Accusations that Rip-Off Report just an Extortion Business
Here’s the basic gist of Chris’ arguments:
- The website – Rip Off Report – essentially earns a living through extortion of businesses based on the search results (almost like a reverse reputation management campaign).
- Because the site ranks well at Google (Yahoo!, Live, and Ask appear not to give it as much weight), companies whose profiles appear on the site must pay the owner to have the information removed or have administrative comments added that an issue was resolved or the complaint was found to be false.
- It would appear that content creators unfamiliar with the English language, yet very familiar with keyword stuffing, create many of the negative profiles on the site (ostensibly to help them rank better in the search engines so they will have a greater negative impact on the businesses they list).
- The site even features bizarre allegations (supposedly from a 16 year old girl) that Google’s founders propositioned her and another underage girl.
Certainly, if you visit the site (which I won’t link to directly), you’ll note the exaggerated style and tone of the content suggests a less-than-professional organization. The site proudly claims not to investigate the comments left by its visitors, and one is forced to wonder if Rip Off Report will truly investigate once a business pays them (or whether they simply remove the listing or add their “all’s well” commentary).
Beyond the ethics, I have to say that it’s a fascinating business model from an SEO perspective – integrating the negative linkbait pull of trashing a business or person as a link acquisition technique, using the link weight to rank well for company names, then forcing them to pay in order to “mitigate” their bad publicity through search engines. Honestly, I’m surprised that someone like Matt Cutts hasn’t taken action against the site – it would seem to fit well within his usual definition of manipulating Google.
I think more investigation of the site might be warranted – just a few quick searches led me down a fascinating tale of dodged court appearances, paranoia, default judgments, and violent threats. Here’s a few gems:
- The Phoenix Sun Times – The Real Rip Off Report – the reporter’s meeting with ROR’s owner is almost hard to believe, and the number of businesses paying thousands each month (if accurate) make this one of the most profitable black/gray hat SEO concepts I’ve ever heard.
- Eric Goldman – Rip Off Report Gets Mixed Ruling – it would appear that the site does have the ability to operate legally, though Chris’ blog post certainly suggests that the owners themselves are behind much of the content (and thus would have to answer for it). That portion of the case (suggesting that the owners created the libelous content) is still proceeding in Arizona.
- A video from Florida – WSVN on Rip-Off Report – showing fairly compelling evidence that the site does indeed extort businesses by offering to turn bad reports into positive ones for a fee.
BTW – I’m not sure why Chris didn’t mention it, but as far as Google’s TOS violations go, it would appear that they’re also selling paid link advertising and passing link juice (the banners in the top right corners don’t have nofollows).