Everyone has heard the phrase “any publicity is good publicity,” but you probably haven’t heard the phrase recently and there’s a good reason why: it’s not true. At least not anymore.
Case in point, Samsung is currently in crisis mode regarding the release and recall of its exploding Galaxy Note 7. The news of this unfortunate quality assurance oversight has been picked up by many major news outlet across the world, memed, and hashtagged. Moreover, experts have forecasted that the recall and lack of consumer trust in Samsung’s brand will cost the company between $3-5 billion. That’s billion with a “B!”
The truth of the matter is that we live in an incredible time where technology influences nearly every interaction we make. This includes a customer’s interaction with a brand. Often this customer-brand relationship is enhanced by technology and technology-driven platforms such as social media, blogs, reviews, and the like. These platforms give upset (either rightfully or wrongfully) customers a virtual megaphone and the power to make complete strangers their advocates. Soon enough, you have yourself a regular old-fashioned PR crisis that put your online reputation in question, specifically when people search Google for your brand (A.K.A. branded search results).
Maintaining your brand’s integrity in search results is key to earning the trust (and therefore the business) of your potential customers. This practice is commonly referred to as reputation management and it’s important. Here’s a high-level look at how we handle reputation management projects for our clients and help them leverage their brand assets for branded search domination!
Start with Search
Before you engage in reputation management you need to assess your branded search results and identify which results (if any) may impact your brand negatively. Depending upon your brand this may be a few quick searches or it may be a lengthy process that includes searches of the names of your brand’s figureheads, foundations, events, etc.
Other search considerations may include geographically sensitive searches (e.g. Big Leap Lehi or Big Leap Utah), and searches that demonstrate user intent (Big Leap reviews, Big Leap competitors, why doesn’t Big Leap ____etc.). At the conclusion of this step you should have a good understanding of how your brand is represented in search results by putting yourself in the shoes of a potential customer and uncovering the information they’re likely to run into in their buying journey.
Audit Controlled Properties
Once you’ve Googled your brand ad nauseum you’ll want to move on to putting together a list of brand-controlled properties. This list includes your website, your blog (if it’s on a subdomain), your social media accounts, your YouTube/Vimeo accounts, or any other online property where your brand is in control of the content. Examples of non-brand-controlled content would be Yelp, BBB, Ripoff Report, et al.
If you want to dig deep you can also put together a list of positive press coverage, product/service features, positive reviews, and the like. These may come in handy, too.
Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate
By now you should know what brand controlled/brand positive assets you have to work with as well as what you’re up against in the search engine results. To move this process forward you need to evaluate the strength of both your assets (your brand-controlled properties) and your negative results. When evaluating, consider factors such as Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), number of links to each page or platform, engagement, and page activity. You’ll also want to consider the age of each of these search results as search engines are generally most interested in returning search results with the freshest content.
This step is simple. Sometimes the only thing holding a brand controlled asset back from ranking in a branded search is some basic SEO and content optimization work to make the asset more search engine friendly. This may be as easy as fully optimizing your social media accounts and video resources or as technical as implementing schema markup or open graph tags to increase share rates. Make sure you don’t over-optimize your content. Today’s search engines are not the search engines of 2006 and they’ll see right through keyword stuffing.
Content creation is key not to just your reputation management efforts, but to your marketing efforts as a whole. We’ve seen the best results when reputation management efforts are a part of your regular digital marketing strategy. This means that any content you create to displace negative results inside of branded searches shouldn’t be created just to rank, but should contribute to your brand’s overall digital marketing objectives: driving traffic, driving leads, driving sales, etc.
A strategy we like to employ during this phase of the campaign is content repurposing. Content repurposing is taking existing brand content, finding a new way to update it and present it, and extracting the full value from the content. This is a low investment, high return strategy that puts your old content to good use again.
The goal of your content creation is to fill in the brand story gaps in branded search results. When you have a lot of comprehensive, varied, and valuable content to offer, it will fill up the search results, pushing negative results further down.
Digital marketing success often relies on content promotion. Your brand could create the most useful resources in an effort to attract customers, but without proper promotion this strategy would fail to provide the desired traction. Content promotion includes but is not limited to:
- Paid search
- Display ads
- Influencer marketing
- Social posting
- Paid social promotion
- Social listening
- Paid content discovery
- Email marketing
- Content syndication
- Comment making
Your content promotion efforts should align with your overall digital marketing initiatives. This means your content promotion should lead to links (earned ones), traffic, content engagement, sales/leads, etc.
Measure, Report, & Repeat
As with any other marketing initiative, measurement and reporting play key roles in campaign success. For best results, implement an appropriate reporting interval (we’ve worked with clients that wanted anything from weekly to quarterly updates) and devise a reporting system that communicates your progress.
Once measurement and reporting is in place, you’ll begin to see how your efforts impact your branded search results over time. You’ll find that some efforts move the needle and others do not. We’ve found that what works for clients in some industries doesn’t work for clients in others.
For How Long?
One of the questions we hear a lot is “how long do I need to engage in reputation management?” The honest answer is that it depends. It depends on how many negative results are shown in the first page or two of your branded searches and how authoritative those sites are. It depends on the strength of your brand and your brand controlled/brand positive results. It also depends on how committed you are to dedicating the appropriate resources to a reputation management campaign.
With that being said, our experience has shown that if there are three to four negatives on the first page or two of search results, it will likely take three months to see things starting to shake up in your branded search results as you begin optimizing, creating, and promoting. It normally takes 6-12 months to see the new and repurposed brand properties ranking on page one. It’s also pivotal to maintain momentum throughout this process. A change in reputation management strategy may lead to a reset of the aforementioned timelines.
Lastly, reputation management efforts are not done for a finite amount of time. You can’t just fix it and forget about it. Once your brand has been “soured” by negative branded search results and you’ve put in the effort to clean things up, it’s entirely possible for Google’s algorithms or another negative search result to disrupt your efforts. If you’ve cleaned up your branded search results on the first page or so it’s probable that you’ll still need to engage in reputation management maintenance.
Transparency & Business
So that’s reputation management process in a nutshell! Perhaps more important than this entire process is improving transparency for your customers and being open to evaluating your business practices. Businesses are complex with a lot of moving parts and it’s difficult to have a perfect, cohesive process that works for a business and its customers. That being said, there’s no reputation management process or service that can cover up poor business practices that infuriate your customers.
Ultimately the more you can reduce customer friction within your business’s customer touchpoints (marketing, sales, customer service, returns, etc.), the less need you’ll have for reputation management and the more you can focus on marketing strategies that elevate your brand.