Damage Control 2.0: Mastering Online Reputation Defense

What do you do if someone is attacking you on Google? Attacks online happen, sometimes by accident, other times on purpose. Today’s online reputation management is an information counter-warfare with ratings, reviews, and negative content replacing guns and heavy artillery.

  • Google and search rankings can be weaponized, intentionally or accidentally, to unfairly portray someone or something negatively. 
  • Reputation attacks use things like fake reviews, smear campaigns, and shady SEO tactics to manipulate search results and ruin reputations. The battlefield is the first page of Google.
  • To fight back, targets of reputation attacks can publish truthful positive content, improve their social media presence, and identify and fix sources of false information.

Table of Contents

  1. How Google Can Be Weaponized
  2. Google’s Role in Reputation Threats
  3. Types of Reputation Attacks
  4. Understanding the Impact of Reputation Attacks
  5. Countering Reputation Attacks
  6. How to Suppress Negative Content
  7. Companies that Survived Reputation Attacks
  8. Conclusion


How Google Can Be Weaponized

The enormous influence that Google has means that Google and search rankings can be weaponized. Here are some of the ways reputations can be damaged online:

Accidental weaponization of Google

An example of accidental weaponization is when outdated or incorrect information dominates the first page of search results, unfairly portraying someone or something in a negative light.

For example, if someone is suspected of a crime, there is often one or more online articles about the person suspected of the crime. This triggers clicks, and ad revenue for the publishers, especially if the person targeted has some notability. But when the same person is later found innocent, publishers have no real incentive to publish a new story about it. The old, negative content remains online. And because negative content often draws more clicks and views than positive content, the untrue negative content remains in search results. 

Intentional weaponization of Google

More nefarious is the purposeful manipulation of search rankings through:

These reputation attacks can devastate targets by reducing people’s trust in the brand they are researching online. This is useful if, for example, one would want to short a particular stock. A quick attack on a brand can cause stock prices to dip. If someone has bet ahead of time on that dip, they often profit. An example of this would be investors shorting airline stocks prior to 911 because they had prior knowledge of the event.

The battlefield is the first page of Google. The prize is control over how the world perceives you or your company online.

Defense against negative online content

There are several techniques individuals and businesses can use to defend themselves against reputation attacks and reclaim their online reputations:

  • Publishing positive truthful information and content about yourself pushes down negative results
  • Enhancing your or your company’s social media presence improves search rankings
  • Identifying and rectifying the source of false information, like outdated online listings, also helps

While reputation attacks can be devastating, with persistence and savvy online reputation management, it is possible to defend against weaponized search results. Control of your online reputation is within reach.

So, let’s launch into what you can do to fight back against a negative online reputation.


Google’s Role in Reputation Threats

  • Every minute, 6.3 million searches are conducted on Google.
  • Google has a market share of 81.3% in the U.S. and accounts for the majority of the global search engine market, ahead of other competitors such as Yahoo, Bing, Yandex, and Baidu. The market share is even higher in other countries like India, Brazil and Spain:

Share of desktop search traffic originating from Google

The point is that Google wields enormous influence over the online landscape. This gives Google (or anyone who knows how to leverage Google to post high-ranking content) unprecedented power to determine what information people can access online and how websites and businesses are portrayed.

Given that billions of people make decisions and form opinions based on Google search results, high-ranking negative content is an immediate threat to your online reputation. 

Types of Reputation Attacks

Reputation attacks can take various forms, each with distinct characteristics and potential consequences. Here are some subsections that cover different types of reputation attacks:

Negative Content

  • Negative Reviews: Online platforms and review sites offer people the ability to leave feedback and reviews. Disgruntled customers or malicious individuals can exploit this feature to leave negative comments, damaging a person’s or a company’s reputation.
  • Defamatory Articles: Unscrupulous individuals may write defamatory articles or blog posts with the intention of spreading false information and tarnishing someone’s reputation.

