Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Does Google Say About You? Top Five Tips For Protecting Your Online Reputation

On one hand, the online world has the potential to turn you into an overnight star (yesterday’s story about JetBlue’s flight attendant, Steven Slater) while on the other hand, it can sink your ship in an instant (Remember the video of Domino’s Pizza employees tainting food and consequently, the company’s reputation?)

Thanks to the instant publishing power of the Web, anyone with an opinion (and a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection) can easily broadcast his or her thoughts into this virtual space. While this has empowered the voice of a lone consumer, a single negative comment or story, whether deserved or not, can ruin the reputation of a company and seriously hamper its business.

Recently, I was involved with helping a few clients mitigate some of the damage done to their online reputation. One of them was a local small business that had a negative comment by a customer on a notorious website called Rip-off Reports. When you searched for the company online, the comment was the first thing you saw in search results, appearing even higher than the company’s own website. As a result, the company’s business and reputation were both taking a huge hit.

So what do you do if you find yourself or your company in such a situation? Google will not remove the site with the negative comments or content from its search results, though the site’s rankings or where it appears in search results may change over time. In a lot of cases, even if the comments were deserved, they can deprive a person or organization of a second chance.

Based on my experiences, I am recommending my top five tips to help repair, protect and better manage your online reputation. But before outlining the tactics, I would recommend evaluating and identifying the right strategy for managing your online profile. Again, based on my experiences, I have found that clients are often myopic when it comes to dealing with negative content. One unpleasant experience is also often enough for them to clam up and be less willing to embrace the Internet. As a result, they make the mistake of simply wanting to push down the offensive content, without giving a thought to how they can really use the Web to build a strong online reputation.

While your objective should be to crowd out or push down negative information, your strategy should be to do this in a way that actually enhances and helps you control your online profile as much as possible. In other words, focus on creating quality content that will expand your influence, display your potential and win the trust of your clients or customers, while pushing down the negative content at the same time.

Executing the tips I have outlined below requires knowledge of both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques -- knowing what content search engines will rank high and how to optimize that content and knowledge of Public Relations techniques -- understanding what kind of content will help enhance your online profile and how to generate it.


Picture Credit: evisibility.com

Top Five Tips for Protecting Your Online Reputation

1) Create Websites
If you don’t already have a website for your company, you must create one immediately. If you already have a website but the negative information about you appears higher than your site in search results when people look for your name or your company’s name online, it is important to ensure that proper on-page and off-page SEO techniques are applied to improve your site’s rankings. You may also want to consider adding more pages to your website, creating additional websites or adding subdomains to push down the negative content that appears on page one of Google.

Websites give you a chance to choose what information about yourself you want to put online. Since this is information that you will be creating and which you control, you should make good use of this opportunity.

2) Engage/Network on Social Media Sites
Search engines love frequently updated content so blogs can be a great way to not only get high rankings but also to display your personality or your organization’s expertise. If you can write quality content and attract enough traffic, it will help crowd out or push down the embarrassing content and help you engage with potential customers and build a strong online profile. You could also consider addressing the negative comments and presenting your side of the story on your blog but this should be weighed carefully since this would also mean drawing attention to the negative comment.

Other social media sites I would recommend using are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Flickr. Again, it is important to not just create these profiles but also to use them meaningfully. At all times, your strategy should be to build your online personality and reputation and engage with potential customers.

3) Get Listed on Online Business Directories
The Web has many online business directories where you can get your business listed. Sites such as MerchantCircle, Best of the Web Local, Manta, Naymz and Yelp.com usually rank high in Google’s search results, helping you easily create an additional online profile for free. If you have a bigger budget, you can also opt for premium and paid listings on online business directories, which may give you higher rankings.

4) Write Articles, Issue Press Releases
Writing articles or columns for trade publications and local newspapers can be a great opportunity to not just display your expertise but also only create highly-ranked search listings that may push negative content deeper into the search pages. If you can’t get your articles published, then you can self-publish on online sites and ezines such as Scribd.com, Docstoc.com, Articlebase.com and EzineArticles.com.

Similarly, you can write and issue press releases regularly, announcing new products, events or other newsworthy information about your company. If you can’t hire a PR agency to do this, you can write them yourself and submit them to press release distribution sites. Releases distributed through paid sites such as Businesswire.com and PRNewswire.com usually generate good results but if you don’t have the budget for it, you can even consider using free press release distribution sites such as PRLog.org.

