Is Ripoff Report Banned from Google?

UPDATE: Search Engine Land is reporting that Ripoff Report was not banned from the Google index. A Google spokesperson says the site is not banned, but was removed after Google received a request to do so via Google Webmaster Tools. There’s now some speculation on the reasons why, but either way, it’s been interesting watching this unfold. Opinions have been shared on here, on Twitter, on Facebook, and countless other sites. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that many people have opinions when it comes to Ripoff Report.

Stay tuned – I know I will be.

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Search Engine People  deserves all the credit for noticing this. Their Facebook page is the first place that I’ve seen any report of Ripoff Report being banned from Google, so I decided to take a look for myself (site:ripoffreport.com). As of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 – they are not in the index. Will they come back? We’ll have to wait and see.

SEP Facebook Posting

Go to Google. Search for Ripoff Report. Surprised? So was I.

Whether you’re happy or sad about it, it’s important to remember that this is big news in online reputation management. Many businesses seek out help to combat a Ripoff Report and there’s a lot of money that goes into managing one’s online reputation. SEO services, PR firms, and even software has been utilized to battle the damaging affects of a Ripoff Report showing up when one Google’s the name of your company. Think about it – if you were a company and the first result for your company name was a Ripoff Report, what would you do?

I have mixed feelings about Ripoff Report. On one hand, many consumers go there to see a clearer view of a business. It’s a public forum to voice concerns about a particular company and usually, those concerns ranked well in the engines, causing companies to take action to resolve the claim. Google created a sense of urgency when it came to delivering better service or any service at all. In many ways, that’s a good thing.

However, there’s a darker side to Ripoff Report and it’s one that I’m not particularly fond of. Consumers are allowed to post their complaints on the site free of charge, yet when it comes time for a business to make a rebuttal, dollar signs start flashing.

According to Ripoff Report’s own site, a business can post a rebuttal for free, but when it comes down to removing a resolved complaint or taking false information down, it’s not free. Yes, I said FALSE information. A business can’t have a lie or a complete made up claim about their business removed without whipping out a wallet.

Ripoff Report offers something called a VIP Arbitration Program, where a business can prove that a claim against them is false. Here’s how it works (as noted on the official site):

You submit a written arbitration statement identifying the false statements in the report, or explaining that the report was posted by a competitor pretending to be a customer. You are also given the opportunity to support your position with documentary evidence and/or sworn affidavits. There is a filing fee of $2,000 to pay for the arbitrator’s time and for administration of the program. The author of the report is then given the opportunity respond and you are given the opportunity to reply (source: http://www.ripoffreport.com/).

What happens if the author never responds? Does nothing get resolved? How about small businesses? How can they pay thousands of dollars to have a false claim removed? This isn’t even counting their paid Corporate Advocacy program.

For a small business, it seems like an unfair fight. Few small businesses have the chance to have a negative comment removed. Yes, they can respond using the free rebuttal option- but that response is pushed down to the bottom of the page. Below the irate capital letters, exclamation points, and incomplete sentences that usually make up the claim. Below the last nail in their reputation’s coffin.

Why should a business have to pay for the ability to defend itself against someone who was disgruntled that day? Or a competitor? Or someone who just made something up? In my opinion, Ripoff Report should make a business’ rebuttal more visible and allow for false information to be disputed without having to pay a $2,000+ arbitration fee. But again, that’s a different discussion.

Don’t get me wrong. There are businesses out there practicing, well, bad business. They’re dishonest and they don’t value the customer. Sometimes they’ll flat out lie in their rebuttals. But for other types of businesses, the honest ones, Ripoff Report presents an unfair problem. But that’s another issue here. We’re talking about disappearing from the index.

From what I’ve seen in SEO, it takes some shifty work to get banned from an index. Sometimes it happens accidentally. Other times, it’s the result of shady SEO tactics that are best left dreamed up by the spammers and the black hats. I’m strictly white hat and when I see a business doing something unethical, it usually turns me off to doing business with them. Granted, some sites don’t know what they’re getting into, but most of the time, they do. They know they’re doing something they shouldn’t. There’s no report of why they’re missing. Maybe they’ll come back in an hour. Maybe they’ll be back by the time I finish writing this post.

