Sometimes online reputation projects don’t work. There are a number of reasons for a project not working out but a few that stand out. The number one reason is a lack of SEO, but there are other reasons too.

Not Enough SEO

We perform forensic research on competitors projects (and sometimes our own) to learn why the projects didn’t have the expected outcome. The number one reason online reputation management projects don’t work is a lack of search engine optimization (SEO). The fact is, most reputation companies don’t perform adequate SEO because it is expensive. Because SEO is invisible to most clients, they don’t notice it’s not being done.

Not Enough Time

Every project we’ve ever undertaken in over ten years of reputation management has had a sense of urgency to it. Every reputation client wants the company to fix search results as quickly as possible so they can get back to business. But there are limits: The lag of search engines and organic optimization.

A. Content Development Lag Time

Any online reputation management program will involve the development of content. Articles, websites, social media take time to brainstorm, create and approve before publication. The process usually takes a few weeks (sometimes faster, sometimes not). This delay pushes back publication, making the project take longer.

B. Search Engine Promotion Lag Time

Once published, and assuming the content is deserving of high ranking there are other factors at work. One of those factors is the lag between the act of performing SEO and the time it takes for Google or Bing to both index the work and for the work to be reflected in search results.

It takes about ten to twenty weeks for a single earned inbound link from site A to site B (the bedrock upon which SEO stands) to begin to change search results, and only if done right. So a reputation management campaign that starts on January 1 will start with research, then in February approve content will make its way to search results. Then about ten to twenty weeks later results will begin to improve. That’s May or June.

Results may change sooner than that, but not usually due to SEO, it’s usually due to the strength of the parent site (ex: Wikipedia moves up very quickly because it is a very strong site). Again, these are averages. Content, marketing, promotion all can and do happen faster and slower in some cases.

The Negative is Too Strong

Some sites are strong, others weak. A strong website tends to dominate search results whether the content deserves to or not. Other excellent content never sees the light of day because the website on which it is hosted is not considered by search engines to be strong. There is a “halo effect” created by a strong site. CNN will normally outrank a local news website for the same story nationally. But the local website may outrank CNN in the geographic area it serves.

When the negative site is too strong other sites, regardless of their worthiness, will have a difficult time rising past it. This is because weaker sites will have to overcompensate. Overcompensation comes in the form of more social media, more inbound links, and other search engine relevance indicators.

When the negative is too strong, but reputation management companies perform their services without using strong SEO (or any) the project is doomed from the start. Since most reputation management service companies do not perform adequate (or any) search engine marketing due to the expense, most reputation projects will fail.

Reputation Management “Packages” Used

Reputation management packages are sold by large reputation service firms because the profit margins are high. Every reputation project is different, but packages aren’t. Packages cause patterns in search results called “footprints”. Footprints are obvious signs to search engines like Bing and Google that something is amiss. Normally there is no real footprint for normal organic web content. There are similarities, but not cookie-cutter patterns as are seen when a firm uses a “reputation management package”.

The only way to perform reputation work is to look at each project in a unique light and execute accordingly.

Irrelevant or Uninspired Content

Web content will only reach the first page of search results if it deserves to. Most web content doesn’t deserve to. Top ten lists and other uninspired content will usually languish on pages further back, as they should. But creativity is expensive, so most reputation service agencies don’t do it. Instead, they use headline generators. These generators enable an agency to quickly create a long list of content without thinking about it. The headlines are generic, overused, and in most cases irrelevant. But agencies know people are, at first, interested in quantity because they cannot adequately judge quality. This sub-par content ends up where it deserves to in search results – on pages further back.

The Black Box

No reputation agency can know how Google works. In fact, Google doesn’t know how Google works (truly). The artificial intelligence that drives search factors like RankBrain dumbfound their engineers. If Google doesn’t know everything, reputation agencies can’t either. Sometimes things happen that seem inexplicable because of the “black box” aspects of search engines. A good company uses A/B testing to learn what works and what doesn’t, but even the best reputation firms are not correct 100% of the time.

Most Reputation Companies Do Only 20%

Most firms that provide online reputation services provide about 20% of what is needed to solve the problem. Bigger companies use a lot of automation to perform services at scale using a “quantity over quality” approach. Customers see a lot of websites and profiles being built and think things are moving along nicely.

But what they don’t see is the invisible 80%, the search engine optimization (SEO). SEO, as mentioned above, is expensive. Our research has found that most firms don’t do it. They know they can keep a client on the hook for a few months before they see things aren’t working. But the SEO bit takes time (also mentioned above), and people are impatient.

That, in a nutshell, is why most reputation management campaigns don’t work.