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SEO Website Audit

Anti-Reputation Management - Twitter Question of the Week

June 24, 2009
Recently, an individual asked us to solve a problem for him. A member of his family had dealt with a certain company and, he said, was harmed as a result. This individual wanted to know how he could get high rankings for his blog when someone typed in the company's brand name. While he may have had good reason to get the word out about this, it was not the sort of SEO work that High Rankings was interested in.

However, it got me wondering what other people or companies might think or do faced with the same situation. So I threw it out to my 3,800+ Twitter followers and asked:

"Would you help someone optimize their blog for a company's name whose reputation they wanted to tarnish (assuming what they say was true)?"

The awesome thing about Twitter is that the replies start to come in almost immediately! Within 2 minutes @DavidWallace replied: "Guess it would depend on who the company is. Funny as 1st case where I've seen someone want to 'tarnish' rep. Most want to fix."

Which was indeed what made it an interesting question. We are often asked to help fix a company's reputation, but helping to hurt one was a different story. Unlike David, however, I wasn't interested in the project regardless of who the company was. It felt like bad karma to me.

Others, such as my Twitter friend @Skitzzo, weren't worried about karma. He simply tweeted, "Absolutely."

And still others, like @ShariMcConahay, were on the fence depending on the actual specifics. She tweeted: "Hmmmm that is a tricky one! I guess the answer is 'it depends.'"

@ChiqueLife and @ann_donnelly were with me on the karma thang, with Ann echoing my feelings via these 2 tweets:

"What goes around comes around – even if the company 'deserved' it, I wouldn't go there." and "Always say it's better to build your own good reputation instead of pulling down someone else's."

I couldn't agree more!

@reputationforum found the question interesting enough to post on his reputation forum. You can view his thread here.

So what do you think? Are you afraid of bad karma like I am, or would you have no qualms about working on such a site?

Post Comment

 tomRmalcolm said:
I couldn't agree more with the other person that said - ..."always better to build your own good reputation instead of pulling down someone else's.", even if they deserved it.

 Andy Jaynes said:
For those of you who said you wouldn't help someone else tarnish a company name:

What if you, an SEO guru, had the bad experience...? Would you use your own powers to tarnish someone else's name?

I wouldn't do it no matter what. There's always someone with more power who could do just the same back to you.
 OrpheusDescending said:
Funny this should come up this week as I have started a campaign of my own against Nokia and Siemens based on their sale of surveillance equipment to the government (if you can call it that) of Iran. It has been reported that this surveillance equipment has been used by the regime to target dissidents during the current unrest. I have returned my phone to Nokia and will never buy from them again, and I am working diligently to get the word out for people to boycott their products. Anita Roddick (of the Body Shop) used to say that the only power against capitalist tyranny is our individual ability to not purchase products from companies such as these (Exxon, Shell, and many others come to mind). Where human rights are involved and the education of consumers is paramount to create awareness and to shed light on conglomerate injustice, I say YES!! If our voices are all we have to fight with, why not use them as loudly as possible.
 Judi Kay said:
Bashing--no--but a thoughtful presentation of the facts with supporting, well-researched data can get the job done. Ranters are often dismissed out of hand.
 Jake said:
I would help if I thought the company deserved to have it's reputation tarnished. For example if a so-called defender against capitalist tyranny sold her natural cosmetics business to a company who were notorious animal testers, I’d like to see that info appearing in Google when somebody searched for them :P
 Michael Penny said:
The entire concept of supporting corporate warfare is what feels creepy. Where do you draw lines? How dark or misleading or untruthful do you get? When do you stop exaggeration?

I'd rather build better products, better models, support people, and go for maximum transparency. The world needs more heart, not more connivers, in my opinion.
 Carolyn Price said:
Launching a huge online tirade may be therapeutic, but the hellfire you spew may be associated with your name long after your anger has faded.

Your own online reputation becomes part of the mess you create while attempting to tarnish another's.

If you want to do it to prevent others from repeating your bad experience, it's probably best to do it after your anger has died down.
 Ginny Riker said:
There is a difference between getting the word out and attacking a company. I am not able to say with certainty how I would react in every situation. I think it is always wise to consider each case on it's merits. Sometimes a company is so unscrupulous that it "knowingly" does harm to others repeatedly... even children. And, sometimes, there is no particular law that can be used to stop the unscrupulous behavior. In such a case, I would be willing to help someone put the word out telling details of the situation... in order to warn others. But, in no case would I deem it a good idea to attack a company in a general way. Revenge is never a good idea. On the other hand, getting the facts out (if they can be verified) can sometimes be a good and honorable course of action. In fact, that is the beauty of the internet... is it not?
 Anita Larson said:
Run Forrest, run! I would not work with someone wanting to do this. It would reflect poorly on your company just by association. Bad karma indeed.
 Finn Skovgaard said:
While it's an individual decision whether or not to undertake such a mission, one could look at it from a more detached professional angle and dissociate one's own business from the actual mission. The client is probably going to do it anyway, using one method or another. That's his decision; not the SEO's decision, just as the SEO doesn't decide what sort of marketing a company is going to use. Let's consider a parallel: If the person who wants to tarnish someone else needs the Internet or the phone to do that, should the phone company then deny him the service? Of course not; they are transparent. In the same way, the SEO professional looking for a way out of the moral dilemma could consider him- or herself transparent. If you work for a corporate client, do you start scrutinizing the morality of their various policies in animal tests, fair trade, suspected corruption etc. etc.? Would you refuse to work for McBurger because PETA accuse them of this or that? Consider marketing. It's often a way of promoting one company's products at the cost of another company's products. So when you do SEO work for company A, you damage the turnover of company B. Is it so different from individual C trying to damage company B? As a professional SEO, one should aim not to get involved in the policy of the client but simply provide the service paid for, unless it's criminal of course.
 Jill said:
Sure, anyone can rationalize damaging the reputation of another person or business. But that still doesn't mean it's right. And more than that, I wouldn't want to do it regardless of whether I was on the "good" side.
 @ann_donnelly said:
We also need to think about the fact that the person you want to tarnish may actually benefit from having any kind of publicity.

