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Managing your online reputation in search is not something you can leave to chance. What are the key things you should consider?
UC Davis (part of the University of California) is an example of what happens when things go wrong: the school was reportedly forced to spend $175,000 to help clean up negative references about it that appeared online after an incident when student protesters were sprayed with pepper spray by campus police.
As so much of what people do online starts with search, a big part of managing your online reputation relates to search engines: trying to control and influence what appears when someone performs searches of your brand, key people and products and services.
It’s not just about driving out negative mentions
Most people assume that this is mainly about getting rid of negative content (such as in the UC Davis example) or pushing negative references lower while improving the rankings of positive material residing on your website or blog. But managing your online reputation goes beyond taking away negatives.
You need to make sure that the information people are seeing about you is accurate, up to date and consistent across all regions and countries. And you should continually find ways of improving what appears so that it’s more engaging and paints a more desirable picture.
Google decides what it shows in search engine results pages (SERPs) algorithmically based on hundreds of different factors. And the task for organisations who want to manage what appears for their brand is getting increasingly complicated.
It’s not just about the blue organic links in Google results
In addition to the traditional organic search results (the familiar blue links on search pages), Google now includes a whole array of other search real estate. Take a look at the image below which shows some of the elements that appear on page 1 for a brand search for “Netflix”.
So where do you start if you want to manage your online reputation in search? Here are five key considerations to inform your planning:
1. What SERP real estate are people seeing when they search for your brand?
First, it’s useful to conduct an audit of what people are seeing when they search for your brand keywords on Google and other search engines. In addition to the organic results there’s so many other elements that appear (as you can see from the Netflix example above). They range from universal search integrations (news, images, videos, maps, and shopping results) to Twitter cards, Google Knowledge Graph, as well as paid search results and a lot more.
And don’t forget that you need to analyse what appears according to region, country, device and search query intent as all these could throw up different results.
2. Of those SERP elements that appear for your brand, which can you reasonably expect to own or control?
You can definitely own or have control over what is on your website, your company blog, how you are represented in industry profiles, your social profiles such as your company Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube page. All of these can find their way into search results pages, so it’s important to take stock of what they are.
3. How do you communicate your brand in those parts of the SERPs you can expect to own and control?
Next you need to ensure that everything on the pages you own or can control is on message. Is all the content up to date? Does it highlight the positive things you want target audiences to know about your company? Is what you are saying consistent across all the different elements – including images, videos, online slide presentations?
4. How do you maximize the visibility in the SERPs of elements you own or can control?
How do you push the parts you own and control higher up the search rankings pages so they are visible for brand searches? This is a huge subject and one which usually falls under the remit of your SEO consultant. It includes making sure that your web pages and properties are technically optimised – paying attention to areas such as site speed, load time, site structure, internal linking - as well as optimising the content on individual pages and earning backlinks and mentions from other sites, all which have an impact on the performance of a domain in search results.
5. How can you influence the parts you don’t own and control?
There are many elements in the results you don’t own or cannot directly control that could rank in the SERPs for your brand. This includes other sites that mention your company ranging from competitors to partners, industry publications, blogs and online forums and review sites.
While you can’t directly control what they publish, you do have some influence. If something is incorrect or out of date you can consider contacting the website owner or author and asking them to correct it. If there is a negative forum or social media post you can respond to it.
Going back to the search real estate other than the organic links – here too, there are things you can influence. Examples include:
- Video results: the majority of video results integrated into the SERPs are from YouTube. Make sure you host your videos there and include clear meta tags and descriptions and upload transcripts to let Google know what they feature.
- Image results: ensure you optimise image assets on your website and social sites so they include brand search terms in captions, alt text and descriptions to increase their chances of appearing in image results.
- News results: have a media relations specialist managing the flow of company news to target media to influence the News results that show up when people search for your brand.
- Knowledge Graph: the Knowledge Graph (which appears on the right hand side of the SERP) is incredibly important. Much of the information it incorporates is taken from a brand’s website, social channels, Google My Business account and often from its Wikipedia listing. You can influence it by ensuring logos, images, contact details, social profiles etc., are all correct and up to date.
- Site links: Google sometimes incorporates links to important pages on a brand’s website underneath the main organic blue link within the SERP. You can increase the chances that it incorporates site links to pages you want targets to see by creating a XML site map and using anchor text and alt text about those key pages that’s clear and informative.
Online reputation management in search should be on the agenda of every organisation that wants to have an online presence. It’s definitely not something that can be left to chance. Ideally you should devote time and resources to proactively cultivate it.