Categories Online MarketingOnline PRReputation Management

Basics of Online Reputation Management

As much time and effort that marketers put into improving visibility within search results, not all search engine ranking pages (SERPs) are good. Increasing numbers of companies are experiencing the sharp edge of the sword from disgruntled employees or customers taking advantage of the amazingly simplistic process of publishing content to the web.

You may recall such situations as “Dell Hell” or Googlebombing “miserable failure” for examples.

Because these references occur within the search results, many companies percieve search engine reputation management as a SEO problem. But displacing negative search results only treats the symptoms of the problem. It’s not a cure.

While other companies see tarnished brand issues as more of a public relations issue, it’s important to understand that sometimes it’s the PR firm that is at the root of the problem. Look no further than the Edelman and Walmarting across America situation for an example of that.

Negative search results are not limited to standard search engines either. Blog search engines, video sites like YouTube, social news such as Digg and news search can be affected as well. See Google Blog Search for examples of the recent comments about Microsoft from former employee Robert Scoble.

Negative commentary can have a significant impact on brnads that companies have spent years and immense resources to build. It pays to protect those brands where ever consumers can interact with them.

No company wants to experience a situation like Kryptonite locks so what can businesses do? Here are three fundamental concepts to master when dealing with search engine reputation management: Monitor, Optimize and Engage.

What to monitor?

  • Brands
  • Products
  • Company
  • Key Executives

Include modifiers: “sucks” “scam” “kudos”

Types of content to monitor include: News Search, Social Media/Tags, Standard Search Results, Blogs and Forums.

Where to Monitor

  • Google Alerts – google.com/alerts
  • Yahoo Alerts – alerts.yahoo.com
  • RSS feed subscriptions to search results Technorati, Yahoo & Google News, BlogPulse
  • Social Media via tags: tagbulb.com, tagfetch.com, keotag.com

Optimizing is most effective as a preventive measure rather than a reactive measure. However, reactive optimization for displacing negative search results is what most online reputation management services focus on. It leaves the company chasing after the various dissenters and does not put the brand in a position of control.

Treat the Symptoms

Companies that want to protect their brand visibility on the web would do well to make optimizing their brand content a best practice. Optimizing all digital communications including: PR, marketing, SEO, HR, investor relations and related electronic content that is publicly available on the web as well as social media: text, images, audio, video will produce more branded content in the SERPs. Doing so doesn’t necessarily put the brand in control, but it’s a much better situation than scrambling after the fact.

Engage – Address the Cause

Once a negative mention has been identified, here are a few basic steps in dealing with it:

  • Research the situation – is there merit?
  • If not, provide the facts and ask for corrections
  • If yes, then offer to discuss
  • Be ready to respond with your own blog
  • Be honest, be transparent and LISTEN

Results can be a anything from a positive turn around to a loyal brand evangelist.

Implementing a proactive monitoring campaign provides insight into the kinds of content interactions audiences are having with your brand. When identified and qualified, situations need to be addressed directly. At the same time, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and companies need to implement holistic brand content optimization as a best practice. The more branded content in the search results, the more diluted any negative brand content will be.

What kinds of search engine brand protection situations have you encountered? I’d be curious to hear what tactics others have used and what kinds of turn around situations have resulted.

Lee Odden :@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

View Comments (21)

  • Question, I am found in the #1 position when my company's name is searched in Google. However, the next few listings are for Complaints Board blogs mentioning a company of the same name but it is definitely not me. I am a manufacturer, they are a distributor of Homeopathic supplements. My company gets about 100 contacts a year from their disgruntled customers so I am not surprised to see the Complaints board comments. HOWEVER, how is "joe public" supposed to know me from them when just viewing the search results? I was recently contacted from a Reputation Management company that mentioned these negative comments regarding my company, which they weren't, but if HE didn't notice the differences how will anyone else? Thoughts?

  • Stephanie, what's happened in your situation is that someone else's search results reputation problem has become yours because of the similar brand names.

    You would do well to implement online reputation management tactics that would displace any negative search results whether they are relevant to you specifically or the other site.

  • The worst thing a company can do is hide from an attack, as once it shows up online, everyone assumes it is true. So, if you are accused of being a scam, a fraud, a liar...it is best to attack and show how you are not a fraud.

  • Hi Steve, Lee and others may have additional input however, I'd say that often the best defense is to listen without emotion and follow the claim back to the source.

    Make a personal attempt to contact the source and listen to their claim. Once you've diffused their emotions and reassured them you are sincere, it may be possible to resolve the issue with the source and acquire a retraction.

    The first steps are to remove your emotion, do the research, compose yourself, make the call, be compassionate and consider their point-of-view, reach-out and be who you really are (the sincere legitimate authentic business person you are). Avoid going on the defense or over-reacting. Take methodical pre-planned baby-steps.

    Of course this advice is subject to re-evaluation depending on the circumstances; fraud is a serious claim with serious consequences and may require legal advice as well.

    My gut feeling is that no matter what the circumstances are, I remain in control, cool, calm and precise in my approach with anyone who may be mis-guided or mis-informed. Generally, this approach often diffuses the immediate circumstances at hand and allows for a conversation, which in-turn propagates mutual respect and understanding.

    You've got to remove yourself emotionally and listen to your accuser to satisfy their need first. (just my opinion)

  • that is an interesting situation you mention. I am not sure if surfing the web via proxy would work either.

  • The problem with current ORM is that it is done retroactivly in response to a problem. Companies are failing to recognize the benefits of a proactive approach to managing how they appear on the internet.

  • Companies that cannot afford the expenses required to push themselves up in search engines rankings are increasingly resorting to more underhanded methods to knock down the image and reputation of their more well-funded competitors. These methods include smear campaigns, the spreading of false rumors, misleading information, and anything else that may damage a company’s reputation to the point where it puts doubt in the minds of consumers considering the purchase of that company’s products and services. A well run campaign will continue to add negative commentary over time to make it appear that there is some sort of growing movement against the targeted company. The commentary can be posted on blogs, forums, in articles, or any place else where it can be seen by consumers on the internet. Search engine optimization of the negative content can draw more viewers to it and increase its “believability” regardless of it being poorly written or its inaccuracies. The damage done, those consumers are then steered toward the sponsors of the negative content.

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