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.
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:
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.
So why should you care?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)