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.
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.
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:
- Post a rebuttal to the report.
- Pay Ripoff Report for VIP Arbitration.
- Pay Ripoff Report to join its Corporate Advocacy Program.
- Sue the original author of the report.
- Sue Ripoff Report (with very little success).
- Get Google to delist the report from its index (as shown in this post).
- 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.