Without question, one of the most anxiety provoking tasks we do as SEO’s is online reputation management. In addition to the normal deadlines and tasks we have, our clients are generally under a ton of pressure, have a lot of negative press floating about, and may even be getting extorted or threatened. In addition, many times it is an uphill battle. A negative reviewer might have an active smear campaign going on, which could really add fuel to the fire.

Before we go any further with this post we need to recognize Michael Bakovic our lead SEO in the Elite squad, he’s been instrumental in making this happen.

It’s not fun, and a lot of SEO’s don’t even take on most of these type of jobs. Other SEO’s will selectively take on these ORM jobs, even “for the right price” it isn’t worth it because there are some cases where a positive outcome is really just not happening.

ORM also varies greatly depending on the clients needs.  Some goals I’ve seen for ORM are:

  • “get rid of this result”
  • “get rid of this comment”
  • “make my brand ‘complaints’ (autofill) go away”
  • “make this image go away”
  • “make this video go away”
  • “make this document go away”
  • “I don’t want 1/5 stars on Google”

Your outcome and the strategy you use will depend on the problem you have defined. Again we aren’t recommending you or your client jumps into action and hides anything negative that is said about your company. But there are times when a smear campaign happens and you may need to respond appropriately.

Term: Your “Brand Result”

Before we start, it is important to define a term that we use a lot when it comes to ORM (and SEO in general) and that is a “brand result” or sometimes called a “brand SERP.” A brand result is simply the search engine results that appear when you search for your brand name. For example, Polycom’s brand result or brand SERP looks like this:

This is a really dynamic and complex SERP. They have an Adwords block with competitors competing for their brand name, a Google Products listing, a Twitter snippet, a “top stories” snippet, as well as several normal results. Some of these are able to be easily manipulated, others it will be much harder, while others it is out of your immediate control.

Remember, as long as there is search, there will be SEO.

Term: SERP Sculpting

Today I’d like to introduce a new term, but for most of you is a familiar tactic. SERP Sculpting is the process of modifying new or existing website pages, profiles, or listings in an attempt for them to rank for your brands main keyword. Let’s take a look at an example of a SERP that has been sculpted to perfection, Moz. Moz really has it together when it comes to their SERP. The key with them is, they “own” all of the real estate on the first page of their SERP, and most of the second.

…but more importantly than whats on page 1, is what is on page 2.

The results on page 2 is what we refer to as “whats on deck.” They are the results that, if push came to shove, we could manipulate onto the first page (in most cases anyway.) Take the crunchbase.com listing for Moz. I’m sure that if they put more time and effort into that particular profile, it might get pushed onto the first page.

There is also the off chance where your brand gets lucky, and Google blesses your SERP and “clusters” your domain 2, 3, or more times.

This doesn’t always produce predictable results, but adding your brand name in titles / metas / content can help with domain clustering. I doubt most people will see more than 2-3 clustered results, but if you do consider yourself lucky!

Competitor Sculpting

In the olden days (like 2012 and before) the way you did ORM was something like this:

  1. Buy a bunch of domains, and build them out
  2. Register a ton of Blogspot, Tumblr, etc accounts
  3. Blast them all with as much spam as possible
  4. Rinse
  5. Repeat

While this method still “works” to some degree, it just isn’t viable for most professional organizations. It also really isn’t necessary, not only because it doesn’t work but because there are easier methods.

Competitor research in SERP sculpting is very necessary and can unlock some amazing insights for your ORM campaign.

Example: let’s say you are a pet groomer and you have an ex-employee that is being really nasty through online reviews and comments. The first thing to do is to look at your 3-5 competitors. The green results are the most popular results, the yellow results are also popular but not as dense.

In the next section we’re going to look at these search results, and what they have in common.

What ranks easily (in this niche)?

So in the example we used (the  SFL “pet grooming” niche), we’ve began to define what properties rank, across multiple different brands. This isn’t a hard fact, but it is a pattern we can start to define in Google search / SERPs.

Out of approximately 40 results (4 pages, 10 results per page) the “winners” or most popular domains (other than brand TLDs) are:

  • Facebook 4x
  • Yelp 4x
  • Whitepages 4x
  • YellowPages

Runners up include Groupon, Foursquare, Manta, Nexdoor, and Yellowbook. In this example, we also have a lot of random brand TLD’s scattered about, which is good to know.

