The world of big business has always been cutthroat, but in recent years, brand sabotage has increased and gotten easier by the number of ways competitors can attack your business online. Business leaders who seek success through excellence and innovation must protect themselves from those whose business models involve brand sabotage.
Online chatter destroys reputations, so companies are well advised to vigilantly protect themselves from online brand sabotage.
Types of Business Sabotage
Creative saboteurs employ numerous strategies; this article discusses a few common types of business sabotage strategies that exist and how you can stop competitors from sabotaging your business online.
1. Bad Online Reviews
Most sabotage attempts consist of negative, fake reviews on Yelp, Google, and other public information-sharing sites. How do you find out if a competitor is doing this? A sudden spike in negative reviews for no apparent reason could indicate that someone is trying to harm your business by publishing false reviews designed to disparage your online reputation.
Reputation-management companies suggest that owners of affected businesses contact several trusted clients, explain the situation, and ask them to post authentic, positive reviews on the same sites. This will push the bad reviews lower in search results. Engaging a reputation management company in this situation is also advisable.
2. Negative SEO Campaigns
Negative SEO (search engine optimization) campaigns, also called “black-hat SEO”, involve taking advantage of search engine factors to sabotage a competitor’s rankings in search engines. One way to do this is by creating a website link that appears similar to your company’s link but directs consumers to your competitor’s site.
For example, if your company name is Acme Entertainment and your website is “AcmeEntertainment.com,” a competitor might buy a domain name like “AcmeEntertaiment.com,” and direct all traffic to that address to their site. With just one letter different from your business’s web address (here, a missing “n”), each user who perpetrates that typo when attempting to enter your web address represents a potential missed opportunity.
Large institutions commonly suffer data breaches affecting millions of consumers whose leaked information is often sold to prospective identity thieves. But hacking can serve the purposes of a competitor just as well as it serves those of scammers, identity thieves, or even ideological actors.
For example, in 2014, hackers compromised the corporate network of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and stole hundreds of gigabytes of data. The hack appeared to be in reprisal for an upcoming comedy film about killing the Supreme Leader of North Korea. The hackers published volumes of sensitive company data—including yet-to-be-released films, proof of a gender-based compensation scheme, as well as internal emails between C-level executives containing racist remarks about then-President Barack Obama.
The U.S. government alleges that North Korea was responsible for the hack; the North Korean government denies responsibility. See The 2014 Sony hacks, explained for more information. Whoever was responsible, one can imagine the potential revelry in the C-suites and boardrooms of Sony’s competitors at the time of these events.
To determine what happened, the data security consultant that later audited Sony’s database concluded that the breach was very preventable and largely the result of Sony’s own lax security policies, which failed to safely defend the company from a phishing attack.
The best protection from hackers is a good internal data security policy, and Sony’s story is a powerful lesson learned on that subject alone. Yet, it should also serve as a reminder that, while their motives may differ, your competitors have just as much to gain from hacking your network as political actors or run-of-the-mill identity thieves.
Protections Against Online Business Sabotage
Link-tracking tools are one way to remain vigilant against would-be saboteurs. Companies such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Majestic provide link-tracking tools and send you regular reports on who is linking to your site. By auditing these reports, you can watch out for suspicious activity. For example, if you notice repeated links posted from someone associated with a competitor, it could indicate that the posts serve a competitive purpose.
Google’s Search Console is a do-it-yourself version of the same program; if you find something problematic, you can submit a disavow file to Google.
2. Track Brand Mentions
In addition to using link trackers, you’ll want to regularly review your online ad data (something you should be doing anyway). A spike in mentions from a single area warrants a closer look; perhaps your competitors are conducting opposition research. Although this isn’t sabotage in and of itself, it could suggest the existence of some broader undertaking.
3. Search for Your Own Content
Some competitors may publish your content (including blog posts) on their sites to keep consumers away from yours. If plagiarized content gets more clicks than your original content, it means that consumers are being drawn away from your website. Unauthorized reproduction of your original creative works may violate applicable copyright laws. If you encounter this, then you should consider whether to file a DMCA copyright takedown notice.
4. Hire an IT Expert to Secure Your Networks
If your business’s website is repeatedly attacked or otherwise the subject of ongoing suspicious activity, then you should engage a reputable information security consultant to audit your IT infrastructures and correct any vulnerabilities found.
Filing a Lawsuit
If you believe that one of your competitors has targeted your business, whether through its website or otherwise, and you believe their actions have deprived you of opportunities or otherwise caused or contributed to declining revenue, then you may have remedies to assert against that competitor in court, and you should consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Gertsburg Licata’s attorneys have years of experience helping businesses deal with the misconduct of their competitors.
Maximilian Julian is a partner at Gertsburg Licata. He may be reached at (216) 573-6000 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.