How A Bad Reputation Can Affect Link Building

There is a company that I once bought something from, something that did not at all live up to my expectations, something that was just cheap and tacky and not at all what I wanted. However, it was quite inexpensive and I wasn’t feeling particularly outraged, so I just grinned and bore it. Fast forward to a few years later, and this lovely retailer became my client.

Now let me say that during those fast-forwarded years, I was spammed by this company on average of once a day. I opted out of the email a few times, but it just would not stop. As you can imagine, I already had a negative opinion of these guys, but being a (semi) professional, I realized that I could still turn that around and do a good job for them.

However, here’s what happened, and I bet it’s no surprise: I was one of countless people who had this same experience with the company. If you think link building is tough, try link building for a client known for crap products, email spam, and credit card issues.

When you use email as a method for link requests, you’re sometimes viewed as little more than any other cold caller, even when you’re targeting relevant sites. When you’re cold calling webmasters on behalf of someone with a bad reputation, it’s kind of hopeless. We were called spammers who ruined the Internet (bo-ring) and we had to read horror stories of how this client of ours had charged this person three months extra on her credit card and it was hell to fix it. We basically had it bad from the start.

So as not to bore you further, this story has a happy enough ending, as we were able to still build links; but let me tell you, it was tough at times.

When people think about the ick factor of marketing online, they usually immediately think of the big three: porn, pills, and casino.

Not having done the first two, I can only speak with regards to casino, but I can assure you that asking for gambling links has never once been half as hard as asking for links for a client with a truly bad reputation. These guys aren’t running over grannies or mowing down about-to-be-extinct bird habitats, but they might as well be.

This obviously is not just a problem for building links, as there’s always a webmaster willing to put up a link to just about anything for the right price. As I said, we were able to build links, and good ones in many instances, but I seriously doubt they’ll be converting into traffic. They may even turn users off when they see them, causing issues for the webmasters.

I’m being overly pessimistic and dramatic here, but I don’t think we should underestimate the potential of a bad reputation. It can do a lot of damage.

With a bad reputation, you probably aren’t going to get all the positive organic links that come from things like great service experience and great product reviews. You’re not going to have lots of fans on Facebook. If you’re “accidentally” charging your customers’ credit cards for months and waiting for them to wise up and contact you, you might get a link but it won’t be a nice one.

Negative mentions can work to your advantage of course (and they do seem natural because let’s face it, who’d pay for a negative review?) so they might give you a rankings boost or a traffic boost, but they probably won’t win you any customers and if you’re selling, that’s the goal.

If I were about to buy from a site that I’d never used before and I looked them up only to find nothing but complaints about their products and service, there’s no way in hell I’d give them a chance even if they ranked number one for a key term.

We’ll probably never get away from the power of human referrals when making decisions. While the human element can definitely be manipulated, word’s always going to get around, and most people hear about the bad stuff more than the good stuff. I recently wrote to a grocery store chain to say how nice their cashiers at one particular store are because it really does constantly impress me, and I thought it would be nice to point it out.

The person I contacted emailed back to say how nice it was to have someone email to praise, not to complain. Negative experiences are the ones we like to relay. You can do a great job for fifty clients and screw up on one and it can sink you.

Bottom line: yes, we can build links for you but no, we can’t make people like you. That’s your job. Some of these guys see social media as a saviour, and while they may be able to say witty things and “connect” with people, if they give you a bad experience, they’re still not going to make it.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: owns the link development firm Link Fish Media and is one of the founding members of the SEO Chicks blog.

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  • classicalmusic

    Julie, I 100% disagree with the thrust of your post. Yes, it is tough finding back links for gambling companies. Yes, it is tough getting back links for unethical companies – only to the extent one chooses to accept them as a client.

    Dealing with ethical companies is taking the high road. Your comments about how unethical this company is, how bad the products are, how the company spammed email accounts – I am surprised that you admit you took on such a client.

    Just my opinion. I realize we all have bills to pay. In this case it doesn’t seem like the company was even on the radar of being a ethical client. Don’t seo professionals have to say “no” to such companies?

