One of the hardest things to sell to any company is proactive SEO reputation management. Talk to the bean counter, and they shoot it down because the potential return on investment is not calculable. You’ll never know what your return is on a proactive reputation management program. ROI calculations would require two identical crises, one with your proactive reputation management program in place and one without. Then you could see the differences – maybe. Talk to the marketing department and there are always more fun and sexy ways to spend budgets rather than protecting your reputation. Risk managers? They are probably the most likely group to endorse a proactive reputation plan, but most underestimate the true risks. They would be much more apt to put thousands of dollars into an insurance program that will never be used rather than spend money fortifying the online reputation of the company.
So, most online reputation management work is done with several people’s proverbial hair on fire. After the crisis hits.
It’s like the company, after receiving word that they are having a heart attack, decides to order a salad instead of the double cheeseburger. That salad won’t fix your problem. Eating healthy may have solved your problem years ago, but now it’s just a salad. You need a bypass. Proactive reputation management is like eating healthy. It may not prevent you from having a heart attack, but it is going to make your chances for survival much greater. And like eating healthy, a proactive reputation management program is a lot easier than it sounds.
I’ve broken proactive SEO reputation management down to six steps. Of course, there is a lot more that can be done in a comprehensive program – but like eating healthy, we all have to start somewhere. By following these six steps, you can start working toward protecting your online reputation. And hopefully, when you come to me during a crisis, we won’t be pulling out defibrillator to perform resuscitation.
The best part is, every one of these steps can be done for free. That’s right – free, gratis, no cost. The only thing you have to invest is your time.
- Set up monitoring: There is no excuse for failing to monitor your brand, whether it is your company name, your executive’s names, your own name, all of the above – you get the picture. You need to know what people are saying about your brand. You need to be following mentions of your key people. If you don’t know what’s going on, you enter into any crisis wearing a blindfold. Monitoring helps you identify potential influencers, find false rumors and show potential viral hotspots. There are literally hundreds of tools out there for monitoring – many with features you simply don’t need. To get started, set up a free Google Alert. If that’s not enough, check out fellow PubCon speaker Andy Beal’s Trackur. There’s a free version. If you want to get really sophisticated, check out this post from PubCon speaker Marty Weintraub about setting up a reputation management dashboard for free.
- Audit your SERPs: The search engine results page (SERP), which is simply the page that appears with results after a query has been entered into a search engine, can provide you with the data you need to know before a crisis hits. Just do a simple search on Google for your company name. Look at what’s out there – take notes. Find any potential damning material and watch it closely … but what you really want to find is positive or neutral content that might be lurking around page 3-4. This content is golden, because we know that Google finds it at least somewhat relevant for the keyword you target. In our audits, we try to find a minimum of 20-30 pieces of Web real estate per keyword. This content could, with the help of a few links, be pushed to the front page – perhaps replacing negative content that appears after a crisis.
- Interface with Influencers: Once you have your monitoring in place, you should start to see who is talking about your brand, your industry, etc. If these people are Twitter users, you can use the free tools at Klout to determine their overall influence. If they aren’t heavy Twitter users, look them up. See how others are interacting with them. In fact, do this even if you can use Klout. Then you need to become friends with them. Becoming friends with someone doesn’t mean spamming them, or superficially adding them to some automated list. I’m talking true interactions. In my years of crisis communication, probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s hard for people to be critical of you and your company if they consider you a friend. And when a crisis happens, you need friends in order to help defend your reputation. Third party verification of what you say has considerably more influence and believability than anything you say about yourself. This is a founding principal of public relations. Plus, from the SEO side, friends can give you links. And we all like links, especially during a crisis. Ask your friends to post links to the properties you’ve identified in step 2. You might be surprised how little it takes to vault that Web real estate to the first page.
- Create Great Content – Over the years, how many times has the overused phrase “content is king” been uttered by speakers in the hallowed halls of PubCon? Based upon the Panda update, perhaps not enough. One of the most under-rated proactive reputation management techniques is bolstering your own online presence. This isn’t done through fancy automated syndication techniques or black-hat linking techniques. It’s done by creating useful content that gets naturally syndicated simply because it’s good content. I don’t care what kind of business you have, you can create compelling content that appeals to your niche. Don’t know what to write about? Go back to Step 1. What are people talking about? One tool we use almost every day is the Google Wonder Wheel. Find it by doing a search in Google and looking to the left. Look for the bolded words “All Results,” the second link below that says “More search tools.” Click that link. You should see a listing called “Wonder wheel.” The Wonder Wheel, by definition, is a visual hub-and-spoke display of relevant search terms. Type in one of your main terms and see what related searches there have been around it. Look for questions your potential customers are asking, and then create answers to those questions. Not only will this get you links to improve your SEO, but it can also bolster your reputation as a thought leader and a source of answers.
- Run a Fire Drill: I have a son in kindergarten. He has sensitive ears. Therefore, he hates alarms. Therefore, he hates fire drills. Many of us, in our businesses, also have sensitive ears. We don’t want to look at our own weaknesses, much less prepare for what might happen if those weaknesses are exposed. If everyone knows what to do when a crisis happens, you can avoid a lot of confusion and wasted time. And, hopefully, get everyone out alive. Create a simple crisis communication plan. If something negative appears in the SERPs, what are you going to do? Will you reach out to your existing customers in case they see the item in the search engine? Who will respond to any media or blogger inquiries, if they come in? What are you going to tell new business prospects? I have always advocated getting all of your potentially affected shareholders in the same room, at least once per year, to brainstorm worst case scenarios. Once you’ve outlined the worst case scenario, assign everyone a role in dealing with the crisis. That way, when the crisis comes (even if it isn’t exactly like the worst case scenario), everyone knows what to do. I could write an entire column on how to set up your crisis communication plan – but you don’t need years of experience to set up a simple, tactical crisis plan. A little bit of communication upfront can save a lot of panic later.
- Be a part of the Conversation: If you aren’t participating in the dialogue that is shaping your industry, you probably aren’t considered a thought leader. Some have asked me, “What does being a thought leader have to do with SEO?” It’s all about the links. Perceived thought leaders get links. Good. Links. People listen to what they have to say and link to what they have to say. Go back to step 2. If you’ve identified positive content, as a thought leader, you can point others to that positive content. They link to it. It starts to move up and rank for the keywords with which you are concerned. Then you push out a negative result In a future column I might talk about Google Suggest and how that is affecting businesses and individuals exponentially – but for now, let’s just take in the fact that Google Suggest is based upon search volume. If you are a thought leader, you can drive search volume and links. You become a thought leader by participating and contributing to online conversations in your area of expertise. If you are a thought leader, you have a lot less ground to cover if a crisis hits.
ABOUT TONY WRIGHT
With more than fifteen years of hands-on and strategic experience in interactive marketing and a background in traditional and interactive public relations and journalism, Tony Wright, CEO and Founder of WrightIMC (www.wrightimc.com) has spent his career helping businesses of all sizes be profitable on the Web. Wright is a search marketing expert and also has extensive experience in online crisis communication and brand reputation strategy, including corporate blogging and corporate monitoring, most notably directing the online corporate reputation management strategy for American Airlines immediately following the events of September 11, 2001. Wright served as president of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Search Marketing Association and is a sought after speaker at industry events. His blog is www.shavingoccam.com. Read Tony Wright’s PubCon biography.