SEO

How to Combat Complaints Sites in Google : Open Discussion

Combatting complaints sites in Google results has become an ongoing issue for many companies, as consumer complaints from years ago can appear on the front page of Google results when a brand name is searched upon.

Sites like RipOffReport, Pissedconsumer.com and Complaints.com are also no slouches when it comes to SEO and public relations, which pair organized and optimized site structure with organic linking via press coverage; into a deadly combination.

Why Are Complaints Sites So Popular?

From the consumer point of view, reputation management is a slippery slope in the search engines, as complaints sites are generally a reaction to poor service and give the consumers the effective channel to be heard, and possibly even effect the business of the company that they feel ripped them off.

Why write one letter to customer service when your letter can be shared with the world and possibly even rank highly on Google, attracting comments from other consumers and sometimes leading to a resolution with the company.

This is why complaint sites are so popular. The reality is that the clean-up for the small business can also be daunting, since RipOffReport.com has so much trust in the engines now, and a review on the site is about as hard to move in the SERPs as an angry bear away from its dinner.

Reputation Management or SEO?

Of course, the best way to battle online complaints is via not making mistakes and through good reputation management, responding to complaints in a personal manner from management, and not from a boilerplate response….

But as search marketers, these complaints sites are a pest to the performance of our clients, and with a good amount of them being either shakedown artists or complaints initiated by competition; we want to annihilate them from the front page of Google results (or from above the fold).

As long as TV and offline advertising campaigns are driving Google searches for brand names, those complaint sites, if they rank, are taking money and revenue from your ad campaign. And as search marketers, I’d like to ask readers to comment on ways to battle complaint site listings or more importantly, how to secure a company’s brand image in the search results.

I’ll review some of the basic techniques of dealing with complaint sites, but the goal of this post is to initiate an open conversation on complaint sites and how to outrank them. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation in the comments following this post.

Ways to Combat Complaint Sites in Google Results :

  • Subdomains, Company Blogs and Media Channels : One of the more popular ways to battle complaints pages is by setting up blogs run by your company on either a subdomain or a whole new URL. Chances are your company is sitting on plenty of unused domains which the have been buying over the years. Launch a CompanyBlog.com, a Testimonials.CompanyName.com site and some other high content subdomains or company resource sites to assist with the fight against complaint sites.

    Home Depot is a great example, as with a foundation site, workshop site and separate careers page they have outranked HomeDepotSucks.com … a site which used to rank #1 for “home depot” about 8 years ago.

  • Take advantage of .TV : Does your company produce videos for YouTube and other video uploading sites? Why not launch your company’s own version of Youtube at YourCompany.TV?

    The mix of video and transcript will surely lead to relevant rankings and incoming links and comment participation by your employees and possibly your own customers.

  • Blog and Press Coverage : One method to gather search results for your brand is to have bloggers write about your brand, company and newsworthy events that your company runs. When approaching bloggers about covering your company, ask them to include your company name in their title, URL structure (if they have optimized their blog URLs) and perhaps link to your site and other online coverage of your company (like your Wikipedia page or social profiles).

    Some paid reviews services are an excellent way to get these blog reviews running, and be sure to tell them to embed videos from your site’s YouTube Channel, this will increase the video views and syndication, which increases the overall authority of your channel.

  • Branded Online Social Profiles : Yes, this may sound very basic, but securing social profiles on the top social networking and social news sharing sites will not only assist with brand controlled search rankings, but also defend your brand against social profile squatters who register brand names.

    Be sure to befriend others with your profiles and use them to upload and share relevant news and stories not only from your company, but about the industry you serve.This will keep your profiles fresh and relevant.

  • Set Up a Social Press Room : Does your company have an In The Press section of your site or a Press Room? If so, be sure to add an area which links out to the large social profiles, blog coverage, your .TV site and blogs, forum threads, Wikipedia pages and other Internet areas which cover your brand or are controlled by your brand. This will give them instant legitimacy.
  • Hosted & Cobranded Subdomains : One step up from the blog reviews and blog coverage is actually reaching out to authority sites within your industry or vertical and having them set up a subdomain area of their site which is more of a cobranded brochure on your company.

