Google’s New Sitelinks and Your Online Reputation

Google is always reviewing and updating its practices, algorithms, and values. At times it can feel like trying to hit a moving target. And it can be frustrating to find that you’ve put months into an online reputation management campaign only to have Google change the game again.

Well, recently, they changed the game by evolving the way they display sitelinks in the search results. Previously, if you had a website in the top 5, and it was undoubtedly the top result on the page, Google would display sitelinks underneath the main link to your site. For example, here is the old search listing for the website, Hubspot:

 

As you can see, underneath the link to the home page, there are a number of smaller links to individual pages within the site. This link-bunching highlighted this site as the most important and most trusted in the search results, and most people were more apt to click on links that appeared like this one.

As of mid-August, Google changed the way they display these sitelinks from the small version pictured above to the version pictured below:

 

As you can see, the sitelinks are HUGE. Obviously this gives a huge boost to websites who already rank well and have a great reputation online—and hopefully, your website ranks among them.

But this change also has some side effects. In exchange for filling what is, essentially, half the page with the results of one website, they have taken away multiple listings for subdomains and combined them all into the one big listing.

For example, you can see in the image above that the sitelinks include links to subdomains like “jobs.hobspot.com” and “blog.hubspot.com.” Previous to this change, these subdominas would have appeared as separate listings in the search results, taking up more spots in the top ten search results.

As a result of the change, many websites that many have been listed lower down, or on the second page, suddenly found themselves much higher in the search results.

This effect has two implications for your online reputation management strategy. First, it means that creating multiple subdomains that rank high in the results is no longer an effective strategy. Essentially, Google has compiled everything into one listing so all your subdomains are now subsumed under one massive heading—if you’re on top already.

Secondly, other sites that may have been ranking well, but may not have been on the first page, could have moved up. And that can be both a good and a bad thing for your online reputation. If you were trying hard to get a number of other positive information websites to rank well for your company’s name, you may find you have some much better results now. On the other hand, if a number of nasty and untruthful information was hiding just around the corner, it may be rearing it’s ugly head on the first page of a Google search for your company name.

At this point, it is important to check your Google listing and take note of what has changed, if anything, for a search for your company name. You may be pleasantly surprised, or you could be severely disappointed. Either way, you’ll know that moving forward you may need to employ different tactics in your online reputation management campaign in order to get the results you are looking for.

 

Leveraging Your Organization to Improve Your Online Reputation

When it all comes down to it, a good portion of online reputation management is about search engine optimization. That is, you need to clear the front page of a Google search of all negative content and let the positive information and links about your company shine. Professional online reputation management companies do this all the time, but it can also be very labor intensive and may a slow process. But you can help your online reputation management company succeed faster by leveraging the people in your organization.

You have a whole company at your disposal, and you can use them to help you do better in the search results, by encouraging them to participate in certain activities that will help positive information about your site rank higher, pushing negative information lower. Here are a few ideas you might want to try.

1) Leverage blogs

If you are a large company, or have a large independent marketing workforce, chances are a number of your employees or marketers have blogs. Each one of those blogs is a potential online advocate for your company. Not only can employee blogs be used to post positive information about your company but they can easily create links to your company site (or other favorable sites) that can help boost your search engine rankings.

For example, create a company website “badge” and offer it to your employees or marketers. They can easily download or copy the badge from your company site and place it on their own. This act creates pride in the company on the part of those who put the badge on their site, it’s free advertising, and it links back to your site, boosting your page rank (or the rank of any page you want the badge to link to).

You could also offer contests for the best and most creative company testimonial posted on a personal blog, or run other contents that encourage members of your organization to post positive information about your company on their personal websites.

2) Social Media

Social factors, like sharing links on Facebook and Twitter, is now an important aspect of online reputation management as well. If you don’t already have a social media strategy, create one. Then encourage the members of your organization to follow or join you.

Again, you can incentivize your employees to share links to your company by holding contents or running specials that are only open to those who are followers or who share certain links. It’s a great way to boost company morale and create a myriad of links to websites you want to perform well at the same time.

