SEO ‘Hack Proofing’

By Ayaz Lakhani

In light of the recent hacking issues and PR blunders that have plagued a myriad of major brands such as Burger King, Mountain Dew and KitchenAid, there is a growing need to minimize the harm caused by negative publicity and proactively defend your brand’s SEO rankings as a crisis management technique. As we all know, too many bad, spammy or low-quality links can harm your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) and undo all of your hard work and optimization.

seo hacker

In the digital space where negative word-of-mouth travels at the speed of a tweet, no one is exempted. Every business is at risk of being a victim of bad publicity, whether it is the hacking of a social media account or contest, a product quality issue or an unintentional communication sent through an owned media property. To make matters even more severe, the importance of SEO spans across many different industries and sectors, whether they are major retail brands, service providers, universities or even small businesses.


Why is SEO ‘Hack Proofing’ Important?

The truth of the matter is that everyone is directly affected by SEO rankings and they will all have to deal with a crisis at some point in the future—it is simply the “cost of doing business” in digital. Negative publicity of any kind that shows up on a SERP has a direct impact on how your company is perceived by a potential customer and could be the difference between life and death for your brand.


From a strategic perspective, this means that businesses need to start thinking proactively about how to hack-proof their brand’s SEO rankings, especially if they operate in a high-risk industry (BP), or if a key competitor is a recent victim of being hacked (Jeep). It is also important to note that small businesses need to worry even more so than major brands, as they are typically at a disadvantage due to limited resources and a general inability to bounce back from a major crisis, or a slew of negative reviews.

5 Defensive SEO Strategies

Fortunately, there are 5 defensive SEO strategies that companies and brands of all sizes across all industries can implement to counteract negative links, manage online reputations, address negative reviews and effectively hack-proof their SEO rankings

  • Proactive Planning: Identify potential risk areas early on and develop proactive solutions to protect yourself in case of an emergency or crisis. Engaging in proactive planning will allow your brand to mitigate risks and respond swiftly to control the story in favor of your brand.
  • Social Listening: Actively engage in social listening for high-volume negative keywords and be on top of news headlines and stories as they break across the web. This will not only allow for the creation of relevant and timely digital content to hold your ranking, but it will also help to “push down” and offset any negative (and often factually inaccurate) news stories about your brand. View social listening SEO tools to craft your strategies.
  • defensive seo ninjaOnline Presence: Maintain a strong online presence through all owned social media properties, well-indexed websites and press releases to fortress your SEO rankings. Be sure to include high-volume keywords and search terms as part of your content strategy across all owned online media platforms to assist your ranking for these topics. Active profiles on popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr provide more chances for engagement with customers and thus, increase your chances of ranking well on SERPs. Use the Ad Preview Tool to view unbiased search results on targeted keywords and identify potential areas for defensive SEO.
  • Wikipedia: Use Wikipedia to moderate and control the tone of how and what is said about your brand and a particular crisis. Wikipedia consistently ranks high for most brand searches and is the primary source of information for many search users and potential customers. Since Wikipedia prides itself on the accuracy of its information, this is your company’s chance to set the record straight and source your claims. Be honest and accurate when engaging on Wikipedia and avoid any self-promotion or sales materials.
  • Direct Responses: If you cannot outrank them, respond positively to negative comments or false claims about your brand on message boards, forums and blogs. Remember to apologize, address concerns and stick to the facts—advertising speak does not belong here! This will allow you to “humanize” your brand, defend your positioning and positively influence negative brand perceptions regardless of where you rank on SERPs.



It is important to note that these defensive SEO strategies are by no means a “quick fix” and it will generally take some time to witness results. However, implementing these 5 defensive SEO strategies will significantly boost your crisis management efforts and assist your brand in reclaiming the first page of Google. Remember to stay calm, stick to your strategy and focus on your customers:

“When a disaster hits, it seems like the world is caving in and that can seriously affect judgment. The digital marketing industry is somewhat of an echo chamber, so the loudest voices are usually industry insiders and not necessarily real customers nor influencers. Deal with the short term crisis, but don’t let it distract you from the medium to long term objective of using SEO to protect and shift real consumer sentiment.” – Paul Newnes, Partner at Last Exit

Some recent examples of companies that have successfully dealt with negative publicity include Papa John’s and Chegg, Taco Bell, and General Motors.

Check out our latest blog posts on 5 Common SEO Myths in 2013 and SEO for Small Business.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 2.52.28 PMAyaz Lakhani (@a_lakhani) is an NYU Integrated Marketing graduate student concentrating in Marketing Analytics. He is also the President of the NYU Integrated Marketing Association (@NYUIMA) and a Strategist at the New York and London based digital agency, Last Exit. Learn more about Ayaz on LinkedIn.

5 replies
  1. Monica De La Villa
    Monica De La Villa says:

    I believe brands/businesses and even people need to be aware of the “cost ” of being part of the digital ecosystem. I would call it Responsibility. And when brands take care of their role in this ecosystem responsibly by adding value through useful information and content, and by addressing all comments/questions in a polite and honest way, the results in the SERP will talk positively about them!
    This cause and effect relationship will happen naturally, which we all know Google rewards!

  2. SEOmeetsPR
    SEOmeetsPR says:

    Very informative article! And relevant, particularly with the area of crisis management evolving so quickly and the recent hacks.

    BUT – To what extent do you think these measure up against traditional press release distribution in terms of having the company’s side of the story told in a crisis?

    And in terms of online presence, which is better – the dissemination of the company identity across every social media vehicle available as listed above in order to increase the presence, or the successful proliferation of a few key areas?

    • Ayaz Lakhani
      Ayaz Lakhani says:

      Monica – Thank you for your thoughts. I completely agree!

      SEOmeetsPR – Thank you, and great questions! Please see my responses below:

      1) Traditional press releases are great and should be used in conjunction with (and not in place of) Defensive SEO. The more sources and avenues that tell your company’s side of the story, the better your chances are of ranking well for high-volume keywords regarding the particular crisis on SERPs.

      Keep in mind that the #1 tool used by actual consumers to find or interact with a brand online is Search. Thus, if your SERP is cluttered with negative content, comments and reviews, your brand is at a high risk of losing a chance to activate or interact with a potential customer on your most important owned media platform—your brand’s website.

      2) I do not believe that an online presence on every platform for social media is appropriate for every brand. Each brand needs to look at their respective target markets and their corresponding online behaviors and then decide which platforms will be the most appropriate and effective to disseminate the brand’s identity.

  3. Claudia Garcia
    Claudia Garcia says:

    Very insightful article! I think that all these measures are crucial to control the tone and the conversation about your brand online. I would emphasize the importance of social listening as an effective monitoring tool, and direct response as a way to restrain any damaging or inaccurate conversation out there. Customers like to know that they are being heard and that companies are both responsive to their concerns and responsible of their actions.

  4. Glendale Movers
    Glendale Movers says:

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