FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A South Florida doctor wanted to bury a bad online rating of his services.
A Boca Raton, Fla., jeweler needed positive reviews about his business to rank higher on Internet searches.
And a Miami Beach restaurant looked to downplay negative comments about the lack of decor before it was remodeled.
All were clients of reputation managers who specialize in cleaning up "digital dirt" — or at least sweeping it under the rug to make it harder to find.
Businesses such as Profile Defenders in Fort Lauderdale and SoVi Digital in West Palm Beach, Fla., are growing in popularity as people and companies realize the role an online reputation plays in everyday search engine results.
"The bottom line is that reputation matters, and the ever-important first impression is now more than ever likely to be made online," said Anthony Miyazaki, a marketing professor at Florida International University.
Profile Defenders, which launched last year, works to counteract negative comments for clients by creating more flattering content, such as profiles on the social networking sites Facebook or LinkedIn, and by issuing online news releases so they rank higher in Internet searches than negative links.
These Web rep specialists say good placement is key in making people look good.
"About 92 percent of (online) searches do not go past the first page," said Richart Ruddie, a partner in Profile Defenders, explaining how most consumers may not look after the first page of search results. "For X amount of dollars, we guarantee we will get the (negative) search result off the front page."
Fees for this service at Profile Defenders can range from $2,000 per case to five figures for a monthly retainer. Ruddie said his clients include lawyers, doctors, small business owners and companies who want to respond quickly to bad ratings.
One client was Ryan Blank, owner of Get Gold Cash and Diamonds in Boca Raton. Last year, Blank noticed that online customers were confusing his business with a similarly named one, Get Gold Cash.