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
- Failure at Scale
Top reasons in detail
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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
- J.C. Penney was blacklisted in 2011. After 90 days it was added back to Google.
- Overstock was penalized for a paid link campaign.
- Chrome (a Google property) was given a 60 day penalty for paid blog posts.
- Expedia was penalized in Jan 2014 (losing roughly 25% of its visibility.)
- Halifax Bank suffered a severe penalty in 2014