Usability-first Search Engine Optimization

Mike and Joe’s Big Online Reputation Mismanagement Adventure

Joe BlowJoe Blow doin his thang

Early this week, a good chunk of the SEO community went on a virtual lynching of Joe “Blow” we’ll call him, an SEO from Columbus, Ohio. A blog post by Mike Halvorsen—a reputable SEO from the same city—quickly became a good example of how not to react to public outrage when your misdeeds are being scrutinized in an online social space.

For those of you who missed it, Mike Halvorsen’s popular post includes several of the emails he received from Joe Blow requesting that he stop using certain variations of the terms ‘Columbus SEO’ on his website. It seems Joe felt he could threaten Mike with legal action for using a name he claimed to own the trademark for.

Aside from the fact that you can’t trademark the combination of a city name and an occupation, I think what really hit a nerve within the SEO community about Joe was his sickeningly manipulative dialog, his condescending tone, transparent lies, switching from falsely threatening legal action to playing the role of victim, and his chiming into the thread with sarcastic and patronizing remarks. He should start a PR company.

Professional misdeeds can put a real dent in your online reputation. You can either carefully try to hammer out that dent with honesty, or carelessly blowtorch it into a gaping, irreparable hole that sinks your ship. Unfortunately for Joe, he was overzealous with the butane.
Pretty severe online reputation management problems
Two long, agonizing days of reality-checkitude for Joe finally resulted in his version of an apology to the SEO community.

The apology is a faint glimpse of a step in the right direction, but still misses the mark by a wide margin, and I doubt it’ll get him any respect from the SEO community. </understatement>

Tough love from Dan: An online reputation management crash course

In a comment on Mike’s blog, Dan Cristo expertly summed up what’s wrong with Joe’s ridiculous version of an apology. What’s cool about Dan’s comment is that he seems to genuinely want Joe to learn something and grow from the experience.


I just read your, “Apology to the SEO Community” featured on your websites homepage. Buddy… That is the worst apology ever. You spend all 6 paragraphs defending your actions and making excuses.

First you make the excuse that the keyword doesn’t bring much traffic. You then attack Mike by implying that his motives didn’t match his words. Aka. calling him a liar.

Paragraph 3 you defend yourself some more. Paragraph 4 you blame your attorney. Paragraph 5, you blame your humanity – as if you yourself are not responsible, rather it’s your humanity that made you “goof up”. Paragraph 6, you apologize to the people who have, “Taken this personally” and “Who are upset” with you defending your company name (which really isn’t your company name).

Joe… You didn’t “goof up”. You were being a bully and you were angry. You made a choice to act like you did. It wasn’t an accident. It was a decision. You’re not sorry at all for being a jerk. You’re not sorry for bullying people. You’re not sorry for making SEO’s look bad. You’re not sorry for tarnishing SMX’s reputation.

You are sorry for not registering your own company name, and you are sorry people are calling you out for what you did. That’s what you apologize for, and that is why the apology comes across fake and insulting.

Look. I don’t think you’re a bad guy. SEO is hard, and reputation in this business is priceless. I’d hate to see your entire career crash and burn because of one (rather major) mistake. So, I am going to help you out here with your personal brand reputation. “Take my hand… If you want to live!”

  1. Take down that BS apology letter and rewrite it. Stop defending and passing blame. Acknowledge that you wanted to defend your rankings, and your dealings with Mike were wrongly executed. period.
  2. Track down every single person who has commented in this thread and apologize to them personally. You’re an SEO – you know how to search, find them on twitter, facebook or via email.
  3. Delete your comments on this post. They make you look like a fool.
  4. Perform an act of kindness – Donate time, money or services to a charity in Columbus.

Why do I care enough to help you help yourself? Because you’re an SEO, and it’s not easy. Especially when the community has targeted you (Don’t for a second think you’re a victim, or you didn’t deserve it). So accept the beating and turn this into a positive thing. Heck, maybe SMX will have you speak about brand reputation management next year, but first, you’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do.


How cool is Dan Cristo for that constructive comment.

Ryan Frishkorn also made a great point in his comment on Mike’s blog:

…if he was so worried about distinguishing himself from other businesses, he would have chosen a truly unique name that didn’t include the industry name he was trying to monopolize. It’s like naming a web development company “Internet Web Development, Inc.” and then trying to bludgeon everyone you can find via search engine results.

Just another reason I think exact match domains are overrated.

Joe, a lot of us have been dragged through the mud for our mistakes in the past, and those of us fortunate enough to grow from these hard knocks (brought on by ourselves) look back in retrospect and might even be glad we were given a chance to grow.

About matt

Matthew Edward is the founder of Springboard SEO, a usability-first search engine optimization company in Montreal.

  • I’m going to be honest here; this whole thing should have been handled privately between the two parties at some point, if not right from the beginning. Joe was being an idiot, no doubts there. But the dogpile that ensued, and sometimes outright nasty things the SEO community fired back bordered on the same level of bullying that matches what Joe did.

    What I find the most ironic is the ORM failed on Mikes blog due to the comments themselves; in essence, we just told anyone whos not in the SEO community that we as a community can and will (1) stand up and call out shenanigans, (2) have no qualms making it everyones business, and (3) publicly chastise someone above and beyond the call for as long as we can.

    People took time out of their day to create anti-fan pages about the guy. Juvenile.

    The mob/herd mentality was in full swing for this. In the end, all that’s been accomplished was that Joe made some enemies, Mikes blog got a ton of traffic and some people got a chance to go beat up on someone over an otherwise private conversation.