Back to online reputation and Ripoff Report. As this Search Engine Land post notes, the options of dealing with a claim on Ripoff Report are basic and usually expensive. You can:

  1. Post a rebuttal to the report.
  2. Pay Ripoff Report for VIP Arbitration.
  3. Pay Ripoff Report to join its Corporate Advocacy Program.
  4. Sue the original author of the report.
  5. Sue Ripoff Report (with very little success).
  6. Get Google to delist the report from its index (as shown in this post).
  7. Hire an online reputation management firm to bury the Ripoff Report in the engines.

If you chose option #7, you’re not alone. Most online reputation management companies thrive on burying Ripoff Reports as well as other postings on customer advocacy or complaint sites. Sometimes these complaints are unfounded. Sometimes they are completely true. But either way, it means money for an online reputation firm.

The approach a firm usually uses is one where you beat out the report by creating more content that will rank ahead of the report in engines. Owning your search engine results, in a way. Using a combination of PR and SEO tactics, online reputation managers will issue press releases, blog posts, social media postings, videos, and other content to either refute claims or to keep them well hidden.  When done right, it can be very effective.  With Ripoff Report missing from the index right now, I wonder how it will affect the online reputation management industry, even if it’s just today. (See the Facebook posting on Search Engine People’s wall for discussion).

Online reputation management is something every business should be concerned about. Whether you have a public complaint filed against your or not, everyone needs to recognize the power that lies within a search query. For many people, Google is the first place they go when they want to know about a business’ history, reputation, pricing, commitment to service, etc. Hell, they want to know everything about YOU. Employers will search for you. Students will search for you. Your neighbor will search for you. Everyone will do it – what matters is what shows up in those listings. My best advice? Be conscious of what you post online, both the good and the bad. It makes a difference. (For more information on online reputation management, check out Outspoken Media’s Online Reputation Management Guide. It’s one of the best resources I’ve seen on the subject.)

I’ll be curious to see why Ripoff Report is missing from Google’s index at the moment. Were their practices unsavory? Time will tell. But it’ll be interesting to see the rebuttal they’ll issue to Google. Free of charge and a VIP arbitration program, I’m sure.

 

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37 Comments

  1. Thanks for the acknowledgement Mandy. Interesting situation indeed.

  2. We provide a platform to those people who feel they’ve been ripped off and don’t have the means to fight the battle themselves.

    Have you ever worked with anyone on our staff, interviewed us about our process or done anything but gather hearsay arguments and read our site?

    • Hi Doug – I appreciate your feedback. As I noted toward the beginning of my post, I do understand the purpose of the site and I do agree that it does provide a platform for those who feel they’ve been ripped off. That’s not in dispute. In fact, I’ve found it to be helpful in some cases.

      However, I am stating my opinion based upon information I’ve gathered from others, the site, and my own experience. I invite discussion in this post. I’m honestly interested to see how things will play out.

      As for gathering information from the site itself, I don’t see that as a bad thing. Shouldn’t the site clearly communicate its processes? Shouldn’t consumers/visitors/readers be able to understand how Ripoff Report works based on the information provided on its official website? In my opinion, it should. If I misquoted anything, I apologize.

  3. Good riddance. Frankly all they did was blackmail small businesses for removing unconfirmed junk. Visa/Mastercard have a chargeback process for resolving disputes that isn’t always fair, but at least it’s not a terrible public negotiation. If I am a customer and so disatisfied with a merchant that I feel compelled to act, I go to the BBB. Ripoff Report was exactly that. A Ripoff. It will be interesting to see who fills that niche. I imagine somebody will attempt a service to replace them.

    • Thanks Bumble. I agree with you on the BBB. In my opinion, I find their process to be better all around, for both consumers and businesses.

      • Mark

        Too bad the BBB is a joke. It really does not take much (money) for a company to turn themselves from a low reputation business to a near perfect reputation business at the BBB.

  4. Wow. This is a facsinating turn of events. Ripoff Report is now having to defend it’s online reputation. Hey Doug, for two grand Bumble will pull down his previous comment.

  5. @Bumble Haha two grand? that’s a deal Bumble, very kind of you after what they were charging

  6. Very well Doug. Bumble accepts your apology.

  7. Google would only make a removal on this scale for a major TOS violation.

    Ripoff Report has many adversaries. There is more to this story than a technical SEO issue, IMHO.

    • Nick – great point. Hadn’t thought of at at first, but now it’s definitely something I’ll be anxious to see unfold.

