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U.C. Davis Learns Downside of Trying to Scrub Search Results

Saheli April 17, 2016 Education Comments Off on U.C. Davis Learns Downside of Trying to Scrub Search Results

In November 2011, after a police officer pepper-sprayed students who were sitting in the quad during a protest, the University of California, Davis, had to contend with an image problem as a video rapidly spread.

Though media relations might have been one part of the response, university officials were also concerned with Google relations.

The university paid at least $175,000 to two public relations firms to suppress the negative search results generated by its name, and the name of its chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, according to a report this week by The Sacramento Bee. The news has caused some California lawmakers to call for her resignation.

One of the firms, Nevins & Associates, based in Maryland, said it would “launch an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign to eliminate the negative search results for UC Davis and the Chancellor through strategic modifications to existing and future content and generating original content as needed,” according to its contract, which was obtained by The Beethrough a freedom of information request. Under the contract, signed in January 2013, more than two years after the protest, the university agreed to pay $15,000 per month for six months.

And that raises the question: Does this sort of thing work? In a word, no. Eliminating undesirable search results is not possible, said Danny Sullivan, an expert in search engine optimization. Mr. Sullivan is the founder ofMarketing Land and Search Engine Land.

“I want to say it felt laughable,” he said of the contract. “It read like a document written from 1998.”

Dana Topousis, a university spokeswoman, said that the “increased investment in social media and communications strategy has heightened the profile of the university to good effect.”

Instead of zapping unfriendly news articles and commentary from the search results, the goal of such search scrubbing efforts is to create enough new content to push down the negative results to at least the second page of links in Google search results. Most people don’t dig beyond the first page, so having your own positive links bury the negative ones could dull their impact.

“It can be possible that you can make search results more positive for some queries, but it’s not guaranteed,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Nevins & Associates, which engineers responses for people and institutions that are subject to negative media attention, did not return a phone call or reply to an email seeking comment.

The negative press for the university lingered well beyond the original protest, which was part of a wave of campus protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The campus officers were put on leave, and a campus task force criticized the officers in a 190-page report. Videos of the protest are still on YouTube and have been watched more than two million times.
U.C. Davis Protesters Pepper-Sprayed Video by Aggie Studios

The contract with Nevins & Associates proposed a heavy reliance on Google platforms, especially Google+, the social network that, at the time, was considered an important cog in Google’s strategy. It encouraged Ms. Katehi to host video chats, known as “Hangouts,” and said staff members should identify “key-influencers” and “make connections as necessary.”

“We will interact as well as include and earn inclusion in their ‘Circles,’ ” it wrote, referring to the personal networks of Google+ users.

The second firm, Idmloco, of Sacramento, had more moderate goals in its June 2014 contract. Instead of wiping bad news away, it aimed to “achieve a reasonable balance of positive natural search results.” That firm was awarded $82,500 for a six-month contract.

Ms. Topousis said that the university hired an additional consultant last month to get advice on crisis management.

“It’s not about digital strategy at all,” she added.

[Source:- The New York Times  ]

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