People often ask me if there is ‘reverse SEO’. The answer is yes, and its  official name is reputation management.

You might ask why you would want to NOT show up on the first page of Google. If negative information about you or your company exists, you’ll want it as far from the first page of Google as possible.

Let’s use a restaurant as an example. I’ll make up the name of the restaurant and call it Graziano’s Italian Eatery. Now, maybe when Mr. Graziano launched his Italian website with his wife they had a rough start. They miscalculated the demand for Italian food in their small Connecticut town, and Mr. Graziano didn’t account for the amount of help he’d need in the kitchen. Perhaps they also chose the wrong list of wines for the menu.

After struggling through the difficult first six months, they made the proper corrections. Now the Grazianos’ restaurant is the best establishment in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the reviews on Yelp, Google Places and a prestigious blog have already torpedoed the Grazianos’ restaurant into the abyss–at least online. This online negative reputation could be one of the main reasons newcomers aren’t checking out their restaurant.

So what options for reputation management do Mr. & Mrs. Graziano have? They have several.

1. Ask the webmasters of the sites with negative sentiment to remove the content. This usually proves to be less successful, but it’s always the best first attempt. I’ve found that some sites will remove the negative sentiment posts if there is justification to do so.

If the Grazianos were to write an email explaining how their restaurant had a rough start and why, a compassionate blogger or site owner MAY remove the content.

2. Reply with sincerity and solutions to negative sentiment. This one is pretty straight forward, yet it’s often executed poorly. Don’t make excuses! Own the mistake and admit it, but also use the opportunity to explain what you’ve done to correct the problems. Be specific.

In the Grazianos’ case, they could mention how they hired additional staff and added new wines and other drinks to their menu’s alcohol section. The goal is to provide assurance that corrections have been made without making excuses. You want to convince readers to give you a chance despite the negative sentiment.

3. Positive sentiment injection. There are several ways to create positive content about you or your company. Some ways are perhaps more reputable than others.

The most honest way would be for Graziano Italian Eatery to simply provide quality food, service and alcohol selection, and then encourage their patrons to check in on FourSquare or Facebook, to leave a comment on Google Places or write a review on Perhaps they also offer an incentive for doing so, such as 10 percent off of today’s visit to Graziano’s or a coupon for a free desert.  To tell customers of these incentives, the Graziano’s might leave cards at the tables or have the waitress hand them a card and explain the offer in person.

Less reputable ways would be for the Graziano’s to pay people to write a positive review or even less reputable, have their staff do so from their personal accounts. Where the Graziano’s choose to draw that line is a personal business decision that may have quicker results for some options but also higher risk.

4. Take legal action. Generally a letter from a lawyer requesting removal of the content (sometimes in the form of a DMCA request if copyrighted material can be cited as being infringed) can be quite powerful in getting negative content removed. At times things like  libel can be cited if an upset customer starts making completely false allegations that may hurt the personal integrity of the business owners or the Graziano restaurant itself (fraudulent activity, DUI, theft, etc.).

The goal is not to go to court but to convince the content owner/creator that it is easier to just remove the content rather than to deal with a possible lawsuit. Be careful how aggressive you are and make sure there is justification for your request. There may be some significant liabilities to your company if you were to file an unjustified claim against the content owner. Always seek the advice of a qualified attorney before taking such actions.

5. Request removal from the search engines directly. Google, for example, offers a way to remove content that may be dangerous if released publicly. This includes: social security numbers, bank account or credit card number, image of handwritten signature, adult site spamming your brand or name.

In this case, maybe a customer of Graziano’s posted a  photo that includes the handwritten signature of an individual (perhaps a copy of a signed meal check). Mr. or Mrs. Graziano could file a request with the search engines directly. They could also do so if some anonymous person left a comment in a blog with such content or a link to such content. It’s rare these situations would occur, but the search engines take such matters very serious and I’ve seen them remove content that falls under this category in a matter of hours.

This is just one example of how reputation management is powerful in protecting a company’s brand online. There are also many other ways reputation management comes into play.  Those alternatives include creating additional content to simply rank higher in the search results or the content page while pushing the negative sentiment to an area of the Internet where less people will see it. That, however, is less about ‘reverse SEO’ and I’ll save that for a later post.

Every Monday, 435 Digital will feature news and strategies from leading SEO experts. Check out our previous posts, including How a small business can use Google Analytics and How to make your local business rank higher on Google. You can also follow @BrentDPayne on Twitter for even more SEO news and tips.