In the offline world, companies make it a priority to influence the message people see in the media. However, in the search marketing world, very few companies make an effort to influence the message seen in search results pages. Instead, many companies ensure their website(s) are at the top of page one, and leave Google, Yahoo and MSN free to determine what to display in the remaining positions. What many companies and public relations professionals do not realize is that you can employ strategies to influence what the search engines display for your brand.

As a search marketer, whether in-house or as a hired consultant, this is an opportunity for you to expand your role beyond marketing and IT, and start moving into the realms of public relations, legal and other departments within the organization to hedge against risks and react to unfavorable sites making their way to the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Often, these departments either haven’t thought about influencing the SERPs, didn’t know you could do anything and/or haven’t had the time to devote to a proactive brand protection effort.

Whether you want to be proactive at protecting your brand, or have been tapped to make negative content go away, the first thing you need to do is assess the landscape so that you can determine what is ranking and the level of effort you must put forth to make your company shine in the SERPs.

Assess the landscape

To begin assessing the landscape, conduct keyword research to determine what people are actually searching for related to your brand. Many company names are outsearched by phrases that include the company name and more general terms. When selecting the final list of keywords to examine, add phrases to your list that will give a good PR message for complaint sites. Complaint sites would love to post a banner that says “#1 in Google for ABC customer service.” It’s a great PR message that you don’t want them to have. While these terms won’t garner a large volume of searches, you’ll want to take away their marketing message if they have it, and prevent them from gaining it if they’re not there yet. Once you know the list of terms to investigate, it’s time to study the SERPs for each of the brand phrases on your list. Who appears? Do you have any concerns? Are competitors showing up? Are there any hate sites or review sites with unfavorable content?

Go beyond page one and examine the results for pages 2 – 5 so that you are prepared for anything bubbling through the SERPs with potential to land on page one.

Look for unfavorable news articles, blog posts, blog comments, complaint sites and opinion sites such as Epinions, Yahoo Local and Google Local. When it comes to comments posted online, it doesn’t matter how long ago the comment was posted, it can surface to the top of the SERPs at any time and cause customers to walk away.

Since you are examining the SERPs closely, make note of any site that has plagiarized your content. There are things you can do, such as file a DMCA report. For now, make note of these sites so that you can monitor the movement and take action when you’re ready.

Keep a lookout for out for current and former employees blogging and posting comments in forums and blogs. You’ll want to monitor these sites to ensure that trade secrets, competitive intelligence and comments that will hurt recruiting efforts do not surface.

Make note of the “unfavorables” you find and log their ranking positions. You will want to monitor them over time determine to determine if they are a jock or benchwarmer—meaning, are they on the move to the top at a fast pace or sitting steady at page three and not going anywhere.

Finally, log any extremely favorable pages that you want to appear on page one. In my next article, I’ll talk about strategies for boosting their rankings so that they rank on page one and push down unfavorable sites.

Assess the risk

Now that you know the risks, it’s time to assess each keyword individually. For ease of reporting, I grade the SERPs for each keyword:

  • A = You can breathe easy for now. The first unfavorable site is on page three or beyond.
  • B = The first unfavorable site is on the bottom of page two (positions 15-20).
  • C = The first unfavorable site is at the top of page two (positions 11 – 14).
  • D = The first unfavorable site is on page one in positions (4-10).
  • F = You need to move, the first unfavorable site is in positions 1 – 3, above the fold, front and center.

If you were lucky enough to find nothing, you can breathe easy and just monitor the landscape so that you find things as they come up, before it becomes a problem. However, if you found one or more concerning sites, you need to assess the risk. Examine backlinks and on-site optimization efforts to determine how aggressively these sites are trying to rank for your brand. The more aggressive their optimization efforts, faster they want to be at the top and the greater your risk.

Depending on the severity of what you find, you may want to alert legal and or public relations about your findings and work together on a plan of action. You may find they already know about the issue, but were not aware that you can influence what shows up in the search results and did not realize that someone within the organization had responsibility for working with the search engines (the larger your organization, the more likely this is the case).

Develop a plan of action

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, you need to develop a plan of action to start influencing what shows up in the search engine results pages.

Your best approach for getting rid of them, and keeping others from surfacing, is to push the unfavorables down by helping favorable content rise to the top. Your plan of action needs to focus on doing just that.

To boost favorable sites there are a few strategies you can employ, the very common approaches include: (1) Leveraging all of your company websites by optimizing them for brand phrases, and (2) Linking to other favorable content from your website (usually from pages within “About Us” section and/or an “In The News” page).

Future articles will cover the details of various strategies for influencing the listings on page one, dealing with unfavorables and general advice for protecting your brand online. In the meantime, identify what you want to rank on page one and in two weeks I’ll talk about how to boost favorable content so that it pushes down competing or unfavorable sites that are currently ranking well.

Jessica Bowman is the Director of SEO for Business.com and an independent consultant and author of the SEM / SEO In-house Blog. The Brand Aid column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: SEO | Search Marketing: Branding | SEO: Writing & Body Copy

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About The Author: is a free agent SEO strategist available for SEO site audits, SEO training and helping in-house SEO programs become a well-oiled machine that cranks out profits. The In House column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.

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