You Deserve Your Bad Online Reputation


At Outspoken Media I get a lot of online reputation management leads. Unfortunately, most of those leads deserve their bad online reputation.

SEO agencies know it is difficult to try and explain to a client why they do not deserve to rank for a particular keyword. My approach is Commandment 3 of Setting Expectations in SEO — be brutally honest by letting the SERPs do the talking. It is even more difficult for an ORM consultant to try and explain why they cannot help a potential client fix their bad reputation, because the SERPs rarely make that decision. So, what makes me question someone before signing them for ORM services?

1. You Broke the Law

We are not talking about Google law, you broke the real law. You had to go to court and a jury of your peers found you guilty of a crime. This feels like a no-brainer to me, you have to pay for your actions. When you steal or hurt someone, you deserve your bad online reputation. Taking a public beating is human nature. It is not just human nature to inflict suffering on those that have harmed us, it is transcends that, it is animal nature, but chimpanzees are less spiteful about it.

2. What Happened Is News-Worthy

What makes a story newsworthy is up for debate, but if your actions broke the law or hurt a community, it is important that the public be informed. Product safety, health alerts and unlawful acts are the most obvious pieces of need-to-know news. If the facts add up and the community cares, you are going to have to face the bad press. The more you hide from the facts or try to cover them up, the worse it will become.

3. You’re Lying (to Yourself)

Lying can be as nefarious as outright fabricating information or as subtle as disbelief in your deserved misfortune. Whenever I do something that my father thinks I am lying to myself about, he likes to tell me that “Denial” is not just a river in Egypt (thanks Dad!). I cringe whenever I hear it, but it makes his point. Lying to myself is counterproductive. Also, when you lie to yourself, you probably have a history of lying to your customers and business partners, and you will most certainly lie to me. This is by far the most important rule breaker for me, because if you cannot understand the predicament you have put yourself in, you cannot take action and fix the problem. Nor can I in good conscience help you.

4. Lack of Quality Control

Everyone can have a bad day, even a bad season and that is to be expected since we are only human. But if you are consistently producing sub-par quality products and/or customer service, you deserve a bad online reputation. You are robbing your customers of the quality they were expecting. You are not taking the action you need to fix a known problem. You are lying to yourself, possibly breaking the law and this could even be newsworthy.

Now that all of the preachy stuff is out of the way, does “deserving” your bad online reputation mean you do not deserve a chance to fix it? No, but from an agency perspective, if you have not found a way to right your wrongs, been dismissed of charges or discovered fraudulent claims, then you are inviting more negative coverage and/or reviews. This will tie our hands as an ORM agency, because we cannot accurately quote the time and work or anticipate future coverage (of course the latter is never a guarantee).

Agencies and ORM consultants know how to bury search results, but we are not a replacement for your board of advisors or legal counsel. This distinction is important, because all too often I am asked to do something that feels not just morally wrong but legally wrong on behalf of a potential client. Maybe I am a prude, but I will not help you sweep your history under the rug when you are still committing the very act that placed you in this predicament. You cannot eat puppies and expect me to make you the poster child for PETA.

Enough ranting… I want to end on a positive. Our clients are awesome. I know every agency says that, but with online reputation management we really get to see it. They are business savvy, pro-active, humble and nimble. They recognized a problem and took the necessary steps to fix it before trying to fix the SERPs. They make my job easy, but more important they make me proud of their brand and if I feel proud, so do their customers and they cannot buy a better online reputation than that.

Your Comments

  • Marty Martin

    I think if you were a lawyer you’d be a prosecuting attorney?

    Love this-

    You cannot eat puppies and expect me to make you the poster child for PETA.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      I could totally be a defense attorney! :) We tell clients we’re like their lawyers though, they have to tell us everything otherwise we can’t effectively defend them.

      • Marty Martin

        Probably a very good practice. Does it work all the time or have you found sometimes they hide things from you. And if so, how do you deal with that?

