brand-reputation-management

Reputation.com & Brand.com Blacklisted by Google – $70M+ Risk

If anyone had any questions, Google is *still* on a mission to squash reputation management firms that use questionable solutions that violate Google’s policies.

Plenty of smaller reputation management firms have been targeted by Google in the past, but Google had upped the ante by completely removing “industry leaders” Reputation.com and Brand.com from search results. (* as of 4/20/14 –  Reputation.com has been re-instated.)

Being blacklisted by Google probably won’t kill either business outright, but for organizations that are in the business of repairing your online reputation it could cause millions of dollars: lost opportunity, public relations fees, and plenty of online reputation management. You can read about Google penalizing other big brands at SearchEngineWatch.

If you didn’t get a chance to spot it in-person live, you can see the results yourself below. The areas highlighted by green are the sections where a site should normally be.

reputation-com-brand-com


This brings rule #1 in Online Reputation Management to mind:

Only Google can control how sites appear on Google.

If (and when) they choose to prove Rule #1
they will simply remove your entire company from search results.

I.E. blacklisted site only appear when they buy advertising like this:

reputation-advertising

This is pretty devastating for both companies.

To confirm this wasn’t just a fluke error on behalf of Google I did some research through several tools that tracks natural search results.

The below charts show how many organic keywords Reputation.com (top) and Brand.com (bottom) had over the last year. Reputation.com showed up for over 1,200 highly relevant keywords and Brand.com had over 200.

In February and March that entirely changed when they were absent from Google’s search results.

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So why should you care?
  1. If you’ve ever expected great healthcare or pulled into a oil shop thinking you’d get out in a jiffy, if you’ve ever relied on a search directory thinking the five star rating meant that you’d actually get something better than at the two star business… you need to keep reading and bring your voice to the conversation.
  2. If you know of someone who is an independent professional or who owns a small/medium sized business, the cost to properly defend themselves against the budgetary and technical power of the involved businesses is exorbitant. This cost could be one you are faced with in the future.
  3. If you’ve ever hired someone or chosen a business because of what you found in Google, this entire process is about controlling your ability to make an informed decision.
State of the Industry

The current problem with online reputation is that we all give away pieces of ourselves to create something bigger than ourselves.

Many of us don’t think about the way our identity and digital information work.

Online reputation and digital scoring is a new and evolving breed of consumer discrimination. This functionality controls the funnel of money into dozens of multi-billion dollar industries that rely on search engines and social referrals.

There are two main categories: individual and business. 

  • Individual identity is being absorbed by platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Our e-mail and phone conversation more accurately describe us than most of our actual in-person introductions do. This score controls how many people get my information and how those people initially react to me.
  • Business or group identity is being (or has been absorbed) by entities such as Google and Facebook. Even as a business owner myself, the act of having a company brand is contaminated by the very essence of how Google and Facebook portray that business. Business scoring affects multiple individuals and has significant impacts on strategic partner revenues, employee hiring, and stock/brand value.

This is such a large and lucrative market that my company is tracking hundreds of vendors who deal with reputation management, brand monitoring, and social media engagement. It is almost impossible for the average web user to understand the layers of discriminatory judgement that are being applied to them every time they search for information.

Why does that matter?

Having our digital identity owned and curated by a profit seeking entity creates an unusual problem for both individuals and businesses: the roar of the voice gives way to how good and honest people traditionally function.

Very few of us are built to promote ourselves 24/7, and the most prominent individuals online are either self-promoters or simply have too much money.

The honest business and professional usually gets left behind by these two groups. Businesses like Google look to turn this data into corporate profits, and service firms such as Reputation.com and Brand.com act as middle men that cater to our desire to present ourselves as professional.

What is this worth?

Reputation and brand is a priceless commodity that Google makes an insane amount of money on when people search for the name of a person or a business entity.

According to Crunchbase, Reputation.com has been funded for $67.7M from firms such as Bessemer Venture Parnters, Kleiner Perkins, and Jafco Ventures. Brand.com is privately funding to the tune that last year it rebranded itself from Reputation Changer to Brand.com (and paid $500k for the Brand.com domain.)

