‘Word of mouth’ just doesn’t spread like it used to. Now it seems many people would rather trust the crowd-sourced online opinion of a business before taking the advice of someone IRL (or, ‘In Real Life’). This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t trust our friends, or that we dislike our neighbors, it just shows how we as a culture have been conditioned to see Google as the less biased, more objective source of information.
After all, we’ll ask Google anything…
Hey Google, ‘Why does my tummy hurt when I drink Coke?’
~Well it’s the acids, [duh].
Yo Google, ‘How hot is it on the sun?’
~27 million degrees Fahrenheit [so stop complaining about the weather in Texas already]
I might even be inclined to say, excuse me Google, ‘Where is the TV remote’ and it will be kind enough to offer me an 8-step article on ‘How to Find a Lost Television Remote.’
~Did you remember to ‘bang on the bed covers’? (say what) — that was Step 6.
But isn’t Google just Deferring my Question to Someone Else?
Yes, precisely. Even though Google itself doesn’t know the answer to any of these questions, we presume (and that a big presumption) that they know the best place to find it. They pass us on to countless resources (websites) claiming to have the answer we’re looking for even if the answers vary wildly from site to site.
And because we don’t have time to browse millions of results, we trust that Google has put the most relevant (and hopefully most accurate) results at the top of its listings and buried the least useful results pages and pages deep, which may be a safe assumption if you’re making informative, or fact-based queries. For example, I was able to find the scientific explanation of ‘where babies come from’ well above the more, shall we say ‘liberal’ interpretations. But what happens if you ask Google for its opinion?
Does Google even Have an Opinion?
Google sorts (or ranks) results based on an ever-changing, ever-elusive computer algorithm that takes into consideration variables including what keywords appear in a website’s content or how many other sites link back to a website (backlinks), among many others.
Establishing hierarchy by computer formula sounds pretty fair, right?
Not necessarily—there are two problems with this way of thinking, especially when it comes to asking a computer formula for its opinion:
1. If you ask Google for its opinion, it will often defer you to the opinion of others.
Google’s opinion is only as good as the opinions it chooses to promote. Google is not responsible for policing or maintaining credibility on peer review sites like Yelp. However, now that Google maintains and promotes its own business review platform in Google Places, it does have a responsibility to users to evaluate reviews and prevent malicious activity. How good of a job Google is doing of this, however, is the subject of much debate on Google’s own support forums. Furthermore, by promoting its own review platform, Google now finds itself with a potential conflict of interest.
2. If you ask Google for its opinion, it may promote the opinions of people who use a platform it controls—Google+ or Google Places, for example—above all others
Now that Google owns and controls its own user content platforms—Google Places for business listings w/ reviews and Google+ business pages for customer interaction—it may have a vested interest in promoting the content it can control, analyze, and eventually profit from.
Promoting a Positive Brand Image
If you search Google for a specific business, the first results you are likely to see will be Google Places listings (if they have one), then maybe a Google+ Page (if they have one), followed by the business’s own website and a host of news articles or supplementary information about the business from secondary source. It’s these secondary sources that you have to be most mindful of, but more on that shortly.
Whether it’s a conflict of interest for Google to promote its own platform over another isn’t our concern. This actually gives you an opportunity to manage your image on the places most likely to show up at the top of search listings. So our first piece(s) of advice would be:
Create and maintain your Google Places business listings –and– Create and stay active on your Google+ business page
Defending your Good Name
If the first step is promoting a positive image, then the second step is defending and maintaining that image against nefarious competitors or malicious customers. These attacks happen to all businesses.
Warning: There are many sites that claim to expose so-called ‘scams’ or ‘scam businesses,’ then offer the business a way to ‘clean up’ their reputation and have the damaging report removed. Some of these scam sites are located on long-standing domains that rank highly in Google. Their business model is basic blackmail. They allow people to report ‘scams’ without a thorough process of authenticating the complaint and then charge the business to have the report taken down. Unfortunately, more and more businesses are becoming the target of these and other methods of reputation sabotage.
