So much is written about SEO nowadays that its easy for great articles to slip by unnoticed. That happened this weekend with an article called "When Bad News Follows You" in the New York Times.
The article outlines how the Times has been opening up its archives – and at the same time uncovering a myriad of shameful or just wrong information that people want to stay hidden. Apparently:
"People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up. "
All of this is the "unhappy byproduct of something called search engine optimization, which The Times has been using to make money by driving traffic to its Web site."
Examples of Embarrassing Old Articles
- A New York government official resigned at the same time as fraud investigations were going on. His boss announced his resignation in a press release about the arrests and so when people Google him, the first result is an NYT article about the press release. People mistakenly associate him with the fraud.
- Someone arrested years ago on charges of fondling a child said the accusation was false and the charges were dropped. The Times reported the arrest but not the disposition of the case.
- A woman said her wedding announcement 20 years ago gave the incorrect university from which she graduated. She is afraid prospective employers who Google her will suspect résumé inflation.
- A woman quoted years ago in an article about weight loss said, tearfully, that she never was a size 16, as the article stated.
- The husband of a school administrator in the Midwest complained that a news brief reporting her suspension was published after officials had already publicly said she did nothing wrong.
What’s the Solution?
The Times admits they don’t have one yet. All the choices have serious downsides:
- Accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong? What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty?
- Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible: there’d be time for nothing else.
- A technological fix that would push articles with problems lower in search engines? What standards would you use? Would you be burying other important information?
- Delete the offending articles? The public would have every reason to say: ‘What else is missing? What else is altered?’
- A few months ago we talked about how some companies did a much better job than others when it came to hiding embarrassing stories from the search engines.
- The Ethics of Reputation Management from SEOMoz.org
- Reputation Management vs Search Engine Sabotage from SearchEnginePilgrim.com