Police Arrest

Criminal Records, Privacy, And The Future Of Public Information

As a consequence of the services I provide to clients who are seeking Reputation Management assistance, I often come across circumstances in which individuals are looking to remove a criminal record entry (usually something minor) from a database that has been published online. A few weeks ago, a new client came to me with a conundrum. We’ll refer to him as John Doe. Without getting into specifics, I can tell you that John is what many of us would refer to as an average male, about 50 years old, who has been self-employed for the better part of a decade.

John started his own business at the turn of the century and slowly grew it to a point where he now has a handful of employees (both full time and part time). He depends on returning clients as well as acquiring new clients in order to maintain his payroll and overhead expenses while ensuring that he receives a reasonable salary.

So what is John’s problem? Well, back in the early 1980s – when he was in college – John had a run-in with the law. It wasn’t anything serious (or at least he hasn’t thought of it as being serious for the past 30 years), but John was arrested on campus, spent a couple of nights in jail and was subsequently released on a personal recognizance bond of $500. He had a court date. He pled No Contest to his “victimless crime,” and went on with his life jumping from one tech job to the other before starting his own company in the early 2000s. Because both his first and last name are included in his consulting businesses’ name (and also because John’s real name is not very common), one of his potential clients recently came across his “criminal activity” and arrest sheet when doing a simple Google search before contracting services. The result was the loss of a potentially important client, which means that John can no longer afford to hire two new full time employees that he had planned on bringing aboard this year.

Archived Arrest Sheets & Computerized Data Entry

Police Arrest 2Before I began working with John in a Reputation Management capacity, I decided to look into potentially getting his arrest sheet and corresponding information removed from the Internet completely. Since his crime was not anything close to a felony – and also because John has maintained a clean criminal slate for the past 30 years subsequent to the arrest – I figured it may be possible to talk to someone in the Records department within the jurisdiction to see if this was something that the Sheriff’s Department truly wanted to continue to publish in the name of Public Interest. I grew up in a law enforcement family, previously worked as a media representative and still have several family members who work in different capacities for government organizations, so I’m familiar with how information is passed to those with press credentials.

When I called the Sheriff’s Department in question (a medium-sized county in the state of Texas), I quickly found out that the publication of arrest information has changed quite a bit in the last few years. For one, the day-to-day operations of most departments (both municipal and county) are in many cases made available to all interested parties – regardless of whether they possess press credentials. What’s more, I learned that John’s arrest data had made it online because archived reports have now been digitalized in recent years. What was once a dusty file within a manila folder tucked away in some obscure file cabinet for the past 30 years has now made its way online into a public database that can be accessed from any computer by any individual.

When I contacted the Records Office of this particular Sheriff’s Department, the Office Administrator informed me that there was “absolutely no way” to get John’s data removed or unpublished due to the fact that his published data, as someone with a “criminal past,” is in the interest of the public. When I countered with whether it was truly in the Public’s interest to know about a misdemeanor crime that had transpired decades ago, the Administrator politely said that the only way to potentially get the data removed was for John to hire a lawyer and begin the painful, costly and time consuming process of getting the conviction expunged from his record. This process would cost well into the thousands of dollars, and would likely not be overturned at its conclusion. This led us to the strategy of publishing positive information about John’s person to gradually push down records of a past that were no longer relevant to his life. While this strategy wouldn’t remove the undesired search result from Google’s database, it would make it much less likely that a potential client of John’s would stumble across it from a simple Google search.

Further Investigation

Fortunately, with time, we were able to eventually produce the results that John wanted. However, John’s plight sparked my interest. I decided to do some additional research into the process of how criminal records are being published online and made available to the Public. Even with the experience I have gained doing Reputation Management work for dozens of clients, I have to admit that I was somewhat shocked by what I learned with just a few phone calls for requests for information.

In that past, criminal data was only made available to the public for very serious crimes. These usually ranged from the publication of information on Sex Offenders to wanted felons who were being sought at the state or federal level. Traditionally speaking, the vast majority of the public (along with most privacy groups) are not at all opposed to having some information widely circulated when it deals with serious criminals. Statewide and nationwide criminal databases (available only to law enforcement officials and their liaisons – criminal prosecutors and investigators for the most part) automatically receive data on all arrests and convictions that involve a crime that is considered to be a Class B Misdemeanor or Above. The only arrest and conviction data that is not entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) or statewide database (the Texas Crime Information Center – or TCIC in John’s case) – is that which corresponds to a Class C Misdemeanor. Some examples of a typical Class C Misdemeanor are a speeding ticket, most traffic violations, public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol or tobacco, disorderly conduct, petty theft, and hot checks (up to a certain amount – usually determined by each jurisdiction).

In John’s case, he was arrested for a Class B Misdemeanor. Some examples of this level of crime are prostitution (or solicitation of a prostitute), minor drug possession, DWI (first offense), a false 911 call, failure to pay child support, harassment, and minor criminal trespass. Because of this, his full name, date of birth, last known address, some credit information plus his photo are now contained within the TCIC database for the rest of his life. This perhaps wouldn’t be such a big deal except for the fact that archived records are now being published online through a process called “computerization” at an alarming rate. Police departments are routinely outsourcing data entry jobs to private firms (or have already done so) with the specific intent of making public records available to the public in the name of transparency.

Requests For Information

My research led me to make several phone calls and send out a number of emails to both large and small departments in an effort to get a feel for the general attitude when it came to the short and long-term future of making criminal arrest data available for all to see. When contacting the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), I was originally passed around to various areas such as the Legal Department, Press Office and even a Communications Manager. They automatically assumed that I wanted specific information on one person and made references to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. However, once they found out that I was seeking out non-specific information on how to get criminal data (for misdemeanor offenses) removed from a database, representatives of both departments stated that the only way to make this happen was to advise my client to hire a lawyer, visit the precinct in which the arrest was made, and begin the process of expunging the offense from his record. Then – and only then – would there exist the possibility of getting the data removed from a public database.

Calls to smaller departments and Sheriff’s offices in my home state of Texas revealed even more alarming news. In one county located near the city of San Antonio, all arrest information is routinely published on a webpage which can be accessed by anyone with a computer! What’s more, a handful of police departments I talked to no longer require an individual to carry press credentials if he or she wants to have access to day-to-day operational procedures such as arrest reports. When I inquired as to whether this would violate the privacy rights of the individuals involved, I was told that the trend is moving in the direction of “transparency” rather than the other way around. In other words, there is a very high probability that the practice of providing any member of the public a synopsis of any arrest that is made will become common practice. As one police chief told me directly, “We simply don’t have the time or resources to deal face-to-face with everyone who comes in requesting access to our arrest reports, so we provide a summary of each arrest and let them have at it.” That’s an unfortunate piece of news for those seeking Reputation Management services, as it leads one to conclude that John’s plight will be relived over and over again – involving anyone who was arrested for any crime or even ticketed for driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit!

Compounding this situation is the fact that MANY for-profit organizations (including websites) deal almost exclusively in receiving this type of data and making it readily available to anyone who is in the mood to view this type of information. No longer is this a privilege extended to connected private investigators or legal teams; it is now and will be in the future a matter of public interest. The representatives I talked to were extremely vague about exactly how these for-profit entities might acquire (or even purchase) such data, but all were in agreement that it does happen.

Conclusions

The most important professional advice I could give someone who is seeking a pre-emptive method of managing their reputation online is to not get into trouble with the law. An open container of your favorite alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle or possession of a small amount of dope may not seem like a big deal to someone from a moral standpoint, but it does come with a Class B Misdemeanor charge and a reasonable likelihood that the offense will eventually find its way online into the public domain – where highly ranked websites will be all too happy Copy & Paste it to their own website. Even minor offenses could come with serious future consequences if you’re seeking out New Business for your company or even seeking employment.

I’d like to get some response from a couple of well-known, reputable privacy advocacy groups to get their reaction on the general direction of the publication of this data, but I’ll save that for another article. For now, the information released to the public generally is not accompanied by photos and birth dates (except for Sex Offenders and wanted suspects at the federal level), but there’s absolutely no guarantee that this will be the case in years to come – when Facial Recognition Software becomes more reliable and widely accepted.

From the several weeks of research I put in for this article, it seems probable that the overall sentiment when it comes to the publication of arrest data and conviction information is that things will become more transparent in the future.

