• Google News
  • Time
  • NewsWeek
  • NewYork Post
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Computer World
  • Business Week
  • Business Report
  • The Early Show
  • Investors

Being involved in this industry since it first began in late 2006, I have decided to create a no-hype guide for those interested in cleaning up, securing, and or removing web sites in their search results. I am not and will not attempt to sell the Reputation Hawk service here. My goal is to take the curtain away  and give you a 5-10 minute crash course in Online Reputation Management. If you have a limited budget and minor problems I will show you how you might be able to do this on your own with $20 and one hour of your time.

These are the topics I will be addressing in order.

1)      How and why this industry is growing

2)      Understanding the business model of complaint portals and similar sites

3)      Solving this problem on your own with little or no money

4)      How to content from the Internet

5)      Selecting an Online Reputation Management provider

6)      ORMA - Online Reputation Management Association, is it needed?

1)      How and why online reputation management is growing

 Did you ever see the movie the Perfect Storm?

ORM Storm

In 1991 off the waters of the North Atlantic, warm air from a low pressure system met cool air from a high pressure system along with tropical moisture from Hurricane Grace. When these forces combined the result was what is commonly referred to as, �the Perfect Strom�. The storm created 40 foot plus waves and the loss of several commercial fishing boats in the area.

This industry is growing for two main reasons,

1)      When we want information we go to Google or another search engine.

2)      There are no laws that adequately govern speech on the internet.

You could quickly read over the two reasons listed above as interesting facts that contribute to the need for online reputation management. But, they are actually much more than that. One without the other is powerless. But, combined they have created the perfect storm for any person or company. If you are reading this then you were probably sucked into this storm by a past relationship, disgruntled employee, disgruntled customer/s, competitors, black mailer, etc.

The industry that has grown up to help you get out of this storm has become mainly known as Online Reputation Management. The other names you might see used are all describing the same industry, Search Engine Reputation Management, Internet Reputation Management, Search Engine Deoptimization, Google Washing, and several others.

2)      Understanding the business model of complaint portals and similar sites

We are frequently contacted by companies or individuals listed on sites like ripoffreport, complaintsboard, and others. Complaint Portals are currently spawning like Rabbits on the internet.

How do these sites get traffic? By being listed under your name in Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Why are there so many? These sites are very easy to create. Many of them run off of free scripts like PHP BB or something similar. It would cost you less than $500 to create a full featured complaints portal web site.

Here is why complaint portals are spawning on the internet so rapidly,

** They do not need to hire any writers as visitors to their site will create the content for them (complaint reports = user generated content).

** They do not need a marketing budget as their site will come up in the search results under the name of company�s or individuals posted on their site by visitors. For example both Ripoffreport and complaintsboard are top 5,000 Alexa sites. They are almost in the top 1,000 most visited sites in the U.S.A. When was the last time you noticed an advertising campaign for featuring a complaint portal site? They simply don't need one.

** The webmasters are not liable for the content posted by other users on their site. According to section 203 of the Communications Decency Act they pretty much avoid all liability.

** They can make money through placing ads on their heavily visited sites and/or collecting money from you in one way or another.

So, to sum it up� No liability, low startup fee, user generated content, no marketing costs. That is why so many of these sites are popping up all over the internet. Now we are also seeing many niche sites that are basically the same thing as these complaint portals but geared to a specific industry like Doctors, Lawyers, etc. They tend to classify themselves as review sites instead of a web site centered around complaints, but for the most part their business model is the same.

It's also important to keep in mind that these complaint portals have a tendency to rank higher in Google then in any other search engine. On a side note� I remember seeing this phenomenon in late 2006 and thinking to myself, "Google is going to take care of this in no time. These anonymous complaint sites will get devalued in Google, quick." I had good reason to believe this. The simple truth is that the search engine is being exploited. What is shocking is that now almost four years later the complaint portals rank higher than ever in Google!  

When most people are first confronted with a false complaint on one of these portals they initially think it�s not a big deal. They assume they can just go to the site, find the contact page, explain the situation, and have the slander removed. Then they find out that reality is very, very, very different. In most cases there is no way to contact the owners of these sites short of hiring a private investigator. If you do actually reach someone you will probably find that they could care less. That is of course unless you are a part of their revenue stream.

Therefore you have to simply get to work on lowering the complaints in your search results. Why? Because 90% of the people who Google you do not go past the 1st page of search results and 97% do not go past the first two pages fo search results.

If your problem is just a comment on a blog or something similar then this process will be much easier than if you have complaints on the major portals.

3)      How to remove content from the search result

There is no magic formula to this process.

Any company you hire to remove content from the internet is simply finding the owner of the web site and asking them to remove the content by phone or email.

The first thing to figure out is did the web site owner write the negative comments or did someone else post the comments on his or her site? If the latter, then It�s important to keep in mind that the web site owner is protected by section 203 of the Communications Decency Act. They may or may not know this so they might still remove the comments.

Generally the larger the site is the less chance you have of getting negative comments removed. The smaller the site is like personal blogs, the greater the chance in getting content removed. To find out who owns the site go to www.godaddy.com/whois and do a search on the domain name (ie business.com). You should see the web site owner�s contact information unless they registered the domain privately.

