When you Google your name, what do the results look like?
For better or for worse your Google results are what people will think about you. Customers, potential clients, potential employees or employers are all Googling your name. Negative or non-existent search results can make or break your business. If you cringe when you search for your name online you need to fix it. You need reputation management.
Unfortunately, for comprehensive reputation management you need to have an understanding of how information is created, spread and categorized by search engines. Here we’ll outline the basics of online reputation management.
The State of Things
Start with a search
Start with a reputation assessment, Google your personal or business name and see what comes up. That first page of results on Google should all be great positive links that promote your expertise and services.
You’ll want to search for terms that people searching for you are going to use. Let’s use Balanced Home as an example, an online service company I’ve worked with. Here’s the kinds of things people will search for:
- Balanced Home Reviews
- Balanced Home Testimonials
- Complaints About Balanced Home
- Is Balanced Home a good company?
- Is Balanced Home Worth It?
Pay attention to the results for each of these searches. You want to find what the conversation surrounding your company sounds like. Are there some negative articles that always seem to surface? What are they about?
Then, dig even deeper
You’ll want to search for any associated people, suppliers, top level employees or anything that could negatively impact your reputation. You want to asses the risks each of these associations may carry. When you have a top level employee or supplier with negative results that can really hurt you and your company.
A Quick Note
Even the best Reputation Defense plan can only go so far. Ultimately, If you are running a business that rips people off, or is constantly pissing off employees, or business partners, that will hurt you. If you have dozens of links that are negative about you or your brand it’s important to set aside some time to honestly self reflect. Maybe seek outside counsel and see whether this is your problem or the internet’s problem. Often times, individuals or companies will have to make some major changes in policies, and that could be pretty difficult.
The really unfortunate piece of the internet is that it never forgets. A business or individual can be radically reformed and yet a previous transgression or misunderstanding can follow them around, negatively affecting their business or career for years. It’s from this idea that the whole concept of “The Right to be Forgotten” stems from.
Types of Negative Results
In the world of the internet, negative results can surface in so many ways:
- Negative Stories in the press
- Negative Reviews
- Negative web sites, run by competitors or disgruntled employees.
- Negative tweets or other social media posts.
What’s worse is maybe a customer sent out a tweet in the middle of a frustration and now the issue has been solved. In the world of the internet, that negative tweet lives on. Luckily no type of negative result is more powerful than any other. It’s all just links, and regardless of what’s posted online, the plan will follow the same formula.
Please the robots
The items that show up in a search result is dictated by the algorithms that are constantly “crawling” the web looking for relevant content to the terms you are searching for. Online, reputation management really comes down to understanding the way these algorithms work, and creating great content that surfaces higher than any negative content. This is considered an attempt at controlling the conversations that are already happening online.
Search Engine Basics
Search engines are way too complex to fully explain in this article. There’s also a lot of the way they work that’s a “Black Box” meaning, companies like “Google” aren’t even fully transparent about the way they work. With this in mind, here’s some basic factors on what matters in getting your content surfaced to the first page of results:
How many links around the web are pointing back to your content? The more the better, however be very careful about “Link Farming.” Just setting up a bunch of domains that point to your own content can actually hurt your search engine optimization (SEO).
The quality of websites that link to your content is incredibly important. One link from the The New York Times or Huffington post is worth 1,000 times more than a link from your cousin’s blog.
ABP — Always be posting. An individual that battles a negative online reputation needs to post at least twice per month. The more the better. Lots of quality content on your search terms is the key.
You need to make sure you are creating content people are searching for. Be relevant to the conversation. This usually means talking about things you wish you didn’t have to talk about. However, addressing the issue yourself allows you to control the conversation.
The algorithms have gotten smarter, and quality content wins over keyword stuffed, unreadable, garbage articles. Write for people, write engaging articles. Plus, the better quality content you create the more likely it is to be shared. Reaching that holy grail of “Viral” with your own content is always a great thing.