Luckily for John and many people in his situation, there are effective, logical steps that one can take to push down an undesired search result and make it much more difficult for prying eyes to find out about a past arrest for a minor crime. Yet the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure holds true in today’s ever-evolving environment of Reputation Management.

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Preventive Reputation Management

Reputation Management is a lot of things in today’s ever-evolving environment. One week I may find myself meticulously providing info for social media accounts for a client who needs to get an undesirable search result lowered while the next week could be almost entirely consumed by research. How we decide to spend our time online really does make a difference when it comes to maintaining one’s reputation in a world where blog entries and other info is published virtually every second of the day. This is why it is important to begin considering preventive Reputation Management sooner rather than later.

As I’ve broken down in earlier articles, technology is quickly heading in the direction of transparency – so much so that the proverbial information train appears to be speeding down a one-way track. Sure, there has been some headway made by privacy groups and other advocates who are concerned with keeping some data offline, but the obvious trend of “information amalgamation” as I like to call it makes it much more probable that previously off-limits data such as birth dates, addresses and some photos will eventually find their way to the Internet and be shared (or purchased) by a multitude of sources. After all, everyone from your personal dentist to your favorite take-out diner likely has you personal data – and this data has a monetary value in many cases. This article will not focus on privacy concerns, but rather how to take preventive measures to limit the amount of unwanted information that will appear online in the future.

Publication of Photos

By now, most of us have begun the practice of publishing photos online – either through some social media service such as Instagram, forums or Facebook, or by entering them on a personal blog. This is all fine and dandy in most cases, but one thing we should consider is the future ramifications of any images someone may deem inappropriate. That great party picture as a teenager may seem like the best thing in the world to share with your friends, yet it could ultimately result in a negative job interview at some point if it is published for all the world to see. This is especially true for social media sites in which the original owner relinquishes his or her right to the content as soon as it is placed on a social media site. That’s right… even if you took the picture you no longer own the image or have exclusive rights over it once it is uploaded to a site such as Facebook or Instagram (you can verify this by reading the Terms of Service published by these websites).

Already, this has led to an uncountable amount of complications for individuals and small business owners who have come to realize that an unflattering photo (often accompanied by an equally damning caption) could result in a formal reprimand at work or even whether a potential employer decides to make a job offer. More and more, companies are hiring out the service of employment agencies or directing their in-house Human Resources departments to engage current and future hires online in an effort to find out more about who is representing them. Of course, this is less likely to have a negative influence on one’s career if he or she is content with an entry-level job, but it can be a much higher consideration for those seeking out executive positions. Papering over someone’s property (and publishing it online) may have seemed like the greatest idea in the world during an inebriated weekend while in college, but can only hurt in the long run. This is why those hoping to one day start their own company or work for a reputable firm should be extremely careful about the content they self-publish online.

Controlling the flow of information from a first-hand perspective is the key to ensuring that data that could one day make your life uncomfortable (and prompt you to contract a RM business) doesn’t get published at all. The same can be said for just about any unflattering photo that someone might consider offensive or unprofessional at some point.

Online Reviews

Which brings us to the next part of our article – how to publish online reviews. In the past, many reviewers have made a practice of putting content online that is not thorough and in many cases drags a company, product or service through the mud. Although there is no problem with publishing a negative review of something, you should make an effort to ensure it is complete while giving the reader as much relevant information as possible. Did you have an under par meal experience at a local restaurant? Or perhaps you bought a new camera that didn’t live up to your expectations? If so, you may want to let other readers know about it. However, writing a few lines that reveal your feelings on something may not be the most professional way to go about it. Your opinions should be validated by facts and detailed experiences rather than generically beating down a service or product without anything to back it up. By doing this, you’ll ensure not only that you don’t come across as an online “troll” (a term used to describe those who consistently publish negative content online while coming off as derogatory) and instead make it appear that you are truly concerned with publishing useful information about something.

Placing a review online that simply says that something sucks is not only a bona-fide method for not getting your content shared and liked online, but could also come back to haunt you if you’re looking to improve your personal Authority Ranking in an online search engine. Future consumers who are doing research on a product or service will find it much more helpful if they can relate to what is being published. If you’d like to express your opinion online, the best way to do so is by keeping emotion out of your writing and explaining why you feel positively or negatively about something. Name calling, abusive vocabulary and/or attacking someone rarely have helpful long-term consequences for the author of a review. Keep this in mind before you hit the Publish button on a negative review and you’ll be able to take preventive measures to enhance your online reputation.

Restricting Access To Information

This facet of preventive Reputation Management takes some discipline, but can be vital to those who don’t want to get caught up in a situation where an image gets cross-referenced with an address, telephone number or other personal data. Before you publish content online, consider how it could be used negatively in a future situation before making it available to your circle of friends or professional colleagues.

Content that has been published online may eventually be used for purposes other than those for which it was originally intended, so one should be very wary of ever sending out personal data such as bank account numbers, social security numbers and other vital data –regardless of whether it’s within the contents of an email or given out in an effort to secure a discount on a take-out meal. Database owners are constantly looking to place full names with photos, addresses, driver’s license numbers and more (because it makes the information they possess have more monetary value), so sharing a lot of sensitive data online may simply mean that many will be able to find it in the future. We can go into greater detail about how this happens in a future article, but for the purpose of this write-up, the best thing one can do is to simply control the information that he or she is publishing online before it gets to a point where it can be accessed by the general public.

Summary

Now more than ever business is being conducted online – with no signs of the trend slowing down in the near future. Although there were fewer significant ramifications to be concerned about for publishing content online a decade ago, the Internet has quickly evolved into a platform that can affect how our personalities are perceived on a large scale.

Publishing less than flattering images, reviews or other content is generally not a good idea unless you have put in the time to ensure that it will be construed correctly by a future reader. Put some effort into doing your own preventive Reputation Management now and you may find that an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure when it comes to immunizing yourself or your business against online fallout.

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Paying For Online Content Removal

If you’re a frequent reader of our articles here at Reputable.com, chances are you’ve come across a situation or are currently faced with the dilemma of whether or not to pay to have content removed online. Putting aside the fact that there is a huge gray area (morally speaking) when it comes to websites that generate revenue from charging customers to remove detailed information, negative reviews and images, an unfortunate part of the Reputation Management industry is that these services do exist and have become more commonplace in an age where data can be published online in an instant. This article will provide tips on how to go about getting unwanted data removed from a website completely and whether or not it is a worthy investment to do so.

In many cases, we become aware of negative content that affects us through a simple Google Alerts notification or by word of mouth. One of the quickest ways to get an individual or company’s attention is to have a negative review or other unflattering expose published on a website that ranks highly in search engines. This reality certainly is not lost on website owners who specialize in this sort of journalism or data entry, as it has become highly profitable over the last few years as more people go online to find out information on everything from a current boyfriend to a potential employee.

So how does a person who is concerned about maintaining his or her online reputation go about removing this data instead of knocking it down? In some cases, a friendly phone call or email will do the trick. However, this absolutely will not work when it comes to sensitive data that has been published online for the express purpose of motivating a person or business to pay a fee for its removal in the future. When simply pushing down an undesirable search result won’t do (usually in cases of criminal data and excruciatingly negative reviews) your best option is to seek out a price from the website administrator in question and negotiate to the best of your ability to get it wiped off the Internet completely. This is the best way to ensure that prying eyes don’t discover the data in the future – although there are some risks.

Paying For Internet Content Removal

The first step to paying a fee for getting undesired content removed permanently is to establish a communication link between yourself (or your firm) and the website that has published the content. This can be easily done in most cases with a simple WHO IS search at DomainTools.com or by using the website’s Contact form. It is important to keep in mind that the price is usually up for negotiation, so the calmer, more emotionally detached you remain, the better chance you have of working out a final payment that is within your budget.

In some cases, websites that derive a large percentage of their revenue from content removal will have a pre-established price list depending on their Search Engine Optimization efforts and the type of data in question. For example, many sites that dedicate efforts towards publishing criminal data have a set list for eliminating entries that often depends exclusively on the type of crime in question. Something minor such as Public Intoxication, Open Container infractions and traffic violations may come with a much more reasonable fee when compared to felonies such as major theft, repeat large quantity drug possession and violent crimes – but this isn’t always the case. In many situations, the fee will depend on the website’s own perception of how valuable the removal of the negative content will be to the person involved. An executive who is looking to land a high paying job in the future may be willing to shell out thousands of dollars to get a DUI entry removed from a private website while someone who is involved in serious crimes may not be concerned about having his or her reputation tarnished online at all. This is something to consider when entering into any negotiation with a fee-based content removal website.

