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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.

reputation-brand-blacklist-barryhurd

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

Is Local Marketing Dying?

It seems as though a bunch of headlines in the online marketing arena say that local marketing is the ‘next big thing’

But is it? Really?

Local marketing may be a required bit of business… but the end result is that the hype behind local marketing and the reality of local marketing are two different things.

The simple fact is that there have been some pretty massive efforts to lay claim to the local marketing category for decades.

Originally ‘local marketing’ was primarily owned by the yellow pages and traditional directory advertising. Newspaper, radio, and television also had a sizable chunk of local market share. Read more

Competitive SEO and mapping the digital world

You probably have some hefty goals for 2011… and one of those probably has something to do about ‘becoming rich and famous’ online.

To help move towards that goal, I want to share some ideas about the basic mindset you need to have regarding where your online presence is heading in 2011. A key item to consider is what competitive SEO can do for your business. There are A LOT of pitfalls and mistakes you can make, so cutting corners during the training and strategy part is a big mistake.

Lets think about your “competition” for a moment. Read more

Understanding Page One Results

It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of searching the web gave a visualization of finding the desired information in a like-minded format with our ‘search term’ at the top of the page and results listed out in a pretty basic format. Every business wants the sacred ‘1st page result’ on search engines (hopefully earning the fabled revenue that comes with it.)

The search engine struggle also became like a big game of poker: some businesses risked everything on the wrong hand only to have search giants such as Google ‘change the game’ on them. This made progress and expertise in winning the game a difficult proposition (when the house knows the players are winning, it wants to change the rules…)

As search engines like Google began indexing more and more information, the format and availability of non-text information became available. The influx of different types of information give search engines a continual excuse to change the game. It leads to a constant shift of how page one results appear; having visual elements inserted into the mix, along with information that was ‘related’ to the search.

Understanding the game

If we take this basic concept and then visualize the fact that people are simply creating millions of pieces of data every single day, search engines have an infinite playground to test different formats and functionality.

The shift of different formats affects the functionality that businesses rely on for promotional and brand exposure. Every shift creates a gap in learning and opportunity. Depending on the nature of your service and profession, how search engines present your information alongside of competitors and related businesses can drastically alter the way you need to coordinate your online presence. Read more