Take a minute and do a Google search for your company name, your domain name, and your personal name. What do those results on the first page or two in Google look like? Hopefully everything on the first few pages of search results is positive.
But you may find listings that paint your company in a less than flattering light. There could be...
- blog or forum posts from disgruntled customers or previous employees,
- negative reviews of your business or products, possibly planted there by your competition,
- embarrassing personal details about top executives in your company.
There could even be whole sites devoted to the myriad ways in which you "suck".
And if you're seeing negative listings on the first few pages of Google, you can bet that many of your customers are seeing them too. And that's going to have a big effect on whether or not they decide to do business with you.
Few things are more important to your continued online success than your company's brand. And your brand can be quickly destroyed if you're not controlling what customers are presented with when they Google your company. This means...
- Monitoring what people are saying about your brand online,
- Practicing defensive ranking to control the top results when customers search for your brand, and...
- Responding quickly and appropriately if and when negative search results appear.
Now if you Googled your company a few minutes ago and saw prominently displayed listings calling you a rip-off artist, then you're probably pretty eager to remove those negative search results before you lose any more customers. So let's begin with the most urgent issue at hand:
What do you do if negative results are grabbing the top spots
when you search for your company in Google?
Dealing with Negative Search Results
Obviously, the best approach is to never have negative results appear in the first place. That means treating your customers fairly, selling quality products, and providing good customer service. If you're an actual rip-off artist no amount of manipulation is going to help you hide forever. Eventually the tidal wave of bad reports on sites like RipOffReport.com and MatrixWatch.org is going to overwhelm anything you can do to push those complaints out of the top search results.
In fact, all it really takes is one prominent blogger to write something negative about you to cause severe damage to your company's credibility. For example, take a look at the following high-profile cases:
- PriceRitePhoto.com. When blogger Thomas Hawk wrote about his experiences dealing with abusive customer service from this company, the story was picked up on Digg and written about on literally hundreds of other blogs. The company was even kicked out of PriceGrabber and Yahoo Shopping. PriceRitePhoto's online brand was so severely damaged that they've since gone out of business.
- Atlas OnePoint. Blogger Jeremy Zawodny got an unsolicited email from them after attending an industry conference. His post, entitled Atlas OnePoint: Spammers now ranks fourth on Google for the search Atlas OnePoint. Turns out it was just a mix up in email lists and Atlas OnePoint's president personally apologized for the error, but the post is still online for all their customers to see.
There are many similar examples of businesses forced to deal with extremely negative search results simply because they happened to upset the wrong high profile blogger. And once a negative result from an authoritative blog gets entrenched in Google it can be among the most difficult kind of listing to remove.
If you find this is the case with you, your best bet is to contact the blogger personally and do everything in your power to make them happy. Some bloggers are loathe to remove their old posts (even if the post was wrong to begin with) but if you make a sincere effort to address their complaints and set things right with them, you can often get them to at least write a follow-up post that presents your company in a better light.
Once they do, point some links at that positive post so that it replaces the old negative one. At worst you'll get a double listing where users will at least get to see both sides of the story.
Contact the blogger by phone if at all possible, since if things go bad it's harder for the blogger to publish your phone conversation on their blog than it is for them to simply reprint an email exchange. Avoid getting into an argument or debate in the comments section of the blog, as that will often just dig you into a deeper hole.
Of course, diplomacy doesn't always work. You'll encounter many situations where the person who created the negative listing is either unwilling or unable to remove it. In those cases, you'll need to create listings of your own which rank highly for your business name. This will push the negative listings so far down in the rankings that no one will ever see them.
The Top 10 Strategies for Pushing Down Negative Results
The goal here is to either find or create pages that say good (or neutral) things about you and getting them to rank highly. In ranking these pages for your branded terms you can push the negative results onto page two or three or further so that they are unlikely to ever be seen by any of your customers.
The way you'll get these pages to rank highly is by building links to the page or by creating pages on an older and more authoritative domain. For best results, do both. Build links to positive listings by linking to those pages from your own sites, creating new sites to link to them, or purchasing links from other sites. Be sure to link to those positive listing pages with the anchor text keywords you want them to be found for. Generally this will be your business name or other branded term.
Here's the 10 top strategies for pushing negative listings out of the top results, roughly in order of effectiveness.