Is There A Guarantee The Information Won’t Appear Elsewhere?

This is one of the most frequent questions a paying customer has when deciding to shell out a fee for removing data published on the Internet. The simple answer to this question is no. There is no guarantee that once you have paid a fee for online content removal that the data won’t appear elsewhere. Especially in the case of criminal and court records, the information may already be widely distributed offline by the time a client finds out about its online publication. This means that other websites may pick up the data and paste it to their own site subsequent to having reached a deal with the original site where your information was published. More and more, I’m advising many clients to be wary about public records removal online due to the fact that they are becoming so widely circulated. Unless there is a significant short term benefit to having a public record removed, you may be best off weathering the storm and opening social media accounts in an effort to push the results down rather than negotiate to remove them completely.

Online reviews are a different animal altogether. Although many of today’s leading online review sites claim to have a strict policy against content removal (namely negative reviews), there are many services which will agree to completely wipe a review off the Internet for a fee. In many cases, the paying client has a reasonable chance of never seeing that review again once it has been cleared, but that doesn’t stop other reviewers from taking the initiative and publishing more negative content about you or your business.

Short And Medium Term Future Of Undesired Search Results

In the short term, it is very likely that the mass publication of negative data related to individuals and companies will spike due to the sheer amount of people who will be eager to get that content removed at a later date. As long as someone can be negatively affected by data published online, there will be attempts by websites to generate revenue from the publication of said data.

However, there are measures being taken by search engines (especially Google) to rank reviews and content more reliably in an effort to weed out online flamers (a term used to describe those who dedicate the vast majority of their time to writing negative, inflammatory reviews) and websites that rely almost exclusively on content removal services. This likely won’t change the landscape in the near future, but in three to five years highly ranked content may trend heavily in favor of websites and reviewers who have achieved an Authority status via their post history. What this means is that there may be less chance of a random review ranking highly and bringing down your company’s revenue, but a firm will still need to make a dedicated effort to satisfying the demands of Authoritative reviewers and posters. If someone has a very relevant post history and decides to publish negative content about you or your company, you may still have to concern yourself with methods for removing or pushing down a that entry.

Summary

Paying for the removal of online content can be an expensive endeavor that doesn’t always guarantee results in the long term. As always, it is best to conduct yourself and your business in a manner that is open with potential clients while addressing issues as they occur. Most businesses are not capable of maintaining a 100% customer satisfaction rate, which means that there will eventually exist the need for relating successfully with the public.

If you do decide to provide a fee for online content removal, attempt to get as much information as possible out of the person or website that is charging the fee while also negotiating a provision that the information will never again be published on that particular website (or its subsidiaries when applicable). Unfortunately, since content removal is not always possible (or even recommended), most people who are seeking out our services must find other means to make highly ranked results that are negative less relevant.

By opening up social media accounts and publishing other, more pleasant data about a person or firm, many are able to make undesirable search results appear further down in search engines. This can be of significant value and also allows for a Do It Yourself fix. While it’s not as good as getting something removed completely, it does make it much less likely that a negative review or data entry will be found by someone who will take that information and use it against you or your business.

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Using Positive Social Media To Remove Negative Reputation

With each passing day, a massive amount of information is being published on the Internet that covers a seemingly infinite range of topics. When it comes to the names of individuals or companies, there is a slew of data uploaded; meaning the chances that some negative information that could be perceived to represent you (even if it’s referring to another person) grow as time passes. This is why it has become vitally important for those who frequent the Internet, as well as those who may be seeking employment at some point in the future, to monitor their names and the names of their businesses routinely through software such as Google Alerts. The quicker you find an article, photo, or review on the Internet that pertains to you (or that someone could construe to represent you), the more likely it is you can take positive action before it becomes widespread and significantly affects your online reputation.
What Is Negative Reputation?

Negative Reputation 1Negative reputation, in online terms, is the appearance of someone else – usually accompanied with negative data – when your name or company name is searched via Google or another search engine. Another example of negative reputation is when this data directly refers to you intentionally. Either way, it can be vitally important to get the information removed (or at least to appear lower on search results) as soon as possible, and this is what we will discuss later in this article.

Only a few short years ago, most of the general public who made use of websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and others did so as a way to communicate the existence of a product or services to their current and future clientele. This still exists today, yet the surge of review sites such as Yelp! along with a greater focus on undesirable information has morphed these social media sites into multi-pronged services. In most cases, one negative portion of data can have significantly more impact than its positive counterpart due to many factors – such as how quickly it spreads and how damaging it can ultimately be for future business.

This is one main reason that reputation management services have grown so much since the turn of the decade. Clients who seek out RM services want a way to reduce the impact of bad search results (regardless of whether they directly refer to them) as well as strategies for how to maintain a much cleaner online reputation in general.

Positive Signals Push Down Negative Signals

The good news is that positive data on the Internet (especially when it is published across many high ranking websites) is usually highly effective in pushing down negative results. The key to this equation is taking a bit of time to establish and control data that is published in your name or your company’s name as much as you possibly can while continuing to take actions that will result in more positive information being uploaded by third parties. Like it or not, there are no real controls in place as of early 2014 that will prohibit the general public from posting something out of spite or for the purpose of exacting revenge. If you anger someone or some group in any way, one of the most effective tools they have at their disposal is to get even (at least in their minds) by posting an article, image, or some other form of data on the Internet in a way that is not flattering toward their target.

There are already thousands of examples on the Internet of such reviews; many of which may not be entirely accurate (or even aim to be accurate). Take a quick look at the Yelp! website’s restaurant category and you’ll see precisely how quickly a negative review can draw extra criticism and bad publicity for a business.

So what can any company or individual do when faced with bad press? Basically speaking, there are two options – the most desirable of which is to get the content removed from the Internet altogether. Some websites do indeed have policies (some of which are not formally published) that allow clients to get negative data wiped completely from their servers, yet this option will not always be possible.

The second option is to simply begin your own positive social media and publicity campaign that will have the long term effect of pushing down the other negative search results that are damaging your reputation.

Luckily, the vast majority (if not all) of the ground work and subsequent uploading of positive signals can be performed by a one person crew. It’s extremely easy to manage your own reputation in today’s online world, you simply need a small amount of time along with a dedication to learn how to administer social media accounts and stick with your effort. If not, your other, and much more expensive, option is to hire a company to do this for you. This road may be economically feasible for a large corporation or some who is in line to lose over one hundred thousand dollars in future income due to negative information about them that is being read and shared virtually. However, in most cases a do-it-yourself approach to pushing down negative search results can be equally as effective as paying a firm to do this for you.

Signing Up For Social Media Accounts

Yelp Sign Up PageThe easiest way to push down negative search results is to sign up for social media accounts under the same name or business that is being affected. If at all possible, you should seek to get precise URLs (www.facebook.yourname for example) to make this strategy more effective. All you have to do is go to sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Yelp!, Instagram, Foursquare and others and sign up for a free account. You’ll almost always need a valid email address to do this, and in some cases it may be necessary to provide a telephone number contact in order to complete the process or access premium services.

The process is easy and generally takes less than 15 minutes to complete from the first time you visit the website as a non-member. Once you have gotten your account confirmed, all that’s left to do is begin publishing content about yourself or your company. You directly control what is being uploaded, and can choose what information is read under your name.

Managing Your Own Campaign

What’s more, you can become highly creative in ways that you engage your audience. This will further the validity of your data even more if your page is receiving an increasing amount of feedback, likes, etc. In a relatively short period of time (usually one to three months), your account page that is directly linked to the name you wish to positively affect will begin appearing high on search engines; often pushing down negative search results that were published elsewhere. The reason for this is because most social media sites do a wonderful job with their in-house Search Engine Optimization; ensuring that their pages rank highly for searches performed via Google, Yahoo! and others.

If you do indeed wish to start and maintain your own reputation management campaign across a half dozen or more social media sites, I would say that you can effectively fulfill the requirements of such a task by dedicating approximately one hour per day, five days per week for a period of one to six months depending on who much negative data you wish to push down and which sites that information is published on.

