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Bury the Bad News – or Take Control?

You may have seen me quoted in the June 20 issue of the Phoenix Business Journal in the article Companies using technology to bury bad news. The article discusses the practice of trying to bury bad news online by pushing it down in search engine results. My quote is just a small part of the article, and it doesn’t communicate that I think this practice is a bad idea. Here’s why.

It’s important to remember that the purpose of search engines is to help people locate the information they need. Our job as online marketers is to make sure that if we or our clients have something interesting, useful, or educational to say or sell, we make it easy for search engines and people to find.

With that in mind, when you try to push websites or blogs that feature bad news lower in the search results, you’re essentially trying to “game” the system, and that verges on “black hat” or unethical practice.

What’s more, it’s a roll of the dice. Search engines spend big money developing algorithms for evaluating the content of sites so they can deliver useful, relevant results. First, you’d have to outsmart the search engines with your new content. Even if you could generate and post enough pages to bump the bad search results down, you’d also have to wait for the search engines to find and index your new content, which can take weeks or months.

Could it be done? Maybe, but it’s unlikely you’ll see the results you desire. Should it be done? No.

What should be done instead? First, consider any mention in the press, especially a blog, as an opportunity to engage people in conversation and possibly win over some supporters. There is ample evidence that people develop stronger and longer-lasting loyalty to a company that publicly admits a problem and fixes it than they would have if there had never been a problem at all.

Have a plan in place — before you need it — for dealing with bad news and bad press. This plan should include releasing and posting the facts, and if the facts are negative, include your admission of guilt, your apology or explanation, and your steps and plans for avoiding future mistakes. If the bad news is on a blog, consider the source: If they’re credible and rational, provide your official version in the comments. If the blog is a rant, ignoring it might be okay. A good PR professional with expertise in crisis communications is indispensable here.

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