Reputation.com and Brand.com both sell services ranging from $1000 to ‘the sky is the limit’ – Business services exceed $100k a year.

The Spider Effect

In the eyes of Google every item links to another source of data.

All of these elements tie together to form an impressive algorithm that considers page rank, author rank, linking sites, types of content, historical relevance, trending news, etc.

When Google blacklists a site it can see all of this interconnected data and it can assign penalties to everyone involved that it considers to be in violation of policy.

If we just look at one data point with the number of links pointing to each domain, it means that there are thousands of sites in the review process.

Using a tool to examine links (Majestic SEO) – we can see that there are 149,936 links pointing at Reputation.com coming from 5,993 unique domains and that Brand.com has 61,696 links coming from 1,027 unique domains. By reviewing page and directory structures across sites we can also conclude who is and isn’t a client of different services.

This highlights thousands of customers across the services that may suffer

  • increased reputation problems
  • decrease to all organic search engine optimization
  • numerous crisis communication issues
  • client association and reputational risk

Check out Part II – Why Would Google Blacklist Reputation.com and Brand.com?
– where I will dig into some of the details of why Google could be targeting these services.

About the Author

I’ve been in online reputation management since the beginning of the concept. In 2002 I launched a domain service  that was specifically tailored to executive reputations (through NameReality.com, which now just acts as our agency domain registrar) and since then I’ve technically orchestrated massive search engine optimization platforms, created multiple reputation and brand based tools, and have dug deep into social media monitoring. Eventually I moved my understanding of digital presence frameworks to serve as the foundation of doing cyber security, influencer analysis and competitive intelligence.

I now spend a majority of my time working with my team on digital strategy projects for corporate and venture funding endeavors. I tend to be deep in thought as I try to answer the question of “what is this data worth?” and “where does this data go?” – my current focus includes handling a fairly massive cyber security project and figuring out how we are all going to live in the matrix (you can read my bio here or connect on Linkedin.)

brand-reputation-management

Why would Google Blacklist Reputation.com and Brand.com?

This is PART II : Reputation.com and Brand.com Blacklist by Google. 

Google definitely had plenty to consider when it came to giving Reputation.com and Brand.com a penalty.

Reputation.com and Brand.com have various different issues, but the general issue is that both organizations are competing head-to-head with Google’s SEO team and they are constantly pushing the limits of what Google accepts.

I see the top reasons as being:

  • Manipulated Reviews
  • Low Quality Links
  • Site Content
  • Customer Complaints
  • Technology Reverse Engineering
  • Legal Conflicts
  • Gloating
  • Failure at Scale

Top reasons in detail

Manipulated Reviews

Reputation.com offers a variety of services.  If we examine Reputation.com’s local store front service, they publish a large directory of companies that provides Google a way to easily highlight what a manipulated review system looks like.

To help describe this problem I pulled three sample clients from Reputation.com and compared the 4.9 Star review with the publicly available review ratings for the same location on Google and Yelp. The red arrows below point at what seems to be ‘a miracle’ by maintaining a 4.9 out of 5 star review for client companies that had 383, 215, and 29 total ‘verified reviews.’

The mathematics of averages makes a 4.9 rating with 383 reviews almost impossible in the real world (or else this is simply these happen to be the best bike shop, dental office, and hospitals in the world.)

reputation-com-google-comparison

Google Review Guidelines & Inappropriate Reviews :

Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews. As a reviewer, you should not accept money or product from a business to write a review about them. Additionally, don’t feel compelled to review a certain way just because an employee of that business asked you to do so. Finally, don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.

What can you do? Report Inappropriate Reviews to Google here.

Low Quality Links

The link structure of both sites have some issues that could cause Google red flags. This includes things like keywords, link age, and where the link originates from. I used multiple services to examine link structures and various digital signals.

seo-metrics

Site Content

This is a general search optimization issue. Each site has numerous technical issues and these issues role over to the various client sites they operate.

These site content errors include

  • Duplicate Content
  • Missing ALT tags
  • Duplicate Tags
  • Long or Short URLs
  • 404 Errors
  • Broken Links
Customer Complaints

Customer complaints are an interesting issue for Google to consider when dealing with an SEO or reputation company. Each issue provides insight to methods and practices employed by the organization that are manipulating search results on Google.