So let’s say we own a similar company, and have 1-2 “problem results” the first thing we’d do in this case is see where we are lacking. For instance, if we don’t have an active Facebook or Whitepages page, that would be an excellent place to start. Since we’ve established that this is something that “ranks easily” in our industry, it will most likely get pushed to the top, with a little love.

In other niches (say, web design) there are other results that might be more popular such as:

  • dribbble.com
  • behance.com
  • etc

A startup / app would go with maybe:

  • ProductHunt.com
  • Zapier.com etc

So for a pet groomer it might not make sense to focus on building a dribbble.com or IFTTT.com account, since it not only doesn’t make sense for that industry but it tends not to rank for other competitors.

Knowledge Boxes, Featured Snippets, and other SERP Features

Google’s SERPs are much more advanced than 10 vanilla results. These days we have featured snippets, knowledge graphs, image boxes, video results and so much more. If you are handy with structured data, and have a properly developed website with some authority behind it, your brand result could start seeing some features beyond 10 plain results.

Knowledge Panels are doable, but they aren’t always straightforward to achieve. They also don’t necessarily “push anything down,” they more just add authority to your brand which can be key if you are combating an active trash talker. Same goes for featured snippets.

Twitter cards / snippets, image results, and “top stories” can be a huge asset if you are looking to sculpt your SERP into something more manageable. We can’t go into the “howto” aspect of getting these SERP features achieved within this post, but most of them are doable if you have an established and reputable company. They all also aren’t all appropriate for all companies. A local ice cream shop might not yield a “news or top stories” snippet, but a Twitter snippet is definitely doable.

If you are a larger corporation with franchisees, they most likely have their own Google Maps listings. In this SERP snippet we can see Bath & Body Works has a nice Twitter snippet (they tweet every few hours) and a Google Maps result showing their multiple local listings near our location.

Again, most companies don’t automatically “qualify” for all search features. Your best bet is to make a list of which ones are within reach, and slowly work towards them. For short term ORM campaigns I wouldn’t put too much work into this, but for longer term campaigns this is definitely something to keep in your task list.

Combating an Active Trash Talker

The great thing about most online review websites, is that a lot of them have very strict TOS. Did you know for instance that on Yelp employees or ex-employees are not allowed to leave reviews (positive or negative?) But what does this mean?

Well, if you have an angry customer, that is something we can deal with later. But if you have an angry competitor, hater, or former employee the best thing to do rather than “push the review down” is to call them out.

If you are a dog groomer for instance, ask them to show you a receipt or proof they were a customer? If they are unable or unwilling to respond, you can point this out to the website and possibly get it deleted due to TOS violations.

Most companies welcome all reviews, both positive or negative reviews. Even negative reviews can give you an opportunity to improve upon products or services you offer, and to do a better job next time. But if you have an “active trash talker” i.e. someone creating fake accounts for the sole purpose of making your life miserable, there are some steps you can take. The best route to take if you can’t get the review or comment removed is to talk to your lawyer about options.

Passive Solicitation of Reviews

Reviews are tough, because not only is it a violation of most TOS’s to solicit reviews, but the FTC isn’t too keen on it either. You can’t incentivize people to do it, and now sites like Yelp are even frowning upon using iPads or online kiosks in waiting rooms.

So if we can’t ask our customers for reviews, how do we get them?

For starters, make it as easy as possible. Let people know where to leave reviews. Some people are super active on Yelp, others Google, others on Facebook. So if you only link to Facebook, you might ostracize all the Yelp people.

If you can’t ask for reviews, you can let your customers know that reviews are important for your company. Don’t beg or even ask but something as subtle as “reviews are really important especially for customers that has a positive experience with us.” You may not get a review this week, but the next time they see your Facebook page, they might drop a review.

Offensive Reputation Management

Lastly, we recommend treating reputation management as an active process, rather than an event. Be offensive and proactive with your company reputation rather than waiting for negative press to come about.

We also recommend to all of our clients to “always be optimizing.” In 2012 we wrote about offensive reputation management strategies, rather than waiting for something bad to happen. The same theory holds true today. If you concentrate on having a lot of results “on deck” in case something bad happens, it makes it much easier if the day ever comes.

If you have any questions be sure to hit us up on Twitter or Facebook :)