Search engine reputation management (SERM) is reaching the next level. PR firms across the globe are starting to offer elaborate services in corporation with SEO firms. A professional approach doesn't just consist of cleansing the search results once a reputation is already in trouble. Companies need to become aware that all their activities can result in well-ranked online messages that can have a huge effect on the perception of their brand.
This article explains just a selection of SEO PR services that I've seen offered so far. New ones are sure to come and hopefully Search Engine Watch readers can share some of their discoveries.
Already quite well known is the service of pushing undesired search results for your name out of the prominent first search engine result page (SERP). This can be done by textually optimizing pages on different domains for your brand name and by directing various links to those pages. Only once 10 results are better optimized than the negative result, will the negative result be removed from the first top-10 page. It will, however, still be visible on the next page, and in cases where the negative message is situated on a domain like CNN.com, it's very hard to beat it (10 times).
If you can find a less negative page on the same domain as the result you want to lose, you might be able to switch the page shown in the search results for your name. This way you don't need multiple results to outrank the negative one, but only one. That one result doesn't have to compete against a domain like CNN.com because it is on that same domain. The page that you choose needs some keyword relevance for your brand name. Enter a query like "site:cnn.com apple" to find possible contenders. If possible, try to add your company name in the comments of a desired page, but it is likely most of the work should be done by links. Intensely linking to the desired page from multiple domains allows it to outrank the undesired one. Because Google likes to show just a few pages for each domain in the top-10 it is likely to take its place. Only in rare cases do you need to push two or more pages from the same domain to have a clean top-10.
If the negative result is clear slander, search engines are known to remove certain results for you. Sites like chillingeffects.org can often help you to take the right legal steps to get this done. You can also try to arrange a settlement with the complainer or the website the message is on. This is often cheaper than SERM, but the negative result needs to be removed for this to be effective. Rectifications or positive remarks on how things ended well at the bottom of the negative page are seldom read.
It is always smart to set alerts for your brand names, product names, and key employees. Google Alerts can signal you when your name is mentioned on regular web pages. Social media is often much quicker to indicate problems and Google doesn't offer a service for that yet. Free services like Social Mention can be used to monitor various social media channels so you can resolve a problem before it ends up on regular web pages that could rank in your branded SERPs.
Professional reputation monitoring needs to be done across many channels and many keywords. Big brands have thousands of keywords that are mentioned thousands of times each day. It requires careful keyword selection and expensive professional tools to detect the negative remarks that need attention in time. A contingency plan and quick reaction force are also needed to quickly dismantle potential negative outbreaks.
Even if your reputation is still clean within search results, it might be a smart thing to make it harder for that one dissatisfied customer to get a lot of attention. If the top results for your name would all be well optimized, it's harder for newcomers to enter the top-10.
There's several steps you can take to create a strong result page for your name.
- Create business profiles on various strong domains.
- Create social media profiles.
- Contribute to sites and events to get an "about the author" page.
- Get others to write about you.
- Have multiple websites yourself.
- Also optimize for Google results like AdWords, images, video, and local search so you control a larger portion of the SERP.
If these pages are well optimized for your name, if they are on authority domains, and if they are well linked from other sites, it is harder to beat them. Hypes have a chance of temporarily outranking your controlled search results, but they will drop within a short timeframe.
The main difference between marketing and PR is that PR doesn't seem to include a big commercial aspect. Where SEO has been mainly focused on marketing in the past, it is also very effective for PR purposes. SEO for marketing mainly focuses on ranking your own website; SEO for PR should also be focused on boosting messages on other sites.
Ranking for technical terminology that your customers will never use won't bring a lot of sales. If you do, however, rank with insightful information on new developments, people in your industry will notice. This attracts job applicants, business partners, and media coverage that confirms your authority to potential customers.
Positive attention for your brand should rank - for whatever keyword they're relevant for. If you win awards, speak at conferences, sponsor a charity, or when business is kind to you, it should rank and get additional attention from Google visitors.
Image search also doesn't bring a lot of direct sales, but it is very effective for branding purposes.
If you use certain claims in your sales pitches, make sure the sources that confirm your claim rank well. You can also make sure contradictory sources don't rank well.
As you can see, SEO has become more than a traffic source. SEO PR might even be more important to large corporations than SEO marketing.
Various activities require you to have a lot of control over media coverage. The media also intensely uses search engines to find background information, sources, and experts. Stock quotes and IPOs are great examples of how media coverage and Google results have a great impact on your financial situation. If you're able to make the right information rank better across a broad spectrum of keywords, you can influence how positive or negative certain events are seen.
Marketing an idea is even more powerful than marketing a product. Public opinion can be heavily influenced through SEO activities. People still don't realize that Google results are based on simple calculations and that they don't represent an unbiased version of the truth.
Working for various lobby groups during the last U.S. presidential elections has really opened my eyes. On multiple occasions we got to determine which experts were interviewed and which sources were cited by prominent media. Not that these sources weren't reputable, but we chose which reputable source got most of the attention. Statements by our lobby group needed to be confirmed by multiple experts and opposite statements needed to be surrounded by doubt and contradiction.
We even discovered that a couple of senators had been misguided by a message we planted only through Google. No other source could explain the exact numbers they cited. Everybody seems to use Google.
Hopefully this last option doesn't get to be used often in the future. Besides making sure negative messages don't hurt your brand for times to come, you can also make sure negative messages for your competitor keep ranking well. You're not creating the messages, you just make a selected few of them rank better for your competitor's brand name.
While working on an SEO PR case, I came across old negative messages that were manipulated in this way. I was, however, able to reconstruct which competitor was behind this unethical practice, and after some apologies they removed the links they had bought.
We should probably agree to keep SEO PR ethical. You don't want to be hit by something like this either, so don't practice it yourself.
SEO = PR
Search engine reputation management isn't the only form of PR work you're able to do with SEO. All PR activities have an SEO ingredient in them. It's about time all PR firms start to notice this.