Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Companies and individuals are becoming increasingly aware that their reputations are dependent on the first page of results when people search for their names on Google and Bing. Unfortunately, sites like RipoffReport.com and others often leap abruptly into visibility for name searches, embarrassing those affected and even harming business or individual’s chances of employment. Here are the ways that search marketers use to remove Ripoff Report pages from the top results in search engines.
Ripoff Report has a decided advantage in ranking against most company websites and individuals’ home pages or blogs. There are multiple reasons for this. Ripoff Report has formed its site advantageously for search engine optimization, just to maximize its visibility for companies’ brand names and individuals’ names. It does this presumably because it needs more traffic to increase its revenues, and to maximize embarrassment to companies and to try to get them to pay fees to reduce the impact of Ripoff Report pages.
But, the site has an inbuilt advantage beyond its optimal construction. It’s inherently negative and scandalous-sounding. A site’s domain name is highly visible in search engine results, and the RipOffReport.com URL is attention grabbing. When people see a page stating that a company is a “scam” or that a company is fraudulent or dishonest in some way, and the site hosting that page is called “Ripoff Report,” they click to see what the scuttlebutt is all about.
In Google, when users click upon a search result, it’s one of many ranking signals that can be used to determine whether one page is more popular, interesting, or relevant than another page ranking for the same keyword phrase. So, these clicks can be votes. I mentioned this to a Google representative in a session at SMX West earlier this spring, because it gives something of an unfair advantage to any company that comes up with a guilt-implying name. As I wrote previously on my own blog, there are quite a few of these types of reputation attack sites, and it seems like taking cheap shots. Google’s algorithm should be adjusted to equalize this effect, in my opinion, because a site like Ripoff Report — that automatically slanders a company’s name by association — should not have an advantage over another business review site’s page, like the Better Business Bureau.
However, these are the cards we’ve been dealt. So, it often takes some very aggressive work to try to displace such negative reputation site pages if they’re ranking for your name.
And, the basic strategy on the SEO side is displacement. If you want the stuff actually taken down, that may be expensive to pursue. Attorney Kenton Hutcherson has shaken things up a time or two by famously suing Ripoff Report and forcing it to take some content offline when it crossed the line from protected speech. Kenton has also demonstrated how one could get a Ripoff Report page taken out of Google’s search results on the basis of a court order declaring the content to be false and defamatory. But in matters of opinion, this may not be feasible. Ripoff Report apparently so hates Kenton that personnel there felt compelled to write their own report to target his name — something of a “Red Badge of Courage,” I’d say, proving that he must’ve stung them where it hurt.
Another course of action is to pay these companies to allow you to respond or to take the stuff down, or to reduce the ranking power of the page — but, this sort of payment is usually a bad road to go down since these sorts of payments often feel like extortion. Worse yet, if you log in and respond to the supposed complaints, your comments and responses add into the page’s ranking power — ongoing comments and addition of fresh material are signs to Google and Bing that the page is more interesting than other pages without new comments. It will pump up the page’s ranking power even further. Note, however, that responding with good customer service is something I do recommend for upstanding sites like BBB and Yelp — where the name of the site itself isn’t an automatic assumption of guilt or slur to your name. On those types of sites, a good response to a complaint is actually some of the best advertising you could ever do.
So, if you can’t pursue take down, and paying the slimy sites is too distasteful or not sufficient, you’re left with the positive SEO route for reputation repair. This isn’t necessarily cheap nor quick and easy either, in most cases, but it’s a great idea because it can help safeguard you from the vulnerability of any future attacks on your online reputation.
When I say “displacement,” what I mean is that via search engine optimization we attempt to take new and existing content and get it to rank higher for your name searches than the negative content.
Tips for Removing or Displacing Ripoff Report Pages
- Emphasize your own website. You may already have a lot of materials online that you can use to your benefit. Your website, with the domain name coinciding with the name you need to target, should be your strongest, central asset. In most cases, search engines are great at giving that the top ranking for a name search. But if your name is a commonly used term in the public domain, or if it is a name shared by many others, it could be more challenging to make sure it ranks first. Your website is pretty much your hub for linking out to materials that you wish to give weight to.
- Social media sites are other assets that are typically important sources of content for taking ownership of your name. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Pinterest all have good ranking clout. There are idiosyncrasies with each of them that are important for maximizing their ranking power — the devil is in the details to some degree. Claiming usernames and customized URLs is key to achieving exact-match relevancy for your name searches, for instance. Linking out to these from your website is also important for the search engines to associate your identity and collateral materials with one another. There are actually a great many social media sites you could choose to use for building out materials. Some oldies but goodies include MySpace, Flickr, and Delicious, too.
- Outsource social media help. One company that can help you in setting up social media profiles and claiming your name is KnowEm. If you write up your profile details and provide it to KnowEm, it will rapidly set you up on many of the top and lesser-known social sites, providing you with the password access afterwards. It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of how the social sites function when writing up your profile data, as well as experience with SEO. Also, keep in mind that claiming profiles is only half of what’s needed — you’ll still have to perform some updates on these sites by posting some content to them over time in order to key into search engines’ recency algorithms and to get your stuff to appear prominently in results.
