Creative Brainstorming for Reputation Management in “Boring” Industries

Last month, we discussed the idea that doing reputation management for “boring” industries is harder than doing reputation management for industries like energy drinks, celebrities, or trampolines (trampolines are awesome!). But nothing could really be further from the truth. In reality, each industry will pose its own set of unique problems. And if you think you are doing reputation management for a boring company, perhaps the problem is not the company, but a lack of creativity on your part.

One of the best examples of thinking outside the box and making a boring product exciting comes from the great Don Draper of Mad Men. In the clip below, Kodak has just invented what they call “the wheel,” a circular slide projector that allows you to continuously flip through slides and not have to insert them one by one. The Kodak executives think marketing the product will be extremely hard because there’s nothing exciting about their new product. They think it’s a huge leap forward in terms of technology, but the science behind slide projectors is not exactly frontpage news.

Don throws science out the window and is able to capture the real essence of the product and what it will mean for everyday people. He didn’t start with any preconceived notions about what the product should be. Instead, he looked at what the product could be and what it could mean to people. In a nutshell, he was simply being creative.

Creativity is Not a Gift

Anyone can be creative—even doing reputation management for a boring product. Creativity is not a gift that one is simply born with. It is simply the exercise of looking at an everyday object or idea, asking questions about it, and looking at it from a different perspective. And anyone can learn to do it. In fact, here are some strategies that can help you look at a boring industry with a different perspective and do better reputation management as a result.

Define the Problem

Many times, if something isn’t succeeding, we either simply ignore the problem and plow ahead anyway, or we try the first solution that comes to us—we fall back on the strategies we’ve always used. As a result, sometimes we offer many solutions without actually solving any problems. The next time you’ve hit a wall with linkbuilding, linkbait ideas, or more, look to understand the problem first.

One way to do this is the “5 Whys” method. If you have a problem, ask why. Answer that question, then ask why again. And so on. Like this:

1)    I can’t get my client’s YouTube video to rank higher. Why?

2)    Because no one is watching it. Why?

3)    Because it’s boring to watch. Why?

4)    Because it’s just the CEO talking about the financial structure behind the product. Why is that boring?

5)    Because the company’s customers don’t care about the finances. Why not?

6)    Because the product is for stay-at-home moms, and business finance doesn’t relate to their everyday experience.

Once you understand what the problem is, you’ll begin to understand how to solve it.

Define the Audience

Post-Penguin and Panda, it’s getting harder and harder to rely on our old tricks as reputation management specialists. Now we actually have to get people to like, link to, or talk about our clients and their products in order to build a better reputation. But you can’t make people care about your boring company if you don’t know who you are talking to. Do some research; look at your customer data. Sometimes, simply knowing WHO you need to target will present a thousand different ideas for improving your reputation management strategy.

Think Offline

Why is it that we rarely have our best ideas while we are at work? We’re usually too busy working to be able to let our minds wander and find solutions on their own. If you’re stuck doing the same old strategies for the same boring industry, take a break. Walk away form your computer and think offline for a while. Sitting in a restaurant, watching people at the grocery store, putting together a model car, or doing a seemingly non-related task can help you make connections to the problem you’re dealing with.

Add Constraints

Too often, we don’t want to be constrained when we are brainstorming. We want all out options open so we can be more creative. But that’s not when we’re most creative. When we have all possibilities open, we get confused, don’t know which direction to head, get frustrated and give up. So, instead of saying, “Let’s brainstorm all the ways we can get site X to rank better,” give yourself a constraint, like:

  • What if we couldn’t use Google to get traffic to the site?
  • What if we could only get links from Facebook?
  • What if the site only had one page?
  • What if the site was only text (or only picture) based?
  • What if the site was targeted at dog owners?
  • What if we could only use HTML5?
  • Etc.

Instead of limiting your ideas, constraints can help you look at a project in a new way, and spur many great ideas.

When it all boils down, doing reputation management for a non-exciting industry or company is just a matter of stepping outside your normal paradigm and looking at the problem form a different perspective. And if you can do that, the ideas will come and you’ll make the boring job an exciting one.

Keys to Avoid Over-optimizing Your Reputation Management Strategy

You’ve seen the original Disney cartoon, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, right? In it, Mickey is the apprentice to a powerful sorcerer, but he longs to do magic on his own. So when the sorcerer leaves their cave dwelling, and orders Mickey to clean up the place, Mickey decides to try a little magic himself. He enchants a broom to clean up and fill the cistern full of water, while he goes and takes a nap.

When he wakes up, the broom is doing such a good job at filling the cistern that the cave is flooding. He tries to stop it, but when he fails, he chops the broom into bits. But instead of stopping the broom, all the slivers of the broom grow into brooms themselves and continue the job they had been enchanted to do, filling the cave with water, nearly drowning Mickey in the process.

Likewise, a reputation management strategy can take on a life of its own if we’re not careful with it. And it can do such a good job that it actually starts to harm the site we were trying to get ranked. Sometimes, when Google and the other search engines look at the optimized juggernaut we have created, they see our enchanted brooms and may suppress our rank and even de-index our sites (in extreme cases).

