What do you see when you search for your company or brand name? Is there anything on the first page of the search engine results that you wouldn’t be proud to display on your home page? Consumer review sites, blogs and forums have made it easy for anyone to say whatever they want about your company, whether they be disgruntled customers or competitors who like to play dirty.
If you’re in a situation where negative publicity is front and center in search results, there are ways you can reclaim search engine real estate for your corporate identity. Though you can’t make negative results disappear from the search engine indexes entirely, the following strategies can help them slip off the first few pages of search engine results.
1. Good Old Fashioned Networking
Even if you take none of the advice following in this article, the first thing you should do is contact the webmasters of the sites in question with a polite request for removal of negative comments. There’s a good chance they’ll be willing to co-operate. Note that, even if they do remove the listing, the cached pages may remain in the search engine indexes for some time. But users who click through the search engine results will land on a page with the comments removed.
Check out some of the sites that already have something good to say about you. Send them an appreciation note, and offer them a link back from your site. You could even create a special page called “Gary’s Garage On The Web” (if that’s the name of your business) or “Press Room.”
2. Tap Into the Power of Wiki
Wiki websites allow users not only to add their own content, but also edit pages. They get their name from the Hawaiian word “wiki wiki” meaning “rapidly.” There are many wiki pages like AboutUs.org and LoveToKnow.com that you can use to create content about your company. If your company name is “notable” enough (meaning there are objective third party sites that already have pages citing facts about your company), you might also be able to create a page in Wikipedia. This is easier if your company is publicly traded.
3. Raise Your Profile
Some websites like PR.com allow you to post your company’s profile. An annual fee might be required. It’s not easy to find these sites, but you may find some opportunities by searching your competitors’ names and discovering where they are listed.
4. Wet Your Pen
Articles can help you kill three birds with one stone. Not only can articles rank for your company name, they also build valuable backlinks to your site and position you as an expert in your field. You can use your company name in the resource box at the end of an article along with a link back to your site.
Using your company name in the article body gives it a better chance of ranking well. You can research potential sites to submit your article to by searching for one of your industry keywords in a search engine like this: “car mechanics” + “submit article.” Or submit it to various article directories like Article Alley.
5. Become A Socialite
Using social bookmark sites like Netvous and Del.icio.us is an easy way to quickly create a page that ranks for your name. You can create an account for yourself that bookmarks all of your positive press, and anything interesting on your website, such as articles or videos. Make sure you use your company name in the titles of the articles (even if they are not the real titles) and in the descriptions. Although this may seem to be “spamming” the bookmarking sites, it really is not, as the purpose is to create a page that ranks for your name, and there is no ethical reason why you should not be able to create an account that keeps track of all your company’s press. You are simply choosing to make the list public for those that may be interested.
The links themselves are not given much weight by search engines, but you have an opportunity to use your company name in the titles and descriptions of your bookmarks and photos. Make sure you make good use of the tagging feature, using general keywords as these will also begin to rank for your name. For example, Gary’s Garage should tag: “Garys Garage,” “garage,” “autobody,” “mechanic,” “mechanics,” “body shop,” “car,” “auto body” and so on. When you are first starting out, the more popular tags will start appearing on pages 1-5 in Google. They will eventually drop off as Google finds and indexes your content as you get it out there on other websites.
6. Become A Lensmaster
A company blog is certain to rank well, and it’s easier than ever to create one with Squidoo.com. When you create a “lens” for your site, you can easily upload pictures and also make use of tags. Unlike other blogs, Squidoo won’t show the posting date, so your lens won’t look neglected if you ever stop posting. You can build your blog’s link popularity by submitting it to blog directories like LSBlogs and BlogHub, and linking to it from your site.
Once you’ve done that, why not drop some other lensmasters a line and exchange lensroll links (Squidoo’s answer to blogroll). This may be a tactic that is passee in search engine optimization link building, but remember that Squidoo is a community. So it’s not as much link building as networking. In my experience, Squidoo lensmasters are quite keen to cross-promote.
7. Broadcast Yourself
Do you have promo videos or other visual media about your site? Why not create a channel on ? .
8. Explore Shopping Engines
If you sell products online, consider listing them in comparison shopping sites, or “shopping engines” like Shopping.com, Bizrateor Nextag. If you are not ready to manage a new e-commerce channel for many products, you might consider listing one product in one engine to start.
9. Use Directories For Deep Links
Search engines still consider a page’s number of relevant backlinks to be a strong indicator of quality and relevance to a search term. Octopedia, WorldSiteIndex and Microsoft’s Small Business Directory are a few examples of solid directories that allow you to link to deeper pages of your own site, like your About Us page, to help raise their rankings for your company name.
10. Post An E-Help Wanted Sign
Leverage the strength of sites like Craigslist.org to post your company’s current job offerings. Make sure you use your company name first in the posting headline: “Gary’s Garage Now Hiring Junior Grease Monkeys,” for example. This will ensure the title tag for that page is optimized, which is very helpful for SEO. And make sure to describe your company in the ad, repeating your name three or four times.
I strongly recommend setting up an account with Google Alerts (free) which monitors the top 50 results, or with Google Alert, a professional tracking system that will monitor the top 200 results for you for as little as $4.95/month. You will be notified daily when new references to your name have been found in Google – not only to see when your articles, profile pages, blog posts and so on get indexed, but also to keep on top of any new negative or positive references to your name outside of your own reputation management efforts.
How Long Will This Take?
Results may vary but they won’t come overnight. You will get out of your reputation management efforts what you put in. It could take anywhere from a few months to a year. Expect monitoring and tweaking your strategy to be a long-term activity. As new pages are being added daily to the Web, search results for your name can fluctuate daily, even hourly.
The danger with social media optimization for reputation management purposes is that whatever you create easily through social media sites can easily be re-created by users disgruntled with your company. Using sites like 43Things to quickly create a high ranking page using your name in the title bar for “Buy XYZ Product” can attract similar posts like “Boycott XYZ!”
Wrapping it Up
As the World Wide Web turns, you may come across new or different ways to help your cause, especially as social media sprockets keep creating new opportunities. If SEO’s not your bag, consider hiring a consulting firm skilled in copywriting and public relations. The key is to look at reputation management as a long term activity and to take advantage of all the options you have to keep the search engine results positive.
About the Author: Linda Bustos is the Marketing Director for Image X Media, a Vancouver web design and Internet marketing firm. She also blogs about social media and business.