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Dirty Tricks Can Deep Six Your Business

By Carl Weiss
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For the past ten years, the search engines have moved heaven and earth to crack down on black hat practitioners who used underhanded techniques to generate online results.  

But what most website owners don't know is that much of the same technology used to legitimately promote businesses online can also be used to do them harm.  In this article, we'll explore a number of dirty tricks that are being used by unscrupulous website owners to harm to their competition.  This growing trend has the potential to once more unleash a tidal wave of unfair trade practices that may adversely affect the balance of power online. If you want to find out how dirty tricks can be used to give your business the deep six, then read on and find out competitors can use dirty tricks to deep-six your web presence.

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There was a time not long ago when the search engines began cracking down on what were termed Black Hat SEO Techniques.  Tactics such as keyword stuffing, serial websites, and link farms, just to name a few, were deemed forbidden by every search engine on the internet.  The reasons why were obvious: If you could cheat them to beat them, there was no way that search engine operators could guarantee the validity of their searches.  Back in the early days of the Internet, there was little that the search engines could do to curb this trend since their spiders were not savvy enough to understand what they were reading.  However, this is no longer the case.  What this means is if you either knowingly or unknowingly hire a practitioner of black hat SEO, you could find your site sandboxed or even de-listed.  As a result, you need to take care when entrusting your online business assets to a third party.

The good news is that black hat SEO companies are a dying breed.  The bad news is that a number of former black hat companies have recycled their evil skills in order to turn a profit.  What I am referring to is the growing danger of online dirty tricks, where an unscrupulous business owner willingly pays to have a competitor’s reputation smeared or even worse, overt damage their web presence in such a way that it becomes difficult or even impossible to do business on or offline.

The Deep Six Dirty Tricks:

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1. How to Make Them Ashamed of Their Name? – Everyone knows how online reputation sites have changed the way in which we do business. Whereas in years past a shoddy business could operate with impunity, today the first place that a disgruntled customer will go are to sites like Google Local, Yelp, Angie’s List, Ripoff Report or other reputation sites to lodge a complaint.  While a boon to consumers, many of these sites allow people to post complaints anonymously.  This opens up the doors for underhanded competitors to post fabricated complaints against a competing business in order to damage the competition.  Worse still: a number of these complaint mills don’t offer a way for a business to address or fix the complaint. This means that once posted, it is nearly impossible to seek to prove your innocence.

2. Social Damage is in the Newsfeed If reputation and rating sites were not enough, social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube make it easy for competitors to slander your reputation. A person who does not know you, or follow you can go on Facebook and review your company as poor, (without recourse). Anyone on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or Facebook can post negative press in the Newsfeed of any of these social networks. Yes, you can in most cases delete the post but that post remains in other times lines, even after you removed it from yours. To make matters worse, the social posts (as are many of the rating/ranking sites) are used to help determine organic search rankings, and this negative press drives your organic position down. YouTube is a whole other animal. Here, would-be perp’s can not only leave negative comments, but they can also make their own videos, spoofing your company, mocking your products or outright attacking your product/companies integrity. Getting these videos pulled takes an act of congress, so once up, the battle of he said she said is on.

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3. The Use of Yellow Press Works Best – Another way to damage a company’s reputation is by publishing inflammatory blogs, news feeds and press releases about a competitor.  Sound far-fetched?  Back in May of 2011, ABC News reported that Facebook admitted hiring a major public relations firm to pitch anti-Google stories to news outlets across the U.S.  The blog went on to elaborate the fact that a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up where writers are paid to write comments on review sites that either boost a given business or criticize it.

4. Targeted Hacks are Back – Hackers can also be employed by a competitor to do everything from launch Denial of Service attacks on your website, to attempting overt industrial espionage.  Several businesses were even damaged by hackers when they subverted ownership of a company’s social sites or even closed or deleted a company’s social site or blog.  Wresting control of another person’s online asset is surprisingly simple.  Even if that fails, it is child’s play to create a social site or website that spoofs a competitor’s, thereby giving the hacker carte blanche to post all sorts of slanderous material.  Just like identity theft, if this should happen to your business, it could take months to sort out the mess this creates. Since these tricksters can be located anywhere in the world, trying to seek redress for any damage done can prove to be all but impossible. (See our previous blog, “The Hack Attack is Back.”)

