UGC Creates Opportunity For Disgruntled Malcontents

July 20, 2009

seo_circleWhen talking about online reputation management in the organic SERPs, you’re talking on-demand SEO. The best defense is a robust offense, so make sure the strength of your site’s optimization makes it harder for anyone to even get on the SERPs for direct brand search. However, don’t make things worse by biting off more than you can chew. Sometimes it is always best to engage an expert instead.

For example, the “please can you help us” cold calls we receive from distraught business are increasing in frequency and sound frightfully similar. The frustrated caller explains that some former employee, customer or other provocateur has published damaging editorial content which indexes prominently in Google for direct brand and other important keyword searches. Or negative pages more than five years old, or longer, still display prominantly in the major search engine results, often resulting in lost business that has been measurable.

For a large company, the results can often be disastrous, ranging from bruised feelings to tens (or hundreds) of millions in lost sales. Whilst creating an intentional reputation monitoring/management plan ahead of time is certainly optimal, usually by the time we get the call the business is already bleeding profusely.

Depending on the SEO skill level of the villain, the one who has targeted you, their determination and the authority of the site on which the damaging diatribe is published, the offending results can cause nastiness for businesses and/or individuals needing to now cleanse themselves of the humiliation.

Enter the SEO sharpshooter specialist, focused on attaining organic prominence as quickly as possible under pressure. The objective is to push this nasty content as far down the SERPs as possible and, if necessary, debunk the credibility of the damning editorial(s).  Ironically the tactics we reach for in crises are similar to many other SEO campaigns: Competitive intelligence, content publishing, link building, taking inventory of digital assets for universal search and leveraged power of social channels are among classic tools of the trade.

What differentiates crises management is the sense of urgency, pressure to perform, legal options and the obvious downside to failure.

Here are some time tested tips for SEO / ORM triage sharpshooters:

1. Evaluate the authority of the page on which the negative content is published. As with any ORM assignment, start by taking a look at PageRank and inbound links profile using Yahoo Site Explorer and other tools. If the offending result is not on a site’s homepage, then take a careful look at older and similar interior pages along with their archives.

Google’s algorithmic regard for any page tends to accumulate over time as a result of numerous factors, known and “black box.” Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that any page’s clout might increase over time. Be advised and plan accordingly.

Reciprocally, if the problem content is currently indexing on a blog’s homepage, the difficulty may be mitigated when the post cycles off the homepage into archives. While the post is on the homepage, its content has the full “weight” of the homepage’s authority.

This won’t be the case in archive unless the post generates great links. That said many blogs’ category pages, author and date archives accumulate PageRank and you might have to wait a while for the post to cycle even deeper into to site over time. (Note: PageRank isn’t everything but it’s better to have it than not.)

2. Determine the likelihood that the substance of proposed defensive content will further provoke and backfire virally. We find it’s best if newly created content and subsequent promotional activity do not appear to be directly related to the problem we’re competing with.

There’s an old saying that advises never to “get into a pissing contest with a skunk. Even if you win…you stink.” Instead, create defensive content that builds on your or your businesses  strengths to contradict the negatives raised by a bad editorial. Then build your content to outrank the complainants.

Though we never take directly refuting offensive results off the table fully, one needs to be extremely careful. We don’t want 5 other bloggers to rally behind their jerky friend and take up a damaging cause they hadn’t even noticed before.

3. Since some offending results violate copyright or trademark laws, a strong understanding of and willingness to utilize legal channels can be important arrows in the ORM sharpshooter’s quiver. Sometimes the first salvo we fire is from our client’s law firm in the form of a cease and desist letter, if for no other reason than to go “on record”.

Be aware of laws as pertain to protected marks and intellectual property. Certainly taking the legal route can yield results and sometimes the expense makes sense.

On the other hand be a realist. Some insolent jerk halfway around the world won’t give a rat’s ass about your attorney’s saber rattling. Sometimes firing legal missles can even result in your opponent digging in their heels with an intransigent disregard for reality. Now you have a worsening problem.

When nasty search engine results stem from social media channels, it can be impossible to locate the villain let alone engage them legally. Social site moderators often couldn’t care less because they thrive on the passionate engagement which surrounds controversy. StumbleUpon (eBay) is the worst as they are nearly completely unwilling to enforce Terms of Services as pertain to abusive “troll” users.

4. If direct engagement in social channels makes sense, attempt to earn the provocateurs respect by your response. Every disaster is an opportunity in the making and vice versa. While measured righteous indignation can be a powerful tool, start with classic high road messages of respect and understanding: “I understand your position,” “respect your right to express your feelings in public,” “am grateful for the opportunity to engage in a dialog” and “what can we do to make things right?”

5. Consider paid search as a stopgap and/or ongoing strategy. When weighing the cost of PPC to circumvent damaging organic results, paid search is often an attractive “lesser of all evils’ option, especially in the short term while waiting for other solutions to come online. Google’s content network, in the hands of a site-targeting expert, can be a highly effective channel — especially when clarifying or refuting mainstream damage in news, niche’ and social channels.

6. Unless you’re an expert, talk to a professional before engaging directly in social channels surrounding the problem results. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen a business person, who has no experience in social media, climb into a comments thread and make things SO much worse. There are very few instances when taking a step back and counting to 10 will negatively impact the end result of defensive activities.

If you’re not a regular contributor in a specific social media channel, learning the vernacular while under duress is not the best choice. Also, we’ve seen clients make legal mistakes publicly which made a difficult problem much worse. Call on an ORM/social media expert such as http://www.ReputationDR.com. Call your lawyer. Have a glass of wine and some sushi. Chill.

7. Get back to SEO basics. The best defense is a good offense. In reality it should be difficult for idiots to crack into direct brand search results if your website is optimized properly.

8. Finally, take the high road over and over. Then take the high road again. If that doesn’t work…you can always nuke ’em’. There are white hat methods and other, ummmm, not-so-white hat methods available to “eliminate” the problem. Given recent furor over public discussion of bad-ass SEO tactics, you’ll have to contact us directly to discuss other options available to you.

Forewarned is Forearmed

There is every kind of crackpot on the Internet, real loonies. Also bad things can happen to good people and great companies. It’s best to have your defense in place before the crises hits, a social media security system if you will.

When push comes to shove and you’re exposed, take these 8 steps as a starting place to empower your search and online reputation defense. The 9th crucial priority is “response and management”, an entirely different animal than SEO or alerts, as previously discussed in this Blog. The way a each individual or company responds to PR danger is highly personal to the entity at risk.

Sued for a tweet: How not to deal with complaints on Twitter

Take a deep breath, don’t panic, contact us for best brand defense information and FREE consultation.

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