It was in the not too distant past that search engines began cracking down on back-hat SEO Techniques. Tactics such as keyword stuffing, serial websites, and link farms, just to name a few, were deemed verboten by every search engine on the planet. The reasons why were obvious: If you could cheat them to beat them, there was no way that search engine operators could guarantee the validity of their searches. Back in the early days of the Internet, there was little that the search engines could do to curb this trend since their spiders were not savvy enough to understand what it is they were reading. However, this is no longer the case. What this means is if you either knowingly or unknowingly hire a practitioner of black hat SEO, you could find your site sandboxed or even de-listed. As a result, you need to take care when entrusting your online business assets to a third party.
Thankfully, black-hat SEO firms are a dying off. The bad news is that a number of former black hatters have retooled their heinous skills in order to turn a profit. What I am referring to is the growing danger of online dirty tricks, where an unscrupulous business owner willingly pays to have a competitor’s reputation besmirched or even to cause overt damage to their web presence in such a way that it becomes difficult or even impossible to do business on or offline.
Here’s how it works:
1. What’s In a Name? – Online reputation sites have changed the way in which business is done. Whereas in years past a shoddy business could operate with impunity, today the first place that a disgruntled customer will go are to sites like Google Local, Yelp, Angie’s List, Ripoff Report or other reputation sites to lodge a complaint. While a boon to consumers, many of these sites allow people to post complaints anonymously. This opens up the doors for underhanded competitors to post fabricated complaints against a competing business in order to damage the competition. Worse still: a number of these complaint mills offer no way for a business to address or reverse a complaint. This means that once posted, it’s is nearly impossible to seek redress.
2. Yellow Press Express – Publishing inflammatory blogs, newsfeeds and press releases about a competitor can easily damage a business’ reputation. Sound far-fetched? Back in May of 2011, ABC News reported that Facebook admitted hiring a major public relations firm to pitch anti-Google stories to news outlets across the U.S. The blog went onto elaborate the fact that a cottage industry of sorts has sprung up where writers are paid to write comments on review sites that either boost a given business or criticize it. http://abcnewsradioonline.com/business-news/nasty-competition-fuels-dirty-business-tricks.html
3. The Hack Attack is Back – Another dirty tactic that can be used by a rival is the hiring of a hacker to do anything from launch Denial of Service attacks on your website, to attempting overt industrial espionage. Several businesses were even damaged by hackers when they subverted ownership of a company’s social sites or even closed or deleted a company’s social site or blog. Wresting control of another person’s online asset is surprisingly simple. Even if that fails, it is child’s play to create a social site or website that spoofs a competitor’s, thereby giving the hacker carte blanche to post all sorts of slanderous material. Just like identity theft, if this should happen to your business, it could take months sort out the mess this creates. Since these tricksters can be located anywhere in the world, trying to seek redress for any damage done can prove to be all but impossible. (See our previous blog, “The Hack Attack is Back.”)
4. Fraud Free For All – Business rivals can also hit out at your business by making fraudulent purchases. In a recent CNN Wire report, Uber, a San Francisco ride-sharing service was accused by competitor, Lyft, of having its employees order and cancel some 5,000 rides since last October. The article goes onto say: “Lyft claims 177 Uber employees around the country have booked and canceled rides in that time frame. Bogus requests decrease Lyft drivers’ availability, which could send users to Uber instead. But it’s not just the company that suffers. Canceled rides jeopardize income that Lyft drivers depend on — plus they spend time and gas money en route to passengers who have no intention of taking a ride. And even when Uber employees don’t cancel, Lyft drivers complain to headquarters that they take short, low-profit rides largely devoted to luring them to work for Uber. Lyft claims to have cross-referenced the phone numbers associated with known Uber recruiters with those attached to accounts that have canceled rides. They found, all told, 5,560 phantom requests since October 3, 2013.” While the article goes onto state that there was nothing to suggest that Uber’s corporate office commissioned or sanctioned the canceled rides, it states there is the potential for a competitor to create havoc in a company by the use of such a tactics. http://kdvr.com/2014/08/11/uber-accused-of-dirty-tricks-to-damage-competitors-business/
5. The Ultimate Inside Job – Anyone who has been to a casino is sure to have noticed the many security cameras that record everything from the players and dealers on the gaming floor to game supervisors and security guards that handle either chips or cash. Unfortunately, most small businesses do not have access to this kind of technology. As a result, this leaves the doors open for a competitor to have one of his or her minions infiltrate your business. As the old saying goes, “It’s hard to find good help.” However, for underhanded competitors it’s oh-so-easy to find bad help by hiring a saboteur that is paid to join your ranks. Once inside a company, the damage that can be done by an interloper is incalculable. Everything from client lists, to suppliers, and even in some cases social security numbers can be purloined by a wily competitor. Armed with the keys to the vault as it were, this kind of access can not only harm a company’s bottom line, it can destroy in from within. Also, if a hacker wants to gain access to a server, there is no easier way than being able to plug an external thumb drive into a system. If that wasn’t bad enough, Amazon even carries a book in its listings entitled, “How to Steal Your Boss’s Job.” Talk about an inside job!
When it comes to doing business, competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s been known to spur innovation and force an industry to tighten its belt, which in many cases improves prices for consumers. (Remember when laptops used to retail for $2,500?) However, if a competitor decides to go to the dark side and employ dirty tricks, the only numbers you’re likely to see could be the Deep Six.