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Scam’s back

Posted April 14th, 2011 by Andrew Goodman

False hope? Recently we wrote about the term “scam” no longer being prevalent in Google Suggest. Well, it’s back.

I got a call today from an entrepreneur who is a victim of the term “scam” being associated with his company in Google’s autocomplete. Indeed, it’s the top suggestion in Google Suggest. Not exactly the sort of thing you want associated with your company.

I checked a couple of the leading brands I had seen associated with the term in the past. Unfortunately, they’ve been re-victimized as well.

I don’t have blanket solutions for the problem, and our agency doesn’t handle this type of issue-specific reputation management. Especially not where there should or could be litigation involved.

Again, this seems to be more like the exploitation of a loophole in how autocomplete “should” work, and it’s wreaking havoc on legitimate businesses. It’s like a sick meme; the SARS of Search.

One thing that has been a recurring trend in all this, is our society’s increasingly uncritical overuse of the word “scam” to criticize any company or individual you disagree with, or gave you bad service. Sort of like the word “nazi” (more on that below).

So although there may not be easy solutions, one way to avoid getting caught up in this is to stop using the word “scam” yourself; especially on your website. One of the businesses that contacted me had several articles refuting the charges of their company being a scam, but also some about competitors who are scams, and how to tell a scam from a legitimate enterprise. Well, if your title tags and content say scam this, scam that, unfortunately that could possibly stick to you in search behavior. Don’t play into the trollers’ hands.

Companies that used to be victims of this – like JetBlue – no longer are. That may mean they took aggressive legal action with critics and Google alike. Which unfortunately means smaller companies are stuck with an unfair litigation burden. Google needs to take steps to level the playing field as much as they possibly can.

On the issue of “nazi”: people need to learn to disagree better. I was happy to challenge certain attacks on TSA security patdowns that appeared on a one-sided website, and I did so openly (well, not with my last name, but I entered a comment and left the required email address). Essentially I was calling for a balanced treatment of security employees, and our collective need for physical searches in a general sense, for everyone’s safety and security. Minutes later, an owner or fan of that site invited me to a “Nazi” forum. Sorry to disagree with you there, but name-calling won’t change my mind!

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