In business a good reputation is everything and for many you’re only as good as your last customer. However, there are a myriad of reasons why your previous customer may not be a happy camper and many companies are turning towards reputation management companies as a solution for such issues.
The Age of the Consumer
Online reviews, complaints and social media sites mean that it has never been as easy to complain, showcase disappointment, or highlight a dispute. In addition, such comments often create significant levels of sway with future customers and depending on specifics can be among the first things people see when they search for your business. This is obviously not ideal.
Hiring an online reputation management (ORM) company allows you to knock the negative down a few SERPs pages and bolster that star review to a top position. It reduces the visible incidence of negative press in results – something that can be crucial in business.
However, it’s not as easy or as clear cut as that anymore – there are a number of other factors at play in the ORM business.
You probably know who Matt Cutts is. If you don’t, he’s the head search engine web spam honcho at Google and public face of the search engine.
Well, recently Cutts mentioned the industry in one of his Webmaster Tools videos (he seldom if ever mentions ORM). Cutts main points can be seen at 3:45 and 8:09 in the video. In essence, Cutts mentions the business of pushing positive articles up the SERPs in the wider area of unnatural links and manual Google penalties. He then goes on to hint that Google’s algorithm is becoming powerful enough to discount these links to specific positive articles specifically and take away value, therefore preventing them rising in the SERPs.
Currently, it’s still possible to increase pages in SERPs with large quantities of low quality links. This may soon change and currently these tactics are often short lived, often having only a few months’ benefit. Essentially, it’s a short term fix but one that is used widely by ORM companies.
Now, as we all know Google is far from perfect. Anybody who saw the results of spam industries like payday loans after the recent Penguin update will know that. However, in time it’s certain we’ll see an exponentially smarter algorithm.
An even darker side to the industry in the US reared its head in Forbes. A contributor to the site, Cheryl Conner wrote about extortion in the industry.
According to the article a small business owner was emailed a link to a site that showed a mug shot of him online. The email informed him it could be removed for a small fee of $400. This was paid; the mug shot was removed but then resurfaced with a request for more money – a loop of extortion.
The article goes onto mention a source from the UK who claims of similar dodgy dealings in the UK. According to the source, in this case an ORM company claims they will remove bad reviews and reports. However, the twist is that the websites and reports are created by the ORM company, who then remove the links or ask cooperating sites to remove the links when paid.
In addition, there is also a distinct possibility that in time such practices will cross legal lines. Many would claim that certain techniques are in very complicated grey areas. Issues regarding right to information and privacy and the right to expression and libel and slander are also in existence. Not being legal eagles we can’t tell you of the specifics. However, there could be potential issues at play here too.
Now, we’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with reputation management per-se. However, we would suggest that choosing a company with a track record, reputable techniques and knowledge of what they’re doing is important. You wouldn’t pick a black hat SEO company; so why would you pick a dubious ORM business to work for you. If you think a Google penalty is bad for your business; a legal one could be so much worse.