SEO: The Cornerstone of any Online Reputation Management Strategy

Although online reputation management works in a variety of ways, it often depends heavily on search engine optimization (SEO) to fill the first page of search results with positive content about your brand. Optimizing a webpage to increase its relevance and quality so it appears high in search results isn’t easy, and to top it off, search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to ensure they return the most relevant and high-quality results.

Simply having an abundance of positive content about your brand isn’t always enough. All that positive content needs to be optimized to appear in search results. Search engines use a combination of links from reputable websites and high-quality content–content that is not only positive but also well-written or professional-looking–to determine a webpage’s relevance and authority to a search query.

The more relevant the page is to the query and the more authority it has earned, the higher it will show in search results.

So how do you make the positive content about your brand more relevant, and the websites that content lives on more authoritative?

By using the right tools to give search engines what they want. The more freshness, diversification, and support you can give your positive content, the better. These are some of the biggest indicators of relevance and authority the search engines look for.

Freshness

A website’s freshness means how often it is updated. The more often a site is updated, the more often search engines have to “crawl” the site in order to find and index new content.

You can teach search engines to index your site more frequently if you publish new content regularly. If your site is being indexed often enough, it will start to move up the rankings on search results pages.

Another important component of freshness is what all those regular updates tell the search engines. If the website is worth all the activity of regular updates, then it is much more likely to be a relevant, authoritative resource for searchers.

The trick to maintaining freshness on the webpages you want to appear on the first page of search results is to always be on the lookout for positive content. Your marketing and public relations teams need to keep a sharp eye for any positive content that can be used to protect your online reputation.

Diversification

Diversifying is as beneficial for online reputation management as it is for investment portfolios: it reduces risks and increases the likelihood of gains.

There are two important aspects of diversifying your online reputation management.

The first is using multiple types of content. You can have all the glowing testimonials in the world, but if all you have is testimonials and no case studies or data to back up your results, that starts to look a bit suspicious. And search engines will only return so many results of one type of content, leaving plenty of room on the first page for negative content.

This means in addition to testimonials, you want to harness the power of reviews, success stories and case studies, press releases, YouTube videos, articles about your expertise, and more.

The second important part of diversification is using multiple websites. The more websites you own and control, the more spaces on the first search results page you can potentially fill, with positive content you have complete control over.

Creating multiple websites isn’t as daunting as it sounds at first. Instead of putting all your content in one place online, simply spread it out by assigning a specific purpose and audience to each different website.

For example, a pharmaceutical online reputation management strategy might include a website for consumers and doctors, another for pharmacies and vendors, a separate blog, and another website for publishing survey results and other data.

Diversifying content in these two ways makes your content more relevant and authoritative because each website and type of content appeals to specific audiences and search queries.

Support

Good support means earning plenty of links to your website(s) from many different reputable sources over a long period of time. Flooding your website with too many links all at once is very suspicious and you will almost certainly be penalized for it. And trying to get links from low-quality websites won’t help your rankings, either.

The trick to getting good links is to create content so valuable you could practically sell it. When your content is that unique and useful, it draws attention from the kind of websites you want to link to yours.

Earning links that way takes time, though. When you don’t have a lot of time to devote to getting that support, you can create some of it yourself through press releases, article marketing, and blogging. Just make sure this content is as helpful and valuable as possible.

Building good support for your websites is an important part of online reputation management for two reasons.

First, it improves your off-page SEO, which helps your content appear higher in search results.

Second, the webpages linking to yours can also show up on search results pages, so searchers see even more positive content about your brand.

Getting plenty of support through high-quality links tells search engines that other people online think your content is relevant and authoritative, which strongly influences how search engines rank results.

Freshness, diversification, and support are not the only SEO tools to use in your online reputation management strategy, but they are some of the most important. Implement all three and you’ll be well on your way to presenting searchers with the best information about your brand.

Why Keyword Domains May Not Be the Best Reputation Management Strategy

Online reputation management is both a very easy concept to explain and a very difficult strategy to make effective. It’s easy to say you make search engine results more positive for companies who have been unfairly maligned. It’s another thing entirely to actually do it.

In the early days of search engines, most engines ran on simple keyword match algorithms, so the websites with the most number of words that matched your search (including  the domain name) ranked very well. In fact, in the early days of the web and up until a year or so ago, having keywords in your domain name seemed to be a factor that helped people rank better in the search engines. Both exact match domains (EMD), like keyword.com, and partial match domains (PMD) like, ABCkeyword.com, buykeyword.com, or awesome-keyword.com, showed up regularly and highly in most results.

