Did you have an angry customer or disgruntled employee create a smear website or leave a bad review that ranks on the front page?

There is Good News & Bad News

The bad news is this is going to take dozens of hours of work, and months of time will go by before the offending website is removed from the front page. The good news is that 95% of what you are going to do, will be an application of good SEO practices and will have general SEO benefits to your site. Pushing the Bad website off the front page is going to be mostly a side benefit.

But it’s only off the front page? I want it to disappear!

Trust me, once it is off the front page it is effectively gone. 91% of searches never click beyond the first page. In addition the people clicking beyond the front page usually are not your best customers, they are often employees and competitors. It is very unlikely you will be able to get something removed from the internet entirely, but there is a small chance and that will be discussed further below.

Step 1 – Make less listings appear on the front page.

In the image below you can see the difference between traditional listings and expanded listings using structured data in the Google search results. Configuring your schema correctly to produce these types of rich data cards will actually take up more space on the page. This results in the website you are trying to hide being pushed further down the page and possibly even off the front page.


Step 2 – Company Micro Sites

Next we take information that would normally be contained with a page on your website, or maybe even just a section of a page like the Mission Statement from an about page, and we make a whole website out of it.

We will link to this page from your website’s about page. And we will link back to your website from this microsite. For some companies a mission is really important. So an expansion from one paragraph to several pages of examples or stories about why you do business makes sense.

Other great opportunities to create a micro sites can come from the careers page of your website. This page can easily be expanded with information on company culture and what types of things you are looking for in applicants resumes. This can actually really have a positive impact on the business because it really is useful for the candidates you most want to higher.

And another good place to build a microsite would be if your company has any type of non profit initiative it is involved in. Even something like a day where your company goes to clean up a nearby park is a great place to look for self promotion. These types of activities are typically blog posts but there is no reason they can’t be their own microsite

I would do a maximum of 6 of these types of related domains. It works a lot better if you can find two or three links that you can get to point to these sites, besides your main websites. For example, if you have a website dedicated to your “City Park Cleanup Day”, maybe the city Parks and Recreation website would be willing to give you a link.

  • Special note, many people will think this technique sounds like creating a PBN (Private Blog Network). Which is Black Hat and not something Google approves of. PBN websites will hide their WHOIS information, set up on different Web Hosts and do everything they can to trick Google into thinking they were not developed by the same person. We are not going to do this, all of these websites can be hosted on the same platform, and have identical Whois info. If you don’t have more than 6 company micro sites this is should not trigger any PBN warnings with Google.

Step 3 – Don’t Forget the Easy Stuff

Often the links directly under a company will be social networks when looking for a company name. You need to make sure you have pages on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and all the major social sites. What controls how high those links appear is how active those profiles are. So use a program like Buffer to schedule posts for the week and make sure that your company profiles are updating every day with new content.

This is the easiest thing you can do and will also be the quickest strategy for pushing down the site we are trying to drop.

Step 4 – Disavow the Link

What does it mean to disavow the link?

Normally if you start to receive links that look spammy, Google will think you are trying to artificially inflate your rankings. In order to not get punished by Google you can “disavow” those links to your site, saying that you have no relationship with the sketchy links and those sites aren’t related to yours.

Because the site that gave us a bad review probably linked to us, we can “disavow” their link as well. This won’t have a major impact on their site by itself, but it is a negative signal to Google that someone has a problem with their site. It also lets Google know that maybe that site isn’t a good match for searches of your brand name.

Special note, if you are very lucky and this negative site has ALSO linked to the website of a mutual party that you are affiliated with you should also ask them to disavow the link.

Joe Plumber’s service was no good. I ended up having to go to a local hardware store to buy the stuff to do my own project”.

If you are lucky and can get the local hardware store to also disavow links from this page, it will be a VERY negative signal to Google and we might see this page not just pushed from the front page but out of the search results entirely.

Step 5 – Push for a News Link

If a small to medium sized business is written about in the local press it can be the second or third link on company name searches for years!