- 1. Use Subdomains On Your Own Site
Do a search for Google to see how they implement this strategy. Of course, Google controls the search results so you wouldn't expect to see anything bad about them. Even so, you have to click to the fourth page of search results before you even see a listing that Google doesn't own. Most are Google properties on subdomains, such as earth.google.com and video.google.com.
Similarly, HowStuffWorks.com almost completely dominates the first few pages of search results with subdomains, as does CraigsList.org. Creating a subdomain for your blog (such as blog.acmewidgets.com) or for your various product lines can help occupy significantly more real estate in the top Google listings for your domain name.
Just be aware that subdomains need to have some actual content on them as well as having some decent incoming links of their own if you want to ensure that they rank well. See our recent report for more on optimizing subdomains.
- 2. Create Additional Sites About Your Business
One example would be to create a philanthropic arm of your company and give it its own site. Walmart does this with WalmartFoundation.org, while Google does the same with Google.org. As long as each site has a legitimate reason for existing, a company can have several websites and not worry too much about interlinking them. Just make sure each site stands on it's own so it doesn't look like you're forming a mininet.
Try searching for some of the top brands and you'll see many have their main site, as well as a corporate site, a charitable site, and several international Canadian, United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand sites occupying top spots for their company name. Make your international versions different than your main site, however, to avoid duplicate content problems. You could even have a website designed to answer criticisms, similar to WalMart's WalmartFacts.com.
- 3. Sitelinks and Double Listings
Sitelinks won't push negative results off the page, but they will make your site's listing take up more space and draw attention away from any negative results. A double listing will push other results below it down a notch, which can be effective in pushing negative results off of Google's front page. Strategies for achieving both are covered in our reports on sitelinks and double listings.
- 4. Wikipedia Business Pages
One thing you'll notice if you search for most big corporate brands in Google is that Wikipedia pages for those businesses show up in the top 10 results extremely often. Most people don't know that you can also easily create a Wikipedia page for your own business.
However, these business entries do get deleted on occasion, so try to make yours fairly informative and complete. If it offers real information and/or you're a fairly well known business then it's less likely that one of the other editors will delete the page you've created. Deletions still can happen, but if you can get it to stick it's almost guaranteed to rank on page one in Google for your business' name. Some Wikipedia pages for businesses include:
AboutUs.org is similar to Wikipedia, except that its entire focus is for businesses to insert their listings. Creating a page for your business on this site will also tend to rank very well for your business name. And your chances of getting deleted are much lower.
- 5. Presell Pages
These are pages that you buy on other web sites. Instead of purchasing an advertisement or text link from another website, you buy an entire page on the site and write an article which mentions your site and links back to you. If you buy this page on an important site and the article prominently features your business name or other branded term, it will rank highly for that term and push down negative content (plus you can get a killer link back to your main site). See our recent article on presell pages for more.
Presell pages can be highly effective, but make sure all your presell page articles are different so that each shows up in the search engines. If they're all the same then the duplicate content filter will remove most of them and only one will show up for a given search. You want as many of them to rank highly as possible, so make sure they all contain unique content. For best results, make sure the keyword you want the presell page to rank for appears in the title tag of the page.
Syndicating articles on authoritative domains for free is even better (or at least cheaper), as long as those articles still contain the search term you're trying to fix. Submitting articles which contain your business name to some of the bigger article directories like ezinearticles.com can also work, though these domains are not as authoritative as you might need to remove a negative result from a highly authoritative site.
Remember, the more authoritative the site containing the negative comment, the more authoritative the site you'll need to syndicate your article or presell page on in order to push the bad listing down in the rankings.
- 6. Start Sending Out Press Releases
Send out a press release through PR Web Direct. Make sure it prominently features the keyword you want it to rank for. That press release will get indexed and often moved into the top ten within a few weeks, particularly for less competitive keywords.
The $399 PR Web + Business Wire Distribution package will get you listed on (at least) the following web sites:
You're also likely to get listed in dozens, if not hundreds, of sites that reprint press releases from these sources to provide content for themselves.
Again, make sure that the press release features your business name prominently if that's what you want it to rank highly for. Once those press releases are archived on the PR companies' sites and crawled and indexed by the search engines (a process that usually takes a few weeks at most) they often occupy 3 or 4 of the spots on the first page or two in Google.
