Scenario: Someone searches for your business and Google has taken the liberty of appending your business name with something not-so-nice.
Recently a local business owner (who I won’t identify because it would make things worse) was referred to me about how to remove an autocomplete result in reference to his business. eg. ‘Long Island Tennis Tournament Referee Bribed’
How does autocomplete work? Google claims that it is mostly driven by actual user searches but may have a combination of actual user searches, past search history and rising popular searches. We have evidence that it combines terms that are not necessarily adjacent and does filter out terms like ‘scam’. For more information on how autocomplete works, see this Search Engine Land article.
- Volume of searches
- Click through rate (CTR)
- Volume of results of nearby searches
First of all, be honest. Is the autocomplete actually referencing the truth? eg. Was a referee for the Long Island actually bribed? If not, then go find out what the sites that are showing up for that term are actually using for content. Is it computer generated garbage? Is it a forum of disgruntled customers that you need to deal with? If so, then it is a bit tougher.
Can I manipulate Autcomplete results? Yes. But it will cost you. Last year Brent Payne, former Chicago Tribune SEO, used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to manipulate a search term of his own and got himself banned from autcomplete mostly because he pissed off Matt Cutts (Google’s head of Web Spam) for good reason.
Reputation management firms are quick to fix the problem by burying the bad term with artificially boosting a nicer term by using similar methods and writing content for it. The problem is that (much like Rogaine) you have to keep paying to keep the bad term away.
Sometimes the term is replaced by a more recent or popular term naturally. Other ways to accelerate this effect can be publicity stunts or viral marketing.
What is Google doing to help?
Despite some legal requirements in various countries, Google has apparently had enough of business owners freaking out over suggestions and has removed ‘scam’ in some autocomplete results and has removed piracy related terms like ‘bittorrent’. For a time the term ‘lesbians’ was blocked too.
Second, ask yourself what you are willing to do. If you have the resources to write multiple versions of content about a replacement phrase and distribute it cleverly across multiple domains that have pagerank and actually have ‘dofollow’ links, then maybe it is worth the time. It could be the online marketing kick start you should have done years ago.
If you don’t have those crazy resources, hire them out, but ask important questions. Reputation management firms will most likely have a two prong approach 1) They will tell you, or hopefully write themselves, a lot of content for the web that creates a new phrase that will hypothetically (and temporarily) bump the bad phrase down with a bunch of innocuous phrases that don’t alarm prospective customers. 2) They will get these phrases popular on the user side by making various users and robots (like Brent Payne did above) do the preferred search term that will be corroborated with the content they wrote. This simulates a ‘trend’ and will hopefully replace the nasty suffix. This will not be permanent as they need to keep the search volume up and the content fresh by continuing to write about this artificial trend to keep ahead of the offending theme.
Be sure to get complete answers to the following questions:
- What happens after the campaign is complete? Are the effects permanent and why or why not?
- Does this run a risk of having my site penalized by Google?
Third, deal with it head on. This is more of a PR strategy than an SEO straegy, but time and time again we see that SEO and PR cross paths at the worst times. If the suggestion has a drop of truth to it, you may wish to work on the SEO for that term. Get to the top of the results for the high CTR nasty term and do your best to control the message, explain what happened, how you fixed it (hopefully you did), and why it isn’t an issue any longer.
Other reading: http://www.beattheautocomplete.com/
How have you dealt with Google Autocomplete?