Anyone can say anything about anyone on the Internet, and if enough people of like mind agree, that information can be found in search results for brand and vanity terms. As in reality, it sometimes doesn’t matter if the information that is shared is accurate or true. If it’s popular enough, it can appear alongside official listings for businesses and individuals, and has the potential to sway opinions of searchers previously unaware of the negative press.
For businesses, this can be analogous to having someone with a bullhorn and sandwich board outside your physical business locations, alerting potential customers to their negative experience and probably scaring them away.
There’s no way to remove this content from the search engines (unless it is a copyright violation), but businesses can work to restore their good name by making positive content more visible and addressing negative press.
If you’re concerned that your business might have a reputation management problem and you’re looking for a solution, here are three important things to remember:
Online Reputation Management (ORM) Can Level the Playing Field
Nestle, Domino’s Pizza, American Airlines, United Airlines, Comcast and most recently, Subway: all are examples of large corporations that have had their reputations damaged online by rogue employees, activists or angry customers. In the age of social media negative content about a brand can be easily shared and sometimes goes viral online, leaving a brand with a real-life PR crisis.
Given that freshness is one of the biggest ranking factors for Google News search, bad news that uses a brand name in a title can easily make it to the first page in Web search results, allowing it to quickly spread online. Many brands also have detractors online who will build websites making more visible the issues they disagree with the brand about, and these sites can appear in search results as well. Major news sources that pick up the discontent can also be found for years for the brand term, given the high authority that search engines typically give their domain.
With all of these sources filling up search engines with negative information about a brand, it can help if brands have a strategy for addressing the information, making it less visible, and creating content to displace it in search results.
This is not necessarily manipulation of search results. Google itself has advocated creating useful, positive content to counteract negative content on both their blog and in their webmaster help center. They even launched a tool in 2011 called Me on the Web aimed at helping individuals control their reputation in Google. There are reputation management techniques that are against Google’s terms of service that could lead to banning from search results, and some individuals and businesses are not comfortable adding to the search results for their brand, but there’s nothing inherently manipulative about online reputation management. At its core, it’s really just a way for individuals and businesses to participate in the conversation about their brand online.
More Than Technology is Needed
A number of services and tools have been introduced in recent years to help individuals and businesses manage their reputations online. While tools can be helpful for reporting purposes, true online reputation management requires more than just technology to do right.
The core technology used in online reputation management software on sites like BrandYourself.com and Reputation.com is simply a dashboard that gives a score based on the number of positive, negative and neutral listings that appear for your brand or vanity term. Most dashboards only measure the first twenty search results, as multiple studies show that most Google searchers don’t go beyond page two.
The person managing the brand’s online reputation can then promote the positive links in the search results, and create new content that’s positive in nature, and monitor the results as the negative listings get pushed out in favor of more positive ones.
How this is done goes beyond the technology, and if it’s done correctly it shouldn’t just involve a vendor creating content on your behalf.
In all of the reputation management campaigns we have run for Resolution Media, clients we always consider the following:
- Can we address the root of the criticism that’s causing the reputation problem?
Depending on how sensitive the topic is, this may not be an option. However, if it is an option we encourage the client to address the topic directly, using keywords that are related to the crisis so that the client’s voice can be heard in search results when interested searchers are expressing their intent. These issues must be discussed with the client, and some strategy for both messaging and tone must be established before any content is created.
- Which channels are most appropriate for gaining visibility?
The client may be sensitive about which domains their information appears on, and this must be vetted before any content creation happens. There may also be niche communities online that the client is knowledgeable about that they can share.
- Can we work with internal teams to create positive content on owned and earned media?
Ideally the client owns related domains that we can leverage for messaging purposes, and we work with the client to delegate work to the appropriate stakeholders within their organization. If the organization is larger, this may take some time to navigate.
While most reputation management solutions are either technology-only or rely on vendors to create content on the client’s behalf, we have seen the most successful online reputation management projects combine technology with a solid working relationship between vendor and client, answering questions like these that technology or outsourcing alone can’t account for.
Some ORM Services are against Google’s Terms of Service
Though Google accepts the promotion of positive content as a legitimate strategy for improving reputation, certain techniques that online reputation management services provide can cause more harm than good.
In researching various online reputation management solutions on Google we came across more than a few that promote changing search suggest as a service. This is typically done by gaming the autosuggest system by sending many automated queries to the engines. This is expressly against Google’s terms of service and can get you banned from the search engines’ indices.
One of the first vendors for ORM that comes up for the term “reputation management” in Google actually offers this service, so it may be difficult for uninitiated searchers looking for reputation management services to find a reliable partner. We recommend finding a partner that you trust, and asking them specifically if they crowd source searches, or perform any of these ORM tasks that are against Google’s terms of service:
- Creating fake blogs pretending to be a different person that shares the same name in order to push down negative search results on the actual person or brand.
- Using spam bots and denial-of-service attacks to force sites with damaging content off the Web entirely.
- Astroturfing third-party websites by creating anonymous accounts that create positive reviews or lash out against negative ones.
Online reputation management can be a boon to businesses if done in a way that doesn’t violate Google’s terms of service, and is done authentically and as a team effort. It can be difficult to completely automate or outsource this process due to its sensitive nature and the fact that the most successful online reputation management projects are the result of positive communication between the reputation manager and all of the brand’s content owners. However, if the right partner is found, online reputation management is recommended for brands looking to positive influence the search results.