    Example : company.searchenginejournal.com. PissedConsumer.com takes full advantage of the use of subdomains in their URL structure and targeted complaints areas, which they promote themselves. See if your company can get the jump by using a similar approach.

  • Video & Youtube : One strategy that businesses can utilize is the optimization of social video to leverage blended searches love for video content. By creating a well optimized video, complete with a well structured title, relevant contextual transcript, and links from company controlled websites, a small business can give themselves a “quick fix” tool to help reposition negative sentiment in the SERPs.

How do you combat complaint sites in Google and other search engines?

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list icon smile How to Combat Complaints Sites in Google : Open Discussion

[Thanks to Dave Snyder for helping with this post]

Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM How to Combat Complaints Sites in Google : Open Discussion
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM How to Combat Complaints Sites in Google : Open Discussion

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20 thoughts on “How to Combat Complaints Sites in Google : Open Discussion

  1. I’ve seen and tried a number of techniques for branded reputation management.

    Before jumping too far in, let’s just say that even if you don’t have problems now, you need to get protective with branded terms. The registration (and regular use) of social media profiles, YouTube channels, etc. will all help. Remember that the longer these resources exist, the stronger they’ll grow organically.

    Many people dismiss the necessity for reputation management until they have a problem. Procrastination isn’t an excuse. Just like no one can ever maintain a 100% client satisfaction or retention rate – someone will cause detriment to your brand. So, protect it.

    The larger issue here though is that complaint sites are not only prevalent in SERPs (particularly Google’s) — they’re dominant at times.

    The engines are continuing to provide these sites with a false sense of power. Like Wikipedia has exaggerated, UGC is impossible to control.

    Competitors can easily use a number of complaint sites to damage the brands in their space. But just because they can, doesn’t make it right.

    Now… none of that helps. The question you pose Loren still remains — how to outrank these complaint sites.

    First, if you can respond to a complaint, do so with transparency and direct viewers to a resource you can control (like a feedback page, complaints blog for your ocmpany, etc.).

    Next, do not visit those pages often, and certainly don’t click through from SERPs to them. I don’t care what anyone tells me, GOOG applied for a patent years ago that analyzed the connection between clickthroughs and future SERP positions… So I don’t want that making my job more difficult – even if the impact only affects what I see.

    Then, you need to optimize the hell out of your space. Fight to appear for things like “(brand) complaints”, “(brand) feedback”, “(brand) testimonials”, “(brand) reviews”, etc.

    To do that, you need all of the things mentioned here. Profiles. Blogs. Pages. Subdomains. Subfolders. Navigational changes to your site… All of it.

    When you find something starting to stick, work that angle continuously. Get people involved with it too.

    Ethically speaking, negative SEO (targeting detrimental effects at competing or undesirable URLs) isn’t recommended since it’s bound to bite you back some day.

    Stick to transparency, ethics and consistent messages. Then develop content and build up a resource that pushes other, negatice listings out while also providing more business opportunities for your brand.

  2. I think we need a public service campaign to educate everyone about Ripoff report and others, so they don’t even consider these complaints as legitimate.

    The PSA has to go viral, so it will need Chris Crocker and Will Ferrel’s involvement…

    But seriously, sites like this should not exist. Any site that will clean up your listings for a fee is obviously corrupt. I wish the search engines would adjust their algorithms accordingly, since they also frown upon paid links.

  3. I think the big word here is proactive. That must occur at several levels.

    First be proactive in ensuring your product service package will ensure that most customers really enjoy using your products and services. Listen to complaints and modify and improve to try to satisfy as many customers as possible.

    Then be proactive in listening to all customers. Make sure it’s easy for a customer to communicate with you and get a rapid response. This should not be just a mechanism for customers to let off steam.

    Finally be proactive in trying to make sure that you aware of possible customer dissatisfactions where they do not get in touch with you. I think the example of companies like Dell and Comcast show the way. Comcastcare on Twitter really tries to find out every dissatisfied tweak and initiate a caring response.

