While there are a number of legitimate, proven ways to improve your online reputation, there are some unfortunate shortcuts that can be helpful in the short term, but ultimately, damage your reputation in the long term. To develop a positive online reputation that will serve you for months and years to come, it’s essential that you stick to only positive online reputation management tactics — and avoid dangerous black hat tactics that can damage your reputation.

Black Hat Reputation Management Tactics

Do you know a black hat reputation management tactic when you see one? These are some of the most common ways individuals and businesses try to improve their reputation — the wrong way.

Buying or writing fake reviews

This is the most well known (and misguided) way to improve your online reputation. It’s easy to understand the temptation: you see bad reviews for your business and want to drown them out with positive ones, making it look like you have more happy customers than you really do. Your reputation gets a temporary boost, and everyone’s happy.

You can post fake reviews yourself, or hire someone else to do it. This practice is known as astroturfing, and it’s very dangerous not just to your reputation, but to your livelihood, as it has caught the attention of state attorney generals and other entities that can cause serious legal trouble and fines for those that engage in fake review writing.

Creating hundreds of websites or accounts

One of the most trusted and proven ways to improve your reputation is to register a domain, social accounts, and other online properties to build out your online presence. This is a great idea, but let’s face it: there’s a useful limit.

This negative practice takes the good idea of developing an online presence and pushes it way too far. Developing hundreds of websites, numerous social accounts for the same service, and even buying or creating manufactured links to those websites and accounts is a dangerous game.

Developing spam content

Another great idea gone wrong is filling the Internet with spam content for a business or individual. While it’s a good idea to write a regular blog, connect with public relations for good press, and stay active on social accounts, it’s only smart to do what you can reasonably create with adequate quality.

Similar to the idea of creating excessive websites or accounts, spam content is designed to push down negative results with positive, thin ones. But the problem is that no one wants to see junk content, and Google knows it, so spam content rarely gets ranked high enough to make a difference in search engine results. And even if it does eventually make it high enough to be seen, this is typically not the kind of content you want to use to make a good first impression.

Black hat SEO

Black hat reputation management sometimes uses black hat SEO tactics. These include keyword stuffing, invisible text, doorway pages, reporting competitors, link manipulation, and sneaky redirects. Black hat SEO tactics are highly dangerous, as they can get your website banned from search engines altogether.

Negative content hacking

Turning spam bots or denial of service attacks loose on negative content can push them down in search results or make it difficult for others to access them. It’s certainly one way to simply make negative content go away, even if it’s only temporary. But this is a very dangerous path, as if you’re caught engaging in these activities, the consequences for hacking can be serious.

Why it’s a Very Bad Idea to Use Black Hat Online Reputation Management Tactics

Black hat reputation management tactics are bad news and it’s smart to avoid them completely. The risk of search engine penalization and even legal trouble could permanently damage your online reputation far worse than the negative links and reviews you’re trying to bury in the first place.

Black hat online reputation management doesn’t work long term

Yes, you may see a quick boost on your Yelp profile after filling it with several positive reviews, a few of which made it past the filter. And for a week or two, you may even see some spam content ranking above negative search engine results.

If you’re looking for reputation management results that only last a few weeks or even mere days, black hat online reputation management could work — but who needs that? Businesses and individually will typically benefit much more from a positive long term online reputation management strategy, and black hat tactics just aren’t part of that.

Yelp and other review websites will quickly uncover fake accounts — and that’s if fake reviews make it through their filters to begin with. You may even face penalties if you’re caught red handed buying or posting fake reviews.

Google is smart — certainly smarter than the average person trying out black hat online reputation management. Their algorithms and even manual human reviewers can quickly see through thin spam content, link schemes, and other tactics. Junk website and content tactics will be discovered, and your temporarily inflated rankings will fall, if they ever made it ahead of the negative content you were trying to bury at all. And when Google finds spam, they won’t be happy: you may even face penalization or an outright ban from the search engine.

Black hat online reputation management penalties can be steep

Speaking of the penalties of black hat online reputation management, let’s go over what exactly can happen if you try these tricky tactics. On Google and other search engines, spam is dealt with swiftly and with a heavy hand. They do not take kindly to spammers clogging up search engine results or trying to unfairly game the system, so you should not expect any mercy if black hat tactics are uncovered.

At the very least, spam websites and links to spam content will be buried or outright removed from search engine results. Websites with questionable link tactics may drop in rankings as well, as the search engine will question even legitimate links received by the website. And those with serious spam or black hat SEO tactics may be completely banned from Google, meaning your website won’t show up on the search engine at all. Note: that leaves your reputation wide open for negative results to take over in your absence.

Review websites don’t take kindly to black hat online reputation management tactics, either. Most websites will filter fake reviews, and those that are discovered buying or otherwise manufacturing reviews may be removed from the service or have access to the account cut off.

On Yelp, if you’re caught with fake reviews, they’ll slap a consumer alert on your business page to warn viewers that you’ve tried to unfairly manipulate reviews. That really hurts, and it looks far worse than a few negative reviews.

Black hat online reputation management can land you in court

Getting banned by Google or Yelp sounds bad enough, but they could be the least of your worries if you’re caught red handed engaging in certain black hat reputation management techniques. State attorney generals and the FTC, among others, have gotten involved in fake reviews and other poorly advised online reputation management tactics.

One firm that used affiliate marketers to post fake reviews had to pay the FTC $250,000. Edmunds.com even sued a company to go after automated review postings. But these issues pale in comparison to Samsung’s fine of $340,000 for posting fake reviews about competitors’ products.

White Hat Reputation Management Tactics

If black hat reputation management tactics are a bad idea (and they are), what can you do instead? There are a number of completely legal, above the board approaches that you can take to improve your online reputation. They make permanent positive impacts on your reputation, improving your online presence for good and ensuring a better online reputation in the long term. These are just a few of the white hat online reputation management tactics you can use to develop a safe and stable online reputation:

  • Registering a domain and social accounts: If you don’t have an online presence built out yet, this is a great place to start. Develop your own domain, and snap up any social accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular social media websites before anyone else has a chance to grab them for you.
  • Develop positive content: Write a blog with thoughtful, useful content and resources that will engage your audience. Ideally, you should develop content that reflects positively on your reputation while also offering something of value to readers.
  • Engage in public relations: Work with journalists, bloggers, and others who can get the word out for you. This can result in positive news stories, guest posts, and other online publicity that looks great for your online reputation.
  • Engage on social media: It’s not enough to simply have a social account. Use it and be a part of the online community, engaging in conversations, sharing relevant links, and establishing your presence as a thought leader.
  • Address review complaints: If negative reviews are a problem, get to the bottom of them. Are they pointing out issues that truly need to be addressed? Reach out to reviewers directly and professionally to work through their concerns and consider making changes to ensure that similar complaints don’t pop up again. And of course, request updated reviews from customers you’ve been able to resolve complaints for.
  • Encourage positive reviews: Another great way to fight negative reviews is to encourage happy customers and clients to leave positive ones. Make it easy to leave a great review by sending reminders, making links available, and of course, delivering great service people want to talk about.

Photo by Flickr user Craig Sunter