Make a Plan and Stick to it
A huge part of making this work is consistency. You need to make a plan and stick to it. Changing search results is a very long and tedious process. Your specific reputation management plan will be different depending on the types of content you are fighting against, however the below is a great outline of a sample plan for reputation management.
A Sample Reputation Defense Plan
If you aren’t already online you need to be online to be able to contribute to the conversation. You must have at least these basics if you are trying to make a dent in your reputation online:
- A personal website
- (At minimum just a basic landing page)
- A place you can blog. Ideally on your own site, but a platform like Medium or Blogger can be a good solution. 80% of the time I would recommend Squarespace for something like this.
- Two social media accounts. Which ones you pick will depend on what market you are in or what type of content you’re fighting. When in doubt here’s the most important social medial platforms to be on for reputation management:
- Linked In
Sample the State of Things
Using the process outlined above assess the state of things online, save some screenshots of the results that are there now. Make note of how high negative results show, this way you can track progress. Save what terms you searched for to get those negative results.
Put a Date on the Calendar
Every two weeks or so search for these same terms and review where you stand. Your goal is to get this negative content off of page one of search results. Regularly check in with your progress to see what’s working and what’s not working.
Make a Content Schedule
After finding the negative content that you want to attack, you’ll want to outline some topics of content that are relevant to those search terms. You don’t need to only address those negative search terms either, relevant content about you or your company’s history, some thoughts on your industry, or even a blog about sports or unrelated topics can help you. Don’t limit yourself too much on the type of content you write. You can even use tools like Hubspot’s blog post topic generator or ContentIdeator to give you inspiration.
You could always hire a writer to help you implement your plan as well. Upwork can be a great place to start in hiring a freelancer. But there are lots of options online, get Googling and get some help if you need it.
Post and Share Your Content
Get your content out in the world and get all the links you can pointing back to it. Be sure you mix up where your links are coming in from, but be sure you have plenty of them.
Keep Reviewing, Keep Consistent
Consistency is key in reputation management. Make sure you are always posting plenty of relevant content to try to get it to land on that first page. This pushes down all the other content that’s influencing potential customers, employees, or employers. Regularly review where those negative results are showing up and keep on it.
Google Alerts lets you set up emails that automatically find new articles about specific keywords. I highly recommend you set up a few alerts for your name, your brand name, and any relevant keywords. This will help you keep a pulse on any new relevant content.
Joining the conversation is probably one of the most foolproof and reliable ways in influence what’s said about you or your brand online, but it’s not the only option.
Responding Directly to Negative Reviews or Articles
You need to be careful with this one, but it can have an amazing upside if done correctly. Be extra extra careful to not sound threatening or accuse anyone you are responding to. Your goal is to take responsibility for any wrongdoings, communicate any missing facts, (Facts not feelings,) and try to make amends. This can work with Yelp reviews, tweets, news articles and more. Often times a tweet apologizing, attempting to correct the situation can lead to that user removing the original negative tweet.
Reaching Out to the Content Creators
Again, this can be slippery. Approaching writers, or individuals who are posting negative content can spark the fire and make things worse for you or your company if you aren’t careful. It’s important to approach the situation with humility. Take responsibility for any wrongdoings, communicate any missing facts, (Facts not feelings,) and try to make amends.
Sometimes there is defamatory or false information posted by competitors or vandals online. After you have exhausted all other options and tried appealing to the parties who are posting the content, you may want to pursue legal options. You’ll also want to consult a lawyer to find out if you have a case. Sometimes a stern letter from an attorney’s office is the kick people need to pull something down. Again — be careful about this option. It can backfire and make things far worse than when you started out. You’ll also need to talk to a lawyer and understand what your legal options are in your country or state.
Again, online reputation management is a slow process. It really comes down to quantity, quality and frequency of content. That’s what gets pushed to the top of Search results. If you need any more help with reputation management, content writing, or just outlining a customized plan feel free to reach out.