Since the same press release is going to be featured on multiple sites, many of those listings will be filtered out due to duplicate content. However, a few will make it into top spots. To maximize the number of top positions you fill, submit two or three different press releases. Also, remember that the more newsworthy the press release is, the more likely it is to attract links on its own, which will help it rank higher.
Press releases do have a tendency to slide down in the search results over time, so you'll want to be continually issuing new ones every two or three months, particularly if you see your old ones beginning to slip.
And if you're dealing with bad press on a truly authoritative domain that's proving very difficult to outrank, then you're best off going with a public relations firm that can get mentions of you in some of the more significant news and media sites where your chances of outranking an important site are much better.
- 7. Profiles on Other Sites
Pretty much any popular site which lets you create a user account works well, as long as those user accounts are search engine accessible. If you're not sure, find some of the other profile pages on the site and search Google for the URL where the profile is listed. If the page shows up in Google, then you know Google is indexing profiles from that site.
An Amazon reviewers account is a good example. Make sure your reviewer name is the same as your business name (or whatever branded term you're trying to improve results for). Since these profiles are subpages of the Amazon goliath they tend to rank pretty well, especially for keywords that are fairly noncompetitive such as business or personal names.
The list from our recent report on free authoritative links is another great place to find authoritative domains where you can easily create high ranking profiles and other pages for free.
- Flickr profile — http://www.flickr.com/
- LinkedIn profile — http://www.linkedin.com/
- MySpace profile and blog — http://www.myspace.com/
- Friendster profile — http://www.friendster.com/
- Yahoo profile — http://profiles.yahoo.com/
- Yahoo 360 page — http://360.yahoo.com/
- Technorati profile — http://www.technorati.com/
- Bloglines blog — http://www.bloglines.com/blog/
- 43 Things page — http://www.43things.com/
- Typekey profile — http://www.sixapart.com/typekey/
- GooglePages page — http://pages.google.com/
- Blinklist page — http://www.blinklist.com/
- WordPress blog — http://wordpress.com/
- Blogger blog — http://www.blogger.com/
- LiveJournal page — http://www.livejournal.com/community/
- Geocities page — http://www.geocities.com/
- Fortunecity page — http://members.fortunecity.com/
- Tripod page — http://members.tripod.com/
- AOL Hometown page — http://hometown.aol.com/
- Freespaces page — http://freespaces.com/
Be sure to use your business name (or other branded term) as the profile name, blog name, or page title, as appropriate. For example, if your business name is Acme Widgets, create pages such as:
...and so on. Creating a Squidoo page about your business can also be very effective. Here's a list of additional sites where you can easily create a personal or business profile that will often rank highly in the search engines:
These are some of the best ones, but there are many others. They're all easy ways to get your business or personal name on an authoritative domain where it's likely to rank highly. Adding links and additional content to these pages makes them even more powerful. They won't outrank a negative post about you from a well-known blogger who has thousands of incoming links, but they will be effective at pushing down most negative commentary from less-authoritative sites.
You should also sign up for popular forums using your business name as your username. BoardTracker.com can help you find the most popular forums for your industry. Just enter your top keywords and you'll see which forums are discussing them.
Your business name will then show up on the view profile section of the forum. Try to find the most popular and high-ranking forums you possibly can to do this. That way your profile page will be more likely to show up near the top of the search results.
Don't actually post in the forums, as this opens you up to being engaged by the same people who may have posted negative comments about you in other forums. If you do decide to post, limit it to forums where the topic is such that criticisms of you will be out of place and likely deleted by moderators.
All of these profiles will help increase the number of positive or neutral pages about you. Some will rank highly on their own volition, while others will require that you build links to them before they outrank the negative pages.
Be aware that these fixes will only patch over fairly minor problems in which the negative comments about your site are on pages that aren't very popular or well-linked and thus are easy to move out of top positions, particularly for non-competitive keywords. All it takes is one prominent blogger to have a bad experience with your company which motivates them to write something negative about you and you've got a public relations stain that will be very difficult to erase.
- 8. Tagging
Tagging your site with your business name in Del.icio.us can also work well. These pages will often show up in the top 10 for less competitive queries. If your business name is more than one word, insert hyphens between each of the words when tagging. Here's an example of both an hyphenated and unhyphenated tag:
The tag keywords appear in the URL of the page, giving the page a bit of help in ranking higher (although most of the rankings juice comes from the authoritative Del.icio.us domain the pages are on). Besides tagging your main site, you can also tag any articles or press releases you've syndicated. Be sure to tag them with your business name or other keyword you want the Del.icio.us tag page to rank for.
