Okay, so five or ten years ago you made a mistake. Maybe your company had to recall a product, maybe you were hacked and lost valuable data, or maybe one of your executives ran afoul of the law. It can happen to any company. Since then, you have fixed the problem and moved on. You know you are a respectable company again. But guess what? Every time someone searches for your company on the internet, they get search results showing these past problems. What’s even worse, because bad news often gets more attention than good news, these negative search results are often on the first page of any search results. How can you prove to people that these stories are no longer valid? How can you move these negative results to another search result page, where they will not get such attention? Well, fear not. Software and online services exist that can rebuild your reputation. At least, this is what these services promise, but do they deliver the goods?
To put it bluntly, online reputation comes down to getting good search results. This means having positive stories on page one and negative stories past page 5. But how can you control a search engine? Of course, you can do some search engine optimization on your own. In fact, most search engines will even tell you how to do this. Google, for example, gives good webmaster guidelines for improving your web page ranking. Google isn’t against search engine optimization (SEO) companies. Good companies will give advice on how to organize a website, how to manage online business, and how to develop good content. Even some SEO companies, such as Reputation.com (which I am not endorsing) give out some good, free information. And, of course, a good SEO company will only give good, ethical advice.
There are certain reputation/SEO scams that everyone should be aware of. Google cautions about companies that promise first page rankings because, in an attempt to do this, these companies will often resort to unethical practices that may end up actually hurting your company’s reputation. Besides, if the right search terms are typed in, you will get a first page ranking. For example, type in “secure your workplace network” and you should get this blog listed on the first page, and I got this for free. So these companies can always say you got what you paid for, a first page listing.
Another scam is the one in which companies promise submissions to hundreds or thousands of search engines. Only 3 search engines, Google, Yahoo, and Bing, control about 90% of the US market with Google controlling 67%. Why would you need 100 search engines? Yet, another scam promises that you can buy hundreds of links. However, you should wonder what sites these links connect to. Maybe they are going to some porn site that you’d rather not have your company associated with and which would actually ruin your reputation rather than build it. In other words, make sure all of your links are legitimate and help associate your company with reputable firms.
Some of these companies’ services can go up as high as $100,000. Others require a monthly fee. A reputable company will work with you if you are dissatisfied with what you’re getting from them. A disreputable company will threaten you. If you had originally hired a reputation management company to remove news that negatively affected your company’s reputation but are dissatisfied and refuse to pay, they may threaten to get first page search results that highlight this negative information unless you do pay. Other companies may send you an email telling you that they have found negative information about you or your company and then tell you that they can remove it for a fee. What they will not tell you is that they either own the site the negative news was posted on or have a financial agreement with sites that sometimes post negative information. And, like all extortion, if you think a one-time payment will put this problem behind you, think again. Some sites are created to give you, your company, or your product negative reviews so that they can then make money off you by removing them. Of course, companies exist that will “help” you get rid of negative reviews and even replace them with positive reviews, but they won’t do it for nothing.
Even some of the most reputable reputation management firms have practices that may border on being unethical. They may have to set up websites or social media accounts geared at giving you more positive search results. They may employ writers to write articles that you can post on a variety of sites and, therefore, increase your positive web presence. However, there may be times you just need to fight fire with fire. No matter how good your company, service, or product might be, you can always receive bad reviews that may really have nothing to do with your company. Disgruntled employees, jealous competitors, or angry customers may all have an axe to grind at your expense. Should they be allowed to unjustly bring down your reputation? Your initial reaction may be to counter the slander by responding to it with positive comments, but experts in the reputation field say this will only worsen the situation. It will only push the negative review closer to the first search page. This is why you will often not see companies responding to negative reviews.
Remember that you can do a lot of reputation management on your own. Websites are run by humans. If you contact those who run the sites that negative information appears on and explain the situation, they may remove unfair reviews. If you are a victim of extortion, you can contact the authorities. Don’t expect negative, but valid, stories or reviews to be easily removed. Google will remove negative information from its search results in Europe if they feel the information no longer pertains to an individual or company. It is better, and less costly, to manage your reputation carefully as you go along. As Warren Buffett says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Nonetheless, if you simply don’t have the time to manage your reputation or you encounter problems that are beyond your expertise, it may be worth considering investing in some reputation management. But, if you do so, do so with caution.