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James Perrin

How Bad Publicity Can Be an SEO Win

15th Jun 2012 SEO, Link Building, SEO 9 minutes to read

SEO SphereSomething that has plagued the world of SEO for years is the use of negative publicity. Whether it’s to secure strong backlinks or to just generate a bit of online buzz, people have used negative publicity for years. However, more often than not, it never quite works out as expected, not in the long run anyway.

Now before we get into examples, and discuss the use of bad publicity in SEO, I need to prefix anything I say by clarifying that neither I nor Koozai recommend or endorse using negative publicity as a way of generating links or traffic to one’s website. Ah, my conscience is now clear :-).

How does bad publicity aid SEO?

The idea of harnessing bad publicity to benefit your own SEO efforts was built on the fact that optimisation strongly relies on backlinks. We’ll go through some examples to showcase further on. Any SEOer will tell you that the key to effective off-page optimisation is link building, or at least it plays a very large part. As a result, it doesn’t matter how you achieve a link, as long as you get that link. In theory that is.

Let’s use a business for example. Let’s say you run a really lousy business, or work within an industry that is not looked too favourably upon by the majority of society or the mainstream media. Now, if you were to do something outrageous like treat a customer badly, or be outspoken about your company and industry, advocating something that many people are against or don’t agree with, naturally you will generate bad publicity. When doing this online, people will link and talk about you – it’s a natural process.

As a result, your business, or your website more accurately, will benefit from an increase in the number and the quality of links pointed towards your site – something that aids rankings within the search engines. For example, a link from a highly authoritative site, such as the BBC will work wonders for your link profile. As a consequence, your website will start to rank higher up in the search engines. For an unsuspecting user of a search engine, stumbling across your site without knowing any background information may work in your favour, until they start doing a little digging that is. Understandably, not everyone will research the business, but a simple search may render your bad publicity exploits pointless, hence why in the long run, it doesn’t always work.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some classic examples of where negative publicity has aided a company’s SEO efforts. Please note that no links will be included to the perpetrators, we’re not going to be held accountable for perpetuating the issue :-).


When it comes to benefiting (and subsequently, getting yourself penalised from Google) from negative PR, Decor My Eyes is a classic example. The owner, Vitaly Borker, took to social media platforms, forums and blogs to abuse customers who had complained about his products (which were both counterfeit and faulty) – these were not just rants, but hate-filled threats and harassment.

From his point of view, it was pretty straightforward. He wanted to use such negativity to his advantage. People that acted angrily to his comments, would talk, link and share with their friends and family. For Google’s algorithm, it can’t detect the emotions or semantics behind a link, just the link itself. The problem was exacerbated when the story become so big that the New York Times and other huge media organisations covered it, linking to the perpetrator’s site.

However it only got him so far. Not only were Google forced to give his site a manual penalty, he also received a hefty jail sentence. The picture above is of Mr. Borker being carted off by the authorities. However more than this, it has not served his business or brand well at all – a long term disadvantage of any negative PR stunts. For more information on this story, I’d Do Anything for a Link…But I Won’t Do That! is a good read.


Bad publicity is good publicity as far as Beautifulpeople.com are concerned. Within a crowded and popular market, this online dating website had to stand out from the crowd. Even its name is provocative and fairly elitist, enough to ruffle at least a few feathers. Members can only be voted in by existing members based on whether or not they are deemed ‘beautiful’, a fairly superficial premise I’m sure you’ll agree.

In any case, the company got themselves some publicity when they announced that because of a ‘virus’, some members had gained access to their website and were subsequently thrown off for being ugly – all 30,000 of them, something that was later confirmed by Greg Hodge, their Managing Director.

As you’ve guessed, hundreds of people complained, talked about and linked to the site, who benefited immensely in terms of SEO. However, whilst such indignation actually helped the site, from a branding perspective, it can be quite damaging. Not that such a niche site really cares, especially one that is only interested in serving ‘beautiful’ people, whatever that means. More information about this piece can be found here: Beautifulpeople.com: A Brand Built on Negative PR and Exclusivity

Sugar Daddy Dating

Another story involving a dating website, clearly indicative of the competitive nature of this market; SeekingArrangement.com have recently whipped up a bit of controvosy over the way it markets itself towards female University students. The idea is that such women, who are in financial difficulties ‘seek arrangements’ with older more wealthy gentlemen. It’s a ‘mutually beneficial’ according to their website’s tagline.

