If you work for an established company, the founders may have spent decades building the brand upon which they now trade. This brand is what makes the company strong and will ultimately control its value and the value of any equity you may hold in it. It is therefore essential for you to protect your brand when conducting SEO campaigns and closely monitor any outside agencies working with you.
When auditing your current SEO practices, don't assume that the biggest threat comes from your competitors. Your friendly in-house SEO or marketing agency may be inadvertently working against you!
Beware of Paid Links
In competitive markets, it's often necessary to use SEO tactics that are frowned upon by the search engines, such as buying text links from third party Web sites. The easiest way to do this is through link brokers, although many of these are easily detectable and the link itself is often in a "Sponsors" or "Advertisers" column alongside links for cheap watches and online poker. Another common agency offering is the miracle "link network," each sold under a different name but basically consist of hundreds or even thousands of aged broad-topic Web sites. At the flick of a switch, you can have dozens of PageRank 5+ links pointing to each page on your site – until the search engines filter/penalize them, or you cancel your agency contract, that is!
It isn't hard for the search engines to discover your linking strategy through a simple mathematical algorithm, so be wary whenever you point any kind of link to your main brand site. A drop in rankings after some shady practices, or losing the respect of potential customers who see you advertising on distasteful Web sites isn't worth the risk.
Try Some Inline Links
An easy and cost-effective way to develop links is by offering good quality, unique content to other Web sites, in exchange for putting links within the articles. This can get you valuable inbound links from authority sites within your vertical, and also offer useful information to potential customers who may go through to convert as a result. Links within content and on established industry sites are also far more beneficial than a sidebar or footer link from an SEO standpoint.
Defend Your Reputation
The are of course situations where you can't stop a negative brand image from leaking onto the Web, namely unsatisfied customers and competitors conducting negative PR campaigns against your brand. Although a link from a bad review may still pass SEO value to your site, the review or comment itself may also rank when customers search for your brand. In these situations, you should try to resolve any genuine customer issues while also keeping the story off the first page of search results.
Thanks to the take-up of social interaction on the Web, you'll find that most of these situations take place on a blog, forum, or review site. This means that you have a channel of communication open directly with the person who posted and the people who are reading the page. Even though customer service may not be your role in the company, you should still consider resolving the issue and responding on the site to be your responsibility. After all, who is the CEO going to come to when s/he sees "This Company Sucks" in the search result set for the company name?
The Best Defense Is an Offense
Flipping a disgruntled customer on a rampage into a satisfied customer can be great PR and may result in links from the buzz created. It won't result in the page being taken down though, so as soon as something negative is written about your brand online, a counter attack should take place as well. The purpose of this counter attack is to flood the search engines with new content and news so the negative PR gets drowned in the deluge.
My personal approach to this is sending out a new press release to newswires such as PR Newswire and PR Web, asking a friend or family member to submit positive comments to established review sites (except any containing unresolved negative PR), submitting fresh content to article directories such as EzineArticles, and posting useful comments using your company name on an established blog.
The key to this attack is to choose established sites, mentioning your brand name several times, and not to look spammy (putting garbage on top of the fire will just make it worse). You can point a few links to the new content if you wish, although the natural authority of the sites should get the page ranking on its own. This alone will usually push the negative article back enough for no one to find it.
Get Your News Alerts
To keep informed about any mention of your company or its brands, I'd recommend subscribing to Goggle Alerts and Yahoo! Alerts for all combinations of your brand names (use double quotes for exact match on a name). These free services will alert you immediately when a blog post or news article is found mentioning your specified brands. Alerts covering normal Web pages and reviews get sent as soon as the search engines find and index the content.
By keeping your brand name clean and its perceived image positive, you can ensure a steady and reliable growth in revenue from SEO. I'm sure that your company's shareholders will agree that this is a much better prospect than a few quick wins and then zilch!