The number of complaints increases the view that Google administrators have into the methods these companies use. A secondary source of complaints provides additional digital signals from RipoffReport (Reputation.com – Brand.com) and Glassdoor (Reputation.com – Brand.com)

Technology Reverse Engineering

The above customer complaints, link structures, and content types allows a skilled researcher to create a network map to identify customers and methods of abuse. While I don’t have access to Google’s internal database of customer complaints and tracking systems, I do have a deep array of competitive intelligence and forensic tools for doing this type of analysis.

*By examining social and digital signals I was able to identify a fairly lengthy list (thousands) of customers, reputation projects, and content farms from these two services. If I can identify them as an external entity, Google has probably identified a similar database.

Legal Conflicts

One of the reputational bag-of-tricks is to send Google a digital takedown notice to remove offending material.

While these are completely legal and often needed, I’m sure that Google has at least some financial pain in responding to these on behalf of reputation repair clients. They typically show up on Google in the footer with a note like this:

In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org

Gloating about ‘patented’ Google defeating technology and services

From the early days of Reputation.com (when it was named Reputation Defender), the founder of Reputation.com Michael Fertik promoted the company by spotlighting patents that analyzed search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc) and performed detailed sentiment analysis.

Brand.com simply promotes a ‘first systematic program’ to remove lies and libel from Google‘ and goes on to say “Our patent-pending De-Indexing Action Plan is the first turnkey process that can permanently erase misleading content from Google, Yahoo, and Bing’s search algorithms. No one else in the online reputation management industry offers this conveyor-belt style de-indexing service.”

Failure at Scale

All of the above elements role into this one: representing one of the biggest hurdles for either of these two organizations (and a reason I stepped away from commodity reputation projects.)

As a technology or methodology scales it emits signals that can be identified and eliminated. Reputation.com and Brand.com have both scaled to a point where the scale of the technologies used are being identified and eliminated by Google.

Conclusion

When you combine all of these factors and take into consideration thousands of overlapping data points, Google should effectively come to the conclusion that the company sites, the underlying services, and all of the affected client entities should…

  • be manually reviewed
  • apply case scenarios for each
  • consider abuse points for each
  • potentially have an algorithm update
  • potentially have a manual penalty

Other Large Sites Penalized by Google

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Competitive Intelligence and Online Privacy, NSA Leaks from Edward Snowden

In preparation for attending the Privacy Identify Innovation conference here in Seattle with peers, my recent conversations have been around the  kind of data that Edward Snowden and related NSA leaks stirred up.

twilight-zone

These conversations live in another dimension almost as spooky as the Twilight Zone.

While the NSA is in the center of this issue, we should think about the thousands of companies that have access to our personal information.

Through these companies there are an untold number of individuals who have access to our digital homes without our knowledge. Some of them knowingly allow access (while others do it accidentally.)

We have dropped the ball: not only as companies and organizations in the U.S., but as a global society we have absolutely failed to understand how the Internet of everything relates to metro, regional, ethical, and moral audiences around the world.

If this was my house it would  be leaving my front door unlocked and leaving it unattended. When we have a digital version of our home we need to give a little bit of thought about the benefits and risks associated to it.

  • We have to keep in mind that data isn’t limited to live where it is created.
  • It isn’t limited to a time or place.
  • It is a universe of information that covers both historical and future possibilities.
  • Our digital neighborhood isn’t local- it is global.

We need to ask questions about who may visit our home.

What do they know about me?

This is a big question. 

You need to have a grasp of the questions below before you can really begin to identify what they know about you.

If someone is interested in you they have decided you are worth a certain amount of effort.

The reality of the situation is that there are a lot of rocks to kick over and look under.

When competitive intelligence professionals like myself get involved there is a level of strategic and investigative research that takes place using all sorts of systems that help look under rocks quickly.

Examining what is under each rock cost a little bit of money and effort. If I have intent and reason to turn over thousands of rocks I will find out more about you than being lazy and turning over just one.

