Five low-cost methods to hear what's being said on the Web about your company, products, and employees.
"Search engine reputation" is the sum feeling a user takes away after querying a search engine for a company's name, product, or representative, regardless of whether the user actually clicks on any results.
By now, the rationale for controlling or at least being aware of your search engine reputation should be apparent, so let's skip right to monitoring techniques.
While my definition revolves around the SERP (define), it's important to realize any marring of your company likely began much earlier than the day it showed up on the SERP. By the time it hits the SERP, the post, article, or comment has likely been around a few days (or weeks) and has some algorithmic momentum of its own. The techniques outlined here are intended to alert you to reputation threats within minutes or hours of their creation.
Plenty of companies will monitor your search engine reputation for you. Some are inexpensive, some not. While the majority of these firms are pretty effective, companies and individuals can use free tools to monitor the process on their own. Actually mitigating the issues may require refined SEO (define) skills and is often best placed in the hands of an experienced SEO/SEM (define) vendor.
The best crawlers are the most effective reputation monitors. Google News Alerts are extremely efficient at letting you know immediately when your name or company is discussed online.
You can configure Google Alerts by different areas of Google: News (stories that would appear on Google News); Blogs (posts or comments on Google Blog Search); Web (typical Google Web search results); Groups (Google Groups posts and replies); or Comprehensive (a combination of all four). Unfortunately, the interface forces you to select an area from a dropdown list instead of checkboxes. So if you want to monitor only Blogs and Groups, you must create two separate Alerts.
To ensure you're covering your bases, create alerts for each of the following:
Remember these alerts will point out positive articles and posts as well. So if you maintain a page on your site devoted to media coverage, don't be shy about linking to positive articles that show up via these alerts.
If your company or key executives merit their own Wikipedia entries, you'd be remiss to skip over them. The search power of Wikipedia is worth several columns on its own. You can be sure that wherever people search for you, your Wiki entry is never far away.
Watch Wikipedia's "History" page for each relevant entry. This will quickly provide a summary of each change made to the article, who did it, and what was changed.
One of the blogosphere's great search engines is Technorati, and one of Technorati's great features is its Watchlist. It informs you when a blog links to a specific URL. By using your root domain, you're informed of any links to the site, even to deep pages.
RSS Is Your Friend
Nearly all the above services offer e-mail results or RSS feeds. RSS is by far the better choice. Create a special folder in your RSS reader just for reputation monitoring feeds so new items immediately attract your attention.
Sites with deep, seldom-crawled forum pages and no RSS feeds are less likely to spawn News alerts. In this case, you may want to enlist the services of a page-watcher. Sites such as WatchThatPage, UpdatePatrol, and WebSite-Watcher monitor specific URLs and provide customizable reporting options. Most offer inexpensive services and free trials.
These services typically send crawlers to the sites you dictate. Be aware these may not be particularly popular with some site owners. They can choose to block the bots used by these services.
With organization and ongoing refinement, you can save your company money and keep an expert eye on your reputation . Even if you're not in a position to engage in a mitigation strategy, knowing what's out there is an important and effective way to measure customer satisfaction.
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Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.
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