty: (7/10)

Dot com sites that contain the keyword plus a pejorative term in the URL are a challenge, but they aren’t impossible. They have a sticky tendency to linger around, because search engines (particularly Google) like to display a wide, balanced range of opinions and content so users can pick their own flavor. Sometimes “…sucks.com” or “…scam.com” sites are propped up by just a handful of links from the owner and they can be worked around. But if they enjoy widespread support and link popularity, it can be a real uphill battle.

6. Rip-Off Report Listings

ripoffreport.jpg
Difficulty: (6/10)

The Rip-Off Report is a notorious “consumer complaint” site that encourages people to vent their accusations and frustrations, and it allegedly profits from blackmailing business owners. Because the content is so “interesting” it enjoys a lot of domain authority in Google, but I’ve found its listings can often be outranked with a little bit of elbow grease.

7. Active Social Media Profiles

lens.jpg
Difficulty: (6/10)

Social networking sites are link rich and user-generated content pages on them can rank well. An active social media account with your brand in the username could theoretically outrank your company’s official site.

8. Press Releases

pressrelease.jpg
Difficulty: (4/10)

Syndicated press releases can show up strongly in the search results, but they are often temporary and fade out with time (especially if they don’t get picked up).

9. Personal Blogs

personalblog.jpg
Difficulty: (4/10)

Personal blogs and others with limited readership and anemic link strength are easy enough to outrank with any of the kinds of pages listed above.

10. Forum Posts

forum.jpg
Difficulty: (3/10)

These days, search engines seems to be show more respect for blogs than forum posts and some forum software creates posts with poor on-page optimization and dynamic URLs. But watch out: over time, an interesting forum post can develop into a comprehensive, linked-to authority document on a brand or topic.

11. Made for AdSense (MFA) or Weak Affiliate Pages

richjerk.jpg
Difficulty: (2/10)

As domain trust and on-page analysis (looking for affiliate code, link networks, ‘quality score’) becomes more advanced, pages that are highly commercialized – without a quality backlink profile to support them – tend to be rather wimpy.

12. Off-topic Pages

ellipses.jpg
Difficulty: (2/10)

Pages that are completely focused on a subject (mentioning it in the title tag, headlines, and numerous times in the text) are typically much stronger than pages that just “randomly” mention a person or brand once down in the bottom. You can sometimes identify an off-topic page because the description will be pulled from the text and truncated with an ellipses (“…”). Creating your own page just about anywhere and optimizing it can often outrank off-topic page mentions.

13. Spam pages

spam3.jpg
Difficulty: (1/10)

There are thousands of automated bots scour the web, looking for fresh content to turn into a word salad of web spam for a quick buck. Sometimes they will “scrape” negative news items or headlines from the search results and re-display it. Random spam pages are typically the weakest of all web pages, and they can be overtaken by just about any other kind of web page.

What Do You Think?

These ratings are very rough estimates based on my own experience with reputation management campaigns. However, every single situation and search result page is different!

What kinds of search results have you found to be the most difficult to outrank?

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  • http://www.bloggingtips.com/2008/03/02/a-week-in-blogging-feb-22-march-02/ A week in blogging Feb 22-March 02

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  • http://www.viperchill.com/blog/ Glen Allsopp

    Great post once again, we are really starting to show ourselves as authorities on this subject lately ;)

  • http://blog.forrestcroce.com/ Forrest

    You really can’t just remove negative content about yourself from other sources. When Consumerist posted the infamous confessions of a Dell salesman and Dell responded with a DMCA takedown notice, the community justifiably went crazy. People with no real interest in Dell one way or the other, who might have bought one on sale, saw this as an example of a big, evil corporation crushing free speech to protect its bottom line. They apologized a few days later.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t deal with criticism, especially when it’s unfounded … just be extremely careful!

