In today’s day and age, reputation can make or break a business. With information so readily available online, it is essential to keep an eye on what people are saying about your business. Hopefully it’s easy for you and your business alike to keep up a positive reputation, but sometimes getting a bad review, unkind words from a disgruntled customer, or exaggerated claims from an ex-employee are inevitable. In the event that this happens to you or your business, don’t you worry, that’s where reputation management comes in! There are ways to get your positive citations to outweigh the negative.
Using search engine optimization to combat a negative citation can be costly and time consuming, but in the scheme of things, getting negative listings off of search results can be far more valuable than the money spent on a reputation management campaign. The same techniques that Search Engine Optimizers use to get their clients higher rankings in search engines can also be used to push negative citations further down in search results.
Areas of Focus:
Increasing the amount of shelf space you rank for a certain key term can help push negative listings down
Linkbuilding can be used to increase the rank of search results that you want to appear in SERPs
Blogging efforts can be implemented to get people talking about you and your business in the positive manner you want them to.
If you have the chance to brag about the wonderful things that your company is doing, DO IT!
Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from. -Al Franken, “Oh, the Things I Know”, 2002
So let’s learn some precious life lessons, and maybe get a laugh or two in while we’re at it.
Here are some companies who should have put a little more thought into how their business name would appear online.
1. ‘Who Represents’ is where you can find the name of the agent that represents any celebrity. Their Web site is:
2. ‘Experts Exchange’ is a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views at:
3. Looking for a great pen? Look no further than’ Pen Island ‘. It can be found at:
4. Need a therapist? Try ‘Therapist Finder’ at:
5. Then there’s the ‘Italian Power Generator’ company. Check it out at:
Forum marketing, in my opinion, is one of the most overlooked markets on the web. Forum marketing is engaging discussion communities through link-building, direct advertising, participation, and social media campaigns. At the time of this article the biggest forum on the internet, Gaia Online, comprises over 25 Million users and 1.9 Billion, yes with a ‘B’, posts. In a single site you can reach a community that is equal in size to the population of Australia.
A forum is a website that allows users to register and post about a particular subject that interests them. For example, “Nikon Lenses” would be a great topic on a photography forum. As a result, forums reach out to a large, yet focused, audience. In fact, a popular forum can generate 50 million page views, and reach over a quarter million unique visitors in a single month. That is why becoming familiar with forums is a good step towards maximizing your SEO and social media efforts.
The first step in maximizing your marketing effort on forums is identifying your target audience. Discussion board users can be summarized into a handful of social roles, or “personas.”
Forum Marketing – Identify the Audience
Administrator / Moderator - Management, they make sure the site stays active and on task.
General User - The core of the forum, a general user visits the forum regularly and contributes to topics that interest them.
Forum Junkie / “Post Whore” – A user that represents a small minority of the forum but actively posts with high frequency. The predominance of the posts made by this persona are regarded as low quality and tend to stray off topic.
Subject Matter Experts – This represents a small segment of users that are held in high regard for their knowledge and prowess in problem solving or pushing the limits of the subject matter.
Lurker – The lurker makes up the vast majority of any forum community. They simply visit the site for information and entertainment, but do not contribute often.
Forum Marketing: Developing a Strategy
Marketing on forums can be a bit of a pitfall if you don’t develop a good strategy. The core of a good marketing strategy is to acknowledge that you’re only seeing a small portion of the audience due to the “lurker effect”. The “lurker effect” is best depicted as an iceberg, with the vast majority of the audience being hidden … and we all know what happens when you ignore icebergs.
The general user is most like the lurker, the difference being that the general user is more extroverted. Because of this similarity it is a best practice to base your forum marketing strategy on this persona. The subject matter expert represents “value add” and should be viewed as a secondary target. They will add validity and substance to your brand due to their influence. However, it is a double edged sword should they find your brand or product inferior.
The remaining personas should be held as third tier since they represent a small market group. In my opinion, your forum marketing efforts should be fixated on the general user and subject matter expert personas.
Forum Marketing: Conclusion
Forum marketing should only be approached if you are familiar and cognizant with the audience of that particular forum. People are different and so are forums, so it is imperative to be able to identify and categorize the personas for your targeted forum. Once categorized you can develop an effective forum marketing plan and maximize your efforts. If not, it’s advisable to maintain a large supply of life boats.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that Lifestyle Lift, a cosmetic surgery company providing “facial-firming procedures,” will pay $300,000 in penalties and costs for publishing false reviews of the company and its procedures on the Internet. The company must also cease posting fake reviews and testimonials online and clearly disclose Internet content for which they are responsible.
