Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Protecting Your Brand in Search Engine Results

How to Combat Negative Perceptions
Winston Churchill was quoted as saying that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” This statement has become even more accurate in the era of instant media. Today’s public relations and marketing professionals have to be ready for attacks on brand equity that can come at a moment’s notice, then stick in search engine results for years.

In many cases, a single bad review of your product or service can end up at the top of Google when people search on your company name, or your personal name. Search engines tend to give more weight to sites like Ripoffreport.com, which will publish customer complaints and leave them on the site even when an issue is resolved, or even if the claim is completely false.

Angry Customers Use Public Forums
Any small business owner who has had customers knows that there are a few people who are never satisfied with their experience. Consumer forums and online postings give these people the power to become your worst enemy, even when you have gone out of your way to make things right.

Therefore, there is no better time than the present to manage your brand reputation online. With the rise of social media and the approach of real-time search engine rankings, it is imperative for anyone with a good brand name to defend it against defamation. The “free for all” nature of internet publishing means that competitors, unsatisfied customers, and random individuals can create negative publicity for your company based on rumors, bad experiences, or smear campaigns.

Defending Your Brand on the Internet
How can you proactively defend your reputation? First of all, you can accentuate the positive. Search engine optimization techniques make it possible for you to improve the rankings of sites that are positive about you, your brand, and your business. If you cannot remove negative press or false claims, you can push it down to the second and third pages of search results. Most internet searchers do not go beyond the first page before finding what they are looking for. If you do not have good references on other sites already, eHulool.com has reputation management services that are custom made to help you show people what you want them to see.

Whenever possible, it is best to try and get negative information removed from offending sites and forums. In many cases a webmaster will do this to prevent accusations of libel, despite the broad protection given to forum postings. A large share of sites on the Internet operate on a shoestring, so it costs less to delete bad information than to retain counsel. Some sites (notably Ripoffreport.com) do not delete information but will allow you to defend yourself on the site. This is not always the best course of action, because your defense actually adds keywords to the original complaint, and may move it up on the search engines. Similarly, defending your brand in forums usually gives new life to the negative post that preceded your defense.

Staying Ahead of the Game
So then, how can a brand manager become more vigilant? First, monitor your company name online. You can sign up for Google Alerts that will send you an email every time your company name (or any other keyword) is mentioned in a news source. There are also tools that monitor Twitter and postings, so you can head off potential problems, and create a quick strategy for dealing with publicity issues.

Brand reputation management also works as a form of damage control for companies and individuals who have had problems in the past. In many cases, companies that have settled lawsuits to avoid the expense of a trial have found that state and federal court filings are still listed prominently in search engine results.

Because Google, Yahoo, and MSN tend to place a great deal of trust in government websites, this kind of publicity is hard to beat, and can result in distrust among potential clients. For clients who are able to make a substantial investment in online publicity, it is possible to get information like this moved to lower results in the search engine, assuming that highly relevant web content is created that reflects your brand, business, or name.