4)      Solving this problem on your own with little or no money

Okay, so let�s figure out how bad your situation is. The first thing to assess is the popularity of your name. Please go to Google and type in your name or your company in quotes (The quotes are very important ""). Here is a general score index for online reputation management.

Under 1,000 results :: Low Popularity

1,000 � 10,000 results :: Average Popularity

10,000 + results :: High Popularity

In most cases the higher your score the more difficult ORM is. The lower your score the easier ORM is. What this means is, Online Reputation Management is about replacing negative content with positive content in Google. If your name is low popularity then it is easier to shift around your search results with positive content. If your name is of higher popularity then it is more difficult simply because there are more sites to compete with in your search results.

Regardless of your popularity level, in most cases if the negative publicity is in your top 4 in Google it is generally more difficult to move. People have asked what is the worst negative publicity you can have. Typically if your popularity level is high and you have a major complaint portal in your top 4 under your name or your company name than this is usually the hardest to move.

You may have minor negative publicity (blog, bookmark, comment) ranked # 5 or lower in Google under your name. You also might be short on both time and money. In many cases we are contacted by students and parents who do not have the money to spend on an online reputation management campaign and are also very busy with school and work. If someone has posted lies about you that are showing up in Google this can be the difference between getting that next job, or not. So, if your negative publicity is minor you may want to consider giving this this a shot. Here is a technique that I have seen bump minor negative publicity in the past. It will cost you around $20 and take about an hour of your time.

1)      Create a linkedinfacebook, or blogspot profile.

2)      Write 12 sets of 2-3 positive sentences about yourself.

3)      Go to Google and search for "Social Bookmarking Submission".

4)      You will see many links and ads from companies and individuals who will submit your link to 100 or more social bookmarking sites. This usually costs anywhere from $8 to $30.

5)      Select a provider. They will ask you for Link titles, URL, and descriptions.

6)      Your URL is the linkedinfacebook, or blogspot profile you set up. Your link title should be your name or your company name (whichever is receiving the negative publicity). Then include the 12 sets of 2-3 sentence descriptions you wrote about yourself.

They will then manually upload the data to 100 or more sites 90% of which will get indexed by Google. This will permeate your search results with multiple mini positive filler sites under your name. This should take you one hour and cost about $20.

If you have major negative publicity in your top 5 than this simply will not work. Your options are to either employ an in house team to work on your online reputation or  hire an Online Reputation Management company.

5)      Selecting an Online Reputation Management provider

When this industry began there were only a few of us that specialized in cleaning up search results. However, as the topic started getting major media coverage we really saw a major influx during 2008, 2009 and into this year. 

When you Google Online Reputation Management or Internet Reputation Management this space is not really quite as crowded as it appears. Several of the newer companies have launched dozens of Online Reputation Management portals and advertise them as if they are separate companies. So, you might send an email to 5 different sites but in actuality you are really only contacting one or two different online reputation management providers.

It is also unfortunately no longer possible to believe anything written online about any online reputation management company unless the article is on a major news portal. In mid to late 2009 some of the newer company�s in this industry began hiring people overseas to go to web sites like ripoff report, complainstboard, scam.com, pissedconsumer.com and post false reviews about the Company�s who are well known in this industry.

In most cases you can tell by the bizarre rants and broken English that these are fake reviews. However, some of the company�s will most likely begin hiring actual writer�s to post the false complaints which will make the reviews seem more and more real. Believe it or not, it doesn�t stop there. There are even online reputation management company�s creating portals specifically for reviewing other online reputation management companies. They even go as far as acting like an independent 3rd party that is trying to weed through all of the fake reviews in the industry. Example here

Most of the newer companies have one major focus, lead generation. Some will even go as far as spamming people listed on Ripoff Report and the other complaint portals to attract clients. When you visit their web site they will make claims such as they have been doing this for more than ten years. Yet, if you do a whois search on their domain you find that their web site is only three months old.

Online Reputation Management is now filled with so much hype that it�s really difficult to imagine someone weeding through the mess it has become. But the truth of the matter is, it works, if you find the right company. Therefore here is a quick punch list to consider when selecting an online reputation management provider.

1)      Narrow your list down to 2-3 companies.

2)      Do not blindly hire anyone.

3)      Avoid short and long term contracts.

4)      Ask to see example�s of their work.

5)      Talk to the company on the phone and listen to your instincts.

6)      Questions to ask are,

a.       How long have you been in business? (verify by running a whois search on their domain).

b.      Who writes the content for our new web sites?

c.       When will I begin seeing results?

d.      How large is your site network and can you show me examples of sites you own?

e.      Please tell me about your link building network?

Anyone who is experienced in this industry and has a strong product should have no problem whatsoever with answering any of these questions.

6)      ORMA - Online Reputation Management Association, is it needed?

Online Reputation Management Association

A few years ago I would have said, "Of course not." Now I would say, "Absolutely!" This industry is in desperate need of a neutral organization that will establish a clear set of guidelines used to aid the ORM providers and companies in need of their services. I don�t believe they are accepting memberships applications yet but have every intention of joining once ORMA gets rolling.