False Information

  • Fake News: Misinformation or fabricated stories can quickly spread through social media platforms, causing significant harm to an individual or a company. False information can be intentionally created or shared to manipulate public opinion or damage reputations.
  • Manipulated Media: With advancements in technology, it has become easier to create and distribute manipulated images, videos, or audio recordings. These can be used to misrepresent individuals or companies, leading to severe reputational damage.

Malicious Activities

  • Hacking: Cybercriminals may compromise personal or corporate accounts to gain unauthorized access and engage in malicious activities. This can include stealing sensitive information, spreading malware, or posting harmful content on behalf of the hacked entity.
  • Data Breaches: Attackers may leak sensitive information, such as customer data or confidential business documents, causing reputational and financial damage.

Social Media

  • Cyberbullying: Online platforms provide a breeding ground for cyberbullying, where individuals can target others through abusive messages, threats, or spreading rumors. Such attacks can have a detrimental impact on the target’s reputation and mental well-being.
  • Offensive or Controversial Posts: Inappropriate or offensive posts made by individuals associated with a company can reflect poorly on the organization as a whole. These posts can go viral and damage the company’s reputation in a short amount of time.

Online Harassment

  • Doxing: Doxing involves revealing personal information, such as addresses, phone numbers, or social media profiles, with the intent to harass or intimidate someone. This type of attack can lead to significant reputational harm and even physical danger.
  • Revenge Porn: Private, intimate, or explicit content shared without consent can ruin someone’s personal and professional life. The release of such content can lead to severe emotional distress and reputational damage.


Understanding the Impact of Reputation Attacks

Reputation attacks can have severe consequences for individuals and businesses alike. Negative content, whether true or false, can spread rapidly across various online platforms, reaching a wide audience and causing irreparable damage to one’s reputation.

Potential customers, partners, and investors often base their decisions on the online reputation of an individual or company, making it crucial to maintain a positive and credible image.

It is really important for individuals and companies to be proactive in managing their online presence and addressing reputation attacks promptly.

You can mitigate the impact of these attacks by:

  • Developing a strong online reputation management strategy
  • Monitoring online platforms
  • Responding effectively to negative content 


Countering Reputation Attacks

Not 20 years ago, people had few ways to express their dissatisfaction with a company’s product in any meaningful way or with any broad audience. If you didn’t like the product or service you’d purchased, you either took it up with a (very) modest customer support department, attempted to return it at the place of purchase, or just grumbled to friends and family about how inferior the product or service was.

Then along came the wave of disruption that is search and social media. It leveled the playing field and then tilted it wildly in the favor of anyone with a computer and a little knowledge. Brand managers woke up to nightmares like Facebook videos decimating a company’s reputation in the blink of an eye.

Understand That It’s Going to Happen

We live in an era where snowy white corporate reputations are quickly going the way of unicorns. Sooner or later, a dissatisfied client is bound to write something about you that’s damaging to your reputation, ranging from justified anger to downright maliciousness.

How do you get rid of it? Well, you don’t – at least not entirely. But you can often mitigate the inevitable corporate reputation damage. 

First: How Not to Remove Information

Reputation rule number one:

Content that was placed by others almost always needs to be removed by others.

People love to edit their own Wikipedia pages. Can anyone tell that you have edited your own Wikipedia page? Yes. Your IP address is visible to everyone and can be geolocated if you don’t have a registered Wikipedia account.

Here’s how to easily see who’s edited your Wikipedia page, and what other pages they’ve edited: 



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If you do have a Wikipedia account, Wikipedia can still tell where you are, either manually or algorithmically.

Finally, if something negative is deleted from Wikipedia, there is a strong indication that the person doing the edit was motivated by something other than altruism (selfless concern for others). 

The tone brands tend to use on their Wikipedia pages is also a problem. Why? Because brand managers are often the ones doing the Wikipedia editing, and they think brand managers. That means they write that way, too.

At Reputation X, we can often spot the writing styles of brand managers without the need for stylometry (programmatic authorship attribution) simply because their writing style shouts “advertising”!

Another way of not removing information is to scream at the person who posted it – either in an email or with an attorney.

