So, you own a website. When you were purchasing the website names, you bought the .com, you probably bought the .org, and maybe the .info, but did you buy the .us, .net., and .tv?
And what about the domain for your company name plus a combination of your domain and words like "sucks," "scam," "fraud," or "ripoff" for .com, .net, .org, .tv, and on down the line? How about any colorful four-letter words that will fit with your name?
No? Well better check because someone else who doesn't like you might have.
Why? Welcome to the dark and sometimes ugly world of online reputation management (ORM).
Many business owners don't realize they need to know about this world. Usually they find out on the day someone puts a website on those domains, ranks them, and they show up when someone searches for your business -- leaving you wondering how you can call Google, Bing, or anyone to get those slanderous sites down.
But it's already too late. Those sites are there to stay -- until someone with some ORM knowledge can help push them down in the rankings.
Let me introduce you to your ORM protection plan.
Buy All Your Domains
If you didn't buy all your domains, anyone can purchase them. Now, you can make an ICANN claim or plea to the domain company to get them back if the name they took is trademarked, but this takes a while and the damage can be long since done by that time.
So the first rule of ORM: buy all your domain names. To some small businesses this may seem like a lot of money. But it's really only a little bit of money.
A lot of money is when you have to fight off the person who you cheesed off who decides to not only buy those names, but to put a website up and start ranking with unsavory content about how much you cheesed them off (or worse). And since they are exact match domains (or EMDs) for your business, it only takes a little search engine optimization (SEO) knowledge to get them to rank very well.
Buy All Your Domains + "Sucks"
Yes, yes, yes, you really have to buy the domain name for your company's name plus the word "sucks" (e.g., examplesucks.com).
Usually the really ticked off customer isn't an SEO who thinks to look for your name alone, but your name with the sentiment he or she feels for your company at the time. However, if you own that name, they can't buy it. You're safe.
Oh and yes, you need to buy up all the extensions, too. Domain portfolio companies like FabulousDomains.com and sites like RetailMeNot.com with GoDaddy.com promo codes can help you save a few dollars.
Own All Your Social Media Properties
Now that you have all your own domain names -- the good, bad, and downright ugly -- make sure to go get your social media sites. KnowEm (and also Namechk) will let you check your names across all social networks at once. Then you can go register them.
You don't need to register every site on their list, but make sure you fill out at least Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Flickr, Picasa, and Quora (even if you don't use it, it seems for now, to rank very well for names). If you think any other sites are important, leave your recommendation in the comments.
If someone has taken your trademarked or copyrighted name, go to the TOS and see what the policy is for getting it back. In many cases, you will be able to, but be judicious about it or you might just create an angry person who will, in return, create for you one of the issues discussed earlier.
Individuals, get your Google Profile account now! Businesses, get your Google Places account, yesterday (you should have one anyway)!
These sites will rank for your company and personal names, so make sure you claim them and then fill them out. If you don't there's a chance someone else will -- and in the case of Google profiles it will always be on page one, if what Matt Cutts said at PubCon Vegas this year was correct.
What if You Don't Wanna?
Well you don't have to, but you run the risk of someone taking these names, putting something horrible on them, and then ranking them for your name or business. "But," you say, "I don't upset my customers." Well, there's always a first time.
Remember, it doesn't have to be a customer. All sorts of people can be motivated to do this to you. For example:
- Motivated competitor
- Extortion SEO
- Guy you cut off in traffic who has a friend who can find the owner of that plate
- Ex-spouse or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend
Fortunately, if you really find this too painful for words, reputable reputation management agencies can do this for you. Isn't that great?
This just touches the tip of the ORM wars iceberg, but if you start here at least you will have begun the steps it takes to protect yourself from someone with malicious intent from getting a hold of the items that will most instantly rank for your company or personal name.
Unfortunately, for many, the only way they find out is to wake up one day, go to Google, look for their site, and see something really negative. By then it's like pest control -- you'll need a full and expensive fumigation.