The Tiger King used illicit SEO tactics to mislead searchers

Have you caught the SEO Company cameo in Tiger King?

“Joe started realizing that if he made his name close to Big Cat Rescue, when they Google it, it might pull him up first,” said John Reinke, former manager of the G.W. Zoo.

The new name: Big Cat Rescue Entertainment. Seriously.

That’s from episode four of the much-talked-about Netflix docuseries Tiger King, which explores the bizarre rivalry between G.W. Zoo owner Joe Exotic and Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary founder Carole Baskin. The episode begins with interviews regarding Exotic’s shady attempt to manipulate search engines and mislead users into booking business with him by associating his traveling tiger show with Baskin’s zoo.

The upside for Exotic was short-lived.

Exotic’s Big Cat Rescue Entertainment logo (left) and Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue logo. Source: Netflix.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. “She’s the first choice every time — supersedes all the zoos; she’s at the top of all search,” said Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, founder of Myrtle Beach Safari and a recurring character on the Netflix series, regarding Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue.

In attempts to gain more visibility for his traveling tiger show and mislead searchers through false association with the well-known animal sanctuary, Exotic changed his business’ name to rank in search results for Baskin’s “Big Cat Rescue.”

The ploy was successful, Baskin admitted, stating that she would receive calls from individuals assuming she was involved in Exotic’s Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.

Big Cat Rescue v. Big Cat Rescue Entertainment. In 2012, Baskin sued Exotic over copyright violations, resulting in a nearly $1 million settlement in Baskin’s favor.

Evidence in the case included Big Cat Rescue Entertainment marketing agency collateral, such as advertisements and business cards containing a Florida address and the same area code as Baskin’s Florida-based business. Exotic’s G.W. Zoo was located in Oklahoma.

Why we care. Renaming your brand to appropriate another brand’s search results is a clear attempt to mislead users and manipulate search engines. Similar practices are employed by local listing spammers.

When caught, brands resorting to these tactics can see their organic visibility severely penalized or even find themselves delisted from the search results. And then there are the possible legal and financial repercussions.

Learn the best ways to keep your users and search engines happy, as well as the tactics to steer clear of. Download our Periodic Table of SEO Factors today.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing agency, journalism, and storytelling.

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