    If you have all these things in place, then you are well armed to provide the strongest showing in the SIRPs.

  4. 1. Get full committment from client.
    (Explain Digg, do searches on brands and product names, etc.)
    2. Do Positive SEO
    3. Do Negative SEO if neccessary.
    4. Do PPC if needed.

  5. Great freaking article….my boss asked me to address this issue about 2 months ago and I had read some things here and there. EVERYTHING I read is nicely and neatly placed in this post.Great job!

  6. This is very good. We had to do Reputation Management for a few clients. We offered them a few solutions, but they didn’t go for it. His main concern was on his full name.

    We ended up buying his vanity domain and putting a WordPress blog on there as well as creating blogs on other networks (wordpress, blogger).

    He didn’t want us writing content for it and he hasn’t done it himself. They are ranking, but not beating out the negative info. It’s hard to beat a .gov without some content.

  7. Certainly people should be managing their reputations online and elsewhere, and as Barry says, be pro-active. However, I take issue with the idea that Ripoff Report is not a legitimate site. You may not like their “no-removal” policy for SEO reasons, but the site serves a valuable purpose by giving angry consumers a place to tell their story and for journalists and law enforcement to compile evidence of a potential scam operation. That alone, Linda, makes it legit to me. Sure there are goofballs who post weird claims (just like trolls at any blog), but I’m more likely to believe it’s a fraction of the submissions as opposed to a majority of them.

    In addition to rep management, though, most companies could stand to take a hard look inside at their customer service policies and potential breakdowns. In my corporate days we treated any feedback as good feedback, since it gave us an opportunity to improve. Maybe some of these companies that are trying to hide their misdeeds could take a page from that playbook, rather than runing away from them…and blaming the blog messenger.

  8. A customer once contacted me about a similar issue. His name had a pretty bad reputation in the SERPs. At the end of the day, “I made my judgement” and decided not to take the job for moral reasons.

    On the other hand, every person has the right to have a lawyer, a PR agency and, why not, a SEO company to suport him in the SERPs. The hard part is to determine until what extend this right goes and we are willing to go.

  9. I need some help this site has stolen my money i do not know whom to get some leagle action from i live in australia and not very good with trying to find help please could you just help me regards betm

  10. Why do sites like ripoffreport keep coming up high on search engine results? Why does Google tolerate a site so many people complain about???

  11. @Martin: having complaints does not mean your site is bad…just as having lawsuits doesn’t mean your company is doing anything illegal. People complain a lot, and for a variety of reasons, but if ROR follows the rules set by Google, they’ll continue to be indexed. Matt Cutts of Google said at PubCon recently that he looked at ROR and he didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing. So, they will remain on Google and whatever they’re doing to get high rankings, it works. My guess is it’s due to sheer volume and use of kws.

  12. ROR does something to keep their site ‘current’. Other sites fluctuate in their rankings. When they’ve been updated they go to the top and over time they fade back and newer articles/sites come to the top. ROR is always on top. It must be doing something to keep itself current. Does anyone know how they do that?

  13. @Veronica…. I think the concept of complaint sites is great. Giving the little guy a voice is a great thing. What I do not like is the way ROR is setup. The complain is presented on top of the page, with it’s big headline. If you respond to it, the response is almost hidden. It’s listed on the bottom of the page, beneath a bunch of ads. Most people will scroll down and once they hit the ads they stop. It’s natural as the standard page layout has ads on the bottom so people will associated ads with the end of the page and assume there is nothing beneath the ads. But that’s where a reply is hiding. So if some idiot posts a big heading “Joe is a KILLER!” I would bet that 90% of people looking up Joe would read that, and never get to the bottom of the page that says “Joe is not a killer and this is a false posting”. ROR layout design is meant to be damaging and prevents replies/rebuttals from being heard.

  14. Another approach is to try to effectively “push down” the rankings of unfavourable pages by promoting favourable or neutral pages that already rank on the first page for the search term.

  15. The problem here is the CDA. There needs to be accountability for posting defamation on the web. Not only should the person posting such information be held accountable but a website or search engine that refuses to remove such statements should also be held accountable.