Again, this method is highly preferable to contracting out the services to an RM website or independent Internet expert in most cases. There are certainly circumstances that warrant (or even require) the hiring of a company to manage an individual’s or company’s online reputation, but these circumstances usually involve situations that include some drastic potential impact to one’s economy. If this does not refer to you, then I would recommend that you take the time to get involved in social media and begin controlling as much information published under your name as you possibly can. The effort will pay dividends in the long run and most likely push down undesired search results within a matter of a few short months. Although this may not be the best scenario option when compared to getting negative content removed completely, it is the most logical due to how difficult (if not impossible) it may be to successfully force a website or individual to remove information that is not published on a website you directly own.

If you have any further questions about how to begin your own social media campaign or about how to push down negative search results, I’m available at any time via email and would be happy to help. The importance of the Internet is being witnesses even by those who were afraid to use a computer only a decade ago. Don’t be intimidated by becoming involved online via social media and forums. Rather, take a hands-on approach and inform yourself on the best methods for dealing with negative situations when they arise.

-David

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Creating And Maintaining A Google+ Account

Having a Google+ account is one of the most basic steps one should take when thinking about a well rounded strategy to knock undesirable search results down. The reason for this is because it qualifies as a social media account and the person of interest can piggy-back on Google Plus’ high ranking to publish information that the end user wishes to document. Once considered a secondary means of social media communication when compared to Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is now among the premier social media services due to its ties to the world’s top search engine – Google. In this article, I will provide a How To guide on how to set up and maintain a Google+ account.

Creating A Google+ Account

A Google Plus account is automatically allotted to any person who signs up for Gmail. Simply go to Gmail.com and choose the Create An Account option. This will take you to a separate page where you will be asked to input information such as your name, username, password, telephone number, and agree to Google’s Terms & Conditions. Depending on where you’re creating the account from (and whether the new account represents a secondary entry with Google Mail), you may have to communicate with a rep over the telephone before your mail and Google Plus account is activated. Once it has been approved, you’ll gain instant access to the mail server as well as the option to begin taking advantage of Google Plus’ features. This process usually takes only a couple of minutes unless there is a phone call verification requirement; in which case you may have to wait a few hours if the phone verification cannot be preformed through a registration code sent via text to the number you provide.

Create Google Account

Discovering Google+

Once you have access to your Gmail account, there will be a direct link that will prompt you to try out Google+. You can also visit www.plus.google.com to go directly to the Plus service and begin experimenting with it. At the top left of the Google Plus page, you’ll find a toolbar with options to visit the Google+ homepage, your profile page (where you can easily add information as well as edit anything you’ve entered about yourself), evaluate your current Circles (this is similar to the Facebook Friend feature), upload and view photos, see what’s trending, visit, create and participate in Communities as well as Hangouts, browse through your area’s Local page, and finally configure your account through the Settings link.

Google Plus Toolbar

If you’re opening up a Google account for the purpose of publishing information about yourself or your business, you’ll want to be as thorough as possible when it comes to filling out your Profile page. This is because the more complete your information is, the better chance it has of being featured prominently in Google’s search engine. Uploading photos, data, and providing a summary of your personal or business goals can go a long way to getting your foot in the door with Google+ communities and hangouts.

The Google+ Circles tool is a unique way of keeping up with individuals and companies who you wish to insert into your personalized news feed. If you’re a frequent user of sites like Facebook and Twitter, then you already know how this works. If not, your own news feed controls precisely what information is displayed on your homepage upon visiting Google+. Those you add to your Circles will show up in the form of new posts, photos, etc. When adding a fellow user to your Circles, you have the choice of designating whether that person or business is a friend, acquaintance, family member of whether you’d simply like to follow their public activity.

By clicking on the Photos tab within the Google+ toolbar, you can see all of the photographic content you’ve uploaded as well as publish any new image you’d like to share with your Circles or with the Public. Keep in mind that you can designate your Google+ account as Private or Public. You’ll definitely want to maintain a Public profile if you’re looking to use Google+ as a means of reputation management.

Communities And Hangouts

Google Plus Communities

Perhaps the most useful Google+ feature in the long term is the ability to participate in Communities and Hangouts. With its forum-like structure, Google+ Communities lets you interact directly with users who have similar interests. It’s a great idea for those who want to get involved with similarly minded people and to share information that will ultimately grant you a higher ranking in terms of Google searches.

If you’ve never taken part in an online forum before, it can be a lot of fun as well as very informative. Best of all, the Google+ service amalgamates almost any topic of interest into your own personalized account; meaning you can be active in the discussion of several topics and maintain that activity under one single Gmail account. In my own case, Google+ has been ideal for networking with others in the social media industry and has gone a long way to helping our website get information published and shared when it comes to tips of how to manage one’s reputation online. By sharing your articles and links within a relevant community, you can gain exposure to your work by getting people to your website who may not have heard of the service you provide yet. What’s more, all of the public information gets archived within the Google search engine for future reference.

Being positive and informative with your feedback in an online forum or Google Community is imperative; as this will aid you in your quest to improve your own Author Authority Ranking. The higher you become esteemed by Google as an author or a Community poster, the higher your entries may rank when the keywords they contain are searched! Some communities require a moderator to approve your membership, while others can be joined instantaneously. You can also take the liberty of inviting those within your Circles to a particular community in order to increase its overall audience while getting friends and acquaintances involved.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts are an entirely different creature that is aimed more specifically at real-time interaction. Free video conferencing can be achieved with those within your Circles (or you can join a Hangout in progress). This is great for instant communication purposes and can go a long way to increasing your own knowledge on a topic of interest. While the archiving of Google Hangout data is more ambiguous than Google Communities, it’s on par with having a live encyclopedia at your fingertips filled with individuals who have knowledge on a wide range of topics. To see which Hangouts are active at the present moment or to create a hangout of your own, simply click on the Hangouts tab within your Google+ toolbar – located at the top-left of your Google+ page.

Google+ Settings And Account Configuration

Google Plus Settings

Configuring your Google+ account is a necessary step in order to maintain full control over the data that you are sharing. From this page, you can select precisely who will be able to interact with your posts and hang out with you. This is also the page you will need to go to if you want to alter your password, update your security settings or modify the privacy configuration of your account.

While slightly time consuming, actively maintaining your Google+ account can pay dividends in the long run for a variety of reasons; not least of which is being able to control what information is published about you or your company.

Google+ Account Summary

Once dominated by Facebook and Twitter, the social media landscape is quickly changing to an atmosphere where more users are flocking to Google Plus. This is due to Google’s ownership of the world’s most widely used search engine. As of November 2013, I would say that owning and maintaining a Google+ account (for Reputation Management purposes) is more important than all other social media websites. This could change in the long run, but for now, Google+ is of more importance.

I hope this guide has helped and assisted you with any questions you may have had about social media accounts and the Google+ service in particular. It may take some time to experiment with all Google+ has to offer, but once you do, you may become a frequent user and extremely apt at sharing information with your peers.

Let me know what you think about this article and feel free to post any questions in the form of a reply and I will be happy to respond. Thanks for reading!

-David

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Revenge Porn Part 2: Solutions For Victims

In Part 1 of this two-part article, I gave a detailed definition of Revenge Porn and wrote about the serious issues it can cause along with current events surrounding the act of publishing intimate photos or video content with the intent of causing harm. For this article, my aim is to provide solutions for individuals who find themselves the victim of Revenge Porn as well as give a list of actions to take once undesired photos or videos have been published online. The information below is a result of my experiences with clients who have dealt with, or are currently in the midst of reacting to some form of emotional stress due to personally-damaging media files available on the Internet.

Normally when I begin a professional relationship with a client seeking our services here at Reputable, one of the first tasks is profoundly analyzing the short, medium and long term ramifications of negative Internet content. By separating one’s emotions from the situation at hand, the person or company can obtain a firm grasp on just how damaging a negative review or unflattering article will be in the future. However, because viewers’ perceptions are immediately formed once a media file is shown, there is seldom much room for interpretation in regards to personally-charged video or photographic content. An explicit photo or video published online without one’s consent is almost always going to result in a crisis situation. There is little need for public relations analysis. The victim expressly desires to have the content removed or at the very least form a short-term strategy that offers the best chance at limiting its exposure.