3) Reviews

There are a bunch of “scam report” and review sites out there, but they are usually dominated by negative content—the kind of thing you don’t want to see in a Google search for your company name. Well, turn that paradigm on its head by encouraging employees to seek out and create reviews of your company. In fact, jump the gun on those “scam report” sites, by asking employees to fill out positive reviews on the site before anything negative gets posted. You can always turn these assignments into games or contests as well in order to encourage more people to participate.

Reputation Management is a Group Activity

Online reputation management doesn’t have to be the job of one person or simply the domain of your PR department. When you get the whole organization involved in online reputation management, you can build relationships, strengthen bonds, and create positive online reputation for your company all at the same time.

 

Why Does Your Company Need Online Reputation Management?

The internet is becoming more and more transparent every day. As we move toward a increasingly social and open internet environment, more people are opting to use their own names and faces when posting information, comments, and other content online. In fact, we are moving toward an internet society where it is easy to track who is posting certain information, who owns specific websites, and who is sharing their opinions online. In such a future, people would behave online like they do in real life, respecting one another and (ideally) taking responsibility for their actions.

However, we are not there yet. It is still incredibly easy to post anonymous comments online and blog behind a false identity. This sense of anonymity fuels the idea that you can say and do whatever you want to online without repercussions and without the burden of responsibility. This false sense of freedom, coupled with the easy and globally accessible nature of the internet has created a new threat to your company. It allows for just about anyone with a grudge to attack your company online and influence the way you are perceived by hundreds or thousands of people every day.

What is Online Reputation Management?

It doesn’t matter if negative attacks or the irrational and unfounded rant of an unsatisfied customer are true or not. If that negative information about you company surfaces or makes it way to the top of a Google search, it can drive away thousands (or millions) of dollars in potential business and future profits.

Reputation management seeks to even the score by implementing strategies and tactics that keep your company name clean and positive to anyone who searches for your company online. These services can push negative reviews and false “scam alerts” off the first page of a search results page for your company name, helping you save face and put your best foot forward with new potential customers.

A Growing Concern

Not long ago, Eisner Amper conducted a study on corporate concerns about risk and found that reputational risk (or the risk that negative online information about your company will adversely affect sales and customer acquisition) is now the highest risk concern of CEO’s and boards of directors across the country.

These companies realize that the way they are perceived online can have huge repercussions for their brand and their sales. And they are concerned that the open, free, and anonymous nature of the internet can rise up at any time and strike their company, resulting in lost profits and ruined business.

Now is the Time for Reputation Management

What companies need to understand is that they can no longer rely on their homepage to give customers a positive first impression of their organization. The opinion of your company begins to form as soon as a customer sees the top 10 results of a Google search for your company name. One mention of a “scam alert” or one negative rant from a disgruntled former employee in the search results, and customers will already be looking for reasons not to trust you with their business and their money.

The time for reputation management is now. If your company has been plagued with negative reviews and unfounded claims, take the step to clean up your online reputation by employing reputation management practices and putting your best foot forward with anyone who wants to know more about your company.

 

4 Threats to Your Online Reputation

Because the internet is such a free and open environment, people believe that can do or say anything they want without repercussions or without harming anyone else. As well, there are opportunists out there who know how to game the system, and they use that knowledge to attack companies for their own monetary benefit.

As a large organization, you’re bound to run into unsatisfied customers, unhappy employees, and these scam artists, and sometimes it can feel like you are under constant attack. But the first step in dealing with many of the “scam alerts” and unfavorable information about your company online is by understanding what threats exist and what options you may have in dealing with them. Let’s rake a look at the most common threats to your online reputation.

1) Scam Sites

Scam sites are a product of the internet. Before the internet was widely used, if you wanted to find out about a company, you could call up the BBB and see what their rating was and if any legitimate complaints had been filed against them. Today, digital opportunists take advantage of the public’s fear and publish “scam alerts” for a wide range of companies, hoping to get them ranked high in the search results and benefit off of high traffic volume and perform extortion on good companies.