In terms of reputation management, it was good strategy to buy EMDs and PMDs to get them to rank for branded searches. And it worked pretty well for a long time. However, since the Google Penguin update over a year ago, the strength of keyword domains has been faltering.

It’s not that Penguin targeted EMDs specifically, but that a number of EMD owners participated in spammy and manipulative tactics to get their sites to rank well. And, as a result, they were hit hard by the Penguin update. But Google was only trying to reflect the real quality of websites in their rankings. And if you’re even somewhat savvy with web search, you know that when you search for “casinos in Reno,” and you see a site like buy-casino-viagra-deals.com in the results, you know that if you click it, you’ll probably download a virus.

However, there are also a number of legitimate businesses that have EMDs, so Google—up to this point—has not targeted EMDs simply for being EMDs. The drop in rank for many spammy EMD sites over the past year has been as a result of their own spamminess. But Google has now decided to take a stronger stance against EMDs.

A little over a month ago, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, tweeted that an upcoming update was going to affect EMDs. Even back as far as March of last year, Cutts hinted at the fact that his team was looking at a way to “turn the knob down” on EMDs to make results more competitive for sites that didn’t have EMDs. Essentially, he wanted to ensure that domains like petsupplies.com weren’t getting an unfair search advantage over other sites that sold pet supplies but that didn’t have keywords in their domain.

Back in late September, the algorithm update went live and a number of EMDs fell dramatically in the search results. (You can see the impact it had here as measured by SEOmoz.)

The fact of the matter is that using EMDs hasn’t been an advisable strategy for a while now. Not only has Cutts been hinting at it for more than 9 months, but, as pointed out earlier, they aren’t usually viewed as trusted resources in the first place. And now their strength is slipping even more.

Because most exact match domains (petsupplies.com) are extremely expensive, many businesses have resorted to buying PMDs that are less powerful (pet-supplies-wearhousesite.com, suppliespets-discountprices.com, pet-supplies-texas.com, etc.), and have created a deluge of spammy and unhelpful sites that are only aimed at capturing a high ranking position and not at actually helping users. So the reputation of these sites in general isn’t very good.

For your reputation management strategy, don’t go out and buy a bunch of expensive EMDs that you think will rank well for your business searches. Not only are they being devalued but they also have a reputation as bad sites in the first place. Instead, focus on building a solid brand, improving your customer service, build a positive social strategy, and getting noticed for being a positive company with a great product. When you can do those things successfully, you won’t have to worry about your online reputation, because it will already be positive.

 

Putting the “Strategy” Back in Reputation Management Strategy

Most times, when you tell your friends or family that you do online reputation management, they either think that what you do is so complicated that they’ll never understand it, or they just think you have the most boring job in the world. Fortunately, neither of those is true. Reputation management can be fun and challenging and the basic principles behind it are not that hard to understand. Executing on them, however, can be a different story.

Although at the heart of reputation management there are a number of easy principles to follow, sometimes we can get so involved with all the little things that we forget about the big picture. So maybe it’s time to take a step back, look at your current strategies, and evaluate what they are doing for you.

Coordinate Your Efforts

Sometimes getting down in the weeds on a daily basis can blind us to the fact they we should have a diverse set of strategies that we are employing for any given client and that they should be working in concert. This may be especially true if you have a large staff or use a number of independent contractors. No reputation management effort should be working alone. Social should boost web properties, web properties should boost content and links, high ranks should encourage more social interaction, etc. Don’t get so involved in one method of reputation management that you forget about other efforts working in concert to provide the best results for yourself or your client.

Understand Your Audience

This is, perhaps, not a focus we normally have, but we need to keep in mind who we are building this reputation for. It’s not for ourselves or our clients—it’s for the people who are performing branded searches. You can create a beautiful SERP with a ton of great content, but if that SERP does not instill confidence in your particular audience, you’ll be failing. Find out who is searching for you or your clients online, understand what they think is positive or what will give them a positive sense of the brand. Then you’ll be creating not just a great SERP but an effective tool for building trust with your audience.

Solve Problems, Don’t Just Offer Solutions

When we’re in the thick of a campaign, sometimes it’s easy to simply implement the first strategy that comes to mind. But the easiest solution is not always the best solution for the long term. Before trying to offer solutions, try to understand the problem first. Back up, look at the cause of the bad reputation or negative press. Oftentimes, getting to the root of the problem will offer a clearer, easier solution than starting a whole new campaign or adding more work to your already large load.

