Why Should You Practice Search Engine Reputation Management?
It's like publicity management... for the Internet.
Remember that game telephone where you pass around a story to see how it gets embellished by the time the last person tells their version of it?...Listen to this "doozy," you'll get a good laugh out of it. A couple years after college I ran into an old high school friend. In the short conversation we had I mentioned that I was "into commodities."...No big deal right? Well, fast forward to my ten year reunion.
No less than ten people came up to me and asked, "How's it going, I heard you were into modeling." I was like, "Huh?..modeling what?..I'm in the commodities business." I'm a little puzzled by this, especially because of the fact that I'm a 5' 3," vertically challenged guy and the least likely candidate to be modeling anything except maybe one of those horse jockey get-ups.
Just before the party was over I bumped into a guy I used to hang out with and the first thing he said was... "Hey, the last time I spoke to you, you told me you were into modeling, how's it goin"?..."Bingo" I had my bogey. This was the guy that seeded the rumor of my non-existent modeling career. It was now obvious that he mistakenly took the word commodities as modeling and that's how whole story got its legs. A lot like that game telephone, right?
We had a good laugh about it and that was the end of it, but I could just imagine the snickers I got from some folks as they tried to imagine a guy as short as me having a career in modeling. But wait a minute…this could've been bad for my reputation…
A rumor can quickly turn into a bad reputation for your business
That little story I just mentioned was no big deal, but two things happened. First, I never knew that the rumor existed and two, because I didn't know about it, no action was ever taken to correct it. What if it was something very damaging? What if it was something about "your" business? Rumors can quickly spiral out of control and if enough people find out about it, it begins to take on a life of its own.
Remember a few years back when Intel got caught up in that controversy about one of its chips. First they ignored it, then they denied it and finally they confronted it; but it was too late. The incident cost them millions and did nothing to enhance their reputation. A lot has changed since then. When it comes to your online presence, all it takes is one post to a blog or well surfed forum and "kaboom," its all over the net. News spreads virally.
Your business reputation could suddenly become damaged, causing an image problem and affecting your bottom line. Without proactively monitoring your online reputation, trademarks and copyrighted material, you're exposed to a rats-nest of damaging public relations and inappropriate use of your business's brand. Being aware of negative information about your business and how you handle it, makes a huge difference on the effect it has…But how are you supposed to track down all this stuff? And why should you bother…
There are top ten Google rankings that you "don't" want!
Negative information about your company buried on page 200 of a search engine query has a minimal affect, but a top ten rank will definitely have exposure. Search engines are the preferred source for information gathering about anything and they're used universally by anyone using the Internet. The problem is that the good, the bad and the ugly shows up in search engine rankings. It's all generated by specific search terms and proprietary algorithms used by the search engines to rank content. The SE's will rank any text based content regardless of the source. Might be good and it might be bad.
While good is good, let's focus on where the "reputation damaging" content can come from…. Forums, blogs, hate sites, advocacy and consumer sites, protest sites, sites from disgruntled employees, unions, business associates and not surprisingly, sites created by some law firms in class action litigation. With some optimized content a lot of negative reputation damaging content can easily show up on the first page of search results for many keyword phrases related to your company. In the case of Google, it's the first ten results people will see.
Heed this warning…IMHO your largest blindsided exposure will be from Blog posts. Once the diaries of web geeks for online ramblings, blog use has exploded and will continue to grow rapidly. At some point in the future they will outnumber conventional websites! Blogs have a lot of spider friendly content for her to devour.
While damaging information from a conventional website might take months to be indexed in the SE's and be nestled in 4 billion web pages depending on the search terms used; a blog post could find a home in a top 10 rank "faster than you can run from a burning house."
Blogs can be set up in minutes, they're almost completely idiot proof, they're free or unbelievably inexpensive and with RSS, live feeds and the use of newsreaders, they contain the text based, frequently updated content that the search engine spiders love.
Does lack of reputation management expose a business risk?
Your reputation is an integral part of your business. If your USP is outstanding customer service, information that disputes that claim can be very damaging. Whether the reputation risk is self inflicted by bad performance or created by false or misleading information, it can have a caustic effect on your bottom line. Here's your exposure:
- Corporate Image
- Regulatory problems
- Branding issues
- Stock Prices
- Revenue performance
- Product/service inferiority
Does anyone pay attention to this stuff?
Maybe the real rabid stuff gets overlooked, but product reviews, commentary, competitor's comments and blog/forum posts from unhappy customers will all qualify as relevant information. People actively look for stuff like that when researching various company products and services.
