The Internet is a funny place. Where else could you create a completely new identity and publicly say almost anything on your mind? Although the Internet has taken communication to an entirely new level, this freedom of speech does not come without its potential downside and risks. Far too often, people say things online that will come back to haunt them down the road. Even if you think you are posting anonymously or with a fake identity, you’re probably not as clever as you think. From your IP addresses to links in the profile of your fake identity that can be traced back to your real identity, it’s important to stop and think before you say or do something potentially significant online. While everything from Twitter to blogs to IM provide the opportunity for spotaneously express yourself, this doesn’t mean you should do it without thinking.
To really drive home the importance of being cautious with your online activities, here’s a handful of examples of when your online actions can have a negative future impact on your reputation:
Comment Spam: When people first getting into the world of blogging and SEO, blog comments seem like one of the easiest ways to get a large amount of backlinks. Although many have the nofollow attribute attached to them (and most of the rest don’t actually carry any weight), it’s still so tempting for many newbies to take advantage of blog commeting.
However, what starts out as actively commenting can eventually turn into spamming. If someone notices their comments are generating decent traffic, chances are they will start using fake names to leave comments like “Great post!” or “Cool blog, thanks!”. While this may seem harmless, think about this scenario for a moment: not only do comments log your IP, but if you’re linking to the same website from all of your comments, bloggers are going to quickly catch on to what you’re doing. And, if you finally have a decent blog in the future and want to talk to these bloggers about linking to one of your posts from your blog, when they remember all the spamming you did, do you really think they’re going to link to you?
Bullying Your Smaller Competitors: When you are on top of your industry, it can be tempting to pick on your smaller competitors to not only hurt their brand, but also further increase your ego. However, it’s important to remember that most great empires eventually topple, and just because you are on top right now does not mean that you will be able to remain that way forever.
The most recent case of this happening in the online community is the rift between Loren Feldman and Shel Israel. According to a post by Loren on 1938Media, when he first got into the web video business, Shel (who at the time was in a dominant position) went out of his way to bury Loren. Unfortunately, over time, Loren gained a lot of popularity, and was eventually able to use his position to do a lot of brand damage to Shel through his Shel puppet videos. So, although it may sound cliche, the Golden Rule also applies to the Internet: treat others as you would like to be treated.
SERP Spamming: Before you start dropping links in questionable locations to promote your website, stop and think about the potential consequences of taking this course of action. While it may give you a short boost in the SERPs, the long-term negative effects can have a much larger impact on your website.
If you decide that attempting to spam the SERPs is the best way to get the search engine traffic that you want, be ready for the great new traffic you have finally generated to disappear very quickly. Once the search engines catch on to what you are doing (and sooner or later, they always will), your website will suffer a serious penalty. You will no longer rank for the terms that you were, and if they deem the actions you were taking bad enough, your entire website will be removed from their index. As you probably know, trying to get a website back into the search engine index is no easy task. Is it really worth a few weeks of traffic to risk the future of your website?
Ripping Off Clients: For many people, there journey into the world of SEO and Internet marketing begins in one of the many large webmaster forums on the Internet. Although the information discussed in these forums is not always the most reliable, forums are a great place to meet people that can help get started in the world of Internet marketing. Additionally, because these forums attract so many people that are looking for other to help them with different work tasks, it can be the easiest place to find your first clients.
As long as you complete the task that your client is paying you to do, you will not have any problems. However, if you try to scam them out of their money, don’t think that you can get away with it forever. Although you may get their money, your wrongdoing will eventually catch up with you. Since most forums allow you to rate users that you do business with, a person that you ripoff is going to do everything in their power to lower your forum rating as much as possible. And since forums rank so well in the SERPs, there’s a good chance that these negative ratings could hurt your future chances of attracting new clients or getting a job with a new company. Even if you haven’t used your real name, if you have any links in your signature or profile, a person with a basic understanding of the web will probably be able to track down your real identity and make the public aware of your shady business practices.