Follow Your Plan and Evaluate It

At the creation of a strategy, you should define what you want the outcome to be and set a goal to reach it. Then stick to your plan. Remember what the Cheshire Cat said to Alice: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Remind yourself of what your goals are on a regular basis and when you’ve reached the end, look back and measure how that success came about, so you can repeat that success again. On the other hand, if you’re not reaching your goal, it could be because of unclear expectations or becoming derailed by not staying focused.

Overall, remember that reputation management will be much easier and more effective if you know where you’re going, can coordinate your efforts, understand your audience, and work to solve problems, not just offer solutions.

20 Tips for Creating an Effective Reputation Management Strategy

Most of the time, I agree with the sentiment that less is more. Most times a little bit of a good thing is better than too much. But when it comes to online reputation management, more is more. Why cover just a few principles and tips and leave out everything else that will help you create a better reputation management strategy? That’s why this list was created. Here are 20 tips for creating an effective reputation management campaign.

1) Own your SERPs

Don’t be happy with a handful of links at the top of a search engine results page for your name. Take full advantage of your SERP by owning it from top to bottom. Just make sure it’s a varied set of results that look natural and unbiased and you’ll make a great impression on anyone who is searching for you.

2) Be social

Claim your social media profiles and use them. Social profiles are easy to get ranked in the SERPs—especially for your personal name. So get out there, make your profiles, and use them so that they show up when people are searching for you.

3) Blog

Blogging is one of the best ways to get your name out there on the web. Buy a domain that reflects your name, like yourname.com, and then fill your blog with professional, positive information about what you do, who you are, and your personal or professional insights.

4) Look for opportunities

Opportunities to get noticed on the web abound. You can do the normal stuff, like start a blog or build links to your Google+ profile, but you can go beyond those strategies and think outside the box. For instance, hold a contest to give away a gift card or iPad, and have entrants blog about something you care about in order to enter. As long as you make sure they link to your website or blog with your name as the anchor text, you’ll get some great link juice and you’ll rank well.

5) Don’t forget press releases

Article marketing has a bad reputation in SEO circles, especially since Google’s recent Panda and Penguin updates. But as long as you don’t overdo it, putting out a few press releases here and there is a great way to fill your SERP with positive information. This is probably reserved for larger companies with big budgets, but there are free PR posting services out there as well for individuals and small companies.

6) Encourage reviews

If you own a business or provide a service, encourage your best customers to write positive reviews about you on the web. Yelp, Angie’s List, Google, City Search, and more are great places to write reviews and they tend to do well in the SERPs.

7) Own the scam

Just because there’s a “scam report” out there doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. If you’ve generated a controversy and there are a number of “scam” sites out there targeting your name, turn it around by owning the scam. Instead of trying to ignore it, write a blog post about how you are not associated with a scam. Or create a page on your official website, with the word scam in the title, that you can use it to clear up any misconceptions.

8) Don’t argue

Don’t argue with internet trolls or other detractors. If you are baited into arguing with them online, you’ve already lost. In some cases, it’s okay to respond to negative comments about yourself online. But always do so respectfully and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t get into a back and forth with a blogger or review writer, you’ll only end up looking like a fool for arguing.

9) Ask to take it down

If you find negative information about yourself online, your first step should be to respectfully ask that it be taken down or removed. In some cases, that’s all you have to do to remove negative information. So why not give it a try?

10) Fix the problem

If someone has had a bad experience with your company or a service you provide, and they’ve posted negatively about it online, offer to fix the problem. Nothing quells anger like an offer to make up for something that went wrong.

11) Be civilized

In all your online dealings, be civilized. It doesn’t matter if you’re posting on your personal Facebook page or responding to a negative email. The nicer you are to people, the less likely they will be motivated to post negative information about you on the web.

12) Be an author

Embrace being a publisher. The more content—blog posts, pictures, etc.—that you can make and post on the web, the more likely Google is to pick it up and help it rank in the SERPs for your name.

13) Make some news

Many individuals and companies work extremely hard to build blogging networks and a myriad of social accounts so they can create a positive image online, but a great way to get a positive result is to be mentioned in the news for something positive you’ve done. Giving to charity, going for a Guiness world record, or offering your services as an expert in your field to a local reporter can help you get mentioned in local newspapers—and those are some great links.

