Rick Santorum’s Google Bomb – A Lesson In Digital Crisis 101

What do businesses and brands have to learn from the Santorum/Savage “Google Problem”? Unwanted search results will always be alive online, and it takes an active approach to keep them managed as much as possible. With the right tactics, it’s possible to minimize reputational threats, but simply complaining about them will not find a resolution.

(Author’s note, this post is not meant to advocate for one political party or any single politician vs. another.)

Without getting into the frothy details (which you can find out about through the article links that follow in this post), Rick Santorum has become a high profile example of a common problem for many brands, businesses, and business leaders dealing with unfavorable search results that stray WAY off-message. Essentially, the candidate is dealing with a competitive attack page aimed at undermining his campaign and throwing a wrench in his own messaging.

What Santorum has NOT been doing over the past 8 years of the existence of columnist Dan Savage’s rogue page, is deal with it by creating more relevant content and employing even basic SEO tactics. Instead he has protested to Google (no word if he has also complained to Bing) to remove the page in question from its search rankings.  But while Google often gets requests of this nature, it stands by the algorithms placing links in appropriate order.

What Santorum’s team SHOULD be doing is employingdigital and web strategies, creating more relevant links that push down the ranking of Savage’s site. Content in the form of newer blogs, websites, and especially videos (they get ranked ahead of traditional page links) that engage with his followers will rise to the top of searches. New material, along with search engine optimization techniques could redirect eyeballs to Santorum’s official and supportive pages. As of now, he’s been (as Danny Sullivan of searchengineland.com puts it) “playing hide and seek” with search engines.

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According to Slate.com, the Dan Savage site has about 6 times more incoming links than Santorum’s official site. And while inbound links are not the sole measure of page rank, the lack of effort to compete on that front illustrates the larger issue. Putting your head in the sand won’t make the problem go away, and by even slowly chipping away with basic tactics it is possible to make things more manageable.

A side note on this story is how other groups that are digital-savvy have taken advantage of the situation, with services like Reputation.com as well as political rivals placing ads on the Savage page. Seeing where attention is being drawn online, and connecting with a message that aligns with viewers’ likely angle of interest, these third parties recognize the power of targeted connections.

As the campaign season continues, it will be interesting to see the path that Santorum and his team takes. A Synegrated approach in applying digital tactics along with reputation management communications can go a long way, and provides a lesson for anyone dealing with off-brand or competitive web material.

Here’s A Quick Guide to Online Reputation Management

Have a social crisis plan in place

Just as any brand should have a crisis communications plan ready for traditional media, there should also be a complementary guide for social media.

Monitor your brand online
Set up Google alerts based on your company/brand name and keywords so that you are aware of online mentions.

Start blogging and commenting
Begin with one blog, but keep in mind that by creating and managing multiple blogs on different topics you will be able to link between them. Network with and comment on other blogs that are similar to yours.

Keep your social network presence up to date
Search engines favor more recent content, and sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are just the tip of the iceberg.

Curate your social networks
Be aware of choosing quality over content in regards to your friends and connections, as they may reflect back on your brand.

Ask for inaccurate information to be corrected or removed
As opposed to an intentional online attack, if someone inadvertently writes or says something misleading or off base about you, politely ask them to correct the mistake or take the content down.

How do you monitor and track your online reputation?

What additional best practice recommendation to the list?

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