Although these sites purport to publish company reviews by real people, many of them are scams themselves, writing fake negative reviews and then asking companies for tens of thousands of dollars to take the negative reviews down. The best way to deal with these scams is through good online reputation management that will push these types if sites lower in the search engine results and nullify their effect on your company.

2) Competitors

Although coordinated online reputation attacks from competitors is rare, it does happen from time to time. Competitors can publish unfavorable articles about your company, or use other tactics, like commenting and posting on forums, to defame and degrade your brand. If legal action is unavailable or not feasible, online reputation management can neutralize the effects of such attacks by promoting positive information about your company and pushing negative material down.

3) Unsatisfied Customers

As a large company, you are going to have unhappy customers, generally through no fault of your own. There are some people out there who simply will not be happy about your company for their own reasons that have nothing to do with your customer service or products. And because blogging and social media is free and easy to use, they may pass along their dissatisfaction to their friends and across the internet.

Of course the best way to minimize this risk is to produce great products and have fantastic customer service. But once you have those things, it’s important to monitor the internet through alerts and social media channels to uncover those little sparks of anger and deal with them though outreach and customer service before they turn into unquenchable fires.

4) Current and Former Employees

As we discussed in a previous post, one of the biggest threats to your online reputation can be your current and former employees. The worldwide accessibility or the internet allows disparate groups of people to band together online to share stories and complaints with each other. For companies with a large set of satellite offices or an independent marketing workforce, this is especially true. If a current or former employee posts an unfavorable rant about your company on their blog, or on an anonymous site, others can encounter that rant and chime in with their opinion. Once you have a handful of current or former employees commenting on the same story, they have formed a community of complaint witch will only fuel their own fires.

As a company, it is important to monitor these types of activities on the internet and through social media. When you encounter a community of complaint, you can defuse the situation by asking for feedback and by showing current employees the way to express their concerns through company channels. Many times, they simply want someone to listen to their concerns and frustrations. And if you can provide that vehicle, and correct the situation, you can defuse it and have the posts removed fairly easily.

Attacks from All Sides

But don’t get bogged down in all the negative aspects of online reputation management, the best defense for these often unfounded online attacks is simply to listen to the concerns of any unhappy customers and current or former employees and help them to come to a resolution. And then use effective online reputation tactics to push out the negative information about your company from competitors and scam sites. With this type of strategy, you can maintain a positive reputation online, bringing in more customers and profits.

 

The Great Land Rush: Online Reputation and Grabbing the Top Spots on a Search Engine Results Page

In 1889, President Harrison opened up the Oklahoma territory to anyone who wanted it. On April 22, thousands of settlers lined up across the border ready for their chance to sprint for a choice spot of land. Whoever got to the land first could lay claim to it for free.

Of course, nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a great deal on property like that (although he falling housing market is coming close). However, space is always available on the internet and it is always up for grabs. As long as you have the right tools and skills, you can occupy just about any space on the internet you wish. But in terms of reputation management, the space you want to occupy the most is the top few places on a Goolge search for your brand or company name. And you can do it quite well by diversifying your tactics.

Link Diversity to Push Negative Results Down

In order to maximize your search engine results page real estate, you’ll have to take up as much space as possible at the top of the page. This means you should be maximizing your SEO for PPC, local results, your homepage, and subdomains.

PPC (Adwords)

PPC ads (Pay-per-click) are the types of ads you see at the top of a search engine results page. On Google they’re also called Adwords. When you buy an Adwords spot targeted at your brand name, your paid link will appear at the top of the page, pushing other results further down the page, giving you more page real estate right off the bat.

Local Results

When you optimize your Google places page, it will also appear in the search results along with a map, taking up more room on the page and pushing undesirable information further down. In fact, if you have multiple locations, create as many place pages for them as you can, so you can dominate that list as well.

Homepage (with sitelinks)

Of course, you want your home page to appear in the number one spot on the page, but if you are consistently the number one spot on the page, and Google trusts your website, they may automatically create sitelinks for you. Sitelinks are the little links that appear underneath the main page listing for highly-trusted sites. These sitelinks take up more room on the page and highlight your page as the most important.