The speed at which this investigation can take place depends on the tools and the likelihood that the research effort will be rewarded with knowledge.

Thinking about who really has access to the data

When I turn on the typical desktop computer there are dozens of companies involved with the security of the data.

A basic example of typical computer privacy points:

  • The Brand/Creator of the PC
  • CPU Manufacturer
  • RAM Memory Manufacturer
  • BIOS programmer
  • Video Card
  • Wireless Processor
  • High Speed Modem
  • Network Router

Software

  • Adobe Flash
  • Java
  • Microsoft Office
  • Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer (with several dozen plugins)
  • Internet is supplied by Comcast (Comcast router boxes, relay junctions, data stores, etc)

Web Services

  • Banking
  • Utility Payments
  • Mobile Services
  • Entertainment (Netflix, etc)
  • Social Networks (Facebook, Linkedin, etc)
  • Communication tools (email, digital phone, etc)

Securing the basic elements above almost requires a degree in rocket science.

Yet as a society of web enabled users we’ve thrown caution to the wind and have opted-in to all sorts of things like social networks and freemium web services.

Multiply the basic example above for laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.

Facebook is an amazing example of our blunder.

Over a billion people have joined the site and have given access to our profiles, social networks, and personal communications.

In addition to what we share on Facebook.com, Facebook scripts and widgets run on tens of millions of sites.

These scripts cover a range of login, recommendation, analytics, and sharing functions.

If you were to figure out the combined data collection of Facebook across all of these sites you’d have trillions of interactions.

But we also have Google who has access to sites with

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Webmaster
  • Google Adsense
  • Google Content Networks
  • Google Gmail
  • Google Docs

When you overlap just the properties and data collection points of Google and Facebook you end up with information on almost the entire web using population. 

The NSA may have access to that data… but who else?

While the NSA may have access, I wouldn’t typically focus on whether the NSA has it.

You should be focusing on people and organizations that seek you harm (if the NSA has reason to cause you harm, then worry about the NSA.)

Google and Facebook don’t necessarily want to harm us, but they do want to make a few dollars in profit.

The core item to think about is that there are thousands of businesses in the industry of collecting and monetizing our data or using it for harmful or monetary purposes. These include data brokers, financial organizations, major employers, and big retail brands. They also include criminal and military organizations.

The information they are collecting is specifically important to the intent of why they are collecting it.

You can help figure out where you sit in the big picture as both an individual and as a business by running through a series of questions.

What are the problems?

Data will always be created and collected by some process.

The core problem comes from the question of Good vs Evil?

Good uses:

  • Trying to use the data to improve the education system of a local town.
  • Supporting entrepreneurs to create green, sustainable business.
  • Helping third would countries raise the standard living.

Bad Uses:

  • Identifying an individual’s commute time to work so robbers know when the house is empty.
  • Discriminating against employees based on what was perceived as private.
  • Disabling a city utility by crashing the utility grid.

Why are they collecting data?

Most organizations use online data to define and segment millions of users into a size they can interact with.

They want to strategically locate communities and individuals who matter to them.

This usually revolves around simple items such as:

  • How many interactions?
  • How many relationships?
  • How many transactions?
  • How many habits?

 Who is using it?

The answer to who is using it creates a number of tangents to think about:

  • Where are they?
  • How do they store it?
  • Do they sell it?
  • Do they abuse it?
  • Do they learn from it?
  • Where do they have interests?

What laws am I dealing with?

As you answer the above questions about you begin to identify the legal structures of where your data lives.

In the U.S. we have some very specific ideas about privacy and freedom of speech. These same ideas may not apply around the globe.

  • Where does all that data live?
  • Who owns the lines it moves across?
  • What jurisdictions apply to the servers?
  • What companies have access?
  • What employees have access?
  • What criminals have access?

What ethics am I dealing with?

With some of the legal concepts detailed we can begin to think about ethical and moral uses of the data.

Some cultures and countries have wildly different ethical and moral concepts.

  • Do they want to hurt/help me?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my family/friends?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my company?
  • Do they want to hurt/help my country?

What can I do about it?

The key to protection is understanding.

#1 – write down a list of things that are most important to you.