At least – try to talk – before tossing lawyers at the problem. An open hand is better than a fist when attempting to have negative content removed from the internet.

Here are some content removal negotiation tactics that might help. 

The Right Way to “Remove” Information

Rather than removing the information yourself, successful online reputation management is all about getting the information removed backstage.

Start by tracking down and gauging the temperament of the original poster of this information:

  • Does the situation seem salvageable?
  • Can their discontentment be turned around or are they a lost cause?  
  • Is there any chance you can get them to remove this information themselves?

Many of the biggest “wins” in online reputation management history happened when companies fessed up to their public blunders and took public responsibility for their actions to diffuse public outcry.


Of course, the win wasn’t immediate all the time – sometimes more pain followed before things got better. Today’s online brand management is about two things: diplomacy and transparency. Be fair. Shoot straight. You’ll be surprised at how far you can get.

If your brand managers think that, under the circumstances, fessing up is a bad idea, then you might want to move straight to suppression.

In Google or Bing suppression means pushing something down in search results


How to Suppress Negative Content

Usually, the first thing that comes to mind when online reputation management is mentioned in non-professional settings is this – obscuring the bad, making it harder to access by burying it beneath a mountain of more recent information that ideally shows your online brand in a more positive light.

This technique works most of the time if done right. It will backfire horribly if done incorrectly. 

That said, the information you post can range from well-thought-out and meaningful to downright irrelevant, depending on the audience in question.

Steps to Push Down Bad Search Results

  1. If the information is personal: If the information being displayed is of a personal nature, like an ID, address, or bank information, start with Google’s Results About You. This article describes how to do it in detail. 
  2. Visualize who is searching online for your brand. This is called a persona. 
  3. Look at the bottom of branded search results for Searches Related To… and People Also Ask. 
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  4. Create a content plan that addresses the questions and queries found in those two places. Your content plan should have at least 100 articles. Each article should be better than anything else that is ranking on the first page for the target search query and should satisfy the “persona” you researched above. Content plan info here
  5. Within your content plan, make sure you have many types of media. For example, articles, videos, guest posts, social media, and press releases. 
  6. Once created, reach out to media partners, blogs that accept guest posts, and your social media feeds to find places to post the content. Hint: Make sure your brand name is in the headline for most of them.
  7. Wait two weeks to see where they land in search results. Then, use your company’s social media feeds to drive traffic to the content that performs best in search results. Keep this up for at least a month for each article.

The above list has been massively simplified, but you get the idea. 

Note: Don’t Use Spray and Pray Reputation Techniques

Burying content under fluff and filler makes you suspect to the risk of this information resurfacing at a later time and makes you look worse than before. So – quality content only! Are you proud to put your name on it? If not, don’t post it. 

Google can tell what’s good and bad. A big change in Google has been the RankBrain system, a sort of artificial intelligence that looks at web pages and tries to rate their quality as a person would. So if a person wouldn’t like the page, RankBrain may not either. When online reputation management companies throw a lot of irrelevant or low-quality information at Google, it’s called “spray and pray.” Avoid spray and pray techniques.  

Reviews: Organic, Well-Spaced Improvement Wins

Negative reviews and indexed results need to be made to go away in a similar fashion to how they were instigated, with:

  • Natural chronological spacing
  • Thoughtful client feedback
  • A healthy dose of visual content (either video or pictures) between the negative post and the positive ones succeeding it

A general rule of thumb is: if it looks fake, it’s best not to be there at all. Or, better yet, don’t do fake reviews

De-indexing: Make the Information Inaccessible

De-indexing is another way to manage your online reputation- when neither taking the results down nor burying them beneath a mountain of more relevant results is viable, consider getting the information removed from search engines where people can search for it.

Are You a Person in Europe?

If you’re European, you have the right to get information about your person or corporation taken down with little to no strife so long as you can prove ownership. You can also make a DMCA claim if the information posted online infringes on your intellectual property. Finally, you can use the Google URL removal tool to attempt to get this information removed temporarily, possibly even for good.


