One of the most popular articles on SEJ is about using social media profiles for Online Reputation Management (ORM), which is a great starting point for ORM, however, there are some problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of this method. Most people will never have to deal with the kind of ORM problem that requires more advanced techniques, but it’s important to be ready, just in case you come up against an ORM nightmare.
There are two such nightmares I’d like to discuss today: negative terms in Google’s search suggestions and negative sub-listings on sites who can’t be shaken from the top 10.
There’s a brief disclaimer associated with these tactics. They are a bit on the gray side, however it would be almost impossible to get your site penalized for using them.
Influencing Google Search Suggestions
If something negative about you or your brand starts showing up in Google search suggestions, you’re in for a bit of a battle. There really isn’t an established method for dealing with this problem. There are a few tricks I’ve seen work in the past. For obvious reasons, I can’t give specific examples, but the overall tips aren’t person or brand specific.
The first step is identifying positive or neutral phrases you’d like to see in the search suggestions. If you’ve done your due diligence and have a slew of social media profiles, the obvious choices are related to those profiles, ie [Insert Brand Name] Facebook, [Insert Brand Name] Twitter, [Insert Brand Name] Squidoo, etc. If you haven’t made social media profiles examine all preexisting content and look for common positive or neutral phrases. If you still have nothing, just brainstorm some positive phrases, ie [Insert Brand Name] Philanthropy, [Insert Brand Name] Charity, [Insert Brand Name] Innovation.
Once you’ve compiled your list, the first step is creating more content targeting the positive or neutral phrases and/or pointing keyword targeted links at the existing content. Ideally, add the keyword targeted content to the same site as existing negative content, particularly if there is a result that isn’t negative, but has a negative sub-listing (more on this later). If you aren’t able to add content to the sites with negative content, use article directories or a document site like Scribd. The goal is to get as much unique content targeting the positive or neutral keywords as possible into Google’s index, so avoid using the same content on multiple sites or creating content on new sites that haven’t already accrued some domain trust.
The final part of this step is getting keyword targeted links to the new content. Avoid creating an incestuous link ring out of all the content you created. You can use your social media profiles for nofollow links to get content indexed and then judiciously distribute links between your new and old content. As usual, vary your anchor text by including some generic anchor texts, ie Click Here or example.com/totally-awesome-positive-content.html. You don’t need to go crazy with getting links, but just enough to get the new content some link juice.
You’ll need to enlist the help of a few friends to make this next step work. The next step is running searches for the positive or neutral phrases. An increase in search volume will have a QDF-esque (query deserves freshness) affect on the search suggest and new items will be put into consideration and old ones will be re-evaluated. The key to making this increase in search volume seem organic is cycling between searching logged in and logged off while cycling IP addresses. You should not search for the same phrases too many times while logged in otherwise the activity starts to seem a bit suspicious.
The best way to achieve the cycling IP is using an anonymous browser service. This is also a great way to get past the firewall at work. There are a million different ad-plastered sites that offer this service and any one is as good as the next.
After a month, to check to see if this tactic is working, while waiting for the suggestion to change, use the AdWords keyword tool to see if the phrase is showing up in the possible keyword variations.
To augment the effect of Step 2 you and your team should start using query refinement, which since the Vince update has been given much more weight than ever before. Start by searching for just the brand name. Maybe scroll through Page 1 and go to Page 2 or skip to Page 3 or don’t go past Page 1 at all.
Next, search for one of the positive or neutral phrases you’ve selected. Click through to the positive result you’ve created. Stay on that page and then navigate around the site. Don’t return to Google until you’ve cycled IPs or accessed another Google service.
Paid ads can also help influence search suggestions, but save this tactic as a last resort, unless you’ve got some money to burn. If you decide to go this route, place ads on your general brand and the phrase or exact match of the positive or neutral phrases you are targeting. Place relatively low bids and set low budgets, and you won’t run the risk spending a ton. Run the ads until you’ve seen a positive change in the search suggestions.
If you’ve done all this for a few months and still haven’t affected a positive change, then you might want to reconsider whatever behavior is causing this ongoing ORM problem of yours.
Influencing a Negative Sub-listing on a Positive Main Listing
Ideally, while you were creating your positive or neutral keyword targeted content you added it to the site with the negative sub-listing. If you don’t have the ability to add content to this site, you’ll have to find a piece of positive or neutral content on that same site. If there’s nothing positive or neutral on that site, you’ll have to get creative and should probably reconsider whatever behavior is getting you in so much trouble… more on this later.
Once you’ve created new content or identified positive or neutral content on the offending site, get that content some links. Ideally, you can get some really strong links and the problem will be taken care of, however you’ll likely need to do more than get links because the existing sub-listing will already have links and age on its side.
After you procure some links for the positive or neutral content, get your team to start cycling between the following search behaviors:
- Search for the brand name, then search for a unique phrase on the content you’d like to replace the negative sub-listing and click through to that content
- Search for the brand name, click the negative sub-listing, go back and search for the unique phrase and click through to the content you’d like to show as the sub-listing
- Search for the unique phrase on the content you’d like to show as the sub-listing and click-through
While you do this, make sure you are using the same IP cycling that you did to influence the search suggestions. Over time, this should have a positive influence on the sub-listing.
If you’re working with nothing contentwise, you’ll need to descend a bit into the blackhat realm, and by a bit I mean you’ll need to descend totally into the blackhat realm. I don’t recommend these tactics, because even though they won’t get your site penalized, you’ll really only need them if you’ve done something very wrong.
Start by creating duplicate versions of the negative content on social media sites. Social Median is great for this because it gets indexed very quickly, will generally outrank the original piece of content with little effort and you can remove the content from social median if it starts ranking well. Next, get some poisoned links, which is easier said than done, ie from spammy blogs or directories, .gov and .edu search results or sitewide links from a link network. These behaviors will likely help get that sub-listing removed.
As a final caveat, don’t do anything from the above paragraph.
Before you start going buckwild, remember that your competitors, mortal enemies, etc can just as easily do this back to you and create an arms race that no one will win longterm. The only longterm solution to this problem is not doing anything that will create ORM problems.
Josh Millrod is a digital strategist at Wieden+Kennedy, a full-service creatively driven international advertising agency with offices in Portland, New York, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Shanghai. He would never ever in a million years do anything he just outlined above for any piece of business that ever graced his desk, home computer or phone. Seriously… NEVER! In his spare time Josh plays trumpet in a noise band called Grasshopper and runs a small record label called Bloodfist Karate School.
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