It used to be reviews online were taken with a grain of salt, as they should be – but unfortunately, a decade of libel and lack of accountability has made the internet a wasteland for public shamings and idle gossip. Forget the town square – people are being stoned to death online, whether their actions are justified or not.
There was a great episode of “The Simpsons” during which Milhouse wanted to complain about something to people on the internet – to which Bart Simpson quipped, “No. We need to reach someone whose opinions really matter.”
But no longer are bashers being dismissed online as a non-sequitur nuisance – these bad reviews can ruin a company’s reputation and wreak havoc on the bottom line. As a direct result, companies have been popping up claiming they can “fix” your online reputation in no time flat.
There are a variety of “black hat” strategies that are employed by the not-so-ethical SEO companies – strategies that can get you dinged by Google and get your ads removed, or your site demoted all together.
The release of Google’s “Penguin” and “Panda” algorithm changes over the past few years has changed the way your online reputation is calculated. I experienced this a few years back as a public relations executive at a company with a lot of reputational issues. I was approached by a lot of these SEO companies and frankly, most of them were garbage.
Here’s the problem: SEO companies promise the world, but once you get rid of them, the damage they’ve done to artificially boost your site can continue to haunt you long after you’ve fired them.
The worst violation was something I had inherited – my predecessor had hired an SEO company which launched a variety of new websites with names similar to the company I had worked for – which was good – except when I fired them, they not only didn’t release any of the domain names to us, but removed every single positive internet posting we had paid them for over the course of a year.
So when you interview your SEO company, here are things to look out for:
- If they say, “black hat” or “keyword-stuffing,” run for your life. These guys are stuck back in 2005 when that kind of thing actually worked. Nowadays, this will give you a bigger hit than you expected and make things worse in the long run.
- Try to meet in person or through a referral. Meeting in person in this field is exceptionally difficult to do in most cases, but if you can get a referral from someone you trust, this is a big deal. There is accountability here – and your trusted friend or colleague must know something good about your potential hire.
- Ask what happens after 90-days. This, in the land of tech and SEO, is considered a “long term” strategy. Make sure you own any website domains they purchase for you. Make sure you get the rights to content they write on your behalf, and find out what happens to those other profiles (i.e., SlideShare, About Me, Facebook Pages, etc).
- Make sure you know what you’re getting out of it. What does SEO mean? Does it mean seeing your website going to the top of Google? Does it mean a “clean” front page, reputation-wise (as in, the first ten results, or first page, without negative postings)?
- Look for a company that can do other things as well – like writing press releases, creating websites, writing social media content or creating memes, buying domains, video production, etc. Not only can this benefit your goals to have people who know how to do a little of everything, but typically these companies are a little better established and therefore, accountable.
Make sure you own what you pay for, and make sure everything is written and signed off on before you pay a dime. In the meantime, go about getting any and all social media/website profiles that are available for your name. For example, my branding is “Karen E. Carlson,” so if you Google me, you’ll see I own karenecarlson.com, karenecarlson.net, karenecarlson.org, the twitter handle @karenecarlson, et al. This is mostly free, but if you wait too long and contact an unethical SEO company, they can buy all of these up and force you to purchase from them at a premium.
Play it safe and start your “ownership” of your name, now. It’ll work to keep your head above water, and hopefully, your reputation out of the mud.