Examples of Companies That Survived Reputation Attacks

Even the most reputable companies are not immune to reputation attacks.

These attacks can come in the form of negative reviews, social media backlash, or even coordinated smear campaigns.

However, some companies have successfully navigated through these challenges and effectively managed their online reputation.

Let’s explore a few examples of such companies:

Domino’s Pizza

In 2009, Domino’s Pizza faced a severe reputation crisis when a viral video showed employees mishandling food.

The incident led to a significant drop in sales and a tarnished brand image.

However, Domino’s Pizza swiftly responded to the crisis by launching an aggressive social media campaign. The company’s CEO personally addressed the issue in a video apology, highlighting the steps taken to rectify the problem.

Domino’s also engaged with customers on social media, actively responding to their concerns and providing updates on their efforts to improve food safety.

United Airlines

In 2017, United Airlines faced a significant reputation crisis when a video of a passenger being forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight went viral.

The incident sparked outrage and led to widespread criticism of the airline’s customer service practices.

To address the crisis, United Airlines took immediate action by issuing a public apology, compensating the affected passengers, and implementing policy changes to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The company also actively engaged with customers on social media, responding to their concerns and providing updates on the steps taken to improve customer service. 

Johnson & Johnson

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson faced a reputation crisis when several people died after consuming tainted Tylenol capsules.

The incident raised concerns about product safety and posed a significant threat to the company’s reputation.

In response, Johnson & Johnson took swift and decisive action by recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol, cooperating fully with law enforcement agencies, and introducing tamper-proof packaging. Recalls weren’t a common practice before this, so Johnson & Johnson virtually changed the course of history with the handling of this reputation threat. 

The company also launched an extensive public relations campaign, reassuring the public of its commitment to safety and transparency. 



In today’s digital landscape, managing your online reputation is of paramount importance. Reputation attacks can have far-reaching consequences, impacting your credibility, trustworthiness, and success.

By implementing effective online reputation management strategies, such as reputation monitoring, building a positive online presence, engaging with your audience, and seeking professional assistance when needed, you can safeguard your digital reputation, mitigate the impact of reputation attacks, and position yourself or your brand for long-term success. 

Need help responding to reputation attacks? Contact us today

Reputation Attacks FAQs

Can I edit my own Wikipedia page?

No. Don’t edit your own Wikipedia page because you can be geolocated, which will tip off Wikipedia editors that you edited your own page. Whenever something negative is deleted from Wikipedia, it can be assumed that the person who made the edit was doing so in their own self-interest.

What are some content removal best practices?

It is always best to work as quietly as possible when removing online content. Never resort to anger as a tactic. Instead, gauge the temperament of the original poster and try to work with them to get the content either removed or edited.

How do I push down bad search results?

Push down negative search results by creating a content plan that includes positive articles about your brand. Get these articles to rank above the negative content by including relevant keywords and promotion tactics.

What is de-indexing?

De-indexing is a way of removing negative content from search engine results. The content still exists, but Google doesn’t index it, so it doesn’t appear on your SERP.

Citations and Further Readings

  1. Fertik, M., & Thompson, D. (2015). “The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset.”

  2. Jansen, B. J., Zhang, M., Sobel, K., & Chowdury, A. (2009). “Twitter Power: Tweets as Electronic Word of Mouth.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(11), 2169-2188. 

  3. Smith, A. N., Fischer, E., & Yongjian, C. (2012). “How Does Brand-related User-generated Content Differ across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter?” Journal of Interactive Marketing, 26(2), 102-113.

  4. Dellarocas, C., Zhang, X., & Awad, N. F. (2007). “Exploring the Value of Online Product Reviews in Forecasting Sales: The Case of Motion Pictures.” Journal of Interactive Marketing, 21(4), 23-45.

  5. DiStaso, M. W., & McCorkindale, T. (2013). “How Public Relations Executives Perceive and Measure the Impact of Social Media in Their Organizations.” Public Relations Review, 39(3), 228-234.


    Tags: Business Reputation Repair.

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