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Online reputation management promises to save businesses and individuals alike

Jim's coworkers just found out he's a brony.

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Want a good scare? We’d recommend reading excerpts from Jon Ronson’s forthcoming nonfiction book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In it, Ronson profiles people whose lives have been ruined by online mobs of righteous indignation – sometimes because of truly despicable behavior, and occasionally for nothing at all.

Enter online reputation management companies, promising to wash away the disastrous Google results that are capable of burying a business or individual. Typically they just employ standard SEO techniques to help bury incriminating search results. Sometimes they resort to outright extortion.

Take a look at some of the best, and worst, of the burgeoning reputation management industry.

The Good

Despite the bad rep (ironically) of many Google-hacking reputation management companies, there are a few out there that can be trusted, among them BrandYourself. But even the big names like Reputation.com (if you’ve listened to NPR in the last year, you’ve likely heard of them) and Brand.com are not immune to controversy. In short, buyer beware.

The Bad

There are a few warning signs that you’re dealing with a less-than-trustworthy reputation management company. Do they promise to submit your site to thousands of search engines? Well how many search engines can you name off the top of your head? The promises of 1000s of “directory links” or the front page of Google in 24 hours are also meaningless. And even if a company is offering more nefarious means of getting your negative results buried, don’t bother – the Google algorithm is tweaked several times a week to avoid “black hat” scams.

The Illegal

And then there’s straight-up blackmail. Revenge and mugshot sites like MyEx.com or will often offer to remove offending content for a fee, anywhere from $50 to five figures. Google has been cracking down on the problem, but that hasn’t prevented predatory companies like RemoveSlander.com and RemoveMug from thriving online. If you’ve been targeted by one of these scams, your best option is to consult with a legitimate attorney and see what can be done.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for SEO problems. As Google’s own Webmasters Tools says, “Even if Google deletes the site or image from our search results, the webpage still exists and can be found through the URL to the site, social media sharing, or other search engines. This is why your best option is to contact the webmaster who can remove the page entirely.”

Now go forth (and keep your nose clean).

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