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Stephen Logan

Why Bad Mouthing Competitors Online is Poor Form

29th Feb 2012 News, Industry News, SEO 3 minutes to read

Don'tThere are some website owners who take an ‘attack or be attacked mentality’ to marketing. Others are hell bent on retaliating to bad publicity they may have received. However, just like the daily spats in the Houses of Parliament, neither party usually comes out of a slanging match unscathed.

The ‘they started it’ line of defence simply won’t wash. Airing your dirty laundry in public, either with a dismissive blog post, angry press release or ill-advised tweet, could leave your intended target looking like a victim whilst your brand is tainted. This is why positive reinforcement of your own products, services and principles should be top of your agenda.

Technology companies are famous for their broadsides. Microsoft and Google are involved in constant skirmishes, some funny, some painful. Last week the former once again went after the latter with a painfully inappropriate two minute video highlighting the dangers of “Googlighting”; or, in layman’s terms, an attack on Google’s recent privacy update.

Microsoft users will probably get on board with the message whilst Google types are obviously going to scoff at these efforts to discredit the company. However, in the middle of these two parties, there will probably be plenty of people who just view it as a little bit pathetic. Consequently, both brands are tarred with the same brush. If you want further proof, just take a look at the 380+ comments on the above link.

But this happens all the time and in most industries. One business bad mouths another, they then retaliate and it all just gets a bit messy. More often than not there are no winners either. Even if you manage to dent the reputation of a competitor, there will always be those who will question your motives.

Taking aside issues of libel, even if complaints are valid it doesn’t mean that you should be the one to raise them. In SEO there is an unwritten code that professionals won’t discuss what others are doing. There have been some high profile cases where this particular pact has been ignored – as I covered in Is Publicly Outing Competitors’ Black Hat SEO Unethical?

Along with the aforementioned Microsoft video, the issue of giving a company a public roasting was further highlighted on Monday by ZDnet. In a completely truthful and seemingly unbiased piece, the investigative report looked at how a web hosting company was spamming Twitter and getting away with it. Impartially speaking, there’s nothing wrong with this; the reporter clearly presents a wealth of evidence to support his claims and Twitter spam is a major nuisance, plus he doesn’t appear to have any associations with competitors. Put simply, it appears to just be a decent piece of impartial investigative journalism.

Okay, so the company in question is likely to be a little peeved, and the more deviously-minded amongst us may question why they were targeted (hundreds of large businesses employ similar techniques); but this is written for an online magazine, it is a public interest story and the intention isn’t to destroy the company, but just to shine a light on an issue.

This same technique though wouldn’t be as well received if there was a clear motivating factor. When you bad mouth a competitor you are laying your cards firmly on the table. Whether it’s an apparently anonymous attack on a review site or a baseless accusation on a blog, attacking others in an effort to curry favour is poor form.

Instead, be cute with your criticisms. If somebody else is doing something wrong, highlight the way in which you’re doing it correctly. You don’t need to name names or even heavily imply your own bias, just clarify your own ethos. Positive reinforcement of an idea or technique is the most ethical and unproblematic method of addressing issues. If someone bad mouths your business, address those issues indirectly and work to enhance your reputation independently.

Remember, what you say online can be cached for years; so if you come to regret something said in the heat of the moment, it can’t necessarily be removed in the sober light of day. As such, it can serve to damage your reputation in the long-term as well as in the immediate aftermath. Then you have the added issue of others (including blogs, news sites and other competitors) potentially reporting on your outbursts, shedding even more light on a situation that you would happily banish into the shade. In short, it’s a big risk and one that you shouldn’t really be overly keen to take.

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