Unfortunately, the power of the internet can just as often do harm as help an individual or business. The freedom of speech and incredible access to knowledge that it supplies, can also do untold damage when something negative is published. As the saying goes, things written on the internet tend to be written in ink, not in pencil. Getting something taken down that you are not in control of is a desperate task, with few options that are genuinely effective. So what are your options when that disgruntled employee or impossible-to-please customer decides to start posting negative press about you or your business? Or when that news article from your drunken days in college resurfaces 20 years later and starts showing up when people Google your name?
(Of course we recognize that not all negative press should be suppressed, there are a lot of scenarios in which we will not help a company with search engine reputation management.)
The first thing to assess is how much negative press is out there, and how strong that press is. Are we just talking about one website, or many? Do you know which Google searches these websites show up on Page 1 for? Do some research; especially make sure you try all of the “suggested searches” that Google gives you around your core term. People may not originally intend to conduct those searches, but if they planned to Google “joe bloggs” and the suggested searches include “joe bloggs police charges”, you can bet a lot of them will try that search too.
For each search term that is “tarnished”, there are a few key things to identify.
- How strong is the strongest negative listing?
- Who owns that site – do we have any control over the content?
Let’s start with #2 because unfortunately it usually has the shortest answer – someone else controls the site, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. However, you should still investigate your options.
- If the website is a review site (like Yelp), you should consider responding to the review either publicly or directly – but consider this carefully, as it can create a storm. However we have seen “fake” reviews dealt with effectively sometimes by the business stating publicly that they will happily refund that customer 10 times their payment if they are able to supply their receipt proving they are a real customer – only do this if you are sure the review is fake of course.
- If the site has something that could be legally defined as slander, consult your lawyer as you may be able to send a “cease and desist” letter.
- If the site contains content that infringes your copyright, you can submit a DMCA complaint to have the page or site taken down.
If those options are still not going to work, then we need to look at what it is going to take to suppress that negative listing. Since we can’t remove it, the next best thing is to hide it. As we all know by now, anything that is not on Page 1 of Google is rarely seen. Starting with the most popular/obvious searches, we need to push the negative listing down off Page 1. If someone is determined to find it, they’ll find it, but to start with we at least want to push the results out of the eyes of the mainstream searchers. The way to do this is by optimizing a whole bunch of other websites – positive or neutral – to “fill the spots” on Page 1 and push the negative listing out of sight onto Page 2 or lower.
This is why we need to look at how strong the strongest negative listing is, because that is the listing we need to out-rank. It there is a negative listing ranking #1 for a search phrase, then anything else on the page will be pushed down when we out-rank the site at #1.
So this is also why a strong negative listing at #1 is the worst possible situation; you would rather have positions 5 through 10 on Page 1 filled with negative listings rather than something at #1.
The resources required for undertaking such a campaign can be quite large – this is why SERM companies are effectively the same thing as SEO companies, because it is their ability to consistently, reliably rank sites on Page 1 of Google that will largely determine the success of a campaign.