        • Rhea Drysdale

          Definitely! It takes some time to quote potential clients because we have to dig everything up and usually find any lies then. Haven’t really had a client do it though. We usually have a good spidey sense. :)

  • Dr. Pete

    Absolutely dead on. I’m tired of companies who think that ORM is all about covering up their bad behavior. Sometimes, you need to apologize and make it right. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s often the cheapest and fastest way to fix your reputation. People understand that companies make mistakes, but trying to bury very public and very deserved bad press is often going to blow up in your face.

  • Lisa Barone

    Want to make this even more horrifying? The puppy eating analogy Rhea uses is mostly true.

    When we were just getting off the ground, we had someone come to us WHO REALLY WAS KILLING PUPPIES and wanted us to help fix their ORM problem to bury the offending information. After we did some research and found THEY WERE REALLY KILLING PUPPIES, we promptly told them we couldn’t help.


    True story.

  • Carly

    I was going to ask ‘in what situations DO you usually do ORM for, but I think I’ve managed to answer this myself by thinking back to the company I’ve just finished working for (I worked in-house for a company).

    Usually clients had got the wrong end of the stick (which often was our fault for not communicating clearly enough) or they’d have a problem but not call up to resolve it, and instead voice it on forums… so but often, I’d try NOT to SEO it away. I’d try and resolve the problem there and then to redeem our company.

    That said, I *did* actively try to get our Twitter, Facebook pages and other official social media profiles on the first page for our company name, simply because we wanted people to find those more than the forum posts (bad and good!).

    Anyway, great post, I did enjoy it and I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I’m also a fan of the puppy eater/PITA line :-)

    • Rhea Drysdale

      We do ORM for many situations and try to evaluate each individually. Things are rarely as black and white as I’d like to believe, so we aren’t naive enough to turn anyone away for past indiscretions. Sounds like you worked hard for your clients. Pro-active ORM is so important, nice work! Glad you enjoyed the puppy line, to Lisa’s comment… that stems from a real situation. :D

  • TheMadHat

    Bad reputation is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, the girls like the bad boys right?

    • Rhea Drysdale

      That’s it?! I was expecting a lot more heat over this post. :D

      I disagree that reputation is simply in the eye of the beholder. To an extent yes, but once you have a majority of beholders with bad perceptions, that dictates the larger perception of your company or personal brand. In the eye of a BP executive they probably didn’t do anything wrong, but the rest of the world thinks they did. Does that mean the BP exec should stubbornly stick to his guns? I would hope not. Regardless of personal opinion, we often have to bow to the masses (sometimes literally… e.g. Obama and China).

      • TheMadHat

        That was just my Narcissism coming out ;P

      • Chris Miller

        Actually, I was expecting more heat too – I was gonna start some myself, but then I got on this thought process that reputation might not ever be “good” or “bad” – people react to reactions and drama more than the event itself. Making an event go away is easy. If BP started the worlds first makeup line that used their oil instead of whale oil (or some crap like that), the masses would love them and the Gulf? Oh right, but that is old news and boring, look what they’re doing now!

        So that being said, who cares about reputation? There’s a quick stop grocery store next to the actual grocery store, both an easy stop on the way home. I’ll start by mentioning that I really like my grocery store. It’s a Texas-only chain, and almost like a discount Whole Foods without the pretentiousness. Anyway, on the way home after a couple days in a row of stressful work, I stopped by the quick stop to get a couple Mike’s Harder Lemonades. The first time, I asked him to put them in a paper bag inside a plastic bag because it was going in my backpack (a motorcyclists trunk), with my electronics.

        … he has remembered that one little detail each time I’ve come in, and now I only buy beer from the quick stop. He could be a puppy axe murderer for all I know. I didn’t ask.

  • Alan Bleiweiss


    I don’t think this aspect of ORM is discussed often enough. American corporate cultural mentality is so arrogant that billions are spent every year in spin and coverup related to things that need to be aired out. It’s crazy how much they’re willing to spend to do that spin and cover up when doing the right thing instead would probably make them that much more profitable and uh, dare I say respected?