There was a story here in Ireland, that got international coverage (, where a web developer blogged about finding a way to trick an online airline booking system to get a free flight. An employee from the airline put an abusive comment on his blog. That's where the press got interested, probably because the company didn't apologize, but kept on with comments insulting to the Irish blogging community, many of who jumped on board with posts, mainly derogatory about the airline. Well, who benefited? Jason, the developer got a good bit of publicity and respect from fellow bloggers; and Ryanair, the airline got a lot more people visiting the website and booking from all the bad-PR, which they are masters at.
 Mayra Harley said:
I see the return on time invested (case in point...look how effective Perez Hilton's blog and twittering has been in trashing beauty queens and music stars).

As for me, I'd rather use the energy and little time I have to work on positive projects/tasks. Besides, smearing others reputation is the media's anyway.
 Finn Skovgaard said:
No, it doesn't mean that it's right. As a private consumer, I boycott certain companies' products because of reports of animal cruelty during processing or testing. One could equally argue that one as a professional should refuse service to companies involved in certain practices because such practices are not right. It's funny that tarnishing the image of a company could be perceived as much worse than for example animal cruelty. I'd personally feel better about accepting the tarnishing mission than the animal cruelty mission by working for a company engaged in that. The former mission may cause financial harm. The latter mission may cause physical harm. I'd probably feel best about accepting neither. But I see the problem on a gliding scale, not black and white. Anyway, many large companies manage to tarnish their own image quite by themselves by treating customers badly - at least in France where I am. Yet, I see many of them investing in expensive commercials rather than improving customer service or simply being honest. One of these ISP companies with bad reputation and endless commercials recently bought an ISP with a better reputation. Two years later, they admitted that many more customers from the purchased ISP had cancelled their contracts during or after the migration than what they had expected. In fact, where cancellation was free under the old ISP, the new ISP introduced a $60 cancellation fee unless one cancelled within 4 months of migration. My Internet access was brutally cut one day without warning for their migration and I was told it would last about a week but never received a single bit of written information about it. So I and many others hurried up cancelling before it was too late. No single client could have done anything near that amount of damage to the company as they did to themselves. I find it difficult to see why selling a service to a single blogger should be a real problem. There is a good chance that such a blog would contain more truth than the average commercial.
 Sabine Sharp said:
I agree with you - wouldn't touch that one and also think that what goes around comes around...strange one!
 xpo5 said:
Reflecting on several recent comments, I begin to wonder whether money, rather than what is right or wrong pervails. Not wanting to come to the aid of the underdog for fear of alienating the big dog, and any ensuing loss of income, might be the real reason for denying aid to the harmed party. Hmmmm.
 Jill Whalen said:
Xpo5 I think the exact opposite. No amount of money could get me to play games with karma.
 Jane said:
I'm with you all the way on the bad karma thing. You can always bet that when it comes to "payback" you'll eventually get yours and not have to lift a finger. I find it hard to believe that anyone is gutsy enugh to suggest such a thing on an open forum.
 Jason said:
Jill I completely agree with you. In fact we were put in a similar position not too long ago (I'd emailed you on this actually). But using your "power" to bring down another for no reason other than revenge? It can only come back at you one day.

And for us, money has been the justification for too much in this world already. We turned down a reasonably lucrative contract for a parts-maker for bombs. Just couldn't go there.
 Brian Ashworth said:
Quote from Ann-donnellys tweets"What goes around comes around – even if the company 'deserved' it, I wouldn't go there." and "Always say it's better to build your own good reputation instead of pulling down someone else's."

If this was tarnishing a competitors reputation, then ethically I think it falls under the 10 foot pole category. However, this isn't. This is someone who paid for services and received a bad experience. This is merely word of mouth from an actually customer. They could write into a consumer report magazine. purchase an ad in a news paper and what not. Don't consumers have rights? why can't this individuals voice be heard. If he is slanderous or defamatory he will be subject to the law like anyone else. But if he's telling the truth, then he's probably going to help others. We don't control Karma, the universe does.
 Jill Whalen said:
Brian, you're right, he does have a right. But the question is whether or not as a marketer, we want to help them.

For me, the answer is no.
 Hank Karl said:
Generally, no I wouldn't help someone to tarnish another company's reputation.

However, I would help other people to not get ripped off. For example, there are a few online camera stores that are bait-and-switch houses (and are famous for this). These places have a ranking of below 1 out of 10, and sometimes below 1/10 out of 10 on reseller ratings. I couldn't see anyone legitimately paying for this kind of anti-reputation work though. It should be enough to tell them to post a comment or two in appropriate forums, and rate the company on and other review sites, and let the wisdom of the masses prevail.

But I would help the guy who blogged about cash4gold
or the guy who wrote the song "United breaks guitars"
 jason said:
Sometimes companies have to be exposed for what they really are. The web gives people the opportunity to speak their mind. Democracy at its finest. I love it.