Step 1: Content Ownership Assessment

The first step (after taking a screenshot or photo clearly displaying proof that the image is indeed published on x-website) is to establish who currently owns the file in question. Who has the power to remove it? This is the most important question once unwanted explicit content has been published online because it will lead the victim directly to his or her best chance of having it taken down as soon as possible. It may surprise you to learn that the offender (the person who made the content public in order to exact revenge) is frequently equally as powerless as his or her victim in getting the video or image axed once it has been handed over. It all depends on the website(s) that the files are published on.

The best-case scenario (from a victim’s standpoint) is for the content to be published on an extremely obscure blog site with very little traffic and Search Engine Optimization that is owned by the offender. The reason for this is simple – it has the highest possibility of resulting in the content’s removal, limiting its total views as well as giving the victim plenty of options for recourse. This is not the most common situation (that would be uploading the images or videos to social media sites), but it is the most likely circumstance to result in a satisfactory conclusion. If the offender currently resides in the same jurisdiction as the victim, even better.

The second and most common platform for posting Revenge Porn content is social media or blog sites that are owned by a third party (WordPress, Blogspot, etc). From my experience, contacting sites like Facebook, Twitter and others directly and requesting that they remove a pornographic image or video clip from their servers almost always has a positive outcome. This is because those websites already have policies in place to deal with borderline or outright pornographic media files and will usually oblige the victim by removing all traces and shares of the material without much hassle. They may also go a step further and ban the offender’s account privileges. Getting non-pornographic content removed may be much more difficult to achieve.

The worst-case scenario (as far as getting the content removed altogether) is having the files handed over to a third party website that is in the business of publishing such material. If this is the case, then chances are high that the website has already put in a substantial amount of Search Engine Optimization effort to ensure they are ranked highly on sites such as Google. What’s more, these types of websites are very experienced in dealing with litigation and routinely maintain a team of powerful lawyers on retainer. Your pleas and threats to these sites will likely be met with an offer to remove the image for a fee along with overwhelming insensitivity. There is also the issue of jurisdiction (especially with websites that are owned offshore) that may prevent the victim from pressing criminal charges and make it nearly impossible to pinpoint where to go in order to bring a civil case against the company.

Once content ownership has been established, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 2A: Contact Authorities

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This is absolutely a clear course of action if the person with the power to take the file(s) down or the offender happens to be located nearby. The pressure of potential criminal charges can be highly daunting to anyone who is not a seasoned veteran when it comes to Internet disputes. Gather your emotions, have a friend accompany you if you wish, and take the proof (the screenshot or photo I mentioned at the top of the third paragraph in this article), and head to your local police station to make a statement. Once this is done, it is usually up to a city, county or district attorney – depending on whether the offense will be considered a misdemeanor or felony – to decide whether to move forward with formal charges.

Step 2B: Contact Website Customer Support

Often times this will be the next course of action (even before contacting authorities) as it is only natural to go directly to the source and request that the offensive material be taken down as soon as possible. As I alluded to earlier, this can have a high success rate for social media sites; especially if the image or video is pornographic in nature. For content that doesn’t quite fit into that category, it could be much more difficult to get anything more than a generic response. This is why contacting authorities is generally the most logical action to take. If you’ve already filed a police report (something a social media site may require in order to be pressured to remove something), then that’s one more task that’s already been completed ahead of time. From the experience I’ve obtained dealing with the Revenge Porn issue from a consultant’s perspective, it is not necessary to request that the media be removed before pursuing criminal charges; although several removal requests may be necessary for civil cases.

Step 2C: Pay A Fee For Content Removal

In the worst-case scenario I outlined above, a gossip-based or other website that derives income from posting controversial images and videos is likely to solicit money in return for removing the files. Although this isn’t exactly preferable, it is often the quickest, least painful method for achieving a victim’s principal goal. The going rate per file is somewhere in the neighborhood of $300-$350 US Dollars; but this could vary drastically depending on each individual circumstance.

Step 3: Begin Reputation Management Efforts

If the content is ranked highly on a search engine, you should be able to push it down by creating or updating social media accounts under the same name that the undesirable content is published. For a Do-It-Yourself guide on how to open social media accounts with the aim of having the data rank highly in search engines, read this article on How To Use Facebook For Reputation Management.

Resources For Victims

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The two most highly ranked websites that offer assistance and resources to Revenge Porn victims are WithoutMyConsent.org and EndRevengePorn.org. The latter has a specific webpage with a list of Qualified Attorneys for victims who reside in the United States. There is another website called WomenAgainstRevengePorn that offers similar links to the sites listed above along with personal testimonials.

Unfortunately for victims, many Privacy Rights advocates and groups do not get directly involved in assisting in these types of offenses; focusing their efforts more acutely on general anonymity for Internet users. If you’re currently in a situation where you or someone you know is trying to get unwanted media files removed online, feel free to contact me by leaving a reply below. It’s not always possible to get something taken down immediately (although this is certainly a possibility), but at the very least we can work on minimizing the negative effect of Revenge Porn.

Preemptive Measures

Of course, the most reliable way of ensuring that you’re never the victim of such an offense is to never allow yourself to be a part of intimate photography or film. What may seem like a harmless act at the time can turn into a crisis situation with long-term negative consequences. Awareness of Revenge Porn is increasing, but it has not yet reached a point to where authorities in smaller jurisdictions have significant experience in dealing with the issue.

I’m available at any time if you wish to speak with me. There is a link in my profile to my Google+ account or you can send me an email at david.harold.mex@gmail.com if you would rather not leave a reply below.

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Revenge Porn Part 1: Definition, Issues, And Examples

David HaroldAs my workload performing reputation management tasks for various clients grows, I’ve steadily come across an increasing number of cases that involve a term currently known as Revenge Porn. Although this issue would have bordered on something involving a fringe population just a few short years ago, it has now become more mainstream in character due to the availability of point & shoot photography and the ability to video record (complete with sound) at a moment’s notice. What could be considered a prank or experiment one moment could easily turn into a nightmare scenario for an individual who has moved on with his or her life; only to find to one’s horror that a nude image or worse yet – an actual video – has made its way to the Internet and is easily searchable.

Revenge Porn: Definition

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Revenge Porn is the act of uploading a lewd image or video to the Internet with the specific intent of harming an individual emotionally (usually through embarrassment, spite, and affecting one’s public perception in a negative way). To give you a plain example, let’s say you and your boyfriend/girlfriend produced a short film or took a few pictures at a time when your relationship was going well – with obvious intentions to limit those images or video clips to a specific number of viewers. The relationship eventually fell apart, and one person of the now defunct couple decides to take revenge on the other by making the content public. This is Revenge Porn.

The act itself is becoming extremely common as a method for one person to take his or her frustrations out on a former lover. Normally the actions taken by one party are a generic attempt at gaining the former partner’s attention, but it can quickly spiral out of control (in a matter of milliseconds) once it goes online due to how quickly content is now archived and shared upon being published on the Internet. In many cases, a jealous episode by the person doing the publishing of said content was originally aimed at convincing the other to consider some form of reconciliation, but the long-term ramifications of such an act go well beyond embarrassing someone for a day or two. A lewd image or video of someone can seriously affect his or her ability to gain future employment, retain current clients, and maintain scholastic status (not to mention the effect it can have on ongoing relationships with a present lover, friends, and family).

In short, it’s an emotionally violent act with serious repercussions.

The Business Of Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn Image 2Believe it or not – like it or not – there are a boatload of websites that dedicate their bandwidth to (and draw a significant amount of income from) the act of posting a non-flattering photo or video of someone without that person’s consent. If you do a quick search of the term Revenge Porn on Google News, you’ll see exactly what I’m referring to. Before we get into current legislative pressures that coincide with this recent phenomenon, I’d like to first outline why a website would find it profitable to post such content.

Website monetization is all about traffic. First you generate traffic through your content, then you seek to monetize it through ad placements, forums, community activity, and generating more visitors. Having an image or video clip go viral is one sure-fire way to get a lot of people flipping through your virtual pages as a website operator. Although many companies look for ways to provide helpful information to readers as a way to generate this traffic, there are others that actively seek out easier, less time-consuming methods for attracting online attention through explicit, graphic content that has a high potential of receiving a large amount of views. Needless to say, lewd media fits directly into this category.