Lifestyle Lift felt that negative online feedback had hurt its reputation, so the company launched an aggressive in-house brand management campaign. Employees were instructed to pose as satisfied customers on message boards and forums and to criticize or attempt to remove posts that were critical of Lifestyle Lift. The company also created several blogs and websites on which employees posted positive reviews. The sites did not disclose that they were run by Lifestyle Lift. (Examples of the reviews can be downloaded at http://www.oag.state.ny.us/bureaus/internet_bureau/pdfs/LifestyleLiftStories.pdf.)
The Lifestyle Lift settlement is the first case in the United States to address the issue of companies posing as consumers and posting false reviews of products or services, also known as “astroturfing.” This practice is an extreme tactic avoided by Apogee Search and (I hope) other reputable search marketers, but the Lifestyle Lift case has important implications for less aggressive brand management and search engine optimization campaigns.
Don’t forget advertising laws and regulations. Search marketing campaigns gone wrong can have consequences more dire and expensive than search engine penalties. Most companies are very aware that they must keep Federal Trade Commission, state, and local regulations in mind when advertising through traditional media, but some forget that advertising online is no different. Keep regulations in mind and be aware of what you can and cannot say when creating campaigns and messaging, particularly if your company does not have a legal department to review marketing materials.For more information, see “FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” and general information on “truth-in-advertising laws” at http://www.business.gov/business-law/advertising-law/truth-in-advertising/. Certain products and services, especially those related to health and medicine, may also be subject to additional regulations.
Be transparent. Concealing your affiliation with a company during online marketing efforts can lead to a damaged reputation, embarrassment, and legal penalties in extreme cases like the Lifestyle Lift settlement. Some websites, particularly Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers, may also ban you and/or your IP address if you frequently endorse a product or service without disclosure.Always mention that you represent the company that you are endorsing when requesting links, commenting on blog posts, or posting in forums. This disclosure may cause some of your posts or comments to be taken down, but in the end, you will avoid potential fraud allegations and resentment from visitors who learn of the dishonesty. Disclosure is especially important on microsites and blogs; make it obvious that your company has a hand in the website.
Respond to negative feedback. Lifestyle Lift dealt with negative online feedback by trying to squash it. Instead, use negative feedback as an opportunity to communicate with your customers. Respond to negative posts on forums or blogs with apologies and attempts to rectify the situation (perhaps offer a gift card or advice for fixing a product). If these negative comments show up in search results, visitors will also see that your company cares enough to respond to dissatisfied customers. If your company has experienced a public relations nightmare and the Internet is flooded with negative comments, consider creating a microsite dedicated to telling your company’s side of the story (but remember to disclose that your company created the site!).Many companies are also using social media as an avenue for responding to negative feedback. Search Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets for negative comments about your company and respond directly to the posters with advice and/or offers of recompensation. Some companies have also setup Twitter accounts specifically for customer support questions. For examples of how some businesses are using Twitter to communicate with customers, see http://www.searchenginejournal.com/16-examples-of-huge-brands-using-twitter-for-business/7792/.
Create listings but not reviews on review sites. Listings on sites that allow users to leave reviews can generate traffic and word-of-mouth about your business. These sites are most effective for B2C establishments with physical locations. Some of the most popular review sites are Yelp, Yahoo! Local, Google Local, and Citysearch.It is perfectly acceptable to list your business locations on these sites, but leave the reviews to the users. These websites can use IP addresses to determine if your company is reviewing itself, and this can lead to you being banned from the site. Also, if users realize that your employees are reviewing the company, this can lead to more damaging press than a negative review.
Ensure that everyone knows what can and cannot be said. Make sure that employees who might post online about the company know the rules of your marketing message. Reinforce that everyone should disclose their affiliation with the company when posting comments online. Employees may even want to refrain from leaving comments on review sites to avoid potential problems.
“Why do I need to pay for clicks on my brand name?”
Does this question sound familiar? The reasoning for asking this question usually follows shortly after and sounds something like, “If they’re already searching for me, won’t they just click my natural search listing?” Clients ask this question far too often, and as tough economic times continue, I’m sure it will be asked with more and more frequency.
This week at SMX West, my typical response to this question was further vindicated by aSearch and Branding panel of industry experts. I heard a lot of interesting viewpoints, some familiar to me and others new.
