Most people don't give a lot of consideration to online reputation management until the time comes when they think they need it.
In actuality, you need to institute an online reputation management program before negative mentions of you or your company appear in the SERPs. It's much better to take a proactive approach to owning the real estate on Page 1, as opposed to clawing your way in, after bad news is attached to your brand.
Reputation Management Can be a Dirty Business
Ironically, online reputation management has had a bit of an image problem itself of late.
Earlier this month, New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, busted 19 different SEO companies for creating fake reviews (a.k.a., astroturfing). This is actually fraud and not reputation management, but when a half-star change in Yelp rating can make or break a restaurant, it's easy to see how a business owner could succumb to the temptation.
Reputation management can also be a dirty business.
In the past, prospective clients have approached me about cleaning up mentions of financial scams they've pulled, duping people out of their life savings.
A convicted pedophile even approached me to help him clean up his reputation. This guy was a contractor that entered people's homes – presumably homes with kids. Creeps like this disgust me and I refuse to give them cover. You should, too.
The majority of online reputation issues that we deal with originate from disgruntled customers, clients, patients, or employees. Their comments typically show up on review sites or hate sites created for the sole purpose of generating ill will.
Even the best organizations will have some customer or personnel issues. Due to the nature of the web, a single complaint can find its way to Page 1, and potentially cost a business a lot of customers. That isn't fair.
I don't see an ethical problem in helping a good business mitigate this risk. Neither does Google. Here's their official position on managing your reputation through search results.
Claim Your Profiles
Not surprisingly, Google suggests publishing positive content as a method for reputation management. Thanks to Google's brand bias, using a parasite hosting strategy still works for getting user profiles ranked.
Parasite hosting refers to websites with high trust and authority that allow the self-publishing of content. The benefit lies in the ability to leverage the host domain's authority and trust to get your content ranked.
Some of the best parasite hosts for online reputation management include:
This could vary by niche, country, and industry.
Pro Tip: It's advisable to claim all available profiles, but essential to actively manage and participate in the top 10 or so. Use a tool like HootSuite to manage and schedule multiple social media accounts and track brand mentions.
Create & Optimize Content
In addition to parasite hosting, you should leverage the value of your own website:
- Create or optimize a bio page.
- Add sub-domain(s) and ORM optimized content (e.g., Reviews.YourDomain.com).
- If you haven't implemented Google+ authorship, do so.
- Add content to your blog (create a blog if necessary).
When creating new content, optimize it to address any ORM issues. This usually means creating content about:
- Brand Name(s) + Category.
- Brand Name(s) + Top Products.
- Brand Name(s) + Google Suggest Phrases (Ex: Brand Name Scam, Brand Name Reviews).
Promote pre-existing content on the web that has the potential to move up the SERPs:
- Sometimes you will find positive content on Page 2 that can be pushed up the SERPs to Page 1 with nominal effort. Take advantage of these pages.
- As with all guest posting efforts, the post needs to go on a real blog that is related to the niche. The only difference is that the post is optimized for ORM phrases.
- Consider purchasing the .com, .net, and .org versions of the exact match Brand Name(s) + ORM Phrases (e.g., BrandNameReviews.com). At minimum, this keeps the domains out of the hands of evildoers. Depending on the situation, you might consider building out mini-sites on different C-class IP addresses.
Defamatory domain defense:
- Consider registering variations of domain names that could be damaging to key employees or the brand. It wouldn't be very nice to stumble across the domain YourNameSucks.com or YourBrandSucks.com, would it? Take away those TLD options for individuals looking to create a rant or hate site.
- Some of the pre-existing pages that you will try to push up the SERPs reside on authority sites. Most, if not all, of the phrases will be non-competitive in nature. What this means for you is that it will only require a few links, in many cases, to move or rank a URL. Grabbing easy links that are Penguin-approved and require no outreach will often be enough.
Create a Social Media Policy
Having a program in place to dominate organic search is a good start, but social media has added a whole new dimension to ORM. As crazy as it may seem, a significant number of social media "disasters" are self-inflicted.
This results from "well meaning" owners or employees, who aren't savvy in social media, reacting inappropriately. A classic example is Dark Horse Espresso in Toronto:
This isn't an awesome response, but it could be much worse.
Having a social media policy in place and communicating that policy to every employee can often prevent missteps like this. Rather than reinvent the wheel, take a look at the extensive Social Media Governance database of 247 different policies assembled by Chris Boudreaux. Review the policies of businesses similar to your own and take away the best practices for yourself.
What to Monitor
After you've established some common sources of reputation problems, it's time to address the best way to manage these issues. The first step is assessing the current situation.
Generally, you'll want to monitor the following:
- Company Name
- Brand Name(s)
- Key Employee Name(s)
- Persona / User Name(s)
How to Monitor
Here are some suggested tools:
- Google Web Alerts – found in the Google Dashboard > Me on the Web
- Yahoo Alerts
- Twitter Search
- Google Search
Pro Tip: Manually review on a regular basis any "scam" or "review" sites appearing on Page 1 of the SERPs you're tracking.
How to Handle Alerts
Alerts should be reviewed promptly and a determination should be made regarding how to handle it. Appropriate responses include:
- Do nothing: This will be the most common response, as most mentions will likely be positive or neutral
- Respond: If your social media policy dictates a response, determine the best forum for the response. Will a one on one conversation be more productive than a back and forth online exchange? Never respond with negative emotion. Never say anything "privately" that you would be concerned about seeing online.
- If you're in the wrong: Accept responsibility. Apologize. Explain what will be done to rectify the situation, take steps to ensure it doesn't happen again. Communicate with all parties involved in the mistake, so they are aware of it and can prevent the same mistake from happening again the future.
Make customer service a top priority in your organization and communicate this to everyone on the front line. Have a social media policy in place and follow it. Exercise the principles of the Golden Rule every time you deal with the public. You can and will avoid many reputation problems by following this simple advice.