  • I agree with a lot of what you’re saying Matt.


    You can’t discount the fact that Joe–and possibly others watching–might think twice before putting their greed and frustration ahead of common sense.

    I think that a lot of emotions were triggered by Mike’s post in part because in there are so many people in SEO/SEM motivated by pure greed, and they spread disinformation–usually to clients, but in this case to peers–to meet their needs.

    It really hits a nerve in a community of professionals that have to struggle with clients that have been fed all sorts of lies by sleazy, stereotypical sales types.

  • No.. only the ones aware of this incident will think twice since they saw first hand what the blowback will probably be. I hate to be a fatalist about it, but some people won’t change their stripes regardless of common sense and will pull crap regardless until they get caught. The more determined ones rethink their strategies with the sole intent to NOT get caught again.

    Emotions were triggered by the tone and presentation of how Joe’s emails were framed. And in general, most decent people rally behind the victim (Mike). I’m not defending Joe, but I’m looking at the mentality of the mob and the subsequent gangbang that took place.

    Nerves were hit.. group think took place.. the inherit nature of humanity played out.. good times were had by all because we got to go push a bully back.

    Joe took down a post on his blog about the situation after the hate-train stopped at his station. He then put up an apology. Wasn’t good enough for the masses.

    So what exactly is he supposed to do? What is he supposed to do that will stop the mob? For the record, he didn’t cower away once Mikes blog post went public. In fact, he seemed to keep some level of composure about himself in the face of multiple people bashing on him.

    He wrote an apology, and apologized on Mikes blog. Not good enough. I look at people’s responses to anything he had to say and I see bloodlust. The comments section took on a life of it’s own and it had no interest in being civil or giving a damn about what the guy had to say.

    Again, for the record, I am not defending Joe. But to me, the comments section got thuggish, and it was totally acceptable.

  • I agree. Juvenile, yes. Thuggish, yes.

    But I have to disagree about Joe apologizing. That wasn’t an apology at all. That was an embarrassing attempt at saving face with some more manipulative table-turning. Did you read it in its entirety? It’s a joke.

    I have the same fatalistic, no, realistic view of people and their motivations. You can’t change people. But you can plant seeds. When they’re ready for change, those seeds can sprout.

  • Matt,

    Are you familiar with the long history of our community’s battle over trademark related to the SEO acronym? The thousands upon thousands of dollars spent within our community in defense of the free use of the acronym? That this money spent was not, in fact, spent out of a desire to protect any individual company’s use of it but for the ability for all of us to use it, freely? as it should be allowed?

    That sore-point is that – a sore point – a trigger point within the community. Does it justify bullying? No. Does it explain why many people go batty when anyone threatens legal action? yes.

    Look – the fact of the matter is that this is the 21st century. The web is a platform where people express their opinion on every subject imaginable under the sun. When someone pulls a stunt the way Joe did, and continues to threaten after initial contact, the recipient has every right to bring it to the light of day.

    I’ve seen numerous instances where similar threat letters were published, allowing people to comment on the subject. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That emotion is involved in such a blog post, or that emotion is involved in the comments is a reality of 21st century communication. It’s healthy.

    20th century sensitivities about such things really are just that. On the way out.

  • I want to clarify a few things here. I didn’t post the very first voice mail the guy left me in which he gave me “by the end of the day to call him.” I did research last night and really thought hard about posting the voice mail. I’m not going to post it unless there are more false, absolutely baseless claims made by him towards me.

    I did try handling the situation on the phone with him because I called him back after I got the voice mail. He spoke for the first minute and still threatened me with legal action and still brought up lies about how he had “successful judgements” in the past and that he was trying to do me a favor by contacting me by email. You cannot threaten someone with trademark infringement if you don’t have legal grounds to do so. I couldn’t get through to the guy on the phone. The emails kept coming. I posted them thinking he’d leave the situation alone after they were online. I didn’t expect the community to rally behind me, nor did I expect him to keep commenting and keep lying. I tried telling the truth several times (in a non-condescending tone on his site). He didn’t approve any of those responses. I approved EVERY last one of his because he deserved to defend himself.

    Anyways, I can’t stand that there are these kind of people in our industry. They give us all a bad name. Our industry already gets a bad rep. How many good, honest business owners have had their attitudes soured towards SEO because of shady SEO’s? I live in Columbus. I love this city. For the most part, I do my SEO pro bono and offer them advice and direction because I don’t want to see honest business owners get screwed.

    I’d like to share this from May 2008. It’s the same guy:

  • Hard to believe it’s only been a year since the termination of Jason Gambert’s SEO trademark registration.

  • Schadenfreude Fix

    A shady financial adviser casually goes about life knowingly spending his client’s money, for personal pleasures. Until one day they realize their life’s savings are gone. Looking back to his life with scrutiny more victims are found. How is that possible? Well, each time, he managed to skid through with only a slap on the wrist, and believing that to be the only price he’d ever have to pay for hurting people, he made it his modus operandi.

    Now the guy’s in jail, he got 2 years, but somehow his victims are the ones with the real punishments. Divorces for some, cries and tears for others, shattered college dreams for the kids, uncertainty for most. People have read his story and many of them empathize with the victims, as they’ve been in similar situations, but they couldn’t do much about. All they can do now is simply find some solace in the fact that you *really* reap what you sow.

    The news hit today, last night our sleaze bag got raped by his cell mate. The crowd cannot contain the schadenfreude. Amidst the rejoicing though, a hand rises. There’s some silence as Matt Webb takes the floor and says “I’m not defending Joe but… prison violence is an issue we should deal with.”