How a Bad Online Reputation Can Kill a Brand

What happens when your company’s reputation is so bad you have no other option but to kill the brand? Could it really get to that point? Well, yes, I’ve seen it happen.

Let me lay out a scenario for a company I’ll call Acme Opportunity Group. The company is fictitious but the scenario is all too common.

Acme started out with high hopes. It built a website (but only one), which ranked pretty well. In fact, it ranked right at the top of a Google search for “Acme Opportunity Group.” The company aggressively recruited sales people, who went out and aggressively sold the product.

A few customers complained about one thing or another, but that’s to be expected for any company. It was assumed that Customer Support would handle the issues. Isn’t that their job?

Sometimes Customer Support wasn’t quick enough, or didn’t handle the issue well enough. A few customers went online and wrote their experiences up on a couple of the review websites. Someone who was particularly unhappy claimed the company was a scam, because of its aggressive sales techniques and unwillingness to quickly refund money.

Then those complaint sites started showing up on the first page of the search engine results for Acme. But the company was in high gear and forged ahead. You can’t please everyone, and what’s one or two complaints?

Then a couple of bloggers who didn’t care for Acme’s business model posted a few blogs about the company, casually tossing about phrases like “unethical business practices,” “questionable sales tactics”, and of course “scam.” Since their sites were popular, Google ranked them high on a search for Acme Opportunity Group.

The Marketing department of Acme was concerned that the first page of a search for Acme now had about half negative websites, and Acme’s website had slipped to the number two spot, just below a page from RipoffReport.com. They thought it was a PR issue and told the PR department, who passed the buck to the webmaster, who simply tried tweaking the site with search engine optimization tricks.

No one thought they could do anything about the negative review sites.

Unwittingly, someone from the PR department posted rebuttals on the various sites, which led to a back-and-forth discussion about the merits of the company. Google picked up on the fact that these sites had lots of new relevant content about the company, and duly ranked these negative sites even higher for a search on Acme.

Acme’s president asked why sales were dropping off, and why the company no longer received any prospects online. The marketing and PR people looked at each other, suggested new marketing and PR campaigns, and requested bigger budgets.

By this time, the first page of a Google search contained eight negative websites, and Acme’s webpage was down to number three. A prospect doing a search would get a bad impression of the company without even having to click through any of the links. It was all there in the website names: scam.com, complaintsboard.com, ripoffreport.com.

In the eyes of the public, Acme’s name was mud.

The company decided it had no choice but to kill the brand it had spent so much time and money building. Acme changed its name and started over.

Of course, you can take steps to prevent this kind of thing happening, as Acme could have. That’s the whole point of online reputation management – to keep the first page or two of searches from becoming overrun with negative websites. But it’s better if you start early, because sometimes if a reputation is too damaged, little can be done to repair it.

However, even if things look bad, not all is lost. I had one client with seven negative websites in the top ten search engine results. Over the course of about 15 months we were able to fill the first page of search results with all positive websites.

But if you don’t do anything about it, you may end up like Acme Opportunity Group and have to kill your brand. Don’t let this happen to you.