- Google+ profiles and pages are worth of mention in of themselves. Google has given webmasters a bit of a gift with its social media service, enabling those profiles to have good ranking power. But, they also can be used as hubs, similar to your own website. So be sure to link to your other social media accounts and websites from your Google+ profile. It’s even more beneficial if you tie your website and Google+ profiles together using the authorship tag — see my earlier article “Authorship: The Top Search Marketing Tactic in 2013” for more — to enable your picture to appear along with your listings in the search results. Doing that may increase your ranking ability, since there are statistics showing increased click-through rates for listings with icons next to them.
- Blogs are another element that can be very valuable. Not only does a blog give you a place where you can tell your side of things in some instances, allowing you to rebut claims, but it can also give you a place to communicate directly to the public — such as if you have some sort of event where you or your company has taken a black eye in terms of publicity. If your online reputation issue is a disaster or accident — something for which your company is responsible — communicate rapidly, humbly, professionally, authentically, and ask for forgiveness. The blog itself can also be a strong item for displacing other negative content. If you don’t already have one and are asking whether to set it up as a subdomain or subdirectory blog on your site, my guidance is slightly different than when I answered that question before. It’s ideal to have one on your site, of course, but for the sake of reputation management you could also have a few others, such as free ones hosted on WordPress.com and on Blogger. Having some blogs on such strong platforms, external to your core site, gives additional chances for ranking for your name on the same page of search results — Google and Bing limit how many pages from the same domain will be displayed on the same page of results.
- Creating a variety of multimedia is also highly beneficial for ranking in Universal Search, and linking to it from other sites and social media profiles can work well. So, make a few videos, images, PDFs, slideshows, and documents — all titled with your name and about your company or you. Videos are particularly powerful, since consumers like video content — videos can often jump up high in rankings. YouTube, Vimeo and other top video hosting sites have innate ranking ability if you set up the videos correctly in those services.
- Fight fire with fire. If an outrageously titled Ripoff Report is ranking, chances are it’s attracting a lot of curious clicks. So, create your own content with some similarly outrageous-sounding title and you can get it to rank and outrank the bad stuff. The content of the page could actually be positive about you or your company, even if the title could be misconstrued as negative. Also, if you own the place where it’s published, you can later change the content of the page or delete it if you’ve successfully supplanted the bad stuff in the search results.
- Use existing content to your benefit. There may be other pages ranking for your name search coincidentally that have nothing to do with you. Or other people or companies could share your name. Consider building good links to those pages to help push down the Ripoff Report. The best way to find this content is to perform searches for your name, then click through to the second and third — or further — pages in the search results.
- Use business directories. If you’re trying to displace a Ripoff Report page about a local company, there are many online business directories that would be good places to set up a business listing, generating a business profile page on those sites. YellowPages.com, ethical reviews sites, and industry-specific directories are all very good for this purpose. Local companies should, ideally, already have these profiles as part of their online promotions and to build citations for the sake of optimizing for local search rankings. Even if you have a listing with some of these sites, it’s worthwhile to claim your listing and update it periodically — listings which have been “touched” in many of these services are considered to be more current and therefore more valuable in some ranking determinations.
- Universal Business Listing can assist with creating and distributing your local company listing information. It distributes data and claims existing business listings with a number of the top online directories, YellowPages.com, and local search engines. As with social media sites, it can be tedious to attempt to do this yourself, and using a cost-effective, experienced service provider could achieve wider distribution more rapidly than you might do on your own.
- Directories for large companies. For national companies, particularly publicly traded ones, there are often other business directories that can be key for online identity collateral. Such sites might include Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers, Yahoo! Finance, Google Finance, CrunchBase, AboutUs, and others.
- Press releases can be helpful as well, if judiciously issued and engineered in an optimal manner. Likewise, some traditional news media stories — in print or video — could also be beneficial and would provide additional content to promote in search results.
- Get creative. Depending on the person, name, or business involved, imagination can play a key element in developing compelling materials to displace the negative review.
As you might imagine, setting up all of these profiles, creating content featuring your name, coordinating it, optimizing it, and building links to it can be quite time consuming. Top reputation repair firms and search engine marketing agencies must charge for this time. It is possible to do it yourself successfully, but it’s likely beneficial to get professionals to assist you, since it requires high familiarity with each of the social media sites and with search engine optimization in order to play the rankings game effectively. It can also be time consuming to achieve, since each of the sites may have varying publication schedules, and Google and Bing can take weeks to absorb new content and process it. So, don’t expect an instant success — expect to perform the necessary work and revisit it periodically, and, perhaps even monthly, for some time afterwards.
These tips should help you in fighting the instantly-detrimental impact of a Ripoff Report page targeting your name. As you can see, these tactics are not at all complicated. But they can require some imagination, experience and subtlety to counteract some of the more pernicious cases.