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Using SEO for Reputation Management

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Even after many years of clean business practices, a single negative event can stain your brand image in the public eye for a long time. Simple things like a negative product review in a blog can be detrimental to your brand, especially when competitors are standing close by to snatch up customers. One way to combat that threat is through a reputation management strategy, which can begin with search engine optimization (SEO).

First, to understand how negative press can get to the top of the search engines results pages (SERPs), let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit the old urban legend of Pop Rocks and Coke. Amidst all the excitement around the popular fizzy candy, in the late 1970s stories began to spread around school playgrounds that, when mixed with soda, Pop Rocks could cause a mini-explosion in your stomach. Teachers overheard and passed on to mothers. The worried mothers then escalated the news to the press, and soon General Foods, the creators of Pop Rocks, had a reputation problem on their hands.

This telephone game of word-of-mouth is replicated online via link-building. First, someone publishes negative comments about your company. As others read the comments, more people start linking to it in blogs and discussion groups. Friends forward to friends, who forward to friends and so on. Next thing you know, the bad press is at the top of the search rankings.

Back in the Pop Rocks days, General Foods responded to the Pop Rocks fiasco with full-page print ads, letters to school principals around the country, and even sent the Pop Rocks inventor door to door to attest to its safety. But what could they have done had they lived in the today's digital world?

Begin by Examining Keywords

If an online reputational tragedy befalls you or a friend, the first step in the repair strategy should always entail keyword selection. You don't want to continue optimizing the same keywords that are used for existing marketing purposes. Different keywords come into play in this case. Since it is likely the negative press is showing up when consumers search under your brand name or product name, you will want to focus your SEO efforts on those specific keywords. The goal is to drive brand-friendly hits up in the SERPs, while pushing the negative press down.

You do this by creating more good press and optimizing around those selected keywords. Links embedded within press releases will give sites a ranking boost while the news is fresh and the press release is at the top of the newswire. When you're embedding the links, don't just hyperlink your corporate domain every time. Instead, ask yourself, "Which links are most important to our situation at this time?"

Experiment with different hyperlinks to different sub-domains, and measure the results to determine which ones will drive your news up the ranks. Always make sure that links are embedded on top of, or near your brand name.

Banish Negative Press through Link Building

The second step is link building. After all, if the negative press elbowed its way to the top of the SERPs through link building, you can do the same with positive press. It is an SEO ace in the hole, and it should be a major part of any SEO strategy. To counteract the negative press, build links to optimize brand and product names.

Think outside your corporate domain. Sub-domains, including news sites, corporate blogs and other pages outside your website, can be key SEO weapons in your arsenal as they take up more shelf space in the SERPs. Optimize these through link building, and make it a practice to ensure that the content on these sites is constantly updated and is as fresh as possible.

Lastly, go directly to the source of the negative press and request they also include rebuttal links. Ideally, they will publish an additional link on that post or page to your response (on your site) to the issue in question, so that your positive messages are given more platform.

When it comes to the Internet, information is a constantly flowing stream, and it flows fast. The only real news is what's up at the top of the search page, so use something that you know works to manage, control and shape those messages that you care about. SEO has a pivotal role in reputation management, as it can remove negatives and enhance positives on the first page of results, which is usually the only page that matters.

William Leake is CEO of Apogee Search, one of the 25 largest search engine marketing firms in North America. A former McKinsey consultant and Dell veteran, William draws on a deep expertise in both business and marketing to help increase revenues for a wide range of clients.

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