Subdomains

Subdomains are like separate websites that are connected to your main site. For example, “products.yourcompany.com” would be a subdomain for” yourcompany.com” and is treated by search engines as a separate website. When you can create subdomains for your site with specific themes and optimize them for search, you can crowd out the competition by snatching up more real estate on the page.

Real estate is free

Although you can’t pay Google to rank you #1 on the page, there are a number of ways you can grab the real estate at the top of a Google search for your company name or brand by diversifying your strategy with different types of links that will crowd out the competition and leave you with a page dominated by positive information about your company.

 

Online Reputation: You Never Get a Second Chance at a First Impression

I was recently reading some popular SEO blogs when I stumbled across a bit of advice that related directly to online reputation management and the impression that people get of your company when they search for you online.

Julie Joyce, of Search Engine Land, writes about one of the simplest ways to gauge a website’s quality:

If you search for the site/brand name, is the first result a negative review? Are there more than 5 negative SERPs on the first page? … do a quick search for the site/brand and just check the first 10 results.

Search Engine Land is probably the most popular SEO blog on the web, with over 57,000 Twitter followers, and more than 23,000 Facebook fans (not to mention over 71,000 RSS subscribers), and they just told all their followers that the first page of a Google search is a good indicator of a company’s reputation. So how does a search for your brand name look?

The Average First Impression

But it’s not just SEO specialists and internet nerds who are searching for your brand online, it’s anyone who wants to know anything about your company. And their first impression of your company is probably not your home page but, rather, the first 10 results in a Google search for your brand name. Is that first page filled with negative reviews, scam alerts, and negative comments? If so, your website visitors already have a bad taste in their mouths before then even see your website.

Why Online Reputation Management?

Now more than ever is the time to start thinking about more than just your home page and your branded online resources. In order to keep a good reputation online, you need to start thinking outside the box about the way people perceive your company before they even visit your website. And online reputation management can help you control what people see when they search for your company name.

What Can it Do?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the term used for the art of manipulating search results to get a favorable result. Most times it’s about making sure a certain website ranks well for a specific set of targeted terms. However, online reputation management is slightly different in that it uses principles of SEO to make sure that only good or neutral information and headlines appear when anyone searches for your company name online. In essence, they are helping you put your best foot forward when anyone searches for your company name online.

Reputation Management in the Internet Age

Today the internet is everyone’s gateway to information, When you want to know more about something, Google it. When you have a question, Google it. When you want to get a feel for a company’s reputation, Google it. If everyone is searching for information online, how does your company appear? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about online reputation management.

 

The Art of Neutrality: Why Neutral News Can Help Your Online Reputation

When it comes to online reputation management, you want the first page of a Google search for your company or brand name to be positive overall. That is, you don’t want a bunch of “scam reports” or negative forum posts to appear. But making that Google page positive overall is also about making that first page look natural and un-manipulated. That’s why it’s important to use neutral information from third-party sites to help you create a positive and believable online reputation.

Variety and Balance

Not only does Google like to display a variety of different kinds of sites and varying opinions on the first page of results, but users who are searching for your company like to see a balanced and unbiased set of links to information about your company.

Think about it this way, if you did a Google search for a brand name and all you saw were glowing reviews and a list of sites that all looked like they were sponsored by the same organization, you’d probably be a little skeptical of the information you were getting. And so will the people who are searching for you. That’s why you need variety and balance in the information that appears on the first page of a Google results page.

Building Trust and Building Your Online Reputation

Search results should look natural, that’s why it’s important to help other third-party information about your site appear on the first page of results. When a user is presented with a page of results that is too overwhelmingly positive, they might get suspicious that the results are being manipulated and lose trust in your company.

However, if you can get a handful of non-critical, independent information about your company to appear on the first page of a Google search, the results will look more natural, giving users the sense that they are getting a balanced view of your company as a whole.

Staying Neutral

So instead of simply building a number of sites whose only purpose is to cheerlead for your company, save yourself some time and effort and use some good linkbuilding and SEO practices to promote neutral, third-party information about your company.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but filling the first page of a Google search with only positive information can damage your reputation. However, if you can master the fine art of neutrality, you’ll simultaneously be pushing negative information about your company off the first Google results page and give people the sense that they are getting a balanced view of your company at the same time.