On the familiar side, Michael Kahn kicked off the panel by stating that not purchasing branded paid search keywords increases the likeliness that your competitors will profit from your name. This is not a new concept. In 2006 Hitwise released a study announcing that 85% of branded searches land on your site while 15% of that traffic goes to your competitors. Without even reading that particular study, I am able to confirm that statement based solely on the fact that some of my clients’ best performing keywords are their competitors’ names.
Michael and Scott Edwards made the other obvious but still very important point that if you fail to capture traffic from searches on your branded terms, you’re losing money on all your other marketing efforts. This boggles my mind when clients don’t get it — you’ve spent thousands (maybe tens of thousands or even millions) of dollars on print ads, TV commercials, attending trade shows all year, etc., but you’re not willing to spend a few dollars on a click to convert the interest you generated into a potential sale? Pepsi apparently missed out when they spent oodles promoting their Super Bowl ad on YouTube, but didn’t purchase any paid search ads.
Other notable points mentioned on this panel include:
Receive a better return on non-branded terms when you have paid and natural search visibility on branded terms.
One panelist stated that 39% of searchers rely on Google results to identify the industry leaders. Subsequently, it makes sense that if someone sees your company name appear more than once on Google, then that reinforces the user’s impression that you have a brand that can be trusted.
Reinforcement of using branded search terms as a barometer for marketing efforts across platforms. The number of branded search clicks you receive can give you insight into the evolution of your brand and market share.
MTV uses search query research to determine how their brand is evolving. By the nature of their product, MTV has learned the other important thing I tell my clients: the best keywords don’t project your marketing message, but rather reflect what the user calls your product. Where better to get that information than from search queries?
The most interesting part of the panel for me was hearing Stuart Meyler talk about increasing brand messaging awareness in traditional brand metrics by using paid and natural search. General Electric has partnered with Google on a soon-to-be-released case study revealing that top PPC and SEO positions increased the brand recognition of GE’s ties to renewable energy by 70%. Meyler’s hypothesis on the reason for the growth was that paid and natural search increases the frequency of exposure to a concept, and consequently have a direct impact on awareness.
Overall, the panelists gave insightful presentations. Thanks to SMX West and the Search and Branding panelists for providing significant material to help win the ongoing “why do I have to pay for my own name” battle with clients.
I recently spoke with Lauren Perdue, a natural search specialist at Apogee Search. She discussed social networking strategies that businesses should consider to increase their online presence.
First, let’s identify the difference between social networking vs. social media. Social networking sites are websites that allow people to connect and socialize. Usually, they have a profile based platform through which individuals create a profile and interact with other users. Social networking sites often offer a social media aspect within their sites, but this function is often secondary.
Social media, on the other hand, is self-published news or articles. Individuals can disseminate information without relying on a major news outlet. Social media has a very strong community aspect.
Businesses should consider using social networking sites since they are free and a great way to grow a loyal customer base. Facebook offers fan pages that companies can use for self promotion and to pass along information. This is a free option that any business can use to begin experimenting with social networking.
Businesses should be aware of the potential risks involved with social networking sites as well. They are opening themselves up for public comment, and these comments are not always positive. Companies should be especially careful if they have skeletons in their closet or other embarrassing information that they do not want to share.
Companies should also remember their goals when considering social networking options. If they do not have the time to continually update a blog, then they should not start one. Additionally, Twitter users often use cell phones to make updates. It doesn’t make sense for a company that forbids cell phone usage to utilize Twitter.
Social networking gives businesses the opportunity to interact with their consumers and to solicit feedback. There are very few forums that provide businesses as much information about their consumers as social networking.
Lauren concluded with two key tips for implementing a social networking camapign:
Maintenance is key! Users will only participate when the content is interesting and when new information is contributed regularly.
Try to maintain a fun and casual tone. Twitter and Facebook are not the place for stuffy, corporate tones. Keep these tools fun and interactive and you will find more success.
Over the weekend a truly extraordinary example of the impact social networking is having on business to consumer relationships emerged as Motrin’s newest ad campaign turned from a firestorm of criticism into a brilliant PR move.