  • http://www.posicionarsitio.es Eletitor

    It is a fact! I have been working for a pretty important SEO company in Spain and I have been firee under the false suspiction I was working for my own. NOW I have my own SEO company but they send false details of me to my customers. Is there any way to detect that in advance?
    Thanks
    Eletitor

  • Brett Borders

    @Eletitor,

    Are they e-mailing your customers? How do they know which ones are your customers?

    I don’t know the answer to your situation, but taking care of reputation management issues in ADVANCE is very important. If you have your own company, you need to (have someone) build a “firewall” of 10 to 20 properties and pages for your brand name, so that user-generated opinions and content will have to take a back seat to the properties YOU CONTROL.

    If you are a professional or a career person, you need to give this some serious thought also. Even if someone else messes up, it can cause a lot of grief if people (investors, HR departments) confuse the two of you online.

  • http://www.seo-hongkong.com/blog/?p=476 Types of Online Negative Publicity : SEO Hong Kong | HK Search Marketing and Optimization Blog

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  • http://www.viperchill.com/blog/ Glen Allsopp

    I’m just starting on a government website now so I’ll let you know how it goes ;)

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  • Dr. Sherman S. Smith

    I have a negative SEC page since 2002 that won’t go away. I have spent thousands with companies that won’t return my money. Is there anything that can be done? I am through these problems, and the web page is hurting my future.

  • zgirl

    I put in an appeal with the Dept. of Labor re: workplace harassment. They ruled in the aggressor’s favor, his name was not mentioned in the report and now this negative .gov link is the first result for my name. Ahhhh!!!!! It can’t be helpful to my online reputation. I was advised by Dept of Labor to cntact the Human Rights Commission. Is this a hopeless path? The workplace bully is a SEO whiz by the looks of it as it is obvious he actively manages his own online rep with help from his cronies. The negative document re: me has sifted up to the very top even though there are prominent people with my same name leading me to suspect sabotage. What to do?

  • http://saluticahn.com Dean J. Saluti

    Interesting article, in particular the ranking of various sites based upon difficulty of removal. What sites do people recommend to learn about what to do if you are faced with this situation?

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    In regards to ripoff site, when you say its a bit of elbow grease work, do you mean building enough linking to other sites to outrank ripoff?

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  • Candice

    I thought the post made some good points on web scrapers, For simple stuff i use python to get or simplify data, but for larger projects like documents, the web, or files i tried web scrapers which worked great, they build quick custom screen scrapers, web scrapers, and data parsing programs

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  • Brett Borders

    @Eletitor,

    Are they e-mailing your customers? How do they know which ones are your customers?

    I don't know the answer to your situation, but taking care of reputation management issues in ADVANCE is very important. If you have your own company, you need to (have someone) build a “firewall” of 10 to 20 properties and pages for your brand name, so that user-generated opinions and content will have to take a back seat to the properties YOU CONTROL.

    If you are a professional or a career person, you need to give this some serious thought also. Even if someone else messes up, it can cause a lot of grief if people (investors, HR departments) confuse the two of you online.

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  • Fillipp M

    @mrucemc
    I've checked the company that you recommended and even submitted a free quote request but have not got any response so far. A business partner recommended http://www.repmanagementfirm.com to me. These guys were fast in response and delivered everything I expected +1
    Dear Brett, thanks for this awesome article and allowing us to share experience! Keep up the great work!

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  • http://www.wickedinnovations.com/ Jeorge Peter

    Pretty difficult huh, so be cautious in the first place.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Jeorge,

    Yes, Google is really a sophisticated site with a serious algorithm that is not easy to game or whitewash.

    -Brett

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    Just want to point out that you should probably set up some sort of anti-spam-comment script.

  • lucasglaab

    I have negative information on the radio equalizer blog by brian maloney. It is a conservative blog supported by Fox news. This is severly hurting my reputation. Help, Help, Help

  • T Malone

    I have a similar problem and am skeptical of spending lots of $$ only to find out it hasn’t changed. Can you tell me if anything else has helped. Tim

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