14) Make friends in high places

It pays to make friends in high places—especially well respected bloggers or online journalists. First of all, they can use you in something they write that is related to your field. And, second, if you find negative information about yourself online, you can ask your friend for help. They may be able to accomplish something you can’t on your own.

15) Be a publisher

You can be a writer on your own blog, but you can also publish other people’s articles on your blog. Ask for quality blog submission from professionals in your field and post them on your website. Not only will you be making friends but you’ll also get traffic to your blog and links. Which will help you rank better in the SERPs.

16) Get listed

There are a number of ways to get yourself listed about the internet. Start with professional organizations, blog lists, and more.

17) Picture it

If you include any of your own photography on your website or if your organization has a large stockpile of corporate photos, make them available to be posted on the internet under a creative commons license that requires a link back to your website. The more links to your site, the better it will do in the SERPs and the more it will help your online reputation.

18) Be everywhere

Whenever there is a chance for you to put your name down on the internet and link to your personal or professional web properties, do it. One of the best ways to do this is to offer yourself as a guest blogger on websites that pertain to your field.

19) Use the group

Another way to create positive buzz for yourself is to join groups and professional organizations. Not only will you make some friends, but you have a chance to raise your online profile and make connections that will help you get your name and web properties to rank well in the SERPs.

20) Don’t forget about offline

Not everything you do to enhance your online reputation online has to take place online. Go to conferences, introduce yourself to colleagues, and go to professional meetups. The more people you meet and can make a good impression on (both online and off) the more you will raise your profile. And when people in the real world respect you, the online community will follow.

Putting “Manage” Back into Reputation Management

Once there was a company that decided it was cheaper to hire cannibals as workers, so a manager brought in a group of cannibals, showed them how to do their jobs, told them that they would be treated just like anyone else in the company but asked that they avoid eating anyone.

A couple of weeks went by when the manager came to the cannibals and said, “You guys are doing a great job, we’ve really enjoyed having you here, but a secretary has gone missing—do you have any idea where she went?” The cannibals shook their heads, and the manager left.

Then the chief cannibal turned to the group and asked, “Alright, who ate the secretary?” One of the men fearfully raised his hand. The chief said, “Now they’re onto us! I’ve been eating managers for weeks, and then you had to go and eat someone important.”

All kidding aside, management is one of those words that smacks of bureaucracy and bean counting—not of accomplishment. But reputation management is about more than checking out the SERPs every once in awhile to see if your reputation is improving. Reputation management takes hard work, dedication, and leadership to accomplish its goals.

In fact, the word “manage” actually has four different meanings that can give us insight into exactly what we should be doing as reputation managers.

To Be In Charge Of

Firstly, “to manage” means to be in charge of something. And being in charge means taking responsibility for one’s actions. As managers of reputation strategies, we need to take responsibility for the reputations of the companies or brand names that we work on. That means going beyond simply making sure the SERPs look good. It means taking an interest and a leadership role when it comes to your company’s reputation and giving a direction and purpose to your efforts. Setting goals, following up, and focusing on the success of your reputation strategy are all part of managing reputation.

To Accomplish

If I manage to pull off a victory in the last seconds of the game with a half-court shot, I’ve accomplished a win for my team. Management isn’t just about making sure the strategy is moving according to plan, it’s about pulling off a victory for your company or brand. In order to accomplish your goals, you have to follow through with your promises and stick with the strategy until you can achieve SERPs that reflect positively on your company or brand.

To Cope

When a reputation crisis occurs, will you manage to turn the crisis around? To manage also means to deal with the situation that is presented to you in a way that does not betray defeat or weakness. Emergencies will arise; crises will occur; but if you have the tenacity and confidence to manage your reputation strategy with strength, you’ll come through the other side with an improved strategy and a better understanding of what it means to manage a reputation.

To Control

Lastly, to manage also means to control something. In reputation management, you need to be in control of your company or brand’s online reputation at all times. If you are vigilant, and constantly monitoring the web, you should be ready or any crisis that may arise. That’s what being in control is—having a knowledge of all possible dangers and planning for them in advance so you’re never caught off guard.

Manage Your Reputation

Although “management” can be a dirty word, it doesn’t have to be. If you can take charge of your strategy, follow it through to the end, and be prepared in advance for any threat, you’ll create a solid reputation management strategy that will protect your company or brand from attack. As for protecting yourself from the cannibals, that’s a different story.