So in order to avoid these penalties, there are a few things we need to keep in mind so that the optimizing we are doing in the name of reputation management doesn’t get out of hand and end up hurting us.

1) Diversify anchor text

In online reputation management, we have the inclination to ensure that all the links we build to the sites and content we want to rank are branded terms—our company name, product name, and other company-specific terms. In a natural link profile, any given site will have a high number of branded anchor texts linking to it. But there will also be a lot of “link noise.” Link noise is the term for anchor text that doesn’t have any specific relation to the site it links to. For example, phrases like “click here,” “this link,” or “source” are common link noise. So make sure that you diversity your anchor text so that it appears to be natural to search engines, and you’ll avoid any trouble.

2) Forget about keyword density

The search engines have gotten pretty good at detecting when certain websites are keyword-stuffing in order to rank better. Although, in the past, reputation management managers have tried to put their branded term in the website text at a 2-4% density (2-4 keywords for every100 words on the site), today it’s better to simply use text that sounds like a normal person wrote it—and not a search engine optimizer.

It’s still important to use your company name and other branded terms in the text, just don’t overdo it. If your text starts to sound like it was written for search engines and not real people, back off a bit, and let your prose flow more naturally.

The Sorcerer Returns

When Mickey finally realizes he is in over his head (literally) and begins to drown, the sorcerer returns, dries up all the water, and puts Mickey back to work cleaning up the even bigger mess he has created. What we’re trying to avoid, as online reputation managers, is making a big mess in the first place. If we can stick to natural link building practices and not let our efforts get away from us—in the end—we won’t have to clean up an even bigger mess after the search engines come back and see what we’ve done.

Where Not to Link From: Future-proofing Your Reputation Management Strategy

2011 has been a big year for reputation management and SEO in general. The past year saw some pretty big changes to the way Google evaluates websites for ranking purposes, including an increasing reliance on social networking activity to determine the quality of a website.

And as the online world continues to move forward, become more intuitive, and ever-dependant on the signals of users to determine which websites are the best and most useful, the crutch of old link building tactics will continue to weaken. In terms of reputation management strategy, that means that molding a search engine results page to reflect positively on your company will continue to get more difficult. Forcing reputation management practices away from low-quality link building tactics toward a more careful evaluation of where links are coming from.

So, moving into 2012, here are a few tips on where and where not to link from when optimizing your reputation strategy.

Where Not to Place Your Links:

  • Sites with a lot of ads: The internet exists because we can make money on it, but when advertising overtakes a site to the detriment of its content, Google notices, and downgrades that site, making links from that site worth less.
  • Sites with bad content: Site that are not useful and don’t provide any type of value to their visitors are sites to stay away from. If you look at a site and it reads like it was written for search engines instead of humans, stay away. Users will shun those sites, and so should you.
  • Content farms: There are a number of websites out there that focus solely on ranking high for a wide variety of searches so they can make money off advertising. If the content of the site is not focused, but rather is made up of scattered articles on a wide variety of unconnected topics, you don’t want links from those sites. Google doesn’t like them and is specifically targeting them for search engine manipulation tactics.
  • Crowded sites: Crowded sites are sites that don’t seem to be taken care of by a human. That is, they link to any site that asks (of will pay them enough), they don’t moderate their comments, and their sidebars are filled will irrelevant links and RSS feeds from other spammy sites.

Where to Seek Links:

  • Sites with Quality Content: If a site is focused, well written, and provides useful content—it’s generally a site that a normal human being would consider “quality.” That’s the type of site you want a link from. Quality sites will always rank well in a Google search and links from quality sites will always be more valuable than links from spammy sites.
  • User engagement: One of the marks of a low-quality site is the amount of comment spam that appears on the site. When you are evaluating a site for backlinking purposes, take a look at the comments section. Are real people responding? Is useful discussion taking place? If so, great. If all the comments contain non-specific compliments about the blog  being “great” or “ well written” and they all contain links to irrelevant sites, move along.
  • Social Shares: As social signals continue to rise in importance, it’s important that you link from a site that is popular with users—a site that is regularly shared on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and more. It doesn’t have to have a lot. But if most blog posts have a handful of shares, that can’t be a bad thing.

Future-Proofing

The simple fact of the matter is that the old ways of article spinning, article directories, comment spamming, and more are becoming increasingly less effective. Mass producing a large quantity of low-quality links may be easy, but they will eventually die. And you don’t want your reputation management efforts to go to waste on strategies that will eventually fail you.

Instead, you need to look at the future of search engine algorithms and where they are headed—toward quality sites and content. If you can get links from sites that are popular and provide users with sincere, useful, quality content, you’ll be safeguarding yourself against future changes in the Google algorithms that attack low-quality, spammy tactics. Build a stronger, longer-lasting reputation management strategy today by focusing on linkbuilding from quality sites, and you won’t have to worry about your company’s reputation online.

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