Posted August 28, 2007 10:32 am by with 4 comments

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It seems the New York Times search engine optimization efforts are working well–maybe a little too well for some.

Now that more of the NYT’s archives are appearing in Google’s search results, many individuals are finding their past is catching up with them. Worse, it’s the NYT’s version of their past that contains misinformation.

People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.

As publishers struggle to compete with new media sources, they’re going to find more and more instances of stories that are outdated or don’t include any updates.

This leads Bryan Eisenberg to ask a few pointed questions, including:

  • Should they allow people the ability to comment on this dated material?
  • Should they allow for the editing of the archives at a later date to change what was originally published as news?
  • Should some material just be deleted and forgotten in this digital age?
  • Whose responsibility is it to monitor and influence (if possible) what the search engines say about people?

Some solutions to consider:

  • Adding a robots noindex to archive pages or just those that have received complaints.
  • Updating the original story to include the correct information.
  • Removing the story completely.

I’m sure that for every person that contacts the NYT, there are many others that are afraid they’ll open up a can of worms–maybe they still have skeletons they don’t want the NYT to dig up.

Of course, you could employ a Google reputation management campaign. Find an expert–ahem–who can help you push positive content into Google, forcing out the negative page.

  • It’s interesting that stories people dealt with years ago and thought long behind them might possibly come back to haunt them.

    I would think in some cases the Times article will be accurate and the person simply isn’t happy seeing others reminded of the issue, but where the information in the article was later found to be inaccurate the Times should at least respond to complaints. I don’t see them removing the original story and I’m not even sure they would update the stories, though adding a link to a later article might be enough to satisfy many.

    The robots.txt solution might be the best and easiest to implement. The story is still there, but the problem or if showing up so prominently in search results goes away.

    On the other hand why are search engines ranking 16 year old news stories so highly?

  • With only one complaint a day, why not stick an intern on this?

  • You can’t just get rid of that old information. If somebody is looking for time period information, it needs to be in the index.

    The NYT should be responsible for correcting incorrect information but if somebody isn’t happy about what the NYT wrote about them, they can start their own blog write something showing how the NYT hosed them and try to get some inbound links so they can get themselves to show up in the same search results.

    Isn’t there some legal course people can take if news agencies publish false information about them and don’t correct it? Isn’t that what libel is all about?

  • ha ha, thats what they get for being soo slow to react. I told them years ago to put all of their content online so they would dominate the search engines, but they didnt listen. lol

    evolve or be fossilized!

    Marc Beharry’s last blog post..Clinton, Hillary Rodham- (D – NY) Senate