It can Happen to You
Whether a competitor is trying to sabotage your online reputation or an individual has an axe to grind, it’s your head on the block, and your business may suffer. If you let the sporadic negative opinions creep ahead of the positive ones in search results, then your online reputation is compromised and you’re likely to lose ‘sure thing’ customers that use the internet as their primary method for researching and referencing a business. This is where online reputation management comes into play.
What is Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management is the process of promoting positive online content about a business or brand name, while simultaneously drowning out negative noise that may already exist or will inevitably show up over time.
Many business owners take interest in their online reputation only after they notice a bad result atop Google. Nothing makes you feel more helpless than Googling your business name only to find out a ‘Ripoff Report’ is the first result. Potential new customers will certainly be dissuaded from enlisting your services and existing customers may begin to question their loyalty. The easiest way to avoid this fate is to proactively manage your reputation.
How Online Reputation Management Differs from SEO
Even though there is some overlap between Reputation Management and SEO, there are a few key differences:
It’s not all about your domain / website – The point of Reputation Management is to promote your name and brand, not your URL. This involves putting positive content about your business on many different high PR websites, whether in the form of press releases, social content, online reviews, or inclusion in business directories.
Forget the broad keywords – Reputation Management is not intended to optimize your website in search results for general keywords like with SEO. Instead, the goal is to optimize your name and brand. You want to make sure that when someone looks up your business online, they find upbeat, positive results. Search results for your business are easier to influence than SEO rankings, because there is typically little to no outside competition for search terms containing your name.
Which do I Need More – SEO or Reputation Management?
It depends on your goals—because of the distinctions addressed above, we advise businesses to do SEO as a way to reach new customers and Reputation Management as a way to retain existing customers and ensure anyone looking for your business finds accurate, positive information.
All businesses should profit from the increased traffic that comes along with search engine optimization and all businesses should proactively manage their online reputations. That said, we consider some degree of reputation management essential for any business that uses the web to reach customers.
What else can I do to Maintain my Image?
In addition to creating and maintaining your Google Places listings and Google+ pages, there are several additional steps you can take to promote a positive brand image:
Social Media Presence – Once you have your Google+ page set up, you will want to make sure you have an active presence on Facebook and Twitter as well. You will almost always find these social network profiles on the first page of search results for a business.
New Media – Images and videos often appear on the first page of results. Your presence on video and photo sharing sites adds to the amount of search content you control.
Additional Domains – If you have content or services that may warrant the creation of an additional website on a new domain, then this can be an effective way to influence results. Be sure to include your business name in the new domain or have it prominently featured in the content.
Press Releases – Writing a press release is a great way to draw positive attention to your brand. And even better, the same press release can be distributed on multiple high-PR news sites, allowing different distributions of your release to occupy several first page search slots.
Happy Customers Leave Reviews – Even if you flood search results with tons of new, positive content, there will still be customer reviews associated to your Google Places listing or on third-party sites like Yelp. If you’re having difficulty getting customers to leave reviews, you may want to incentivize them with discounts or special offers.
Do Internet Marketing Companies Offer Reputation Management?
They absolutely do, because the steps described above require a significant time commitment. Even if SEO development seems more technically-challenging than Reputation Management, it’s the second that proves more creatively demanding.
Reputation Management involves the creation and deployment of a diverse pool of content including videos, press releases, blog posts, social profiles, and much more. It’s not surprising if many businesses don’t have the time or resources to create that much new content and distribute it on an ongoing basis.
Put your Reputation in Safe Hands
Like with any new online service, you should approach Reputation Management with a healthy amount of skepticism. Only enlist the services of a company you can trust — either a company you’ve worked with before or one that has a proven track record.
Watch your Back!
Note: the tactics employed by some Reputation Management-only companies may be detrimental to on-going SEO efforts and may negatively impact keyword rankings. Reputation Management works best when all linking is done away from your primary website, as not to disrupt the delicate balance of weighted SEO keyword linking.