In June 2014, a review about Vanquish Security & Investigation Consultants popped up on a website called PissedConsumer. The review was clearly fake. It mentioned costs that did not relate to the services that we provided and it was a very obvious, cheap and directed attack and I decided to simply ignore it. Although it was by far the most aggressive, it most certainly wasn’t the first time that I had been made aware that someone had decided to write something negative about myself and/ or the company online which is exactly why I decided not to do anything at the time.
A few weeks later, someone called me to make me aware that another couple of posts had been published on the same site. When I saw them, my first reaction was nothing but anger. I was furious. I therefore set out to establish who the people responsible were. I signed up for a “free trial” with PissedConsumer in an effort to gain more insight but it turned out to be a complete waste of time so I left it again. More time passed by and more “reviews” were posted. I signed up for another so called free trial so that I could, at the very least, respond to them on behalf of the company. This did nothing positive, all it did was encourage more attacks and improve the SEO of the page.
What is SEO?
For those of you who don’t know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and in essence relates to the a website’s ability to rank higher in engines such as Google without having to pay for advertising. There are more than 200 different factors that affect a website’s SEO and one of them is the amount of time that people spend on a website after finding it and another is the amount of engagement people have on the page. For those reasons alone, I was advised NOT to visit the website anymore. Encouraging third parties to do the same was pretty much impossible.
After conducting some background research into PissedConsumer, it became very apparent very quickly that I was completely powerless. There were at the time and still are today millions of dollars worth of lawsuits challenging this website with no success. These are, in some cases, huge US based companies fighting a US based review company with a very powerful website. I felt that I did not stand a chance. Because of the reviews, I was getting to a point where I could barely pay rent, let alone take a foreign company to court.
The reviews were anonymous and there was absolutely no way to trace who they were made by or have them removed. PissedConsumer’s policy on the removal of content is that the author of the review must send a notarised letter to the office in Nevada and then hope that they remove it. In this letter, you must prove that you are the one that posted the review in the first place.
After a while the reviews did start to have an affect on my personal life. The frustration of not knowing who was behind them along with the financial damage they were having were causing me to a constant level of distress, anxiety and borderline depression. For the entire duration that they were there, I suffered sleepless nights worrying whether or not a big potential client may see them. What people probably don’t realise is, no matter how much hard work you put into something whether that be acquiring a contract, making a small sale, spending weeks improving a section of your website, it means absolutely nothing if your prospect reads the fake reviews. Your entire credibility collapses within seconds and all because someone is nasty enough to target you in an unprovoked and faceless campaign.
A faceless attack is the worst kind of attack that anyone can suffer.
Actual Clients adding to them
Every business has unhappy customers. The issue we had was that as an investigation firm, we were dealing with very emotional people because of they were about to go through a divorce or they just found out that their partner cheated on them or they had been a victim of fraud. These clients are by default, impatient and we are usually the ones who deal get the brunt of their frustrations when something doesn’t happen the way they wanted it to or because they’ve had to wait a couple of days longer or in some cases, because their call wasn’t answered. Combine these emotions with them then reading a bunch of fake reviews is NOT ideal.
Because of their emotional state, it would not be unusual for them to go and write a negative review in anger. It becomes more tempting for them if they see other negative reviews beforehand.
After establishing that it was pretty much impossible to have them removed, I had no choice but to explore other ways to combat the issue. The most popular way to deal with this is the utilisation of SEO to “knock down” PissedConsumer’s page result on Google. That meaning to use your website and third party websites to force their website away off of the first page so that people searching for reviews on your business didn’t see the fake ones.
At the time of writing this article SEO services in the UK usually start from around £150 per month. SEO is NOT a quick service and it will usually take months before you see any kind of results. Having no choice, I had to learn SEO myself and went to work on optimising all sites. I even created another site called VanquishReviews.com to help out-rank PissedConsumer’s. All of this took literally years and had very little effect. The really frustrating thing was that as soon as someone wrote another review, PissedConsumer would shoot right back to the top meaning that all of my hard work was completely in vain.
The financial damage
The financial damage was huge. After comparing our accounts from the previous year, it transpired that we were losing around £10,000 revenue per month. Our total turnover per month was never more than £15,000 - £20,000 per month so literally more than half of our business was taken away from us due to no fault of our own.
Attempts to have it removed
I had spoken with a number of solicitors about having the reviews removed but only one showed any form of optimism. They recommended that we seek counsel from a barrister who would listen to our case and determine whether or not the posts were defamatory. Something about this made me quite uncomfortable. Probably the fact that they wanted me to pay more than £1000 per hour for someone to make a fairly straight forward decision and then who would then have the authority to demand that Google (only Google) remove the results from their search engine. I started to wonder why I couldn’t do this myself. I’m certainly not a barrister or a member of the Queen’s Counsel but I do have a good understanding of legislation because of my work.
I therefore made an application to Google to have the content removed from their results. I started to feel optimistic for the first time in two years. Then I received their response. They decided to only remove one very small element of the results which made pretty much no difference at all. The part that got to me was that in their response they stated that it was in the interest of the public to know about my professional life. They believed the reviews. I was completely deflated. I was now reconsidering whether or not to change the company name. The person who wrote the reviews very deviously wrote my name in the meta tags meaning that anytime someone searched my name, these results would come up.
On the 14th September 2016 I decided to make one last attempt. I made another application to Google to have the content removed using this form https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_legalother?product=websearch
I had to provide a legal explanation for each article posted. I therefore had no choice but to research each piece of legislation relating to libel. In the UK, it related to the Defamation Act 2013. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/contents
They decided to remove the results from Google making me feel like a new person again. For the first time in two and a half years, we could really move the businesses forward again.
This ordeal has forced me to learn a lot about reputation management which is exactly why Vanquish® is now going to be utilising this new skill set along with our existing investigative services to help other businesses deal with similar attacks both implementing preventive measures and bringing the responsible parties to justice.