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5. Free for All With a Fraud for Good Measure – Another way that competitors can strike is by making fraudulent purchases.  In a recent CNN Wire report, Uber, a San Francisco ride-sharing service was accused by a competitor, Lyft, of having its employees order and cancel some 5,000 rides since last October.  The article goes onto say: Lyft claims 177 Uber employees around the country have booked and canceled rides in that time frame. Bogus requests decrease Lyft drivers’ availability, which could send users to Uber instead. But it’s not just the company that suffers. Canceled rides jeopardize income that Lyft drivers depend on — plus they spend time and gas money en route to passengers who have no intention of taking a ride. And even when Uber employees don’t cancel, Lyft drivers complain to headquarters that they take short, low-profit rides largely devoted to luring them to work for Uber.  Lyft claims to have cross-referenced the phone numbers associated with known Uber recruiters with those attached to accounts that have canceled rides. They found, all told, 5,560 phantom requests since October 3, 2013.” While the article goes onto state that there was nothing to suggest that Uber’s corporate office commissioned or sanctioned the canceled rides, it states there is the potential for a competitor to create havoc in a company by the use of such tactics.

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6. Inside Jobs Are a Threat as Well – If you have ever wandered inside a casino, then you know that they are full of security cameras that record everything from the players and dealers on the gaming floor, to game supervisors and security guards that handle either chips or cash.  Unfortunately, most small businesses do not have access to this kind of technology.  As a result, this leaves the doors open for a competitor to have one of his or her minions infiltrate your business.  As the old saying goes, “It’s hard to find good help.” However, for underhanded competitors, it’s oh-so-easy to find bad help by hiring a saboteur that is paid to join your ranks.  Once inside a company, the damage that can be done by an interloper is incalculable.  Everything from client lists, to suppliers, and even in some cases social security numbers can be stolen by a wily competitor.  Armed with the keys to the vault as it were, this kind of access can not only harm a company’s bottom line, it can destroy in from within.  Also, if a hacker wants to gain access to a server, there is no easier way than being able to plug an external thumb drive into a system.  If that wasn’t bad enough, Amazon even carries a book in its listings entitled, “How to Steal Your Boss’s Job.”  Talk about an inside job!

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When it comes to doing business, competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s been proven to spur innovation and force an industry to tighten its belt, which in many cases improves prices for consumers. (Remember when laptops used to retail for $2,500?)  Currently, the only thing a company can do to protect themselves is to proactively build a stockpile of positive press and ratings. However, if a competitor decides to go to the dark side and use dirty tricks, the only numbers you’re likely to see could be the Deep Six.

In this article, I covered six dirty tricks unscrupulous companies use when they hire black hat SEO companies to hurt your organic search ranking and damage your company's reputation. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend with no end in sight for the immediate future. Businesses can only be proactive in trying to build up a stockpile of positive press and Internet ratings to combat these
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growing numbers of dirty tricks.

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Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio

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  1. These behaviors are unscrupulous; best to learn how to protect your business' reputation.

  2. I feel depressed and a bit dirty just reading this. What a shame the lengths some people will go to hurt someone else rather than improve themselves. Thanks for making us aware, but now I need to watch "Annie" to get in a better mood!

  3. Most people know that black hat techniques can get your website sandboxed or delisted. However, most business owners do not realize that competitors can use dirty tricks online to undermine any web presence. If you want to recognize the warning signs and be able to defend yourself you need to read this blog.

  4. It just seems to me these "scoundrels" are not taken seriously enough. It should be a crime to intentionally ruin a business' reputation using such techniques. Hackers and "black-hatters" need to be jailed for extended periods, not "cracked down on by search engines". I guess the good news is, if you beef up your positive press and ratings, you'll look that much better either way.

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  6. The best way to combat 1 negative review is get 10 great ones. Its not hard to find people who like you and your business. If you cannot find 10, then you realize you need to work on finding people who like you or you have no business and reviews will not matter!

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