You can accomplish a similar effect by tagging photos in Flickr with your business name or other branded term.
- 9. Buying Sites That Are Ranking Well for the Keyword You're Targeting
Purchasing the sites that have the negative comments is an option. It can be a bit expensive, and site owners are not always willing to sell. The other option is to buy sites that are on the second or third page for your keywords, then optimize them to get them on to the first page. Finally, you can just buy sites that have good potential in general (old sites with good backlinks) and modify them a bit so that they are now ranking for your top branded terms.
- 10. Strategically Placed PPC Ads
First, let us say that we generally prefer not to confront bad results directly on the web by creating additional pages or sites that address the negative commentary. In our opinion that just tends to inflame the problem and creates more negative pages in the search results. The best approach is to contact (by phone) the person responsible for the negative listing and see if we can make things right with them.
Especially if the person is a high-profile blogger you really want to go out of your way to make them happy, because otherwise their post is going to require a lot of resources to push down in the rankings. If this doesn't work, then you'll have to create your own positive listings designed to outrank the negative commentary.
In cases where neither of those approaches work, however, you may want to consider purchasing a paid ad next to the search results which links to a page where you personally answer any criticisms that may be raised in the negative pages. This page could also appear for some negative keyword searches, like acme widgets complaints. Obviously, this doesn't effect the organic search results, but can help in cases where nothing else is working.
Although we prefer not to confront controversies directly on the web by posting on blogs or forums because they can easily get out of control, if you can quickly catch a complaint and respond to it in a positive and helpful way you can often mitigate the problem and even earn some points for your company. That's something we cover later in our section on monitoring your brand online.
Having someone in your business dedicated to responding in forums and blog comments to any commentary about you can be a good idea if done right, but it requires a great deal of tact and skill. What you don't want is to fall into an online argument or debate that just makes the problem worse. Online community outreach is valuable only if you've got a person with the right diplomatic temperament to do it.
One aspect of defensive ranking is simply doing all the above mentioned strategies preemptively. That is, create large numbers of pages with positive or neutral information about your company that rank highly before anyone says anything bad. That way if someone does create a negative page it has a difficult time breaking into the top listings.
The other aspect is becoming aware of those sites which may attempt to leech off of your brand credibility through typo traffic or by using similar domain names. Spend some time researching common misspellings your top brand terms and see if anyone is attempting to rank for them. You may want to create pages designed for those misspelled brand terms if it appears someone is trying to capitalize on or misrepresent your brand.
Also, if your business domain is AcmeWidgets.com, be sure to purchase the AcmeWidgetsSucks.com domain before someone else does. Don't put it online, of course. Simply hold onto it to keep it out of the hands of others.
If the site is violating your copyright in any way, you can also file a DMCA complaint against them with the major search engines and get their infringing web pages removed. You can even get their site pulled by their web host. But this only works if they are indeed violating your copyright. Beware of negative publicity, as this move may make the owner of the site you removed want to retaliate against you. We cover the DMCA in depth in our recent report.
Threatening sites with legal action is almost always a bad idea, as this tends to throw fuel on the fire. This is sometimes referred to as the Streisand Effect, referring to a case in which Barbara Streisand sued a photographer for taking pictures of her beachfront mansion for a coastal erosion study. The story got picked up in the media and went viral on the Internet, resulting in the pictures getting vastly more exposure than they would have otherwise.
Legal action often dramatically increases the level of publicity for the story, causing it to get picked up in increasingly popular areas. And the more popular the site a story appears on, the harder it is to move out of the top rankings. What's more, unless the negative listing is truly libel (and the site is hosted in a country where libel laws are compatible with yours) there's almost nothing any lawyer can do about it (but don't just take our word for it—consult your attorney).
Finally, you'll want to catch negative online publicity as quickly as possible so you can respond before the situation gets out of hand. That means tracking what is being said about you on the Internet.
Monitoring Your Reputation Online
The easiest and most reliable way to monitor your company's brand online is with RSS alerts from the major blog search engines. We personally use Technorati, Google Blog Search, BlogPulse and Sphere. There will be a fair amount of overlap since they'll catch many of the same blog posts, but we're always surprised at how often one will catch a story the others have missed.
