Why Most SEOs Can’t Do Reputation Management

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If you are an SEO and your saying to yourself, he cant be talking about me. Think again, I probably am. Dont get me wrong, I have complete faith that you could learn how to do it, but its a completely different skill set from what you are used to doing. With this in mind, it is very interesting to note how many SEOs are jumping head first into Online Reputation Management (ORM) and treating it as another project or deliverable. ORM is not just another application of SEO.

What is Online Reputation Management?

Quickly, so we are all on the same page, ORM is the task of maintaining a positive image for a person or company on the Internet. This article has a specific focus on search engine results since this seems to be the most common form related to SEOs.
What skills are needed for ORM?

Some of the more common functions associated with ORM can be broken into two types of skill sets.

Pre Reputation Crisis Skills:

This set of skills is would be used to prevent a negative issue or problem from becoming a reputation issue or from allowing the problem to remain an issue for very long. The sooner an issue is dealt with, the less likely it will have an impact on search engine results or other types of online information sources. Some examples of Pre-Crisis Skills include …

  • A fundamental understanding of how an issue would impact reputation
  • Ability to do ongoing monitoring of brands or phrases to identify potential issues
  • Ability to correctly respond to direct negative activity
  • Ability to identify and nullify potential negative activity in a subtle manner
  • Ability to perform exceptional online customer service
  • Ability to communicate effectively to potentially hostile detractors
  • A refined set of problem solving skills

Reputation Triage Skills:

This is the set of skills most commonly associated with SEO. This type of skill set is used when issues have already begun to impact the reputation of the client. Listings are turning up in search results which can negatively impact business or personal relationships and immediate action is needed to negate the listings or the impact of the listings.

  • Know and use advanced SEO techniques
  • Ability to manipulate multiple listings for a single search phrase
  • Manage a highly stressed client
  • Communicate effectively to clients and their detractors in a stressful environment
  • Utilize a wide variety of online marketing techniques
  • Be an expert problem solver

Why most SEOs can’t do it?

The first and most obvious reason is that Reputation Management at its core is a customer service issue, not a search marketing issue. A vast majority of SEOs are not trained in or have any experience with customer service. Sure, once a situation has elevated to the point it needs specific attention in the search engine results, the manifestation of the problem may be handled by the SEO, but the underlying cause is still an issue. Most SEOs are just not capable of dealing with the underlying cause, sorry but it is true.

Even the handling of the negative issues in the search engine rankings is not a task most SEOs are up to. Attempting to remove negative items out of the search engine results is completely counter to what most SEOs have spent their entire careers trying to achieve. One of the basic principals of “ORM Triage” is to attempt to move negative items down in the rankings, preferably off of the first page of search results for specific terms. As SEOs, most have spent their time learning the craft with only an opposite goal in mind, to rank web sites higher in the search engines. There are a number of very distinct differences between this and the skills needed for ORM Triage. Here are some of the most basic:

SEO – Moving one site UP in the rankings
ORM – Moving multiple sites DOWN in the rankings

SEO – Managing one site for a set of keywords
ORM – Managing multiple sites for a set of keywords

SEO – You have control of your site
ORM – You have no control over the negative sites

SEO – Search Engines like you to make your site do better
ORM – Search Engines do not want you to influence others listings

Reading this list, it seems that some of these activities are tailor made for those of us who wear the darker variety of hat. It is true that a Black Hat SEO may have more experience handling these types of skills. However, as with many Black Hat activities, this can end up causing more problems while negating the benefits. The results would probably be short term and a reputation issue would only get worse if unethical methodologies were uncovered. There are ethical means to achieve the necessary results, however as stated before, most SEOs don’t know them as they have only been working towards the opposite goals.

What does it take to do ORM?

The major search engines have been working with the smartest minds in the world for many years to prevent individuals from manipulating their search results. They don’t want it to happen. When working to eliminate negative press from search engine results you are effectively going to battle with the search engines and this standard. Additionally, these same minds work to protect web sites listed in their results from being manipulated by competitors or unethical webmasters. So over many years, it has become almost impossible for someone not directly involved with a site to effect its rankings in the search results.So, to do ORM ethically, you will need an understanding of how to use the search engines own algorithms to your advantage and move the negative listings out of the results. You do this by replacing them with “better” listings for the targeted search terms. It sounds simple, but it is not and most SEOs just cant do it. It takes an SEO with the ability to remove themselves from the standard SEO activities and use their understanding of how search engines work to develop techniques which are most likely counter intuitive. A few of these SEOs exist and have developed numerous techniques to do quality and ethical ORM. Additionally, there is quite a bit of unproven propaganda in the SEO Industry about what works and what does not for ORM.

More and more information will become available about ORM as it relates to SEO and when it does more SEOs will be up to the task. Until then, if you are an SEO make sure you truly understand what you are getting into if you want to do ORM. If you have a problem and need help with ORM, make sure your SEO is up to the task today.

John Carcutt is the President and Founder of AppliedSEO, a search engine optimization and social media marketing firm based out of Boca Raton, Florida. John is also a regular speaker at Search Engine Strategies and Search Marketing Expo (SMX) Conferences.

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