The Wrong Way to Scrub 5


scrubbing brushOnline Reputation Management can be much more complicated than it looks.  Perhaps that is why there are so many bad ORM companies out there.  While some have unethical intent, creating bad results and then charging websites to “fix the problem,” there are others who just don’t seem to understand how to get results without exposing their clients to danger.

In a recent article in NY Magazine, called “Scrubbed” Graeme Wood describes how he tracked down the company behind an ORM to clean up the results for a college friend – and how he was easily able to identify other clients of the same company.  Now, it’s bad enough when an ORM firm makes it obvious that they have had a hand in the improvement of Google results, but when they leave breadcrumbs that point to their other clients that’s a serious problem. And if those clients are paying $10,000 – or more – per month for the service, you have to wonder what they are actually getting.

While the full detective story is available at NY Mag, there are a few obvious things that the ORM fixer did wrong:

1. Faux Awards & Appointments

Legitimate PR and ORM firms will do what they can to promote the good references to a client. In this case, the person in question was given awards from and named to the boards of non-existence organizations and web magazines and blogs that were made to sound official and established, but were obviously manufactured for the campaign.

2. Bad Cohorts

When creating association boards and magazine staff, the firm chose famous names to put his client in good company, but some of those groupings didn’t make sense. Dead philosophers, New Yorker editors, and Google co-founders weren’t really in the same class as the client. Plus it was easy enough to prove that the famous cohorts had absolutely nothing to do with these bogus sites.

3. Linked Code and Domain Registrations

Metadata in many of the sites had the same client-based keywords, even if they weren’t relevant to the site content. Likewise, a number of sites had the same address, contact name and phone numbers, but that data was all made up.

4. Cross Clients

ORM clients generally rely on non-disclosure. This was blown out of the water by the fact that several of the sites used to scrub the results for one client, also named other clients.  This was easy for the reporter to ferret out because they were just as incongruous to the surrounding celebrities as the original client.

5. Cleverness

With the help of a few letter tiles, Wood was able to figure out that “Xander Fields,” the contact listed on the domain registrations of a bunch of the bogus sites, could be rearranged to spell “slander fixed” an obvious in joke that was probably intended to prove how clever this firm was.

Wood was ultimately able to identify the ORM firm, contact its owner, and even contact one of the clients directly. While the firm’s owner was horrified at being found out, none of the bogus network of sites that were identified had been removed as of last week and, one could assume, none of the fees paid by the wealthy clients have been returned.


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5 thoughts on “The Wrong Way to Scrub

  • David

    An Interesting article but I am conflicted on this. I think its wrong to make up a reputation and associate it will false awards etc. however, although the tactics are wrong the principal of Online PR is no different to what traditional PR agencies have always done. They help their clients to keep their reputations clean as best they can. I see no difference in what this person tried to do by hiring this agency. I also find it interesting how traditional reporters ( although this one has a legitimate story to tell) turn their noses at Online Reputation Management? I believe an individual has a right to try and influence their reputation as much online as offline and hire an agency to do it. What really is the difference?

  • Frankie

    Creating an online reputation with false ANYTHING will bite you in the behind, you know? It’s important to create a image of trust and respect. Once you break that… nobody will want to do business with you. And word spreads FAST!


  • mya

    Are there legal implications to this? If he used the names of actual people, not his clients, on his fake sites, isn’t that a form a fraud?

  • Ursula

    While the bad PR they will experience from this will doubtless hurt the ORM firm, and possibly his clients, what’s to stop him from opening up under another company name and doing this all over again?