Protest sites are becoming increasingly popular because if they are set up correctly, as stated above, they can have an effect on your business. Ignoring it is a little like whistling past the graveyard. I'm not going to identify any businesses that have become targets. Nor am I promoting any sites that are actively using the Internet to damage reputations, exercise their free speech rights or even rant about their "pet peeve" of the week. There are merits on both sides.
If any firm has a lousy product or service record or if you've got a CEO who's been caught fleecing the employee pension fund and fudging the numbers, too bad…those companies deserve all the bad press they get. If you wanna jump in front of their spin parade, go right ahead. Good luck trying to find a pair of ears that will be sympathetic to your problems.
Alternately, there are lots of hate and advocacy groups comprised of net savvy wackadoos that will try to pass on misinformation whether it's true or not. I've already mentioned the list of possible sources of information and the parties involved. But negative reviews and opinions, regardless of the damage can also be valuable public information.
Many times…Yes, it is. I'm not a lawyer, but "fair use" laws have muddied the waters even for the use of domain names. If you suddenly find a site with damaging content, you'll have to prove there is unfair use of your brand. If you don't like a parody site that pokes fun at your business or any content with reviews and opinions, good luck, you're facing an uphill battle even with litigation.
Have you ever heard of Ultimate Search? They've quietly been raking in millions by sucking up expired domain names. If you snooze you lose on you're domain name renewal. You could suddenly find your traffic, (with your branded domain name), being sent to an online casino directory. Go ahead, try and sue to get the name back. Forget it, they've been hit with a ton of lawsuits and they're undefeated. They haven't had to give a single domain back to their owners. With all this risk lurking around, what can you do to protect your business?
Meet the odd couple …Reputation Management and SEO
Let's introduce for the first time; Search Engine Reputation Management. It's an unlikely marriage. Search engine reputation management fuses two formerly seperate faculties; reputation management and SEO. Reputation management has historically been the job of public relations specialists while SEO, a process of optimizing web pages to rank high in the search engines for specific keywords, is considered a function of marketing and promotion. Together they can do double duty and provide a hybrid form of risk management.
How is Search Engine Reputation Management implemented?
Initially, to enable search engine reputation management, put in place an aggressive SEO strategy. If you're not savvy enough to do it in house, then hire a firm that specializes in the field. It's a time consuming task and it's wrought with pitfalls, but SEO can solve most of the problems created by sites with inaccurate content and misinformation. Simply pushing the offending site's search engine rankings to the second, third or fourth pages of search results can strip their effectiveness as much as 90%.
Most firms can produce enough good content for various keyword phrases that will rank highly in the search engines to help push the bad site out of the top positions. Articles, testimonials, how-to guides and even public service information all qualify as relevant information. But be aware of duplicate content rules when indexing this information or you could have your own site banned for an over zealous SEO strategy. You should stick with what your core business does best and outsource optimization to a reputable SEO firm.
Reputation management involves exposing the sources of damaging content. Uncovering the mountains of data buried in billions of web pages is a daunting task. Each search engine indexes content differently. One size doesn't fit all, but there are more and more firms popping up that can scour the Internet to uncover all questionable data. They're very precise and effective at doing this. They use proprietary systems that are extremely effective at finding the data you'll need to know about, but they are pretty expensive.
Be proactive…Practice Search Engine Reputation Management
There are steps you can take using search engine reputation management to minimize the risks to your business before the mad scramble to put out all the fires. First, using a little creativity, try and register the domain names for the most likely breeding grounds of negative content. Registering domain names like Xyzsucks.com xyzstinks.com etc. should be your first line of defense. In the long run, registering these names is a cheap way to protect the use of your brand and it takes the shock value away from the offending site.
Even if you're proactively protecting your reputation, optimizing your content, pushing bad content sites lower in the SERP's and uncovering where all the skeletons are buried, you're not outta the woods yet. You'll still need a quick response damage control squad.
They should be a small dedicated team of online and offline public relations specialists.
Here's how they can manage the jailbreak if it occurs:
Let's wrap this up…Use search engine reputation management to minimize risk exposure by:
- Respond quickly and on message in regards to blog and forum posts. Defend yourself.
- Don't ignore the media. Answer their questions quickly and honestly.
- Evaluate valid complaints and correct the problem.
- Be aware that litigation can create negative attention. Use it wisely as a last resort.
- Don't discount establishing an open dialogue with your detractors to resolve issues.
- Uncovering any damaging content.
- Neutering the content by pushing it down in search results or correct any misinformation.
- Go back to doing what you do best...Running your business.
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