Protecting Your Business Name and Reputation via Google Alerts

google-alerts-typesThere is an article in the Sept/Oct edition of the Austin Apartment Association magazine “Window on Rental Housing”, written by Austin Attorney Bill Warren, which addresses the growing problem in the apartment industry of rouge reviews and rants about apartment complexes and the management. 

As a renter moving to Austin, you can go online and find reviews about the various apartment complexes. There isn’t a central repository of reviews, or a website that dominates this niche, but there are numerous websites trying to capture this market. These are not generally glowing reviews. The ones that are favorable often don’t seem genuine because they’re just a bit too gushy, so one wonders if the apartment personnel wrote some of those.

I’ve found a smattering of reviews about Austin Realtors as well.

Not surprisingly, most Realtor reviews are unfavorable. Sylvia and I solicit our own reviews from clients after every deal via a survey we mail out. We post them on our website (though I need to update that page). We’ve never received a bad review.

But because we also manage rentals, we are subject to the rants and anger of tenants. Just yesterday one of my tenants called to say he needs to break his lease. I explained what the lease agreement says about that, and what needs to happen to remain in integrity with the lease agreement, and of course, as usual, it went down hill from there.

“I knew you were going to be difficult to deal with”, the tenant said. To which I replied, “Whoa, hold on there. What are you being asked to do that you didn’t already agree to when you signed your lease contract?”.

I’ve been working with tenants for almost 20 years now, and am resigned to the fact that when asked to do what was agreed, especially when they need to break the lease, tenants often don’t like it and lash out against the property manager. I’ve seen some really rotten reviews written about property managers.

So, what if someone writes up a nasty tirade about Steve Crossland, the “worst landlord in Austin”, and excoriates me for “not being reasonable”, as was alledged yesterday when I simply reminded a tenant of what was written in the lease agreement?

That’s where Google comes to the rescue. Using the Google Alerts tool, anyone can monitor any keyword phrase you want and be alerted when that keyword phrase appears on the internet.

I have Google Alerts set up for “Steve Crossland” and “Sylvia Crossland” and “Crossland Team” and “Crossland Real Estate”, as well as some others, including my kid’s names (hint to nosy parents), and terms such as “Austin Real Estate Market” that I just like to follow in news stories and other blogs. I will thus be notified if any of those search terms appear anew anywhere on the internet.

If attorney Bill Warren, referenced at the start of this article, has a Google Alert set up for his name, he’ll be receiving a “Google Alert” email probably within an hour of this blog article being posted, and he can click the link and come here to read what was said about him.

These Google Alerts are very important for service providers and business owners in protecting your name and reputation. If you don’t have them set up, do it now, today. Don’t wait. You don’t have to use Gmail to use the alerts. They can be sent to any email address.

Rather than being clueless and unaware about what might be written about you on the internet with regard to your products and services, you really have to be on top of things and guard your reputation. Even if you don’t own a business, it’s not a bad idea to keep tabs on where your name appears on the internet.

I in fact have not needed to take action about anything that has been written about us. We’ve had no bad reviews written that I’ve found, but if one were to be written, I’d find out right away and be able to take appropriate counter measures.

What would appropriate action be if you are slammed by a bad review or tirade?

1) If it’s something written in a public forum, I would respond with my side of the story, and some additional facts. I’d try not to attack the disgruntled person, but would instead simply provide more details so readers could make up their own minds. This is the approach I’ve seen taken by product vendors when their software or product receives a bad public review on technology forums or other websites. I think it’s a good approach. It’s always better to take the high ground and be nice.

2) If it’s a straight out pack of lies, or slander, then I would take more aggressive action, such as a letter to to website owner demanding removal of the content. The problem is, these “public comment” review websites are unregulated, and many take a sinister delight in letting anyone say anything. It might take an attorney to get something done in that case. But it’s money I would not hesitate spending.

If the offensive content starts to show up in web searches for you, your company or your product or service name, you better get on it. It can really cause you problems. Worse, if the content is fact based truths about some sort of screwup you committed, you legally can’t do anything at all about that.

For example, I wrote a truthful and fact based review of a lender who ripped off one of my buyers a few years ago with outrageously high loan fees. That blog article promptly became the #1 search result in Google for eLendDirect and It’s still here on my blog, and it’s still number #1 in Google. The CEO, Marc Griffith, refused to rebate the bogus loan fees to my buyer, and threatened me with legal action.

Since everything written was in fact true (I simply listed the fees charged), he had no leg to stand on, and I held my ground in defense of my buyer, who paid the fees instead of delaying the close and switching lenders as I suggested.

A Realtor friend of mine had an angry buyer, who wasn’t even his client, register his {} name and put up a website calling him the “worst Realtor in Austin”, with a photo (stolen from his real website) and everything. My friend called me for advice. We figured out where the guy worked by googling him. My friend contacted his employer. The employer made the guy surrender the domain name and take down the website, as the behavior was not something the company endorsed, to their credit. But the entire episode was very unsettling for my friend and it took 6 months to get it resolved and cost him lost sleep and stress.

How would you like it if a search for your business name, or your personal name turned up unfavorable write-ups or bogus slander? There is not much you can do to stop it from appearing initially (other than conducting your business properly and being nice to people), but you can use Google Alerts to be notified right away and take action faster if and when it does happen. And like most of Google’s tools, it’s a free service. Go sign up now! Don’t wait!

Posted by Steve
7 years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Aaron - 7 years ago

I’d be careful of approach #2, dealing with libel. You, and your readers, should read about the Streisand effect.

Streisand effect on wikipedia

Basically, if you try to fight censor negative speech (true or not), many more people will hear about it and the negative connotation with your name will stick in their mind.

Approach #1 is almost always successful, i.e. to overwhelm the negative noise with positive, coherent facts supporting your position.

P.S. Not to be a pedantic ass, but it is technically libel and not slander if it is written.

Steve - 7 years ago

I would think the Streisand effect doesn’t apply to us regular Joe’s. I could see public figures, celebrities, politicians, etc. getting widespread exposure from something like that, but I doubt a skirmish between a an unknown individual and a service provider would gain any news interest.

Thanks for the correction on slander vs. libel.


Stan - 7 years ago

You make good points, but in the case of truly bad landlords it is right that the tenant warn others before some other trusting tenant signs a lease. TAA leases lean heavily in protecting the landlord and not the tenant,. Often the tenant is helpless because they cannot afford to pay the thousands in legal fees it would take to address landlord abuses.

Steve - 7 years ago

Hi Stan,
> in the case of truly bad landlords it is right that the tenant warn others…

the problem is, if most were honest, they want to warn others that “this landlord held me accountable to the lease and made me do what I agreed to do”. Of course they don’t phrase it that way and instead go off on unrelated rants.

The landlord/Tenant relationship is pretty simple. If the tenant pays rent on time, takes care of the property and follows the lease, and the landlord make repairs as required and treats the tenant in a professional manner, there would be no problem.


nebby - 7 years ago

Saying “the tenant just has to follow the lease” is a nice way of ducking the issue of the inequal information and bargaining power that go into those coercive contracts. The leases are dense, technical, and written by experienced attorneys for the TAA. To think that Joe Blow has entered into an equal position with the landlord is laughable.

Rent to own contracts are readily agreed to as well. Most people realize those contracts are abusive though.

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