Have you ever searched for your name in Google? Maybe you found a Facebook page, some websites whom you have no affiliation with, and a LinkedIn profile.
If you’ve made an effort to alter how your name appears in the search engines you have engaged in on-line reputation management, a form of search engine optimization, which aims to populate the internet with as much positive or neutral content. Although content that is irrelevant or damaging is hard to remove, it may be “washed out”, so that only relevant and positive content shows in the search results. If the task of on-line reputation management is already a challenge for individuals, just imagine how hard it is for businesses, which have to deal with user generated content ranking highly in search engines, with the help of on-line review sites and forums.
Can Your Brand Handle Negative Publicity?
If you Google Paypal, which facilitates money transfers, paypalsucks.com will prominently show up in the search results. Many prominent companies have sites such as RipOffReport.com, ConsumerAffairs.com, and Pissedconsumer.com showing up for their own name, in the search engines. Some local businesses have a review site, such as Yelp.com, that shows up for their business name and that lists negative reviews posted by competition, former employees, or angry customers. Whether or not negative publicity for such companies is based on fact is irrelevant to search engines, who rank search results primarily off the amount of incoming links, and websites, who are protected by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, allowing them to post user generated content without being held liable for what is said.
Sites such as Yelp.com, the subject of a class action lawsuit, and ConsumerAffairs.com, which has been sued on multiple occasions, have been criticized for allegedly extorting the businesses they feature. Whether or not review sites take advantage of businesses with bad reviews is questionable. What isn’t, is the fact that anyone, be it a direct competitor or a disgruntled employee, can post reviews on online websites, such as these.
Combating Negative Reviews
To combat negative reviews, some businesses have taken advantage of the system, by encouraging customers with positive experiences to post on sites such as Yelp.com, Google Places, and Yahoo! Local. To combat sites such as ConsumerAffiars.com, or forum posts with negative publicity, companies have created their own websites, in an attempt to outrank them for their own company name. Review posting and website creation, are just some of the tools businesses use to manage their online reputation. The full tool kit for online reputation management is presented below:
7 Ways to Protect your Brand’s Reputation
1. Web 2.0
Sites such as Wikipedia.org, Aboutus.org, Squidoo, etc. rank prominently in the search engines. However, even though Wikipedia.org is almost a guarantee to rank on the first page for a company name, its content will be user generated and neutral. However, if your company has had some negative publicity in the past, it may be best to avoid Wikipedia, which doesn’t offer control of its content.
Creating Youtube videos and Flickr images that include your business name in the title rank well. Aside from possibly taking place on the first page of Google, the videos and images, in and of themselves, can create positive word of mouth for your company.
3. Press Releases
Using PR Web can help you create articles, featuring your business name, that outrank websites or webpages that aren’t too authoritative.
4. Profile Pages
Business profiles on sites such as LinkedIn, GooglePages, and AOL Hometown, can rank well in the search engines.
5. Guest Blogging
Having your business featured on a prominent blog will, if not push down negative publicity, at the very least, give your business links and traffic.
6. Content Removal/Addition on website
If you find negative information about your company in the search results, ask the website administrator if the content can be removed. If not, ask them if they can feature an article, which mentions your business in a neutral way. If they let you feature an article, that article may take the place of the negative webpage in the Google search results.
Create blogs, which include your business name, and sub-domains, which get some automatic authority from your original domain. It will also help if you mention your business name on any existing website pages you already have. For example, if you sell goods online, consider adding your business name to some of your product pages. Doing so may make Google show these pages when your business name is searched on Google.
User generated content allows customers to publish their own views of a particular business and helps other potential customers make decisions. However, the fact that the affiliation of the reviewers and the validity of the claims can’t be checked, leaves the door open for unwarranted negative publicity, which can cause some businesses to shut down. The aforementioned tools of online reputation management can be used by businesses to counter the effects of user generated content.
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