The business side of Revenge Porn is two-pronged. The more obvious fork of this nightmarish beast is providing a platform for those seeking out revenge to publish media in an effort to negatively affect the person they are seeking to exploit. Once the content is live, it can be shared an infinite number of times, commented about via Social Media, and placed into a potential viral viewing session if enough people have an opinion about it. In most cases, the more people who possess a personal connection to the poster or the victim, the more chance there is for the content to be viewed in succession by interested parties. After all, a random photo or movie taken of an unknown person rarely has the legs (momentum-wise) to attract people’s attention for longer than a day or two. However, if the victim happens to be popular, well-known, involved in a number of social circles, loved, hated, admired, or in a high profile job, you can bet that there are going to be a lot of potential viewers lining up for the latest gossip and subsequent fallout associated with the published content. This is how websites that make a business out of posting unflattering content get viewers onto their site. Through aggressive Search Engine Optimization efforts, they can quickly make the person’s full name appear near the top of a major search engine when it is searched.

The second prong of the business is perhaps even more shady (and definitely more subtle) than the first. Once the ability to practically ruin one’s reputation is achieved by being able to get a search term, image and video to rank extremely high search engine-wise, the management of said website can then turn around and offer a sort of blackmail-style deal to the victim by removing the content for a fee. This happens more often than many would think, and is an integral part of Revenge Porn website monetization strategy. After all, what would it be worth for you or someone you know to get an explicit photo or movie removed from a website? A few hundred dollars? A few thousand? This is not at all lost on website owners who are all too happy to receive payment for removing sensitive files rather than the traditional method of publishing helpful content with long-term durability that will convert over time.

Unfortunately, even paying a fee and getting the media removed from a particular high-ranking website doesn’t always mark an end or provide some form of closure to the victim. In the time it takes him or her to get the content removed, it has usually been shared over and over by various acquaintances and even picked up by other websites; creating a horrific piggy-back effect that can be impossible to reverse.

In The News

Revenge Porn has found its way into a growing amount of headlines as it becomes widespread. Most of the news stories I’ve seen in recent weeks revolve around victim outrage, pending legislation, and news reports that describe in detail current legal tactics that are being employed by website owners to win court cases or avoid litigation outright.

Here’s a link to a December 13th, 2013 Daily Mail article that goes into detail about one website owner’s strategy of providing an outlet for disgruntled individuals looking to exact revenge. According to the article, the website owner (Ariella Alexander or Baltimore, Maryland – who apparently has been granting interviews to several high profile news outlets as of late) uses a generic disclaimer to ensure that she separates her business from the opinions and statements of those who send her naked or otherwise sensitive photographic files. The write-up goes on to point out that the Communications Decency Act, passed into law by the United States Congress in 1996, explicitly excludes website owners from liability when it concerns the views of third parties.

Another article published by the Los Angeles Times on December 17th, 2013 focuses on potential California state legislation that proposes an outright ban on Revenge Porn by tacking laws onto a bill that would also prohibit fully functional, plastic firearms manufactured by 3D printer technology. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia published another piece on December 10th noting that there isn’t currently any protection for victims of physically violent pornography (much less the emotionally-charged violence that’s often associated with Revenge Porn) due to Internet Privacy laws that protect website operators from prosecution.

Consent Or No Consent?

Revenge Porn Image 3There is indeed a highly debated area (morally and lawfully speaking) when it comes to precisely who is responsible for paying the price when it comes to explicit content that is published online. From the extensive research along with hands-on training I’ve had dealing with various issues brought to me by clients of Reputable, I can say that the overwhelming trend of pointing the blame hinges on whether consent to snap the photo or record the video was granted originally. In Social Media circles, the opinions of interested parties are often determined by whether or not the victim posed for, or was aware of a camera in the first place. Obvious voyeurism has without fault (in the half-dozen cases I’ve been involved in from a Reputation Management service provider’s perspective) resulted in a Social Media backlash against the poster – while a victim who was conversely granting his or her consent for the material’s production has received the business end of social scorn to go along with the waterfall of embarrassment and frustration from the media being uploaded and made available to the general public.

Recommended Solutions For Victims

My main goal with this two-part article is to provide actionable options for those who consider themselves a victim of Revenge Porn. Please check out Part 2 of this write-up, which provides Solutions And Courses Of Action For Revenge Porn Victims.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you have about this topic or others that deal with issues we see here at Reputable on a frequent basis. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via social media if I can be of any assistance.

-David

SEO In A Bottle

SEO Demystified – How Search Engine Optimization Works

David HMany of the readers who come to our site have varying questions regarding Reputation Management and how to solve unique problems they are faced with concerning search engine rankings. However, some requests have come in for a detailed rundown of SEO (Search Engine Optimization); outlining exactly how it came into existence plus how it has evolved over the years since the birth of Internet search engines. This article aims to provide the interested reader with a historical account of SEO as well as how it goes hand in hand with Reputation Management. I’ve been wanting to write this article for the better part of 15 years but had never gotten around to it. Hopefully now in late 2013 it will serve as a reliable means for explaining SEO as well as revealing how optimization has evolved since the 1990s.

Pre 1996 Internet – The Early Years

Ah, the “good old days” of the World Wide Web! Although the Internet has officially been around since the mid 1980s (see this Wikipedia article on The History of The Internet), I personally didn’t begin “surfing” the Net until 1993. You see, back in the day, the WWW was a collage of websites with zero indexing that was similar to the Wild West. Imagine walking into a large library in which books aren’t sorted by author name, where there is no categorization and no chronological order. No card catalog exists and you’re left to your own devices to find literature that interests you. This was the Internet in the early 90s. “Surfers” pretty much had to be aware of the exact domain name (or be directed to it by a browser toolbar and/or advertisement) in order to get to where they were going.

This inefficient system inevitably led to the invention of search engines – the first of which was created in the early 1990s. Perhaps the most popular early-day search engine that many remember was Yahoo!. Search engine software brought indexing capabilities to the Internet and made it infinitely easier to find content. All the casual user had to do was type in a few keywords related to what he or she was interested in finding – such as Video Games – and the search engine would quickly do an internal search of all the archived pages it had “crawled” (indexed) and list a number of webpages – with links – that it thought would most likely take the reader to where he or she wanted to go. That was simple enough, but led to website owners studying how they could rank as highly as possible for search results in order to receive the largest amount of page views possible for certain keywords. After all, website traffic equals revenue and users were quickly catching on that search engines were the easiest method for finding relevant content on the Net. The more Internet surfers a website had, the higher chance there was for more individuals to click on ads and affiliate links (this still holds true today but also depends on a number of marketing techniques to “convert” the website visitor).

So how did ancient search engines decide which webpages ranked highest for certain keywords? It didn’t take long for webmasters to figure out that the mid-1990s search engine software developers responsible for portals such as Yahoo! were depending exclusively on keyword density to decide which pages ranked highest for terms such as start your own business, best hotels, online dating, buy office supplies, favorite beer etc. Website owners along with webmasters (the people responsible for developing, designing, administrating, maintaining, and publishing content on any given website) quickly became aware that it was possible to game the system. By simply inserting commonly searched-for keywords into a webpage’s content, they could improve their chances of having that page rank highly when someone entered that term into a search engine. The more keywords, the better the page ranking. This is why so many primitive search engines often directed users to spam websites filled with ads and affiliate links instead of actual useful content. Here’s an example…

Office Supplies Spam Website Example

Remember occasionally being directed to websites that had “articles” that looked similar to the screenshot I’ve pasted above? This was because the webmasters of that website were simply using keyword meta tags when writing content and filling the text portion of their pages with those keywords; not at all concerned about publishing reliable information, adhering to subject/verb agreement, or even making an effort to assist the interested reader in any way. The only thing they wanted was as much traffic as possible – and that’s exactly what they achieved!

Search Engine Evolution

After a few years it became embarrassingly obvious that relying exclusively on keyword density simply would not work. Back in those days, when the vast majortiy of casual Internet users had to deal with extremely slow service, paralyzing page load times, and that annoying dial-up tone, it didn’t take long for many to give up their foray into the online realm and go back to whatever it was they were doing before trying to search for Internet content (an offline game of Solitaire perhaps). Search engine developers could see that users were shying away from their services due to inefficiency. Then the Google search engine was created in 1996 by Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin (see the following History of Google Wikipedia article for more information). This was a game changer.