  8. Doug, I have dealt with your site. Spoke to Ed on one occasion and your policy was scandalous. Hire an Attorney they told me. Rip Off Report had the luxury of an attorney on speed dial and a partner in the business. The small business that they harmed with their policies for years did not have that luxury. And the real kicker if I had the money to hire an attorney and I got my court order to remove the content ROR would not remove it. I have worked with complaints board, My 3 cents and all removed malicious reports without an attorney just good common sense and a desire to do the right thing. Now Google has to address pissed consumer they are actually worse than rip off report and offer “online reputation management” services to its victims. Many of the reports on pissed consumer were taken from the Rip Off Report. Ed should be real proud of the industry he started now he is gone and they are still there. Karma is a bitch isn’t it

    I also think this is great news for online reputation management. The deluge of companies offering rip off report removal (which they could never do) completely blighted what is a legitimate online marketing strategy for brand protection. With these internet cowboys filing their own reports and then e-mailing their victims offering “guaranteed $99 removal” it was a wart on our industry and now they will have to find another scam.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Fionn. I agree too with the online reputation management scams – there are quite a few out there. I completely support brand protection through being proactive about what’s being said about the brand online, but making promises of removal? That’s shady to me. In my opinion, anyone who promises removal is trying to take your money. I feel the same way about those who promise #1 ranking in search engines. Great feedback!

  9. I wrote a piece about this around 2:30PM this afternoon.

    http://berkstechnology.com/node/25

    I informed SEOMoz of the event. Whatever it is Google is keeping quiet right now and did not say if there would be a press statement later on.

  10. Lauren

    If Ripoff Report and their unofficial spokesperson, Doug, wants to defend their intentions, how do you defend charging businesses to remove FALSE information?

    It has become far too easy for disgruntled customers to vent their anger with a company online, even if that anger is misplaced. I speak for myself when I say this, but you really have to read a company’s complaints and know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some people just like to complain.

    That said, there are plenty of other companies and websites (i.e the aforementioned BBB) out there devoted to giving consumers a voice, but ethical enough to know that if a company can prove a claim is false, it should be removed.

    Furthermore, until I read this post, I had never even heard of “Ripoff Report”. Perhaps Google can enact a little vigilante justice and instead of users being taken to Ripoff Report’s website, they’ll be taken to a page describing the shady dealings the site took part in that eventually got them banned. Oh, and Ripoff Report can have the page removed for a fee of about…hmm…$1 million. I’m sure they’re good for it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lauren! I agree. I like the way the BBB does business when it comes to handling claims.

  11. Search Engine Land is reporting that Ripoff Report was not banned from the index. It removed itself.: http://searchengineland.com/ripoff-report-not-banned-but-removes-itself-from-googles-index-89000

  12. I just finished reading The Search Engine Lane article, and this is interesting. I know a ton of SEO chasers that put all of their eggs in The Ripoff Report Basket are guessing it was a hacker, I’m starting to wonder.

    I just had a talk with a friend of mine who practices Constitutional Law, and also interned at one point for Congressman Joe Pitts in PA who I have been bouncing CDA 230 issues with his office for the past year and a half, and my friend argues that a repeal of CDA 230 may not be necessary.

    It seems the latest legal move to sue Ripoff Report is to sue them directly for creating content in search engines i.e. Google and not what is created on Ripoff Report. The argument is that CDA 230 does not apply, because you would be suing Ripoff Report on the grounds that they are intentionally creating content on Google and every other search engine not knowing if it is fact or fiction. If we follow this, and some judge agrees that CDA 230 does not apply because the keywords and stuffing that Ripoff Report uses to generate those search results is creating new content, than we could see some interesting results over time.

    In my opinion I think there could be legs to this. Every Website Operator can decide to have their page indexed or not (robots.txt). Most work hard to get their page on top with specific keywords, thus creating content on search engines. Here is another way to put it. Say an SEO Consultant was hired by Nazi Skinheads to defame specific minority businesses with the intention of doing harm financially or physically. The SEO Consultant knowingly did work to create content on search engines that he knew could cause mental, financial, and physical harm, and was also aware of such statements being false. Would The SEO Consultant be able to hide behind CDA 230, by saying he was going off a script? I don’t think so, he would be an accessory from a criminal and civil standpoint as he should be.

    Something to think about.

