You've probably heard some horror stories that get told on the Web about businesses. Having such stories circulating is harmful enough for those businesses, but what adds injury to insult is when a Web page telling that negative story starts to rank highly in the search results, such as the YouTube video showing a Comcast technician sleeping on a customer's couch (places number 10 on a search for "Comcast").
A potential customer who sees a negative story when searching for a company's brand name can get scared off. Not good for business.
The story doesn't even need to be true to harm the business. Sadly, untrue stories can also gain prominence, such as the urban legend that Neiman Marcus sold a cookie recipe to a customer for $250 and refused to reverse the charges (the result for snopes.com is number seven when you search on "Neiman Marcus").
The third listing actually mentions the hoax as well and refers to it as an urban legend. Unfortunately for Neiman Marcus, some potential customers will see the snopes.com listing and move on to something else without investigating the details. The snopes.com article debunks the story about the cookie recipe and profiles the factual errors in the urban legend in great detail, but few searchers will get that far.
How to Protect Your Reputation
The difficulty arises from Google's desire to show diversity in its search listings. This resulted in a policy where it will show only two results from a single domain. So if all is working properly, your domain should always be first for your own brand name, and you may also get the second listing pointing to a page on your site.
But that's it. The other eight listings will be from other sites. However, you can leverage the domain strength of other sites to start occupying some of those eight slots.
Each slot you successfully occupy results in one less slot being available for someone with something negative to say about your brand. For example, if your business is well known enough that you can get a Wikipedia page created for it, that page can occupy another slot on the first page of results.
For businesses that are less well known, it may not be so easy to get a Wikipedia page (creating a profile on Wikipedia is easy, but senior editors may remove it if they think that a business isn't significant enough to deserve a page). However, there are other options you can pursue, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
Creating profiles on these social media sites can also provide you listings on the first page and occupy more of those eight slots. This works best if you put some real content up related to the profile and do some promotion.
Give the profiles links from your sites for starters. In your LinkedIn profile, which allows you to expose three nofollow-free links, link to the home page of your site with one, and then to two of your other social media profiles with the others.
In addition, it's important to stay active on social media sites. That may be hard in some organizations for budget reasons, but a little activity can go a long way. Active profiles can draw links from other sites and that will push those profiles higher in the rankings for your brand name.
A related idea is to ensure you join relevant industry associations that allow you to create business profiles. These can often rank well and take up space in the eight slots as well. You can then double up by using these industry association profiles to link to your social media profiles, which helps boost their rankings.
Finally, you can also leverage subdomains, because these are actually ways to get around the two listings per Web site rule. For example, a search for "DeVry University" brings up results for different campuses in cities across the U.S. (e.g., Phoenix, Columbus, Chicago, Orlando).
The first listing shown (DeVry Atlanta) is the third listing. DeVry is in control of all 10 listings on the first page of search results for their name, an impressive result. Zappos is another company that does an impressive job.
While we've mostly focused on how to get listings into the eight slots, the most important point about reputation management is to be proactive. It's always better to reduce the chances of damage happening in the future than to have to reverse damage.
If you don't have a reputation management problem right now, great! But, make sure you invest some energy to get out in front of it.