Friday, January 21, 2011

Have you been Google Bombed?

The use of Google and other search engines as a primary means of looking for dirt on individuals and businesses has become so common that it is being gamed by those who wish to do others harm by damaging their reputation.

A Google Bomb is a way to damage someone's good name or business name by use of Google's search engine to direct people to negative information. It is done by posting numerous negative comments about someone in blogs, forums, newsgroups, and social network sites, or by starting web pages dedicated to trashing their reputation. And then linking all of that negative information together through the use of hyperlinks so that Google thinks those web pages containing the negative comments are important.

People should treat everything they read on the internet with a healthy dose of skepticism but unfortunately too many people are inclined to believe what they read because seeing something in print gives it an air of authority. Those who are skeptical may still be inclined to believe that "where there's smoke there must be some fire." You can hardly blame someone who doesn't really know you from figuring it's probably safer to avoid you or your business if there are people so annoyed with you that they go to the trouble to trash you in a public venue.

Sadly, there are many mentally unstable and vindictive people out in the vast expanses of the internet who will do just that. Should you attempt to end unfair and libelous attacks on you by complaining to authorities or service providers, or making threats to take legal action you can actually trigger a syndrome known as the "Streisand Effect" where other people who routinely exploit online conflicts for their own amusement decide to join in the attacks on your reputation.

One way to avoid attracting the attention of vindictive people is to avoid all conflicts while online. You may enjoy debating things like politics, religion, your favorite TV shows, or the best way to cook salmon, but you need to understand that some people can flip out over just about anything and declare a vendetta against you. Sadly, that can even include people you know and have trusted.

And if you own a business that brings you in contact with a lot of people it's almost guaranteed that sooner or later some vindictive person is going to decide that they have been mistreated by you in one way or another. So it's really important that you take steps ahead of time to protect yourself from attempts to trash your reputation.

If it is your misfortune to cross paths with an individual who decides to "get even" for some real or imagined trespass you may well be victimized by a Google Bomb. If someone starts stalking you and/or posting negative comments about you or your business on the internet it is very important that you not attempt to engage them and reason with them. Such people are totally immune to reason and any contact with them will only encourage them to continue.

Once something negative is posted about you in a public area of the internet like a blog or a forum you can try asking the web site owner to remove it, but because of recent changes in the law most blogs and forums won't edit or remove posts. If they take an active role in controlling content it actually increases their liability because they can no longer claim that they are a passive conduit.  

The way to protect yourself from a Google Bomb before it happens and the way to clean up the mess after a Google Bomb happens are identical: 

You can't always get negative information removed from the search results but you can push those search results far enough down in the listings so that no one ever sees them. You do that by creating your own "Google Bomb" with all positive information about you.

Steps to control or repair your online reputation:

1. Buy domain names and create your own web sites

2. Start your own blogs

3. Create your own personal pages at social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Linkedin

4. Link all of your various pages together using "anchor text" that matches your "key words."

All of these techniques can be used by anyone with average computer skills, but if you don't have the knowledge or the time to deal with this you can hire a "reputation management" company to do it for you. Those services don't come cheap, so this blog contains some general information about each step in the process for anyone who wants to do it themselves.