  13. Great point Matt. You are essentially saying freedom of speech doesn’t cover libel. And in fact, it doesn’t. Still stunned that you can’t report a Ripoff Report on their site about them. With that lack of transparency it’s hard to take them seriously as a consumer advocacy group. Lol

  14. Most people are commenting on this issue likes it’s all about the quality of Ripoff report vs. the BBB or something else. How is that even close to the issue here? To me it’s all about SEO, Google Webmaster Tools, and how a gigantic website can almost instantly vanish from the SERP’s.

  15. Google didn’t ban RipoffReport.com, everyone.

    My intention wasn’t to attack you, Mandy. If I came across that way, I apologize.

    Lauren – so you’ve never heard of the site but you feel qualified to make claims regarding it? Huh?

    Fionn – I’m not sure if you’re mad at the site (note we DO NOT POST REPORTS, consumers do) or SEO and reputation management companies.

    • No worries, Doug.

      Also, just an observation, but the comments you’ve left here and on other blogs can be a little antagonistic. I can understand the frustration of the situation, but from an online reputation management standpoint, does the tone you’re taking accurately portray Ripoff Report? Just a thought.

      • Possibly, but after reading the majority of articles posted yesterday and today, it’s a bit tough to come across as nice and accepting.

        If a bunch of competitors you regularly clashed with held a party to celebrate your temporary site outage while spewing personal insults, we can’t see anyone responding with complete positivity.

        We’re human too.

        • Bill

          Doug, I dont know if all of them were personal insults. Being in the business you are in, you’re going to take a lot of flack and you should have more tack than to antagonize people. Anyway, we dont see a lot of people jumping to your rescue.

        • That’s the first understandable thing you said. I still dont see how you are missing the irony here. Every business that is at the recieving end of some report that is just hateful, unsubstantiated, or malicious feels just like you do right now. But your company makes them pay or file suit to have the report removed. Does that help explain where the animosity is coming from? Seriously, I almost feel bad for you on a personal level because any of us that are railing at you know just how you feel. Unfortunately your company facilitated the actions and exploits the natural defensive reaction by charging for “reputation management”. Its protection money plain and simple.

    • Doug, Did I not make myself clear. I find the practices of the rip off report despicable. I am not mad at anybody I have strong opinions and this is one of them. I make a living in the SEO industry some of the finest people I have ever met work in that industry and I am proud to be part of it. I do not like the cowboy reputation management companies who file fake reports on your site then contact the inncoent victims offering them seervices. I do no consider them part of the SEO industy that I love they are a fringe that brings down the good name of the rest of us. I am not mad at them either just my opinion. It may be hard for you working for an employer like ROR to understand that people can have strong views and opinions wihtout being “mad” when I spoke to Ed Magedson he was very angry, defensive and rude so perhaps you are used to a different company culture where people go around mad all the time.

    • Ella

      Doug, Ripoff Report has posted Reports itself.

      In fact, RIPOFF REPORT posted a report about a WITNESS in a lawsuit against RIPOFF REPORT that asserted exactly the type of keywords and stuffing theory that Matt Heckman described in his post.

      Here’s the REPORT posted personally by RIPOFF REPORT:

      http://www.ripoffreport.com/attorneys-legal-services/kenton-j-hutcherson/kenton-j-hutcherson-hutcherso-6afd8.htm

  16. Doug doesn’t seem interested in dignifying my comments with a response. Guess when push comes to shove RR would just rather ignore negative feedback than pay to have it removed. Wish they gave small biz owners the same option.

    • What do you mean? Small business owners are free to ignore whatever they like. We don’t see much business in charging for that.

      • Did you really just say there is no business in charging small businesses to ignore your site? What a tragedy. My question was, why isnt there a section on RR listing reports of bad business practiced against RR? It would seem that there is quite a bit of feedback that would better serve the consumer on Ripoff Report.

