Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard for lawyers to build an online reputation? Everything is so public. There is a common fear about client confidentiality and not wanting to appear to be touting for business. Social media can seem like a chaotic place and law firms need to maintain a certain gravitas.
If you don’t take charge and actively manage your identity online then you are just leaving your reputation to chance. I’ve seen too many friends who’s online reputations don’t live up to how good a lawyer they are. This makes me sad.
A hate blog is a website that has been created to deliberately attack someone. It’s hard to know what to do about it if one is created to attack you. This post covers a series of countermeasures and counterattacks. Some of them are contradictory so don’t try and do them all at once. Just read through and equip yourself to deal with the attacker.
There is plenty of advice online about how to deal with trolls, disgruntled customers and flame wars. These types of attacks usually happen on social media platforms where the best course of action is to ignore them and let them drop out of the day-to-day conversation. But there is very little information on how to deal hate blogs which persist and show up in search results next to (or even ahead of) your official page.
Hate blogs are rare because they require dedication, persistence and technical knowledge to set up and maintain. I refer to the creators of hate sites as “trolls” because the fundamental motivations are similar to a social networking troll. They want attention and to hurt the object of their hate.
1. Legal countermeasures
Legal threats against the troll themselves just tend to encourage them. But they can still be useful if you manage to bog the troll down in legal proceedings (and force them to spend money on a lawyer). On balance, it tends to drag both sides down and fuel the troll so I don’t recommend a direct legal attack.
Instead, you can use legal proceedings (or the threat thereof) against third parties who are hosting or helping the hate site. Cease and desist letters can be grounded in any number of legal claims. But a good start would be DCMA, copyright, defamation, slander, libel, and misleading & deceiving conduct in the course of trade. None of these would win in court but they can be a strong enough threat to make a third party take something down.
The threat of different causes of action are more or less effective against third parties. For example, Tumblr and Pinterest tend to ignore copyright claims because otherwise they’d spend all day dealing with them since having users posting other people’s stuff is their core business.
Examples of third parties to counterattack which will help neutralise the hate site:
Google: Ask to have the site removed (copyright infringement is the best here).
Facebook: Ask to have their page/profile removed (having a registered trade mark is helpful here).
YouTube: Have their videos taken down (use copyright infringement)
Domain registrar: Ask to have their website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
Web host (e.g. wordpress.com or blogger.com): Ask to have the website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
The best way to deal with a hate site is to bury it on the second or third page of Google. That way it gets a lot less traffic and impacts your reputation a lot less. One part of burying a site is to attack the site itself. The other side is to raise up other content to replace it.
2. Increase the ranking of positive sites
Google abhors a vacuum. The average Google search results page has ten slots on it. If you only have one web page, then that one page is all that will appear and Google will fill the other slots with results that you can’t control or influence. To displace a hate site you can try a range of things:
Social media: Create lots of social media profiles using your brand name. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest all rank well and may help drown out the hate site.
Existing third-party sites: Do your best to help promote existing third-party websites that rank below the hate site, but could rank above it with some love.
Micro-sites: Create blogs or seperate website sites that are semi-independent. Industry commentary and news syndication sites with the keywords of the hate site in the URL may help displace the hate site.
Content volume: Create lots of content and interesting conversations that displaces the hate site in social media conversations (which Google now uses as a ranking indicator).
Public relations: Get positive coverage in the media and high profile blogs. This will rank well (and fast).
Community: Encourage your community to blog about you and talk about you in social media.
Advertising: You can push down an unwanted search result with ads that point to either you own site, or if your own site already ranks well, point to a micro-site or third-party website.
Engage a good PR, SEO and Social Media expert (these are separate people, not one person) to run a proper, well rounded reputation building campaign. This will help displace the hate site.
3. Decrease the ranking of the hate site
While increasing the ranking of positive content, you can also try to decrease the ranking of the negative content. Given that hate sites can be pretty dark, you might be willing to fight fire with fire. Techniques to attack the hate site fall into white, grey and black categories. White hat is morally (and legally) positive whereas grey hat is ambiguous and black hat techniques are illegal and/or morally dodgy.
A. White hat counterattacks:
Remove any links to the hate site from your own site to avoid accidentally increasing their ranking.
Ask your community to not link to the hate site or discuss it on social media.
B. Grey hat counterattacks:
Identify any SEO wrongdoing on their part and report it to Google. You can file a spam report that will penalise them if they’ve done anything wrong.
Use a backlink checker to identify their most valuable links from third parties. Then write to the third parties and ask them to remove the links (using a DMCA or legal notice can be useful here).
Increase the rank of a harmless page on their website to displace the harmful ones. Choose a less harmful page on their site and use normal modern SEO techniques to raise the ranking of their less bad sub-page.
C. Black hat counterattacks:
Commission a hacker to break into the site. This is fastest countermeasure (and the most effective in the short term) because the hackers can make the site redirect to your own site and the problem simply goes away. But it’s also the least effective in the long run because the troll will just create another hate site and protect it with better passwords.
Commission a hacker to break into their site and place bad things on the site that the troll won’t notice (and therefore won’t fix). These include hidden text in the HTML with “bad” keywords like viagra, porn, etc. This is the “secretly sew anchovies into their curtain hems” attack because it causes a slow and silent decline that the troll won’t be able to detect.
Commission a group of hackers to run denial of service attacks and/or repeated ping attacks to slow their site down. Google penalises slow sites so their search ranking would gradually decrease.
Purchase links bad links on spam sites and point them towards the hate site. Google will see the bad links and penalise the hate site because they think the hate site has been buying the links for advertising purposes This is complicated to set up and can backfire if the links are seen as valid links. But it is very effective and a very popular technique.
Purchase fake reviews of the site or business on a review site. It’s more effective to “review bomb” the hate site with five star reviews (which look fake ones they have purchased) than one star reviews (which look like a malicious attack).
Scrape their site and duplicate it on your own site (or a patsy fake version) before Google can index it. This might decrease the ranking by making your patsy site rank higher, but it perpetuates the content of the hate site so it’s not ideal.
Create a very close replica version of their website with the content re-written in a way that you prefer. Then use Adwords advertising to rank your own “fake news” site above their hate blog.
4. Psychological countermeasures
Direct the troll’s anger elsewhere. Hate sites take time and effort to maintain. Google likes fresh content so you can make the troll bored by getting them to hate something else. One way to do this is to transfer your most controversial activities into a single discrete entity (separate from your main operation) and use that small operation to distract, enrage and divert the troll.
Have a third party angel befriend the troll. A hate site is usually the creation of one person. A charm offensive can be effective if it’s from a genuinely nice person who can gently turn the troll around. The angel may not be able to have the site removed but they might gradually be able to soften the troll and have the volume of the hate turned down.
Co-opt and absorb the troll. Debate, discussion and critique is a healthy part of public life. One option is to use your own sites to link to the hate site and refer to them as your “outsourced conscience”. You can comment on their posts (thanking them for keeping you honest). The hate site can be used as proof that what you are doing in the world is controversial because you are making a real difference.
The best defence is to be proud of your work (yet humble about your ego) and have a sense of humour. Your audience are smart enough to make their own decisions and over time you can win on your own merits.