Rather than using only keyword density to determine how high a particular page ranked in its search engine, Google introduced the PageRank Algorithm. This didn’t catch on immediately as Google was not a popular search engine during the years immediately following its inception – yet the writing was on the wall for keyword-dense spam websites as soon as the algorithm was created. Google correctly assumed that the keyword density abuse would persist and even increase in use as more webmasters figured out how to “game” search engines. The question was, what measures could they take to combat this? That’s where PageRank came in.

PageRank, in its infancy, relied on one major component – crawling webpages and deciphering how many other webpages linked to them. That was it. Although it was a significant improvement over relying solely on keyword density, it didn’t exactly require a genius to conclude that the next logical step in optimizing websites for search engines (yes, that means SEO) was getting as many websites as possible to link to a page you wanted to rank highly when certain keywords were searched.

Link Farming Example

Within months, a multitude of webmasters had caught on to Google’s new PageRank algorithm and had begun the practice of Link Farming. That is, the science of getting as many websites to link to your page as humanly possible – and this worked! Expand the screenshot above by a few hundred websites and you get the gist of how PageRank was getting hammered by link farms.

Link farming could be further enhanced by having those websites link to you with anchor text (meaning the precise text that is displayed for a hyperlink) containing the keyword(s) you wanted to rank highly for. So all you had to do was get a bunch of websites to link to your spam site using the term office supplies in the anchor text and you would begin appearing near the very top of a search engine list when that term was search for. It didn’t matter that many of these websites were simply linking to each other, had no useful content, were full of advertisements and affiliate links, were poorly designed, and were gaming the system. Nope. Webpages were now being “weighted” by keyword density as well as page ranking… yet the saturation conundrum persisted. Casual users would search for a term and be directed to a useless spam site.

Before we get into the next step of search engine evolution, I think it is important to let our readers know that there indeed was some fallout from the first years of Google PageRank. For one, many website owners had invested heavily in optimizing their pages for keyword density. Keep in mind that back in the 1990s, website designers and webmasters charged anywhere from $20 to well over $100 per hour for “guaranteeing” that a page would rank highly for specific terms. SEO is not a particularly difficult task even in today’s environment, but it was a mind-blowingly remedial effort in the late 1990s. Webmasters (or web architects, web designers, SEO specialists, etc.) could charge an unsuspecting website owner exorbitant amounts for tasks that could be performed by a reasonably knowledgeable 10 year old without the proprietor ever being the wiser. I suppose not many tears were shed for true spam sites who partook in this primitive method of SEO, but there were plenty of “legitimate” websites that used more appropriately-placed keyword density to rank high for commonly searched terms while working diligently to provide quality content. When PageRank came along, many website owners found themselves unable to budget thousands of dollars in additional investment to pay another “Internet expert” (or the same one they had contracted before) to begin the elementary yet highly lucrative practice of link farming.

This evolution of sorts did not take place immediately. After all, Google was not a household name in 1996. That didn’t occur until the year 2000 – when Yahoo! partnered with Google and allowed them to power their search engine results. Until then, not many Internet users had heard of the Google search engine, but that all changed once Yahoo! allowed its brand to be compromised by its most algorithm-savvy competitor. In no time, the word “Google” became a verb people used when referring to searching for something on the Internet. Now that Google possessed the most useful search engine on the Web and had gained popularity due to their agreement with Yahoo, they had to work quickly to improve their algorithm and modify how pages ranked. The quicker they could reduce the number of highly ranked spam websites (a huge turn-off to Internet users), the better.

Google Acquires Hilltop Algorithm

Following the 2000 dot-com bubble, Internet companies were forced to halt many projects until additional investment could be secured. Google was quickly earning its reputation as the most reliable search engine in the early 2000s but it wasn’t until 2003, when it acquired the Hilltop Algorithm, that webmasters began coming to grips with the fact that search engine rankings cannot be fully manipulated. The subsequent introduction of TrustRank drove this reality home so to speak, as Google (and other search engines) set their sites on putting the guesswork into SEO.

TrustRank prioritized links to any given website and weighted them according to how “trusted” they were by the Google algorithm. If your site was getting linked to by these trusted entities, then you were much more likely to rank highly for a search term than if you were mindlessly farming links. Website domain names that ended with .edu and .gov were automatically trusted, as were high traffic or established reputable websites such as The New York Times, blogs with loads of comments, CNN, websites with low bounce rates, and so on.

* A “bounce” is when an Internet user goes to your website and then leaves without visiting any other page on that site – theoretically signaling that the user did not find what he or she was looking for or did not find the website as a whole useful enough to stick around.

For example, if you owned a content-driven website that published detailed information on how to design a website (still a popular search term today), you could be fast-tracked to higher search rankings for that term and were considered by Google to be an authority figure on the topic. Correspondingly, if the owner of that site had a high authority ranking, he or she could improve the page rank of lesser sites by simply linking to them! This resulted in the inevitable practice of quality website owners and bloggers linking to those less prominent sites in exchange for a fee. After all, if a low quality website received a link from an “authority” on the topic, it should be useful to the person searching for that specific term – at least according to Google’s algorithm at the time.

* A webpage is one unique page that is contained within a website. Webpage and website authority are calculated differently by search engines.

What’s more, trust ranking increases on a logarithmic scale. Essentially, a website that has an authority ranking of ‘2’ is worth ten times as much as a ranking of ‘1’. A ranking of ‘4’ is ten times higher than ‘3’ and 100 times higher than ‘2’ for example. So if a spam site could get linked to by highly authoritative or trusted sites (regardless of whether the link was “natural” or purchased), it could in turn improve its own authority ranking on a search term from only one link. This is because, in logarithmic terms, one link from a ‘7’ authority is worth 100,000 links from a website that has an authority ranking of ‘2’.

To say that some successful bloggers who had a large organic following and high authority ranking made a lot of money from the practice of selling links (before 2011) would be an understatement. Selling links resulted in an entirely new form of monetizing a successful website, but that practice is gradually yet quickly being made obsolete due to search engine algorithm adjustments that scrutinize how links are generated more than ever.

SEO Today

Many, many changes have taken place in the last few years regarding Google’s search engine algorithm – namely the creation of Google Panda, which blocks or “penalizes” certain sites for being over weighted in keyword density, untrusted links, excessive ads, too many affiliate links, and a number of other factors that aren’t released to the general public. In all honesty, there is no way for an SEO expert to guarantee your page will rank at the top of Google’s search engine for a particular term. That’s not happening anymore. Sure, there are plenty of services that claim they can pull this off, but it’s nonsense. Google’s search engine algorithm is black boxed. Feel free to attempt to get your website to rank #1 for a commonly used term on your own (or hire an SEO company to try) and I’ll do my best to be sympathetic when it doesn’t work out. SEO efforts in today’s environment are all about analyzing available data and doing the very best one can do to optimize a website for search rankings while adapting to the ever-changing landscape (for example, Google’s search engine algorithm is now updated hundreds of times per year with little or no specific information given).

Social media (particularly the Google+ service) has entered the mix in conjunction with social sharing, followers, comments and friends (giving higher priority to “authority figures”) to form an entirely new strategic method for manipulating search rankings. Although Microsoft and Yahoo! signed a ten year partnership in 2009 to rival Google’s stronghold on the search engine market, Google is still the dominant search engine as of late 2013 with no signs of that changing in the short-term.

This article has dealt almost exclusively with Search Engine Optimization rather than Reputation Management – which in modern terms can be defined as a public relations effort pertaining exclusively to search engine rankings. I look forward to providing our readers with more information and guides related to how Reputation Management works as well as assisting those in need. If you have anything to add to this article or would like to make a comment, feel free to leave a reply below.

-David H.

How To Use Facebook For Reputation Management

Reputation Management is both an art and science at once. Although there are many facets to successfully bumping down highly ranked negative reviews or posts, the techniques involved are easy to learn and do not require a ton of investment in the vast majority of cases. In this article, we are going to go over how to use Facebook for Reputation Management purposes.

To begin with, the whole idea of getting involved and posting information on social media sites (from a Reputation Management perspective) such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Yelp is to eventually have a high ranking profile page that will appear higher in a search engine’s results than negative, incorrect or inflammatory information does. There are a multitude of examples when it comes to information you may want removed altogether (but are unable to get the post removed). Some of these include a negative business review posted on a personal or business blog, public law enforcement data that refers to another individual with your same name, or perhaps even a criminal database of minor offenses that does in fact refer to you, but is no longer relevant or needs to be pushed down as far as possible in order to secure employment.

