We’re all used to private companies using search engine optimization techniques to improve visibility of news they want people to read and sometimes to bury bad news that keeps getting regurgitated. It’s not hard at all to exile bad coverage to the second page of Google results which is one more page than most people read. I’ve done it for my clients many times.
But this article in the LA Times today raises what I consider a very valid question: Is it a violation of public trust when a public agency, in this case the Central Basin Water District, spends $200,000 in taxpayer money to manipulate Google results to drive users to positive stories written by a PR firm and bury bad coverage?
Public Utilities pay PR firms a lot of money to generate positive news coverage through earned media. They also pay plenty in advertising and marketing. But I can see why it gets under the skin of people to see a public agency doing this. That’s something every PR manager at a public utility or agency should consider before mimicking the SEO techniques of their private sector colleagues.