Additional publicity has been easy to come by, being quite a controversial topic. However, the business has managed to harness publicity from a situation involving rising University and College tuition fees, as seen here in the Daily Mail. Such a story that has been Liked by over a thousand people will surely give them the added publicity they want, as well as those all important links too.

In fact Social Media is beginning to have an increasing influence within the world of SEO, with social signals such as +1s, Likes and Tweets now playing a role when it comes to rankings. In light of this, negative publicity isn’t just about links anymore; no, it’s about making sure people are talking about on social media too, just like this next example.

Samantha Brick

In keeping with the theme of ‘beauty’, Samantha Brick stirred up controversy when she wrote a piece for the Mail Online entitled, ‘There are downsides to looking this pretty: Why women hate me for being beautiful’.

Cue online bedlam. To date the article has received 5,725 comments, 219,000 Likes on Facebook, and Twitter as another main driver of traffic. The idea of columnists saying something controversial is nothing new, people like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn have built a career from it, but Samantha Brick and the Mail Online combined saying some controversial with social media, and used this to a devastating effect.

Such online provocation has become known as Troll Bait, the idea is that you write something controversial, just to spark a reaction. When you consider SEO factors, the Daily Mail did very well out of this indeed. In terms of links, they’ve had strong authoritative news sites like the Independent and Telegraph link to the piece. In terms of social shares, as mentioned, plenty of people on Twitter and Facebook have seen and talked about this story. It’s an all round online marketing dream, and as an online strategy, the Mail Online have been head and shoulders above most for some time now – it’s just a shame about the quality of their content, but that’s for another time I guess.

Joey Barton’s Twitter Exploits

Okay, so this isn’t strictly an SEO related story. However, with the idea that social media and social shares are an increasingly influential ranking factor, those on Twitter that have such a massive following are in a position to communicate to a great number of people whatever they want, even if it is negative.

Take Joey Barton for example; he’s an English footballer, and a regular user of Twitter. He’s well known for being controversial both on and off the pitch. Whilst he can be held accountable for his controversy on the pitch, including his recent final day meltdown against Man City, off the pitch, it appears he’s just saying whatever he wants to whomever he wants.

As a result, he’s generating his own publicity. Such behaviour gets reported in newspapers and magazines, he’s talked about on various different sport and news channels and shows – and it all funnels more users through to his Twitter feed, with many people actually following him to hear what he has to say, all 1.6 million of them?!

Nicklas Bendtner’s Paddy Power Pants

Ambush marketing at its finest. Nicklas Bendtner is a Danish footballer, and when playing for his national team at this year’s European Championships, he scored a goal and celebrated by revealing branded underwear from the bookmakers Paddy Power. Whilst UEFA (the governing body of European football) will take action against Bendtner for pulling off the stunt, most probably a fine of some sort, the benefits from such marketing outweigh the risks for Paddy Power. In all likeliness they will pay the fine for Bendtner, or at least give him the money to pay the fine, as well as bit extra for his troubles.

For Paddy Power, they get unrivalled exposure at a well watched sporting tournament. If you hadn’t heard of Paddy Power before, you will have now. As if that wasn’t enough, such a stunt was used to fuel interest online, with the bookmaker announcing on Twitter that 100 pairs of the pants are up for grabs, with a link to their Facebook page and their blog.

To enter the competition, Paddy Power are driving users to either their Facebook page or their blog. To win, if you actually wanted a pair, you have to explain why you should win a pair by leaving a comment on their blog. In the process, Paddy Power get those all important Facebook Likes, as well as people interacting on their blog – it’s an online marketer’s dream.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a number of negative or bad publicity stunts that have worked in favour of websites, online businesses and individuals – in the short term at least. Whether it’s traditional link building, or strategic social media use, being bad attracts a lot of SEO value.

Whilst the ambush marketing tactics of Paddy Power are nowhere near as bad as Borker’s abuse of customers, in any case, negative publicity is a huge risk for any brand. It does however depend on your business and the extent to which you’re exposing it to such risk. Being bad doesn’t always mean your website will be flooded with traffic, as you could ultimately put people off, therefore it’s certainly not recommended, especially if you’re looking to build a successful online business.

If you’d like to share any stories of where bad publicity has aided in a business’s SEO or online marketing efforts, then I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section. Likewise, if you have any thoughts on what you’ve just read, be sure to leave a comment.

Image Source

Hand Holding A 3D SEO Sphere via BigStock

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