Using Facebook To Create Profile

Starbucks Facebook

Facebook is one of the most widely used social media sites worldwide and is a constant source of customized information that members use to received updated data on their friends, family, favorite brands, and more. The Starbucks page I’ve pasted in the screenshot above has the standard “Profile” and “Background” images that all users are allotted, plus a row of key statistical figures that let fans of this particular company know how many people have “Liked” that page, how many are talking about the company, along with how many page views have been generated from the Facebook entry.

In this case, we see that Starbucks’ Facebook page has more than 35,000,000 Likes with nearly a quarter of a million individuals talking about the brand. The total page view stats show that the page has been visited well over 8 million times. The ability for other Facebook members to “Like” the brand as well as send a personal message can be found on the right-hand side. You’ll also notice boxes for Photos, International page, Pinterest page, Videos, etc. Clicking on the “About” link at the bottom left of the screenshot will provide those interest with additional facts (set by the company itself) about the brand, its corporate headquarters, retail locations, and so on.

Facebook Connect

The reason why it is so important to have as much information as possible included in your own social media profile is because you will eventually use it to outrank another less flattering or incorrect page that refers to you or your company. Try searching for “Starbucks” in the Google Search Engine. You’ll quickly find that its Facebook, Twitter and other social media site pages are ranked highly. This is the advantage of using social media for Reputation Management. Assuming you’re not able to completely remove an undesirable post from the Internet, you’re next best bet is to get up to speed on how to use social media profile pages (such as Facebook) to outrank those other unwanted pages.

If you are creating the profile as an individual rather than a company, the process is extremely simple and requires your full name, valid email address, telephone number, date of birth and gender. Facebook will promptly send a verification email to the account you entered.

Facebook Sign Up

Even if you already have a Facebook account, it may be a good idea to create a separate page for you or your business; especially if you’ve used a misspelled or otherwise non-precise page name. Remember, in order to outrank those unwanted pages in the long term, you’ll need to be as specific as you can. Inputting any number of random characters into your URL may come with the woeful result that you are unable to bump that slanderous review or post from another website off of the top search ranking page.

Although there are reasonable arguments when it comes to privacy and the use of data within the social media website realm, your main goal in Reputation Management is to publish a large amount of correct data, not hide it. That’s the best way to ensure that your Facebook page outranks another less flattering or incorrect page in the future.

Facebook For Companies, Fan Pages, And Brands

Facebook Create A Page

There is a link at the very bottom of the Facebook Sign Up page that asks if you want to create a profile for a Celebrity, Band or Business. Click on that link if it refers to your case then choose from the options of Local Business or Place, Company Organization or Business, Brand or Product, Artist Band or Public Figure, Entertainment, Cause or Community.

Facebook Local Business Sign Up

All of the basic requirements to create a page are straight forward. The “meat” of your Reputation Management project comes from updating your profile page after it has been created with content. This can range from product sales to multimedia entries, but we’ll get into that later. If a company page has already been created for your business or band, you can easily Claim Your Brand Online by following the steps in the article I’ve linked here.

Updating Your Profile And Obtaining Followers

It is important to keep in mind that you may want to tightly control Who if your Facebook friend if this page is being created for an individual. However, if you’re creating the profile for business purposes, there will be a generic “Like” option for fellow members and the bulk of your effort will be geared towards providing updated information in the form of posts, links, photos, and videos.

Fortunately, you do not have to worry about Facebook’s SEO efforts – you only have to work on your own page and chances are it will be ranking highly for keywords within a relatively short amount of time.

Once you have Followers, Fans, Friends and Likes, you’ll begin receiving feedback on your page. Again, this will vary depending on whether your particular page refers to an individual or business entity. At some point, you will undoubtedly receive a Friend request or comment that is unwanted. For a personal profile page, the simple solution to this is to simply remove it from your profile and timeline.

However, this can be a much more tricky process for companies and may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Let’s analyze the negative comment that Starbucks received on its Official Facebook Page in the screenshot below.

Starbucks Negative Comment

Here, a Facebook user has entered an opinion that is negative towards the business. As the owner of your own Facebook Profile Page, you will need to decide how to handle each post and decide whether to ignore, remove, or reply. These decisions fall more into “Brand Management” rather than the actual search rankings aspect of Reputation Management, but is vitally important if you are using the page for any purpose that may affect the public perception of your company in the future.

You’ll notice that the Starbucks representative who manages this particular Facebook page decided to reply and provided links to a page on the firm’s official website for the member to refer to. Of course, this may not always end the debate, but it is very important for your company to decide early on how it will respond to negative feedback as well as positive comments. Adding multimedia content can be a great way to keep current Followers up to date while attracting new “Likes” to your Facebook page. When all is said and done, the more information that is available on your Facebook page, the more likely it is to begin ranking high for specific keywords that may eventually knock off a competing negative review or post on another site.

Starbucks Search Engine Results

You can imagine how many negative articles or reviews have been published on the Internet when it comes to high profile companies. But those reviews have been successfully outranked by social media site pages (as well as the firm’s official website) due to Reputation Management efforts.

Do It Yourself

As you can see, it may not require a huge budget in order to begin doing your own Reputation Management work. There is definitely some investment of time required to study up on different techniques along with data entry, but you can save quite a bit of money by doing the research yourself and simply getting started on your specific project.

I hope this article has been helpful to our readers who have questions regarding how Facebook and other social media sites can be used as a successful means of bumping down website pages that are unwanted. As always the best option is to have those pages completely removed by the website that has published them, but when that’s not possible, you’re next best bet is to get those pages to rank less importantly than your Facebook profile, which contains information you have a greater amount of control over.

How To Claim Your Brand Online

HavingStarbucks Google Places been around the online reputation management business for some time, it still irks me somewhat when I find suspect seminars and fee-based marketing gimmicks designed to rake in hundreds or thousands of dollars for simply pointing small businesses in the right direction concerning SEO. I’ve long believed that there is undoubtedly a niche for this service, yet in my opinion this is derived from 1-on-1, honest, simple dialogue between a reputation management service and its client rather than fancy marketing terms and gobbledygook. My stomach still turns when I see some obvious online ploy (usually disguised as an entry-fee seminar or monthly fee contractual agreement) with a handful of suits jockeying for position by offering an unreasonable price for everything from social media consultation to developing online brand identity. The reason for this isn’t due to a lack of demand for such information, but rather the fact that most small businesses and individuals could do the research themselves for less than one-fifth of the overall cost; if not much less than that.

Claiming Your Brand Online

This brings me to an introductory step that many firms must take when deciding to take a hands-on approach to reputation management. For our readers who are just now getting into the concept of monitoring and responding to online feedback about a particular brand, online branding encompasses tasks such as ensuring that your company’s data is published correctly and responding to online entries (such as reviews) in an effort to improve the overall perception of your firm while also gaining valuable feedback from customers.

If you’re completely new to this process, the first website you’ll probably want to visit is Google Places. If you type Your Company’s Name into the Google Search engine, the information displayed (along with a map) is due to the data gathered by Google Places. Once you’ve created an account, you can simply click on the “Business Owner” link while visiting your firm’s page to properly identify yourself as the owner or official representative of a particular company. The verification process involves providing as much key information as possible about your business (this is beneficial in the long run). There are separate slots available for providing photos and video content of your site (in cases where customers are expected to visit a physical address) along with a space for adding an online coupon for those who are referred to you by Google searches.

Foursquare is another commonly used website that integrates social media and allows users to check-in when they are dining out, shopping, or partaking in any other professional service as a client. You might find that upon visiting Foursquare.com that there is already a profile listed for your particular company. This is due to the fact that customers are allowed to create a listing for you (just like Google Places and others) in order to check-in. Once you have gone through the simple process of claiming your Foursquare account, you will then be allowed to enter all relevant data related to your business as well as offer bonus rewards for those who check-in the most often. Ensuring that all the information published is correct is vitally important due to the online marketing aspect that comes with a Foursquare entry.

The process is very similar when it comes to claiming your brand at Facebook Places, or review sites including Yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com. It really doesn’t take any large amount of effort; only a small amount of your time and the ability to sign up for an account plus verify that you are the owner or an official representative of the firm in question.

Hopefully this guide will prove helpful for those who would like a non-intimidating way to get involved in their own online reputation. If you have any questions, feel free to leave your comments below.