Just recently, Google confirmed two things that made this reputation management consultant smile. First, yes, Google is in fact a reputation engine. What it discovers on the Web -- and subsequently adds to its search index -- can indeed "harm your reputation." Second, it's quite all right for you to improve your Google reputation by "proactively publishing useful, positive information about yourself or your business."
Just don't ask Google to help you out by removing the negative Web content from its index.
While we can rejoice that Google has given its blessing to the practice of search engine reputation management (SERM), the real reason for Google's blessing was to provide a public service announcement that the search engine is in no way interested in helping you clean up your act. The underlying message conveyed by the search giant? By all means, try it yourself -- just don't come knocking on our door.
How exactly can you improve your Google reputation? While Google does provide some basic advice, you won't get too far by following the suggested "contact the site's webmaster and ask them to remove the content or the page in question."
Neither will you be able to counter some unflattering photos by simply taking "some pictures you prefer and publish them in a blog post or two." No way. Negative Web content is just like a negative newspaper article or a scathing 60 Minutes expose -- sensational content attracts attention, which attracts links, which attracts Google's spiders. If you want to push down that negative blog post, or expunge that unflattering Flickr photo, you're going to have to break out your SERM toolkit and get to work.
Here's what every brand owner should have in place to try and combat a negative reputation in Google's search results:
Get Your Own Web Site
It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? You'd be surprised at the number of individuals and companies that haven't registered their own branded domain name and launched a Web site. Registering yourcompanyname.com or yourpersonalname.com and adding a basic Web site is a sure-fire way to occupy one of the top 10 Google listings for your name.
Add a Sub-Domain
If you've put a lot of effort into growing your main Web site, chances are there's an opportunity to add a sub-domain. Google considers them as separate from your main site, but they still include your main brand. There are a lot of great reasons to add a sub-domain: careers, corporate information, and product info. Take a look at support.microsoft.com as an example of a legitimate use of a sub-domain.
Start a Blog
If you love and nurture a blog, it will likely become a great asset in your reputation management toolkit. But the great thing about a blog is that it tends to rank well, even when left unwatered. Blogs are the cactus of online content. WordPress and Blogger both provide free blogs and free hosting. Add just a few posts, keep it targeted to your name -- that means use it in the blog title, posts, etc. --add a few links, and bake for a few days. It will be on the first page of Google in no time.
Create Your Own Wiki
If you're facing a Google reputation nightmare, you may be tempted to create a Wikipedia profile for yourself. After all, Wikipedia ranks all over Google, right? Bad move. Not only is it hard to get one approved, but they're totally unbiased. That DUI incident that you're trying to cover up will likely make its way into your profile. Not good. Instead, create your own wiki and build your profile that way. Wetpaint is perfect for this. You can focus it on your personal name, or your company name. The best part is that you get to decide who contributes to it.
Pick a Social Network Profile
Simply creating a social networking profile does not guarantee that it will rise to the top of Google's search results. However, if you've been thinking about creating a Twitter profile or building a Facebook fan page, then you can use it to help push down that bothersome newspaper article or negative blog review.
The key is to make sure that you don't get too cute with your profile name. Stick to your main brand name, and point a few links to each page from your official company site or blog (see below). Your social media profiles will quickly climb toward Google's top 10 results.
You're the Super-Brand, so Link
It's not always enough to simply build new Web sites or profile pages. If you're facing a negative review on Ripoff Report or the Consumerist, the chances are you'll need a lot of links to help convince Google that your content is more relevant -- and deserving of being in the top 10 -- than the negative stuff that's already there. The key is to link to your new content.
I tell my clients: you own the "super-brand." In other words, if your company name is Apple, then everything you link to, using the anchor text "Apple," tells Google that you are endorsing the recipient site as an extension of your brand. Link to your blog, sub-domain, and profiles using your company name in the anchor text, and you'll greatly improve your chances that the content will push down the negative Web pages.
Don't Take Shortcuts and Don't Give Up
Despite the brevity of this article, don't assume that improving your Google reputation is going to be a piece of cake -- it's not. Each new site or profile you create needs to be fleshed out with relevant, unique content. Each is going to need external links pointing to it. And, each will take a while for Google to determine its rightful place in the index.
My advice? Be patient. Repairing a damaged Google reputation won't happen overnight. In fact, while you're waiting for your Google results to improve, why not do a little self-examination and figure out what you did to get yourself in this mess in the first place? As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."
Fix your character, and you'll fix your reputation.
This was originally published December 2009 in SES Magazine.
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Andy Beal is the founder and CEO of Trackur, a powerful, yet affordable, social media monitoring solution. With over 10 years of internet marketing experience, Andy specializes in online reputation management and is the coauthor of Radically Transparent: Monitoring & Managing Reputations Online.
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