5) Invite Testimonials
If one bad testimonial or customer review is hurting you, be proactive and invite other customers (who are happy with you) or your former colleagues/employers to present their testimonials. You can record these in the form of a video or text that you can add to your Website or blog. This will help counter the negative information and build the confidence of potential customers or employers.

Remember…
• Managing your online reputation requires continuously monitoring the content being published about you on the Web. Many large organizations opt for paid and more sophisticated online tracking services but the best way to do this for free is to set up Google Alerts. You can also try using a nifty little tool called Monitor This, which allows you to set up alerts for your keyword in 26 different search engines at the same time.

• Knowing what keywords people use to search for you online is very important. Tools like Google Analytics are a great way to monitor what keywords people use to reach your website and under what search terms the negative comment shows up. Once you determine these keywords, all content you create should be optimized for those words – whether it’s your own name, the name of your product or your company.

• Lastly, it is important to understand that the higher the authority Google gives to the page or site with the negative content, the tougher it will be to push it down in rankings. There are no easy, quick-fix solutions for repairing your online reputation and it will require consistent effort over a period of time.

Do you have any tips to share for better managing or protecting online reputation? Have you faced the consequences of a less-than-desirable online reputation as a result of a negative comment or article? Please share your experiences and comments.

Special Offer: If you or your business needs help with managing your online reputation, visit Prism Media to learn more about our online reputation management services and contact us to receive a free initial evaluation.

8 comments:

  1. Farida, good tips for AFTER a crisis. But before a crisis, one must be listening, monitoring, knowledgable about social media, and have an operations fix any problems BEFORE PR can attempt to help restore reputation.

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  2. @ThePRCoach Thanks for stopping by. Great comment! I completely agree with you. My experiences with most clients, especially small businesses, has been that they start worrying about online reputation only after there is a problem. So most often my role has been to first repair and then help them manage their online reputation. So much damage can be prevented if organizations proactively monitor, engage and listen to what others are saying about them.

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  3. Great post, Farida. And great initiative with this blog. I'm going to bookmark it. As this is part of my everyday job working in a start-up, I can relate to most of the tips and situation/s you've narrated here. Lack of resources in small businesses definitely make the task of proactively monitoring the company's online visibility and reputation quite challenging. And that is why the free resources, tips you've mentioned are valuable. Keep up the good work!

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  4. @Khyati Thanks for reading my post and for your comment and feedback. It is definitely challenging for small businesses who, unlike large organizations, do not have a communications/social media team working to monitor and build relationships online. Large organizations also tend to generate so much press and attention online that a single negative comment can go unnoticed (though there is potential for small issues to spread and snowball online.) On the other hand, small businesses, which do not have that much of an established online presence, can often be hurt the most, even with a single negative comment that appears on the Web. So I think there is a greater need for them to be aware and more focused on building their online reputation.

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  5. I love the special offer as much as I liked the blog and I'm gonna try and make use of it soon...

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  6. @Amith Thanks for the feedback. Sure, you have my email so please feel free to get in touch anytime.

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  7. My company assists set up of new start up business of small and medium level and I can totally relate to what you mention here. Those are some great tips.

    I would also consider contacting the people who leave negative comments as for a small business every customer should count. But of course this depends in the first place if the people are reachable. And what exactly the problem is.

    I believe blog is one of the best ways for companies to express themselves and give a character to the organization. But lately every company has a blog and not enough content to keep readers engaged and connected.And I personally think reading blogs about any other company( even for customers) is less than practical. A common blog platform for businesses with common interest of some sought can assure innovative and good content to attract readers without getting monotonous. Also, for people with specific interest can get all the information at one stop blog.Again it depends on what kind of collaboration companies are willing to do.

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  8. @Kulsum Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes, it can work wonders if the company actually follows up on a negative comment and see if they can help solve the problem. Sometimes, people just want to be listened to and for a company, the best way to win over a dissatisfied customer can be to reach out and show that they listen, value his or her opinion and care enough to work toward rectifying the problem.

    A blog can be a great, informal way to build relationships with customers and maintain a dialogue with them. But you are right - these days every company has a blog and when you are constantly competing for your readers' attention, it can be difficult to keep them engaged. I guess the key is to really offer them great value in terms of useful content and give them a reason to keep coming back.

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