Online reputation management: How to clean up or eliminate unfavorable search results

No matter how good your business is, you’re bound to get some bad press at some point. It’s a part of business but wouldn’t be so bad… if it didn’t appear on the first page of a Google search result! Somehow, bad news or reviews seem magnetized to the very top of search results, and they remain stuck there as an obstacle to a fast-flowing sales funnel!

I’ve worked with several businesses and individuals who have bad press from their past lurking in Google search results, and we’ve rolled up our sleeves and dug in, trying to take back ownership of their reputation by taking back ownership of their top Google results. Here is the advice that I give them:

You essentially have 2 options:

  • You can talk louder and more often than the bad news or reviews
  • You can change the story completely

Both will take time and investment (sorry). I have seen both work and can’t say which one is better, although I suspect that the “better” one has to do with how quickly you need the content removed from search results about you and how flexible your prospects and customers are.

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT OPTION ONE: TALK LOUDER AND MORE OFTEN
If you have some annoying news or reviews that aren’t budging from your Google search results, you will need to get more aggressive by talking louder and more often.

Identify the keyword that is the problem. Is it your name or your business’ name? Be certain that it’s the keywords that people are actually Googling to get to you. (If your name is Bob Smith but you have earned bunch of bad reviews about “Robert Smith” that don’t even show up when someone searches for you, then forget about trying to manage it… it’s not disrupting your sales funnel unless your contacts find it in some other way). But if it’s your name (or business name) that is causing the problem, and bad news is showing up on that word when people Google you, here’s how to talk louder and more often:

Own the word: Make sure you own the domain name of that keyword. If you can think of a few different websites, consider buying related domain names. For example, I might own AaronHoos.com, AaronHoos-publishing.com, AaronHoos-writing.com, AaronHoos-speaking.com, AaronHoos-consulting.com, etc., or AaronHoos.net, AaronHoos.org, AaronHoos.info, etc. You can’t just copy and paste the content from one site to another and you should endeavor to keep each site fresh. At the very least, start with one site that is exclusively your name or your business’ name, if at all possible.

Start a blog: Start a blog with that name in the URL. Blogger and Posterous are my favorites but there are several others. If you can manage content across all of them, then start a blog at several of them. (Make it easy on yourself by assigning a function to each blog. Maybe one blog is just a quick blog about books you’re reading and every blog post features another book. Maybe another blog is for casual posts about what’s going on in your life, and it’s tied to Flickr and Last.fm and Foursquare. Maybe another blog is your professional blog. Maybe another blog is where you post your favorite videos. Again, make sure your name is in the URLs: aaronhoos.blogspot.com and aaronhoos.posterous.com, for example.

Get social: Open a Twitter account. Use your name as the Twitter ID. Create a personal Facebook page and a business Facebook page. Change the URLs to your name. Create a LinkedIn profile and business profile (if applicable) and change the URLs to your name. Create a Foursquare page. Find other social media relevant to your niche and do the same. Get active on those sites… and own your name at each site AND make sure your privacy settings allow for being crawled by search engines and published to the web.

Post content at offsite content channels: Find 5 or more article publishing or distribution sites and get actively writing and publishing articles there. Use a combination of article distribution sites (ArticlesBase.com, Isnare.com, EzineArticles.com, etc.) and article publishing sites (Squidoo.com, HubPages.com, Suite101.com, Technorati.com, etc.)

Post news: Find an online news site that caters to your niche market and report the news in your industry or niche category.

Make your own news: Write a report – just something smallish like a 5-page PDF – and then write a series of press releases. Publish them at press release sites (and consider spending the $300+/- for a press release at PRWeb.com). Host the PDF on your site (where search engines can crawl it) but submit it to PDF search engines and ebook sites. (Scribd.com is my favorite).

Create profiles: There are several sites that allow you to create and/or manage a professional profile about yourself. They have various functions but include some of the following: GoogleProfiles, Twellow, PeoplePond, DandyID, just to name a few.

Post your resume: Create an online resume at resume sites. Depending on your industry, there might be industry-relevant sites that allow you to create a portfolio page. For a broad range of services, Guru and Elance are good examples.

And remember, the key here is to always use your name or business name (whatever the critical keyword is whose reputation you’re trying to “clean up” in Google) prominently – in the URL, the page title, subtitles, and content.

Once you’ve done all (or a majority) of these, you need to manage them: Cross link them, push RSS feeds from one to another, refresh your content, and add new content. Obviously it’s too much for anyone to do in a day or even a week, but it is manageable if you plan to write a blog every day, an article every week, a series of website refreshes every two weeks, and an update your profiles every month. Not everything has to change all the time but a good cross section of it should be refreshed regularly so that there is always something new being posted somewhere. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much. If you can produce content – a lot of content – and that content is high quality and consistent, you will eventually claw back your reputation.

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT OPTION TWO: CHANGE THE STORY
If the above list of opportunities is too much time or effort, or if you have to move quickly and aren’t afraid of shedding a few of your prospects or clients along the way, simply change the story. Find a new, related keyword that you can use and start marketing with that one aggressively.

If you are Bob Smith and there is some bad press out there, start marketing yourself as Rob Smith, for example. If you don’t have a name you can shorten (like Aaron), switch to your initials or even a pen name or professional name. Lots of people use pen names or professional names, and not just for reputation management. If you are “Fast Web Designs,” change your name to something else and aim for another related keyword… “Quick Website Builders”.

SUMMARY AND ADDITIONAL RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT TIPS
The internet gives entrepreneurs an advantage and a disadvantage: The advantage is rapid deployment of marketing to quickly build and fill sales funnels with contacts. The disadvantage is rapid spread of news and reviews (which tends to more likely to be bad than good). Like any other asset, your online reputation needs to be monitored and managed carefully. And if you ever find bad news and reviews creeping onto the search results for your business, you can talk louder and more often or you can change the story.

Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and he's a real estate investor and a copywriter for real estate investors.

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