Reverse SEO: 3 Ways To Hide In Plain Sight

Posted 05 Sep 2010

Some people want to be seen.  Others want to fly under the radar.  Most of us want a little bit of both.  The real issue that most people have in the fight between public and private personal information is control over who has access to what information.  We want the ability to reach out to the public at times, and at other times retreat into our sanctuary.  Retreating is more and more difficult in a digital world.

   But there is one concept that can help you hide in plain sight.  I call it reverse SEO.

What is Reverse SEO?

Never heard of it before?  Ok, I made it up.  But SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is a real thing.  It's what websites can do to be noticed by the search engines, like Google, for certain search terms.  The better optimized they are, the higher their ranking for that term.

One important part of SEO is competition.  Some words have a ton of competition because everyone wants to be noticed for those words.  Other words hardly have any competition, so it is easy to be ranked for those.  Most people using SEO are intentionally trying to get noticed. 

What if you are intentionally trying not to get noticed?  What if you want to share some information but fly under the radar?  What if you want to hide in plain sight?

There is one technique that you can use, whether online or offline, to separate your public and private life and hide in plain sight.  Seek out the highest competition.  How can competition help me hide in plain sight?  The more competition the more likely it is a competitor will be noticed before you, even by someone who is is looking for you.     Reverse SEO is deliberately relying on the clutter of too much information to generate as many false positives as possible if someone is looking for you.

Technique #1 For Using Reverse SEO to Hide In Plain Sight: A Common Name

The name James Smith is the most common name in the US right now.  Wikipedia alone has over 70 different famous James Smiths to sort through.  Then there are the moderately famous James Smiths like doctors, professors, etc.  If someone is looking for regular old James Smith, they are going to have to sort through hundreds, and probably hundreds of thousands, of records to find the James Smith they are looking for. 

All of a sudden, those embarrassing pictures of you that were posted on the internet get lost in the sea of false positives.  No potential employer will have the patience to sift through all of that clutter and find those pics.   Similarly, a search in the public records for property transfers will probably have dozens of James Smiths.  Which one is the potential plaintiff trying to sue?

How can you implement this?  If you are really serious, you could change your name to James Smith, or some other extremely common name.  Dweezil Zappa won't produce many false positives.   You can keep this in mind when naming kids, using a pseudonym, stage name, DBA, etc.

Technique #2 For Using Reverse SEO to Hide In Plain Sight: Blend In

You are not a unique snowflake. At the risk of you being too much like plain oatmeal, the things that you hold out to the public can identify you.  The more you blend your public presence in with the masses, the harder you will be to single out and identify.   Let me show you how a friend of mine in the special forces does this with his car.

Reverse SEO: Hide In Plain Sight

He can drive any car he wants.  He chooses to drive a plain 4 door sedan.  It is not just any car, though.  It is one that is very commonly used in rental car fleets.  There are more of this kind of car on the road than almost any other make and model.  Not only is the make and model extremely common, but he has deliberately chosen a color that is extremely common. 

Plus he has no identifying bumper stickers or window stickers.  So if anyone tried to describe the kind of car he drives, they have just described millions of cars in America.  He uses the presence of tons of competitors (people driving cars with similar features) to hide in plain sight, a lot like reverse SEO.

Technique #3 For Using Reverse SEO to Hide In Plain Sight: Smoke Screen

Some people have the power to publish information.  This can be a valuable ability.  If you can put information out in the public, you can flood the system with your own well crafted false positives and obscure unwanted results. Record companies used this technique to disrupt the threat of file sharing to their bottom line.  Back when Napster was first becoming a threat to record companies, some companies flooded Napster with poor quality and partial versions of songs. 

They sometimes put up hundreds of bad versions of a song to discourage people from having to sift through all of the false positives before they found what they were looking for, the complete, good quality version of the song.  The record companies made the corrupt files look like the best version and probably programmed bots to make downloads of the fake versions the most popular.


I am not suggesting you all become little flavorless, colorless scaredy-cats trying to hide all the time.  Use this to calculate the cost and benefit to your life of individuality in the public realm.  Manifest your inner snowflake to your heart's content in private ways.  But, if you want to have a public presence and maintain control over your private life, try doing a little reverse SEO on your life to hide in plain sight.  The truth is, I don't really know how this idea, intentionally obscuring public information, can best be used. 

So this article is like an idea mating call.  Someone else will be able to take this idea, mate it with their own idea, and come up with some very useful offspring. Then again, this idea might just be a useless mutation in the evolution of ideas.  Leave your idea offspring in the comments.  Let me know how they might interact with other privacy tools and resources, or with privacy fencing, or with transactional databases.