Internet search fraud can wreck your company

I admit it. I love technology in all its forms. And I spend a lot of time thinking about how technology, social media and the Internet keep changing business, employment law and our entire legal landscape. Changes are coming so rapidly that there remains a huge gray area where technology and social media intersect with business, employment and the law.

More and more legal precedents are being established by regulatory agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board, and through court decisions, than by state or federal legislation. This is because lawmakers can't keep up with the pace of technological change and all of its legal implications and ramifications, seen and unseen.

As part of my practice at Scaringi Law, where I focus on employment law, civil litigation and workers' compensation, I'm seeing my attention to technology and its impact on businesses come in handy on an increasingly regular basis.

Sabotaging a company's Google search rankings

Recently I attended a conference on technology and social media at Harrisburg University that brought to light an ominous new form of business fraud: companies trying to sink their rivals' websites by associating the sites with bad links.

Businesses are increasingly relying on the Internet to drive sales, and Google - with its powerful search engine - plays a crucial role in directing potential customers to company websites. A secret algorithm determines which companies show up at the top of a search. The lower a firm's website places, the higher the likelihood of missing customers.

But while many companies invest in "search engine optimization,'' o r legitimate techniques to raise a firm's search profile, there are some who engage in trying to sabotage the competition.

Speaking at the Harrisburg University "Social Media at Work" forum, author Gini Dietrich painted this devious scenario: Knowing that Google punishes, rather than rewards, websites tied to an over-abundance of spammed links to juice its rankings, there are some competitors out there trying to sink their rivals' websites by bombarding them with those spammed links.

These are links that a company's competitor places on various websites that point to its intended victim's website. Google's algorithm will see this as an attempt by the victim to game the ranking system and will penalize the victim's site by sharply lowering its place in the search rankings.

The result is a huge drop-off in visitors and revenue. Indeed, this represents as much of a threat to your business as if your competitor drove a dump truck through your store. Yet there are no license plate numbers on those bad links, as this type of Internet shenanigans is historically hard to track.

Fighting back

Dietrich, author of the technology and marketing book "Spin Sucks,"points out that Google's free webmaster tools allow a business owner to easily see what's happening on his or her website.

Signing up is simply a matter of registering your URL, verifying your website and following the easy steps. Immediately after the seminar, I enrolled my own blog (www.employers-lawyer.com) so I can look for links from odd-sounding websites as potential red flags of fraud. Plus, I can use Google analytics to chart my hits and detail the sources of my traffic.

Monitoring your site this way should help prevent your business from becoming a victim. Yes, we could try to ferret out the unscrupulous competitor behind the bad links and then sue for tortious interference, fraud or some other claim under uniform trade practices or consumer protection laws. But such actions take time, and by then, traffic to your website, along with your e-commerce sales, could be down to nothing.

When it comes to technology, fast is best. And proactive, preventive and protective medicine can keep your company's website up and ringing with business, while proudly and prominently representing you and your company to the world.

Rest assured that while you concentrate on business, I'll be working overtime to stay on top of technology as it relates to employment and the law.

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