  17. Ravin

    RipOFF Report IS the RIPOFF! RipOFF is your basic BLACKMAIL operation from the get go, and anyone that is slightly curious about how any company can claim Billions of visitors to their website knows it. If you have had your life ruined by RipOFF and believe for one nanosecond that $2000. or any sum of money demanded will buy removal of the slander, false accusations, and innuendo against you from the RipOFF website, WAKE UP! BLACKMAILERS don’t stop by asking for one payment and they don’t give a damn if you have been financially ruined. In fact the blackmailer in this case, promises to protect the identities of the liars. RIPOFF is run by a long haired greasy creep by the name of Ed Mageson who remains in hiding from the public for good reason. For one, he has a criminal record and has been busy for years cutting a wide swath through our country destroying Americans and their businesses. Mageson’s PROMISE is to NEVER EVER remove a post against you, no matter if it’s true or not. He doesn’t care one whit if you have been destroyed, and if every claim against you is false, he aims to rob you while you are down. Mageson wants to keep a file on you, so he and his “associates,” a.k.a. bottom dwelling scum sucking lawyers can sue the H-LL out of You. There are an endless stream of victims in the wake of RipOFF Report whose stories are devastating. These are Americans folks! Mageson is an enemy right here within our own borders! Mageson has purposely set out to ruin countless lives and for what? MONEY! That age old story…GREED, pure and simple. If you are opining any set back to Mageson and his scumbag BLACKMAIL operation RipOFF Report, then YOU are no better than he is. Delisting is the least retribution deserved and if true, it’s about time! As for reputation repair companies, their businesses spring up out of a serious need and when online con men are rampant. RipOff is Not the only conman online, and with tougher economic times ahead he won’t be the last conman either.

  18. Burbank Bob

    While I find the BBB favorable to RipOffReport.com, they often smack of sales-i-ness and will say anything to get a new member. I have also found their arbitration action questionable in the past when they assign aribitrators that have no clue about the issue at hand.

    RipOffReport represents the worst of the USA. They are bottom feeders that are nourished by businesses bleeding from potentially and often certain false claims.

    They need their mouths washed out with cynanide.

  19. If you want to convince yourself if Ripoff Report is corrupt. Everyone here should try to post a compliant about Google or Ripoff Report on Ripoff Report. If Ripoff report is unbiased and for the good of consumers, and as Doug states: “We provide a platform to those people who feel they’ve been ripped off and don’t have the means to fight the battle themselves.” Then we should be able to post our opinions and reports about how we feel about Ripoff Report and Google. Remember these would be our own experiences and opinions about Google’s ranking of Ripoff reports and how we feel about Ripoff report’s handling of disputes, and how much they charge for their resolution services. Sounds like a legitimate business complaint. However, it won’t show up, it will be edited out. So much for freedom of speech. Any made up, unverified compliant is posted by Ripoff report, real or not. Just try it. Make up any name and story and post it, but try to post a complaint on Google or post against ripoff report; ‘I feel Ripoff Report is a ripoff and unfair because…” it won’t show up. Don’t believe Ripoff is an open forum for people to express themselves, try to ‘express yourself’ about them.

  20. Here’s my very personal experience with the almighty Ripoff Report. My partner and I run an extremely reputable business. I’ve been in business over 23 years and have had some of my clients the entire 23 years I’ve been operating.

    Over 2 years ago we got into an argument with our suite neighbors over the fact that they would have “sales rallies” at 9pm at night, banging on the walls, playing loud music, yelling…. extremely disruptive behavior. After multiple complaints to management (and requests to the owner of the company) about the fact the company was breaking their lease (we all sign a lease that contains the clause “quiet enjoyment of premises”), nothing changed. Every day at 1 pm, and every night at 9 pm it sounded like a dance club is operating next door to us.

    One night my partner went over to ask them to be quiet and the sales team laughed in his face. Words were exchanged.

    Two days later an anonymous ripoff report was posted listing our names and our business name. Even though we posted a rebuttal and requested Ripoff Report to remove the report (the report lists services we don’t even offer), the report wasn’t removed. The only thing we received was an “offer” to mediate the complaint for the price of over $2000.00.

    As a side note, the company next door happens to have hundreds of complaints on Ripoff Report. They are very familiar with the site.

    So, how is it fair, that someone can post a completely false and anonymous report listing our names and allow no way for the innocent to easily remove the false report? Two years later the false report shows up multiple times on the first page of Google’s search returns. How is it legal to defame a completely innocent company and leave the burden on us to try to “bury” the results, pay for mediation, or file a lawsuit? We don’t have enough money to fight with Ed Magedson and his lawyers and we can’t directly sue the company who filed the report because they cleverly didn’t list their name.

    At the end of the day, I have to rely on the fact that the people who know me personally know my character. But for those new or budding relationships, this type of defamation can be damaging and costly. And somehow it’s all legal and Google just keeps exacerbating the problem.

    If anyone has suggestions for the little guy, I’m all ears.

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