  • Julie Joyce

    I’d rather admit what we do than lie about it. And no, SEO professionals don’t have to say no to a company if the company is unethical. What’s ethical or not isn’t for me to say generally. I don’t think that gambling is unethical, for example. I don’t do it but if someone wants to, fine with me.

    The thrust of this post, as you put it, is to discuss how a bad reputation makes link building more difficult. You can get a bad reputation through many ways though…not just by being unethical, as you also put it. Many companies do things poorly. If they’re not doing anything illegal, I don’t see why they should be denied the benefits of marketing just like anyone else.

  • Michael Martinez

    @classicalmusic I can’t say I have enjoyed working for all my past clients but at the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, “I took the work. I’m not going to berate myself for someone else’s sins”.

    Public defenders have to stand up in court on behalf of child murderers and rapists but there are plenty of high-priced attorneys who will defend the corporate barbarians who overcharge for services and products.

    No taxi driver would turn away the “Evil suits” after they get off a plane on their way to signing a new consumer-gouging contract.

    Bankers still take their money.

    Real estate agents still flock to their doorsteps to sell them new properties, or earn commissions on selling their existing properties.

    Schools accept their children as students.

    Hospitals and doctors agree to treat their illnesses and injuries.

    Society in general accepts these scumbuckets and works with them, empowers them to do what they do.

    So why pick on the SEOs who build a few links for them, or repair their search reputations?

    That’s patently unfair.

  • http://MrJunior MrJunior

    Sounds to me like you did everything right in this case. Could you have turned them down? Sure. But, then…. that is where Michael Martinez comment comes in.

    @Michael – I TOTALLY agree with what you said. Especially with what is going on in the world today, to now start criticizing someone for taking on work is ridiculous. I commend everything you said in your post, and I can’t add anything more to it.

  • Winooski

    Michael, some of the “corporate barbarian” comparisons don’t work (forgive the pun). A school has to accept a would-be criminal’s children, and a hospital has to treat that person as well because, coincidentally, they are ethically and legally compelled to. Due to a strong ethical standard, they have no choice but to work on behalf of their clients.

    Also, just because one profession “gets away” with seemingly unethical behavior (i.e., the “corporate barbarian”), that doesn’t mean that everyone else should stop worrying about behaving ethically. Two wrongs don’t make a right…right?

  • Julie Joyce

    Just to clarify something, I don’t believe that this company was intentionally doing anything unethical, and I didn’t want to start an ethics debate. I think they did a lot of things poorly. They also did a lot of things well. This is no different than many other companies that no one would dream of calling unethical. They just had a reputation for problems and hence my job was more difficult.

    I saw zero reason to turn this client down. It was simply a challenge.

    Michael, thanks for your comment and I also fully agree with what you’ve said.

    I’ve been charged the wrong price at a certain retailer countless times, but hey, we’re talking a few dollars over a few years probably and I keep going back. Maybe I am mistaken and am taking an item from the wrong area and screwing up the price myself. Maybe the item is on sale and the new price wasn’t updated properly in a database somewhere. The bag I bought there broke almost immediately but it was cheap and I wasn’t overly surprised. It’s not all that different from this client. I would never dream of calling this company unethical for messing up. In need of loads of problem-solving? Definitely, but who isn’t? I can assure you that if this company comes calling, I’ll sure as heck take them on, too.

  • Michael Martinez

    @winooski: “Two wrongs don’t make a right…right?”

    Why is right for one segment of society to continue to work with and for people who have engaged in unruly behavior but other segments (like SEOs) have to shun them?

    A society works when the majority of its members follow the same standards of behavior. All wrong doing must be treated equally, fairly.

    Some things always slip by but in general practice — historically — when you segregate members of society for either special treatment or special punishment, you create social stresses that work to unravel society.

    It’s not fair to the SEO community to insist that we not do business with someone who has gouged consumers (so to speak) when everyone else gets to do business with them.

    We’re NOT society’s morality police and, frankly, we aren’t really qualified for that role.


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