What is search jacking and how can it hurt your brand?

search jacking

Boy was I in for a surprise when I typed “content shock” into the search engine.

I was looking at the images that people used when they blogged about my recent post and something didn’t seem quite right. There were pornographic images, links to spam sites and other things that elicit a gag reflex.

Welcome to the world of search jacking.

When a topic gets hot, the Internet Bad People quickly catch on and capitalize by finding ways to catch the wave with their own spammy offerings. It could have been worse — there were so many posts about the subject that it is pretty saturated with legitimate content but you can see how not protecting yourself as your business grows can provide vulnerabilities to your brand.

Lee Odden is my go-to guy on this stuff. He is the wunderkid of all things optimization and offered advice for creating a hedge of protection for a brand. Using my new book Social Media Explained as an example, he taught me how to try to prevent spammers from hijacking this brand. His basic strategy is to swarm the web with relevant content while placing brand stakes down on key platforms. His advice:

  • It comes down to publicity and getting as many reputable sources mentioning, linking and sharing the book title. It’s work.
  • The objective would simply be to make it easy for people to find the book after they’ve heard of it and for your content to get front and center attention. Own every version of the product name you can think of.
  • I would set up a WP blog and just answer one question relevant to your product each week. Maybe tap other social media types to answer a question from time to time. That would become quite a magnet.
  • Continue to set up a reasonable number of outposts like you have with the book name (FB, Twitter, etc). Upload the book cover, artwork, diagrams, to image hosting sites, etc so people looking for visual resources about the book can find them.
  • The main thing would be to get a quantity of quality reviews from respected sites that link back to the focus page on your site.

Lee mentioned that another resource to help with this would be Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation by Andy Beal.

But the problem is …

Lee is absolutely correct. Every smart brand should do this. No question. But my problem is, how is a small business supposed to keep something like this going? Here are key titles/phrases/concepts that are proprietary to me:

To execute this well, I would have to maintain at least eight sites, blogs, Facebook/Twitter accounts, etc. and populate them all with some form of non-spammy, consistent content. I would have to work for reviews, links and images on other reputable sites.

One of the things I struggle with is that small business owners like me are really at a disadvantage when it comes to this stuff. Building a digital fortress around my brand is non-revenue producing and I don’t have a staff available to be the virtual junkyard dogs keeping the Internet Bad People away.

I don’t know of any easy way to hack around this do you? As Lee says, this is work. And frankly, I don’t want to do that work : )

Any thoughts?

Illustration: Fortress Qaitbay, Alexandria, Egypt, courtesy Flickr CC and Ahmad Ali

Book links are affiliate links

mark schaefer

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  • You don’t have to create 8 different sites, social accounts, etc. to sufficiently drown out the noise. If you just optimize what you already have in place, you could do quite a bit of damage and push the less desirable search results further down the list. A few ideas:

    1. You don’t have Google Authorship set up on this site. When anyone searches those phrases, their eyes are drawn to several different posts/sites that aren’t yours because others have dropped the appropriate code on their site. If you want to own these phrases and be synonymous with them, I should see your face every time I search them.

    2. You include the dates in your URLs, which works against you in the “Query Deserves Freshness” (QDF) category. If you went back and updated all of your URL’s, you would lose the juice you have on those old links and you would also lose all the social shares attached to those links. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop the date from your URLs moving forward.

    3. My SpyBar indicates you don’t have WordPress SEO by Yoast installed on this site. If you installed the plugin and went back through the pages/posts that prominently feature those phrases and properly keyword target the content, you could easily win several battles for your digital turf.

    There are many more things you could do, such as auditing your tags/categories and optimizing those to reflect your search goals, setting up a proper podcast directory page that back links to each episode’s post that contain those phrases, making videos about them and posting them as blogs with transcripts underneath the video, and a lot more. But those are three pieces of low-hanging fruit that can move the needle quickly.

    Hope this helps!

  • shari risoff

    Hi Mark, Where did you search for that term, or did you do anything since you wrote this post? I just googled content shock and found nothing but you and your input for the first 26 entries before there was a link to something different. Even then it wasn’t spam. On each page was an ad for shock absorbers, but nothing else negative.
    As a small business owner, would this search jacking area be something that you would invest in a virtual assistant to patrol for you and do some of the work for you?

  • erikdeckers

    You can always hire it done. I’ve done this kind of content brand defense for clients, and while it’s not cheap, it’s better than clients having the same issues you did. For some clients, it’s not a matter of porn content being found other that keyword, but competitors who are doing just slightly better than you at content creation.

  • Hi Mark,

    1. Every month, allocate 1 hour to check for search checkers

    2. Do a Google disavow on the prime offenders

    3. If they’re targeting a specific page, move your content to a new page

    4. Do a 301 redirect

    5. Then close your page when the google juice has passed over


  • Jeffrey Slater


    Like Shari, I only found your content on the first few pages of Google through a search using Chrome looking for the term content shock. On Twitter using #contentshock I found lots of tweets but many are referencing your original posts or places you discussed this topic with people like Mitch Joel on his SPOS podcast.

    I’m not an SEO expert so I’m not sure how to avoid this but I wonder if an hour of a virtual assistant’s time for 10 weeks might minimize these types of problems as long as it is directed/guided by a SEO expert. A small investment to help reduce the problem.

    The other solution is a voodoo doll to help make the bad Internet people go away. I’m a big fan of voodoo dolls. (no, I don’t have an affiliate link) but that might be a new product for you and Tom to kibitz about on the Marketing Companion.


  • Well … maybe my work paid off : )

    I don’t think there is much risk here unless some term really takes off. That is what attracts the attention.

  • Very true Erik. Thanks. Honored to have you comment.

  • Thanks Ivan. I’ll try that.

  • You’re on! : )

  • Lee’s advice is right on target. Could be a bit overwhelming, but maybe not as hard as you would suspect. Some of these assets will be entirely static, others would only need a temporary burst of activity.

    Most small business owners are going to get overly worked up about this (not understanding search) and will 1) spend too much time & money and, 2) spend too much time & money on the wrong things. A double shot of waste.

    For business brands a branded domain, if at all possible, the usual array of popular social media profiles, and citations in business directories is probably good enough for the majority. Product related brand (e.g. book) would warrant additional PR activity (press releases, blog interviews, podcasts, etc..)

    It’s simply the cost of doing business. So, before you decide you want to do 12 different things, you probably want to consider all of this. And, if at all possible, find a way to make your thing (ie brand) slightly unique.

    My “content shock” query (de-personalized) has you sitting at the top, Mark. CMI, CopyBlogger, SXSW, and HuffPo are your competition. Take that as flattery, I guess.

    Mark, what would you do differently next time re: Content Shock ?

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