One firm proudly advertises its Bad News Burial Service. Another offers celebrities the chance to make negative publicity disappear.

The technique is called online reputation management (ORM) and it is fast becoming established in New Zealand as a way to hide bad news online.

Agencies offering the service promise to drive negative stories off the first page of Google by creating an avalanche of positive results which change the search engine's rankings.

Client details are kept confidential but local companies say they have succeeded with a finance company and a celebrity caught out in an embarrassing situation.

In Britain two actors and a prominent sportsman have reportedly paid up to 30,000 ($60,000) a fortnight to keep their extramarital affairs hidden online in this way.

Warlock Media founder Chris Angus boasted that his company was "incredibly successful" at getting rid of bad news. "You can make sure that if it does appear in Google or Twitter it is completely suppressed and crushed," he told the Times.

Internet New Zealand director Rhys Coffin, who advertises his brand as the Bad News Burial Service, says no one can make negative stories disappear completely, but that isn't necessary.

Research shows 80 per cent of people never read past the first three results of a Google search, so all he has to do is move bad news off the first page.

He achieved this result for a company "in the finance area", which was satisfied with the result.

Another local company, Pure SEO, says it can help businesses, celebrities and individuals hide awkward or embarrassing information about themselves.

"Did something you regretted in the past and want to move forward?" asks the website.

"Embarrassing pictures of you on the internet for all to see? Have a big job interview and you don't want your potential employers to see something? Pure SEO can help you overcome these obstacles."

Managing director Richard Conway says the service is a small but growing part of his business, which mainly concentrates on helping companies improve their search engine rankings.

"We generally deal with celebrities, where they've got drunk and done something silly."

It started when a household name approached him about a "trivial matter".

He won't reveal the person or the incident but says a similar example would be broadcaster Martin Devlin, who was charged with disorderly behaviour last December for sitting on the bonnet of his wife's car during an argument in downtown Auckland.

Devlin initially sought and gained name suppression but later outed himself and admitted he had behaved "like a right plum". The charge was dropped.

Conway says the firm has turned down some requests for ethical reasons.

"I've had quite a few inquiries from people about wife-beating and stuff like that. We're not interested in dealing with that kind of thing."

Coffin agrees there is a potential clash between a client's attempt to protect his or her reputation and the public's right to know about serious wrongdoing.

"I guess that is a tough one. We haven't yet had a case where we've had to sit back and question whether we should do it ... I'm expecting them to come as the business grows."

Coffin admits ORM has limits - he cannot hope to get rid of a major scandal involving a big company or a household name in the Weekend Herald, for instance.

The cost may also be prohibitive for many clients as creating the links and content takes many hours.

His charges start at $100 an hour, while Conway quotes $150 an hour. The final fee depends on the job's size and difficulty.

Mango Communications managing director Claudia MacDonald says hiding negative publicity is not always the best response for anyone in the public eye.

Often the bad news will vanish and be forgotten, especially if it's a fleeting posting on Facebook.

Sometimes the online community will take it on themselves to knock back the criticism, which is far more effective than a defensive company press release.

She says some issues have to be tackled head on but pushing a bad news story off the front page of Google has its place as a public relations tactic.

"I've seen it work," she says.