Online reputation management companies use a variety of tricks to push bad news stories off the front page of Google and other search engines.

Impact PR managing director Fleur Revell, who deals mainly with business clients, says her firm aims to create positive stories with hyperlinks to a customer's site on credible industry sites, which rank highly on Google. They back this up with links from other sites. "We also use article spinning - a technique which works on the principle that Google likes unique content; taking an article and rotating alternative keywords to create dozens of unique articles
[with hyperlinks] ... which are then placed on article sites around the web."

Internet New Zealand director Rhys Coffin says another technique is to use articles written by the customer's own clients or to recycle published work. He aims for popular sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn (but not Twitter) and starts new blogs or websites that emphasise the client's name.

"There's lots of dirty little secrets involved in getting websites ranked," he admits. But he says he draws the line at spam-bots, which bombard the internet with automatically generated material, and content farms, which sell articles on any subject to influence search engine rankings.

US technology website CNET claims these practices are common overseas, although not widely admitted. Other tactics include "astroturfing" (creating anonymous accounts which comment positively on the new content) and sneaking a client's name into a high-ranking site.