Here’s a rough paraphrase of a classic business cliche: “In business, at the end of the day, your reputation is all you’ve got.”
Let’s say that after years of working hard to build a solid reputation, one day, a result surfaces in Google for a search for “your name” and one of the top results is completely damaging to your reputation.
In my last article, Reputation Conversations Start With Search Results, I mentioned that an online reputation crisis could result for any number of reasons, including:
- Past Indiscretions
- Negative Identity Confusion
- Sensitive Material
The negative result could be anywhere -a forum post, a PDF document from a government agency, a scathing article on a popular website, etc.
What should you do to eliminate, eradicate, and completely destroy that negative search result?
There is nothing you can do to achieve the goal stated above. In the current Google era, that search result will likely live on long after you care about your online reputation. It just becomes a question of how far down you can push that negative result (or how you can address the issue in content that rises to the same level).
Some Reputation Triage Options
So, what can you do?
First, take a deep breath and remember that the end result that you want is a series of very clean, and meaningful, results to come up in Google (or any other search engine) for a search for your name (i.e. your personal brand).
Remember now that you’ve been made (painfully) aware that your online reputation can be destroyed very quickly, you need to build for the long haul. You’ll want a plan in place, and a way to get your name out there consistently in a positive manner. And eventually move into having Reputation Conversations.
The basic approaches to addressing reputation crisis are:
- Hire an inexpensive firm to do the job as quickly as possible, with a “packaged” service
- Engage a higher-end consultant/firm and set the stage for the long term
- Sign up for a reputation management and monitoring service
- Do it yourself
Using A Packaged Reputation Management Service
There are many companies out there that offer “less expensive” reputation management services (packaged up neatly in a bundle). And, you may want to contact a number of them and ask questions about what exactly they plan to do to push your negative result down the SERPs. You can start this process by going to Google and searching for “reputation management” – look at both the free/organic results and the Sponsored Results.
Talk to a number of companies to get a feel for the differences/similarities. If you aren’t getting straight answers, go with your gut and walk away – there are plenty of similar companies out there.
While evaluating the offerings, here are some questions to ask:
- Why Does The Negative Rank So High? Why is that negative result suddenly so high up in search results? They better give you an answer that you can feel comfortable with. You might not know anything about SEO, but an answer such as “it just happens sometimes” is obviously not enough. Ask them to give you as complete an answer as they can.
- How Far Down The SERPs Is Enough? How far will they target pushing that result down? I’d say you want to aim for at least the first 30 results (a traditional view of 3 pages) to start with. Perhaps 100 results would be even more thorough. Or beyond. But, the harder you push to fill up the space, the higher chance that there will be a mess to clean up later (which may be OK with you if the crisis is serious enough).
- How Will They Do It? What content and websites (types of websites) will they use to push your result out of the way? You will probably find that the primary tactics will be creating a series of social bookmarking profiles for you and creating a number of mini-blogs, or “splogs” (spam + blogs).
- How Quickly Can They Get You Results? How long will it take? I hope that somewhere in their answer they say “no promises” or “no one can ever be sure.”
You may find a packaged service that satisfies your immediate needs.
Pros: May be the fastest way to eliminate a negative search result; cheap(er). Cons: May not produce great quality results for searchers, and may cause people to dig deeper; you may have a clutter of results to clean up later.
Find A Higher End/Boutique Consultant
Another option is to engage with a “pro”; someone who will cost more but will work with you to make sure that your reputation is handled with care, and that you are setting the stage for long-term success.
You will still want to interview the “pro”, and ask them many of the questions listed above in the section above about Packaged Services. You will probably also find that they will spend more time explaining what happened to you, how to solve the problem, and how to keep the problem from cropping up again.
You do not have to turn to a self-defined “reputation expert” to achieve superior results. It obviously helps if the consultant/firm lists Reputation Management as one of their services (it means they’ve “been there, done that”).
The skills that you need are some combination of SEO, Social Media Marketing, and traditional Public Relations.
You might not find all of those skills under one roof, but the firm you are engaging with should be able to bring all of these skills to the table while managing your project. You will probably also need to budget for some content writing (budgeting your time and/or paying a ghost writer).
You would look at this option if your personal name has significant (monetary) value to you, and you are looking for more than a quick clean-up. You can find someone to give you retained advisory services (teaching you how to fish) or retain someone for ongoing services (complete with content writing, publishing, and implementing all of the many details that will come with the job).
Pros: You now have a team working for you; the stage is being set for meaningful Reputation Conversations; there is a better chance that any future crisis will be dealt with quickly and effectively.
Cons: High(er) price point; may not clear up the specific negative search engine result as quickly as a packaged service.
Sign Up For Reputation Management & Monitoring (Self) Service
There are a number of excellent self-service reputation management tools out there in the market. Each of them has their strengths and weaknesses. Without providing my own recommendations, and in no particular order, here are some tools out there that have some strength in the market:
While I won’t be giving a recommendation on any of the particular services above, it is worthwhile to find a tool that will help you at least monitor your personal brand and give you real tools to manage what searchers will find when they Google your name.
A tool that has a dashboard that also gives you advice is a nice feature to have as well. The monitoring capabilities in most of these tools go beyond what you might set up for yourself in a traditional Google Alert, but you should at least have some Google Alerts set up now for your name.
Pros: Gives you a great starting point to start managing your reputation; less expensive than retaining a consultant; dashboards for monitoring your name and for providing tips on what to do next
Cons: A tool, no matter how good, can never give you as much breadth and depth as you would get with a consultant; you may miss some opportunities to build great points-of-content outside of the tool and/or your own personal blog; if you choose the “wrong”platform, or use the tool incorrectly, you may actually cause people searching for you to dig deeper because something looks odd to them in the results
Do It Yourself
There is a very long list of activities, tactics, and strategies to follow if you decide to take care of the problem yourself. If you are a consultant, or in a profession where personal relationships are at a premium, then you may want to take on at least part of this task on your own.
The most important thing you can do is to be prolific and write large quantities of good-to-great content (excellent content is essential too – but keep that stuff for your own blog or for excellent by-line opportunities in widely-read publications).
In this article I will not be able to list out the many activities that you would need to do to handle a crisis, or even how to manage your online reputation for the long haul.
Truly, the list of activities for a Do-It-Yourself Reputation Triage is long and full of choices and trade-offs to be made.
The short list includes:
- Press Releases
- Social Media Participation
- Establishing Online Profiles
- Publishing Articles
- Looking For Websites Where Your Subject Appears In Searches – Getting In those Places & Getting Those Links
Pros: Possibly the cheapest route, although you may have to spend some money to get a few things done; gives you the most control over your message.
Cons: It’s not easy if you don’t know what you’re doing, and sometimes even the “pros” can’t get it done if the problem is big enough.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.