Virtual Rebellion and the Importance of Monitoring Your Online Reputation

The internet is kind of like a Mad Max movie. It’s a wasteland where you can do pretty much whatever you want, be whoever you want to be, and do it all anonymously with virtually no sense of responsibility, giving you almost absolute freedom. And if you know a little HTML and some good SEO, you can bend the internet to your will.

On the one hand, this is great news for corporations. If you have enough money, you can hire the right people to get your company to the top of the search results and be extremely successful. On the other hand, it’s much easier for employees with a grudge or ne’er-do-wells who have a stake in making your company fail to attack you online and ruin your reputation, hurting your business.

Mad Max of the Internet

This anonymous wasteland of the internet allows for disgruntled former (or current) employees and customers to band together and create harmful online material that may defame or blatantly spread lies about your company’s service and intentions.

For example, let’s say you have a number of independent branches around the world, or maybe you have a few thousand independent marketers working out of their own homes. If one of these employees becomes disenfranchised (through no fault of your company’s) they may decide to strike back through a series of defaming, anonymous blog posts. Although this may only be one person, when other current or former independent marketers come across the remarks, they may be encouraged to comment or create their own anonymous blog posts about your company.

In essence, the internet makes it much easier for people with a grudge, compelled by their own misplaced sense of failure, to band together and create a virtual rebellion against your company.

But just like in “The Road Warrior,” you can be like Mad Max and devise a plan to get these outlaws off your back.

Monitor and Defuse

Far too many companies these days don’t feel that it is worth their time and effort to monitor their online reputation. So what if a failed salesman wants to complain about the company on their personal blog? But these little fires can rage into infernos if not taken care of immediately and in the right way.

First of all, you need to monitor the internet for mentions of your name, brand, and company. It might even be worth it to monitor mentions of your senior executive team. Then when you see a problem arise—be it a disgruntled employee or unhappy customer—you can easily become aware of the situation, offer your assistance, and help defuse the situation as quickly as possible.

In some instances, you may not be able to defuse the situation or have offensive material removed. But this is why it is important to turn to professional online reputation experts to make sure bad information doesn’t rise to the top of a search for your company name and turn away potential customers.

A Land Without Borders

The internet is a land without borders or entry requirements, a type of digital apocalyptic wasteland, where lawless individuals can attack you and your company at will. But if you have a plan in place, and can use the expertise of reputation experts, you’ll have a much better chance of coming out unscathed.

 

How to Use Twitter to Boost Your Online Reputation

In a previous post, we talked about the ways that Facebook can help your online reputation by boosting your brand visibility and contributing to your SEO and the SEO of pages you control—boosting your page rank. But there are other social networking tools out there that can contribute to an overall positive online reputation, like Twitter.

Both Google and Bing have publicly stated that they use Twitter to determine search results and page rank. In fact, Twitter may be even more powerful than Facebook when it comes to determining page rank in search results.

But keep in mind that on Twitter the authority of the person tweeting determines the weight that Google places on the link that was tweeted for page rank purposes. In other words, a retweet (RT) from someone with 1000 followers is more powerful than a tweet from someone with 5.

But all links are good links on Twitter, so the point is to try and get as many people sharing positive information and stories about your brand as possible. So how do you do it? Here are some tips.

1. Create a company Twitter profile

First and foremost, you need to create an official Twitter account for your organization if you haven’t done so already. First, capture your company name (i.e. @AwesomeCompany). Doing so will prevent anyone else from grabbing it and pretending to tweet from your company. And now anyone searching for you on Twitter will be able to find your official feed and know that they are getting correct information about your company.

2. Tweet good links

Keep in mind that your tweets matter more depending on how many followers you have and haw many of them regularly RT your tweets. So tweet links to good information about your company and your broader niche. You can tweet links to articles from your company blog, but make sure that you tweet other interesting information and blog posts as well. If you only tweet about yourself, no one will want to listen. In fact, for some great tweeting guidelines, check out this article.

