Reputation, PPC Search, and SEO: Harmony or Discord

Paid search is rarely considered a critical part of managing an overall online reputation. Instead, it’s regarded as a bandage (an expensive one) to “stop the bleeding” while the spin doctors, SEO (define) search and organic SEO join PR, media, buzz, social marketing, site navigation, e-mail responsiveness and in-store experience of the overall brand — and is either built oup r torn down with every touch point.

Naturally, marketers try to simplify marketing campaigns and marketing vehicles into silos. This process takes a nearly unmanageable morass of interactions, interdependencies, and correlations, and by placing them aside, allows for the illusion of control. However, for those who take a holistic approach, the mentality is not only one of the total being greater than the sum of the parts (due to interaction effects) but also, conversely, an awareness that failure in an influential area of a marketing and operations plan can render the remaining elements far less effective.

Your campaign can be in harmony or discord. Often, the discord may originate not in marketing or even sales but in operations. SEO and public relations professionals often talk about “reputation management” as being something that resides in their silo. In reality, a company’s reputation — and therefore its brand — is often the result of customer experience and therefore customer service. This is truer than ever now that nearly any tech-savvy person can have her own blog. Even those who don’t have their own soapbox know how to find a site that lets them post a complaint or praise. Complaints can run rampant. And as marketers often learn, consumers are more likely to register a complaint than to praise a company’s service, quality, or product.

Let me weave in my own experience about how various touchpoints on the Web will have an influence on myself and future shoppers. First, let me highlight a positive branding experience for an unknown company: BioBidet, the manufacturer and distributor of conversion kits for those who, due to European travel, have become converts to the concept of a bidet. (Apparently Will Smith is such a convert, but I digress.) Having recently moved, I realized the tubing I originally used to install a bidet would be too short. When I also discovered that eight millimeter poly tubing wasn’t available locally, I e-mailed and called BioBidet. The company offered to send me four feet of tubing for free. Sure enough, the tubing arrived yesterday. BioBidet now has a super-happy customer. The next time someone searches for a bidet, perhaps even at one of BioBidet’s online resellers (who bid on bidet keywords and sell both BioBidet products and competing lines), perhaps my story will swing these shoppers in the direction of a BioBidet product. Plus SEO link juice never hurts.

Conversely, I recently purchased an Amana microwave and despite my research and advance planning, the back of the microwave protruded, making it made it unsuitable for my home. Since the retailer, Rainbow Appliance, was in NJ, and I had a meeting there, I decided to return the appliance in person. I was willing to eat the 15 percent restocking fee that the retailer’s Web site mentioned, but was told that I’d have to work out the refund with the store’s owner. I left the microwave with the merchant, figuring details could be handled out later. Despite three phone messages, a fax, and two e-mail messages, it took more than a week to get a response. All it was is a credit memo including a note on the 15 percent restocking fee. Was that fee fair? It certainly wasn’t worth arguing over as the fee is stated in the return policy.

While other consumers might choose to post a poor review for Rainbow Appliance at an existing forum, I opted to use the store as an example here of how an organization can risk building a negative reputation online, which makes their PPC spend less efficient — because some people may find online complaints.

Recovering one’s reputation is challenging online because nearly every one of your customers has the ability to influence it. Plus, one’s PPC conversion rate may in fact be influenced by reputation degradation that was earlier thought of only as an SEO problem.

Addendum: Speaking of starting off on the wrong foot with regard to reputation, it is unclear whether the new search engine, Cuil, will ever recover from the excessive hype that led to inflated expectations that cannot be met. Of course, given that Cuil (pronounced cool) was founded by a bunch of ex-Googlers and has received $33 million in funding (according to several news sources), it won’t need to put ads in place any time soon, especially if no one is searching on it.

Meet Kevin Lee at SES San Jose, August 18-22 at San Jose Convention Center.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.