Each has a feature where you can search for a keyword such as your business or personal name and subscribe to the results returned. Typically a little RSS button will appear next to the search results and clicking it will automatically insert the RSS feed for that search into the RSS reader of your choice.
At least, that's how it's supposed to work. In our experience, we've found this automated feature to be extremely buggy most of the time, especially if there's no results returned for your query. We've found it much more effective just to enter the URL for the RSS feed you want directly into your RSS reader manually. We use Google Reader for our work, though this technique will also work with most other RSS readers like Bloglines, Sage or MyYahoo.
To do this, simply sign up for a Google account (if you use GMail you've already got one) and log into Google Reader at:
Once signed in, click on the Add subscription button in the upper left. This will open up a box that will let you enter the URLs of the RSS feeds for the searches you want to track on each of the blog search engines.
For reputation management purposes, you should configure Google Reader to send you alerts on the following keywords:
- Your business name.
- Your domain name.
- The name of your CEO, as well as the names of any other high-profile employees.
- Any trademarks or branded terms you have that are closely identified with your business, such as the names of products or services you've created.
The syntax is the same for most blog search engines. For example, to subscribe to an RSS feed in Technorati that tracks mentions of your domain name, simply enter the following URL into Google Reader (replace AcmeWidgets.com with your own domain name):
Here's how you'd enter it for the other three blog search engines:
If the term you want to track has multiple words in it, as most personal names do, then you should put + signs between each word and surround those words by quotes so that you only get results for that exact term. In URLs, quotes are indicated by the symbol %22. So, for example, here's how you'd track mentions of a name like Zach Roberts in each of the blog search engines:
Simply replace zach+roberts with whatever name or other term you'd like to track and you're good to go (remember to insert + signs between each word). Be aware that for common names this approach can also generate a lot of irrelevant results about other people named Zach Roberts, so you may have to weed through the results a bit. Likewise, a search like seo consultant will bring up every mention of that phrase, so you may want to restrict your searches to very targeted terms, like your business or domain name.
Google Alerts can also play an important role in your online reputation management. This is a free service which tracks changes to the Google search results for a given keyword. You can also configure it to track changes in Google News, Google Blog Search, and Google Groups.
- A 'News' alert will track changes to the top ten results for your keyword in Google News search.
- A 'Web' alert will track changes to the top twenty results for your keyword in Google Web search.
- A 'Blogs' alert will track changes to the top ten results for your keyword in Google Blog search.
- A 'Groups' alert will track changes to the top fifty results for your keyword in Google Groups search.
- A 'Comprehensive' alert will combine all the above changes into a single email.
Unfortunately, Google Alerts doesn't provide an RSS feed, so you won't be able to monitor changes that way. Instead, Google sends you an email containing the changes to the keyword or group of keywords you're tracking. You can specify that the emails be sent once a week, once a day, or as soon as they happen.
If you're tracking many very common keywords, then getting these email notifications as they happen can result in a lot of emails, so we typically configure them to be sent once a day. However. if we're dealing with a major product rollout or other significant event that's getting a lot of press then we may set it up to email us as changes happen—at least until the press slows down.
The News, Blog, and Groups Searches are quite useful tracking what is being said about your business. The Web Search feature is supposed to show you when a page that mentions you moves into the top 20 for the terms you've chosen. However, since pages are always moving around slightly in the search results, the Web Search feature ends up sending you so many redundant listings that it's not very useful. It can occasionally catch mentions of your business in forums or in articles that the News, Blog, and Groups Searches miss, but don't expect much. In fact, we typically have Web Search alerts turned off.
If you've been mentioned on a site that allows ongoing comments, you'll also want to track any additional comments that are added to that page. Commentful.com allows you to track comments made on sites that use the blogging software provided by Google's Blogger, Moveable Type's Typepad, and WordPress. You can also track comments made on Flickr, YouTube, Digg and most forums that use the vBulletin software. This covers most of the major blogging platforms and social media sites. However, it doesn't work for forums using other software or for sites which have hand coded their own blogging software. For those sites you'll still generally need to track the conversation by revisiting the site or have the site itself send you email alerts.
Online, Reputation is everything!
A wise man once said,
"Steal my money and I can earn more but let no man steal my good name."
In today's world where anyone or anything can be easily "Googled", hard earned success can be wiped out overnight if companies fail to actively manage their reputation. After all, online, we "are" what people say we are!
Planet Ocean Communications