#2 – write down a list of people who want to hurt you.

#3- ask an expert to detail ways #1 and #2 interact.

#4- Create a plan for protecting the things most important to you can be used by people wanting to hurt you.

#5- Apply a scenario to two or three organizations you don’t like and ask yourself what you can do to them.

These basic steps will wildly vary in results depending on if  individual and group perspective.

By understanding value vs risk you can allocate where your effort will produce the most protection.

 

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9 Problems with Marketing Automation Tools

The realizations of how marketing automation tools have changed the perception of the marketing role is very interesting and often becomes hidden by glossy marketing campaigns.

As part of a research project that took many months of work I have narrowed down on several core problems that seem to be eating away at the digital economy in the guise of ‘marketing automation’

This is an on-going analysis of dozens of marketing automation tools that include interviewing end users, studying how they work, and the type of client footprint each tool has.
(If you would like to participate, please leave a comment below or contact me.)

It is based around the fundamental reasons
why someone selected a specific marketing automation tool.

The tools are often selected based on a simple need: drive awareness about a product or service into a conversion funnel that delivers qualified leads, increase profit margins, and on-going growth for the business. Read more

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Big Data Analytics – 5 ideas to consider

As someone who drives complex ideas through and around dozens of roadblocks, I am often reminded that one of the best ways to help people is simply to highlight the right resources that will eventually transform into knowledge and wisdom.

In one of the most complex areas of my endeavors is the current ‘seizure’ mentality that is stopping the right technology and trends at the appropriate levels. This is especially true of the Big Data conversation that is challenging all levels of business.

Ironically the small and mid-sized business teams are having an easy time gaining traction in understanding the issues that affect their business. The small and medium businesses bring another problem: not having enough Big Data to play with and the budget to bring the expertise to make the initial change.

So the key to think about:

Enterprise Player = focus on tactical and economy of scale.

Small and Mid-sized Business = focus on wisdom of larger data providers.

If you are in an organization that is currently considering a Big Data initiative, please  take a moment to reach this article by John Weathington over at TechRepublic = To get Big Data buy-in, IT should let go of proof of concept …

Once you have had a chance to read it, come back and explore some of these other Big Data articles with the mindset of initiating the process with the right team and executive support in place. The simple reality is that Big Data isn’t an IT issue; it is a game changing opportunity for executive leadership and owners who choose to be nimble.

— ADDITIONAL READING —

Dynamic data analysis the future of big data: Brainmates – ZDNet

Big data isn’t all about beefing up marketing strategies for organisations, according to founder of the product management …

“As a predictive tool, big data can deliver better products, but to effectively achieve this, product managers should use big data to test the questions that have previously been impossible to answer until after the product has gone to market,” he said. “Too often, we are led by what we think we can do and are trapped on those rails, whereas if we imagined the impossible, pretty soon we will find it has already been done elsewhere.”

Can Big Data make government cheaper? – ZDNet (blog)

The movie “Moneyball” celebrated a “Big Data” approach to maximizing returns from investments. Can Big Data do the same for government?…

“Today’s young people – hammered by the Great Recession, the loss of middle class jobs and gridlock in Washington – may take a more pragmatic approach. Stress – like the Great Depression and WWII – seems to focus Americans on solutions rather than ideology.”

Putting a Dollar Value on Big Data Insights – Wired

The Big Data phenomenon produces some mind-boggling statistics, such as the fact that the volume of global data produced doubles every two years. At the University of California at Berkeley, researchers …

” To cite just one example, retail giant Walmart was able to use Big Data analysis to drive a 10%-15% increase in completed online sales for $1 billion in incremental revenue, which is a well-planned ROI using data.”

5 Big Data Projects That Could Impact Your Life – Mashable

GCN argues that the first “big data” software was IBM’s DB2, a database management system it released back in 1983. What’s new is the ability to compile and process everything at such large scale …

“It’s a swanky term for a not-so-sexy concept: the idea that mass amounts of information can be analyzed to find hidden patterns, buried beneath terabytes of numbers, in Facebook posts,Google searches and Amazon purchases. These patterns can predict social trends and, in some cases, reengineer the way we live.”

 

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