This is the most difficult strategy to replicate for each unique business and in some ways falls more under the category of PR than SEO or reputation management, but it can be the most effective way to control the message and google results for your company. So think about what makes your company story worthy and reach out the local press to see if they would be interested in running the story.

For more help getting a news link check out this excellent Moz article from Casey Meraz.

Step 6 – Guest posting with Partner Businesses

Are there businesses you work with closely and have a good relationship with? Trade Blog posts with that company, where each of you will write up a quick company profile to expose your customers to the partner business.

Have them write something simple like, “Why we use company Joe’s Plumber service when we need to fix a pipe” but make sure that the are correctly optimizing their post to rank for your company’s name. A tool like Yoast can be great for this.

Step 7 – The Psychology of Dealing with the Angry (Possibly Crazy) Customer Directly.

Now that you see how much work it can be to remove a negative listing from the front page, make sure you aren’t overlooking the most direct approach. Asking the angry customer to take it down.

I have two important questions I try to answer before I talk to the customer. When did they put up the angry site? And can i speak with them in a professional way?

The question is the most important. If you cannot remain perfectly calm and professional when dealing with the customer, you risk upsetting them further and creating more problems, so do not engage with them at all. Even if you are 100% right and they are 100% wrong, it is important not to argue with them. Be apologetic, offer to make recompense in some way and see if that can solve their issue. Make sure to document all communications, and make double sure that every communication makes you look like a great company with excellent customer service. You can already see how it will take dozens of hours to remove their listing from the front page. Depending on what the customer thinks the problem was it can often be much cheaper just to give them a refund they don’t deserve rather than pay for the work of burying their site. If you are very lucky perhaps a simple apology will accomplish the job for you.

But whatever you do, don’t be these guys – part of being a good business is accepting criticism gracefully, even if it isn’t warranted.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can get to the interesting stuff. The first benchmark was how quickly after your first issue with this customer did they put up their angry site? This is something I have never seen discussed in the fields of Reputation Management but has been my secret weapon.

If the angry site went up within 1-3 days of their interaction with your company, I put them firmly in the category of (Bored techy with too much time on their hands). Which is really good. You don’t know if they were really that upset, because the work of throwing up this site was not much to them. Maybe they had other things going on in their life at the time, and they aren’t even upset anymore, they just haven’t thought about it enough to take it down. People in this category often take down their sites for an apology, and I once even saw them change the highly ranking review to a positive one after a simple refund!

Warning: if they come from the second group and their negative review site went up 3 months or more after their interaction with your company then they have a very different kind of problem. Someone who has been dwelling about an experience this far in the past and has gradually become angry enough about it that they will create a whole site to damage your company may have mental health issues. I usually do not recommend contacting these people at all. But you can read their specific grievance and give it a shot if you are very good at conflict management and think you can help them to see your side.

Anyone who comes within the grey area of more than 3 days, but less than 3 months is someone you will have to use your best judgement on. But keep all your records and as a last step you can use an attorney if you need to.

Step 8 – Legal Intervention

Assuming you have kept excellent records of your communication with the person smearing your business and you have provided excellent customer service along the way it may be time to speak with an attorney.

There are metrics you can use to determine the lost business and how much you have been harmed financially by the negative review site and that will be a good number to reference if things get to that point.

Most small businesses don’t have the time, money or patience to hire a lawyer, but most consumers have even less time and money for one. The review is legally entitled to speak about their experience, but anything they say about your company that isn’t factually true is defamation. Having a lawyer draft a letter to them threatening legal action if they website doesn’t come down can be an effective strategy to get the website taken down.

Final Tip for Extra Credit – The Epic Signature / Bio

This tip from Rand Fishkin on the Moz Blog. It is from 2010 but it has still been working great for our clients.

Do you ever see Bio’s like this? This speakers biography is a useful map to a group of websites, all relating to the speaker and their business. This universal biography can be repeated wherever an authors or speakers bio appears. These types fo bios send a strong signal to Google that these links always appear together and are related. Because of that relation they have a higher chance of appearing together on the front page of your searches for your companies brand name.