3. Build followers and relationships

Twitter isn’t about simply sending tweets out into the ether; it’s about building relationships with other people who are interested in your company and your market. RT great links from other people, thank people for following you, and use #FF (follow Friday) as a way to point users to useful information about your niche. When your followers feel that you care about them, then they will return the favor by RT’ing your links—which is the ultimate goal.

4. Use your organization to your advantage

It’s hard to start a Twitter empire by yourself. But you already have an entire organization you can leverage; use them to build your Twitter clout. Encourage as many people as possible in your organization to get on Twitter and create personal accounts (unrelated to your company), and encourage them to RT links to favorable news and information about your company when you share it through your official account. If you have 1000 people in your organization and just 200 of them RT a link to a positive story about your company, that can result in huge SEO benefits for that page, helping your online reputation management campaign immensely.

5. Target specific pages

For a Twitter campaign to work and push positive results to the top of a Google search for your company name, make sure you target specific pages you want to rank. Use your company name in the tweet when you share the link and share it multiple times over a series of weeks, using specific hashtags and including phrases like “pls RT” (please retweet), in order to get the most traction out of your campaign.

In the end, if you can properly leverage your organization and become a trusted resource on Twitter for your niche, you’ll be able to help the SEO of pages you want to rank for your company name, boosting your company image and helping control your online reputation.

 

4 Ways Facebook Can Help Your Online Reputation

Everybody is focused on social right now. In fact, I’ll bet there isn’t a single marketing or SEO blog out there that hasn’t published something about social media in the last month. It is the next frontier in advertising, SEO, and marketing. But when it comes to reputation management, many companies don’t think having a Facebook page will help them influence the results that appear in a Google search.

However, the search engine world is rapidly changing and social factors, like Facebook shares and comments, are becoming some of the most important aspects in driving search engine page rank. And Facebook is the mother of them all. If you haven’t thought about the way that Facebook can help your online reputation, here are some facts that might change your mind.

1. There is a high correlation between Facebook shares and page rank

Last December, Google and Bing (in an intervew with Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land) both admitted that they use public Facebook feeds in their ranking factors. Although they didn’t elaborate in detail, they did share the fact that links shared on Facebook impact search engine rank. That means that the more a link is shared on Facebook, the higher rank it will receive in search engine results.

Although tests of the exact weight of Facebook data in determining page rank have shown that Google does not measure Facebook shares directly, there is a high correlation between the number of shares a link get on Facebook and the ranking factor of the page it points to.

Simply put, if you want positive pages about your company to rank well, starting a Facebook campaign is not a bad idea.

2. Facebook comments spread organically

If you control a number of blogs or websites related to your brand, it behooves you not to include the Facebook Comments plugin on those sites to help spread positive information about your company organically.

When someone makes a comment on your blog or website through the Facebook Comments plugin, their comments is shared back to their own profile wall on Facebook (by default)—and with all their friends. This can create an organic effect that drives more people to visit the site and respond to comments, resulting in higher traffic and better SEO for the pages that implement Facebook comments.

3. Facebook makes your company seem authoritative and personal

Using Facebook plugins like a Facebook Like Box on websites you control adds an element of authority to your brand. For example, when a user searches for your company name on Google, and they see a Facebook Like Box (filled with faces of your fans), immediately, your company takes on a whole new dimension. It is no longer a faceless entity; your company has friends and followers. And if it has friends and followers, you must be doing something right.

Adding a Facebook Like Box to sites you control is a great way to personalize your company and give it a face that people can trust.

4. Creating a Facebook page gives people in your organization a place to connect to you

Besides all of the SEO and organic reputation factors that Facebook provides, it also simply gives people in your organization a place to connect with your company and with each other, strengthening their ties to your company and the rest of the organization.

And when people in your organization connect to your company, they are more willing to pass along their love of your company to others, both personally and online, creating secondary SEO effects that pass along positive information about your company.

Overall, Facebook is never a bad idea for reputation management. Not only will it help you boost the SEO of websites you control, but it will also create positive secondary effects that will give your company a better reputation online and in the real world.

 

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