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.

 

How to Perform a Backlink Analysis to Optimize Your Reputation Management Efforts

The reputation management game is all about creating an ideal search engine results page (SERP) so that anyone who is looking for you or your company online will see a mix of a number of generally positive and neutral links instead of a page filled with bad reviews, so-called “scam reports,” or blog rants from an angry customer.

But molding the perfect SERP can be extremely difficult. You have to understand how search engines work and how they create the results they display. Then you have to use that knowledge to optimize the links you want to appear in the SERP—which takes time and effort, especially if you want to do it right. Once of the first things you need to understand about an effective reputation campaign is how a backlink profile looks and how to optimize it to help your desired sites to rank well.

Understand

The first step in optimizing your reputation management efforts is understanding a backlink profile. A backlink profile is made up of all the websites that link to the site that you want to rank well in the SERPs. For the purpose of this article, let’s say you own a Tennis pro shop, and a local reporter has written a positive review of your business in a local publication (that is also published online) and you want that page to rank well in the SERP when people search for your shop by name.

The first thing you need to do is to get a list of the websites that link to that story. You can do this a number of ways. Since you don’t own the site, you can’t get Google analytics data for it, so you’ll have to use something else this excellent Google Analytics checklist can help you out. There are a number of services and tools that will allow you to get a list of the websites that link to the story, but the best ones you’ll have to pay for.

For example, SEOmoz.com has an excellent toolbar plugin for Firefox and Chrome that will show you the number of websites that link to the story for free, but you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription fee to get the full report. In fact there are a number of free services out there that will offer you some insight, but you will need to pay to get more detailed data. And if you need to do this on a regular basis, it’s definitely worth the price (SEOmoz charges $99/month).

Once you have access to a full list of everywhere on the web that links to the story, you’ll need to filter it for external unique linking root domains. This will boil the data down to a list of the websites (outside the domain it is hosted on) that link to the story. In this case, it many only be a handful, but in a very competitive space it could be thousands.

Analyze

Next comes analysis. Any professional-grade tools that give you a full backlink data list will allow you to download it to an Excel spreadsheet. Now comes the fun part. I won’t go into detail about how to use Excel, but once you break down the data you can organize it in various ways. For example, you can search for the highest ranked sites that link to the story, break down the linking root domains by domain rank to get a spread of what types of sites links are coming from, and more.

What you’re trying to determine at this point is why the article is not currently ranking well for searches for your name, based on the types of websites that are linking to it. For example, if all the links coming to the page have an extremely low page rank, the article is not getting enough quality links for Google to deem it worthy of a higher rank. Conversely, if all it has are a handful of very highly ranked websites and virtually no other links, Google may have flagged it as having an unnatural or spammy backlink profile. What you want to see is a high number of links that are spread evenly across a variety of domains in a curve from a small number of highly ranked sites to a high number of mid-to low quality sites.

Quality Not Quantity

But quantity is not everything. If you do this with enough sites, you’ll begin to see that not all #1 ranked sites have the highest number of unique linking root domains. Understanding where the inks are coming from is important, because it gives you an idea of how Google perceives the quality of the site. However, not all links are created equal.

Google also prizes relevancy over quantity. For example, a handful of links from other highly regarded Tennis websites to the story are much more valuable in Google’s eyes than links from 100 mommy bloggers. But each case is going to be different.

How to Rank Better

In the end, it’s your job to look at the backlink profile, understand where deficiencies lay (if any) and correct the problem. As pointed out earlier, if there are no highly ranked Tennis sites linking to the story, those are links you can pursue. If the problem is that no mid to low-quality sites are linking, then you can go after those links as well.

Each website and each profile is going to be slightly different, but once you understand the backlink profile of a website, you can make a plan to improve its rank in your target SERP and build a better reputation management strategy as a result.

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