Motrin’s campaign (done by NYC ad agency TAXI New York) commented on the various tolls motherhood takes on one’s body, and how this pain was a badge of pride for “real moms.” Nevermind the potentially incendiary idea of “real moms” (versus what, “fake moms?”), mothers began to grouse that these ads were wrong on many, many levels:
“I am exquisitely aware that the only way my voice is heard, is when you repeat my words. I try to play nice and use my inside voice, and I need y’all to know that my ‘baby’ is seven. I’m not prickly because they picked on me. I’m prickly because they picked on new mommies. I’m prickly because calling us bad mothers will never be funny.” – LA Moms Blog
“I am deeply and profoundly offended. My kids are big, I no longer wear them so Motrin (Johnson and Johnson) didn’t hurt my feelings specifically but they broke the #1 rule of comedy and satire:
Don’t pick on the weak.
New mothers are fragile. Motrin has proven, irrevocably that they don’t understand that mothers are the ones in the grocery stores. Mothers clip coupons and build brands with discussion. Mothers get together and uplift one another.
Offended mom Jessica Gottlieb was the first to air her criticisms of the campaign via Twitter, and over the weekend thousands of tweets by “Motrin Moms” littered the Twitterverse, which surpassed Barack Obama to become the most-tweeted topic in months.
The last group of people you want to upset via the Internet are mommybloggers, for they are fast, efficient, and well-connected. In a recession, Motrin probably recognized the much higher cost of bad press and the idea of being blacklisted in American homes in favor of cheaper generic medicines and mom-friendly brands.
Motrin responded quickly, taking the ads down and issuing an apology to their offended moms:
The apology is circulating now, and while it was a drastic move, it was also very smart. The social networks that spread negative news can just as easily spread positive ones, and using social networks to their advantage was a great reaction on Motrin’s part. Social networks are community-based, and direct communication is key. Social networking is vital to monitoring public opinion and maintaining those connections, so that when a marketing move crashes and burns, you can fight fire with fire.
I recently interviewed Nadia King, Apogee Search’s Manager of Natural Search Services, about online reputation management. More companies and individuals are learning that their online reputations are critical for success. Nadia outlined why online reputation management is important and she provided a few tips on how you can start to manage your online reputation now.
The specialists at Apogee Search have been consulting on online reputation management since the first quarter of 2006, which means that Nadia and her colleagues have more experience in this area than most others in the field.
Nadia began by explaining that parties who seek information about a company usually go online first. This can include possible clients, partners and even recruits. Therefore, managing your online reputation is critical for maintaining beneficial business relationships.
There are usually two objectives for managing online reputations. First, companies may need to deal with bad press, even if the bad press is inaccurate. Second, many companies seek to actively manage their positive reputations.
Companies that do not manage their online reputation face the following possible results:
Bad press can occupy spots in the search engines, potentially on the first page
Good press and your website can be pushed out of the top rankings and possibly off the first page
Important constituencies may see the negative results, causing your business relationships to suffer
Links to bad press can mature and gain value in the Google search algorithm. This can cause the bad press to rise in the search results.
Your marketing department should publicize your company. When newsworthy events happen, write about it. This way your good press will rank high in the search engines and you will already have an established voice in the industry.
You should actively manage the sites that you have control over. For example, set up a Facebook Fan page or a MySpace page and monitor it. Take advantage of these avenues. Social networking pages rank well in Google, so you should develop a strong profile on these sites.
Twitter presents its users with a very simple premise: tell the world what you’re doing right now, in 140 characters or less. Hardcore Twitter users stay constantly engaged via Twitter clients like Twhirl and Twitteriffic, providing them a nonstop stream of news, updates, pictures and links.
In a world of highly-spun press releases and well-rehearsed corporatespeak, the idea of a company “tweeting” to its followers may seem ineffective, possibly even dangerous. Tweets are off-the-cuff, conversational. Not every company has the public persona necessary to communicate authentically via Twitter.
Southwest uses its Twitter account to update their customers with interesting details about life at Southwest Headquarters. They respond to replies from followers, creating a sense of transparency within their Twitter community. Followers get first notice about fare sales announced via Twitter, free gifts, and articles of note about Southwest. In return for the time invested, Southwest gets priceless information on the habits and random thoughts of their customers.
The Southwest Twitter account seems, like Apogee’s, to be manned by multiple people though it speaks with one voice. I would strongly encourage having a “Designated Twitterer”, however, because it’s very possible to spam via Twitter if someone is not keeping track of what gets posted. Tweeting more than once a day isn’t spammy, but you should concentrate on having quality content behind it.
You can follow Apogee on Twitter for interesting SEM and company news and events — we’ve also been known to give out a discount code or two! Stay tuned to the Apogee Search Marketing Blog for the next entry in our social media series.