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SEO Spawns Reputation Management Firms

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SEO services have been around a while now, but it seems the industry has gone to a new level. It’s not just about getting noticed, it’s about getting noticed right, and companies are offering guarantees that will happen in the search results.

Last autumn, a Florida jury awarded $11.3 million to Sue Scheff, the largest award given in a blog libel/defamation case. In a nasty, nasty fight, Scheff claims her antagonist, who was reported to be one of the Hurricane Katrina homeless, took $12,500 from a "therapeutic boarding program" to ruin her reputation online. Carey Bock did fine job of it, calling Scheff a con artist and a fraud.

Though Scheff won her case against her defamers, the shrapnel from the fight still remained online, in the search results. So she hired a firm called Reputation Defender, which promised to have her online image cleaned up within four months.

"I needed my online reputation cleaned up to match my true reputation," she writes on her blog. "I worked long and hard to bring my organization to the level of respect we get from many professionals."

As Forbes notes, it worked, and positive messages now appear in the Google search results, including, briefly, her dinner recipes – even though she doesn’t cook. Reputation Defender founder Michael Fertik said the appearance of Scheff’s recipes was "unfortunate," and had them removed.

Hmmm. He claims the company uses no black hat tactics, remaining squarely within Google’s guidelines, to "destroy" bad search results and build up good ones. This is done through take-down requests, cease-and-desist letters, legal threats, and pumping up positive content until it (significantly) outweighs the negative.

All for $30 per month — $10,000 if you need a really good scrubbing.

A reputation service like this brings to mind a lot of questions. It definitely seems beneficial to unjustly maligned, but it also is a bit off-putting to think that side-industries have been created specifically to game the search engines…the wrong hands, the wrong hands is a song on repeat in my head.

And it makes me wonder, too, how long Google will tolerate it. Seems they can’t do much if online reputation services are staying within the webmaster guidelines, but the search engine is always finding ways to make it tougher on SEOers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, at least, is on the side of reputation services, saying that as long as reputation monitoring services aren’t committing fraud, it’s all good, and an alternative to censorship.  

SEO Spawns Reputation Management Firms
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