Online Reputation Management: Top 10 Tips for Small Business

Thursday Sep 1st 2011 by James A. Martin
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We look at 10 ways to use SEO tactics and social media channels to protect your brand online.

Your online reputation management may consist of Googling your small business's name on occasion. When you do, it all looks fine: There's your website at the top of the results, followed by your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, and so on.

Great, now you can relax. Or can you?

While your company's presence on the first page of search results may be positive, there could be a negative article, social media mention, or other Web content lurking on page two or three, notes Andy Beal, an online reputation management expert and CEO of social media monitoring service Trackur. Thanks to the dynamic nature of the Web, that negative content might end up on page one before you know it.

Suddenly, you've got an online reputation management problem. But with some advance planning, search engine optimization, social media monitoring, and monthly Googling, you can stay one step ahead of potential naysayers and keep your company's top search results as positive as possible.

Beal spoke on the topic of online reputation management at the recent Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo in San Francisco. (The next SES conference in the U.S. will be in Chicago, Nov. 14-18). Beal shared the following tips during his session, and I've included a few additional tips and tricks I've learned in my SEO and social media consulting. (While many of these tips mention Google, they usually apply to Bing and other search engines as well.)

10 Online Reputation Management Tips

1. Optimize important pages on your site with your company's name.

Without forcing it, try to optimize several pages on your site with your most important search phrase: your company name, Beal advises. Mention your company name on pages that describe your products or services, for instance. Make sure you have a page optimized with the name of your CEO or other top officials as well.

Here's why: Google is likely to see your site as the ultimate authority on your company, and authoritativeness is an important signal Google uses when ranking content. With proper keyword optimization, your content will therefore surface to the top of search results. On the flip side, with proper optimization you'll have a better chance of pushing down less-positive content that mentions your company by name.

Usually on About Us or other pages, a company (or an individual) will refer to its name first and on later references, use "we" and "us." A better strategy is to optimize the text with your company's name (without overdoing it), said Beal.

2. Use anchor text to boost positive content about you on other sites.

Anchor text is a hyperlinked word or phrase such as SEO Tips that, when clicked, whisks you away to another Web page. The search engines use anchor text as a signal to determine the relevancy of the page being linked to.

For example, if a lot of pages on various sites point to the home page of your San Francisco career counseling website, those links will help your home page rank highly for the phrase San Francisco career counseling .

Beal recommends putting the power of anchor text to work for your own site as a preventive reputation management measure. Let's say your business name is Smith and Jones. A well-known blogger gives your business some love in a recent post. Super. Write about the blogger's positive mention on your own site with an anchor text link to that blog post. You'd write something like: "This cool blogger just gave Smith and Jones some love on his site; check it out," with the phrase Smith and Jones hyperlinked to the favorable blog post.

3. Strip personalization out of your search results.

When you perform a Google query, Google is serving you results based on what it knows about you: your location, the content that people in your social network have shared, and so on. In other words, what you see is unlikely to be exactly identical to what a potential customer might see when Googling you. To minimize the effects of personalization, go to Google.com and perform your keyword search. On the first page of results, go to the URL in your browser's address bar. At the very end of the URL, type the following:

&pws=0

That simple string of characters will remove most (but probably not all) personalization. By the way, that's a zero at the end of the string, not an O.

4. Audit your search results every month.

Google your company name once a month, Beal suggests. And even though the vast majority of search engine users don't look past the first page of results, that's exactly what you should do. Keep an eye out for any content on the second or third page of results that might be negative content, because that content might work its way to the first page. Consider keeping a record of what you find in a spreadsheet, with columns for the URL, page title, status of the page (do you own it, control it, or have some influence over it?), and the sentiment (is it positive, negative or neutral?)

5. Find something negative? Contact the creator of the content.

If you do spot something negative on the horizon, or on the first page, contact the blogger, reviewer or other person who created the negative content. See what you can do to switch their sentiment to positive. If it's a no go, leave a comment (if that's an option) explaining your side of the story and the efforts you've taken to satisfy the customer. Always be humble and respectful; sounding arrogant or defensive will only underscore the negative content you're trying to counteract.

6. Put your other domains to use.

When you bought your company's .com domain name, did you also buy its .info, .net, and .org domain names? If so, consider creating new sites to use those domains (rather than just redirecting them to your .com landing page). This will help you populate the top search results with more content you control, because search engines place a lot of weight on words in URLs.

For instance, if your business does charitable work, build a small site (a page or two or maybe a blog) highlighting that work, Beal advises. Use your .org domain for this site. You should also consider buying additional URLs with your company name in them, such as yourcompanynamecareers.com, for a page that's all about working for your company.

7. Don't forget subdomains.

"Subdomains rock," says Beal. "The search engines treat them as separate entities that share the authority of your top-level domain." So if you have a page about a particular product, you might use a URL that follows this formula: productname.yourcompanyname.com.

But don't overdo it. If you have more than three subdomains, Google may not consider them when ranking for your company name, Beal adds. Excessive subdomains might also be reported to the search engine as spam, triggering a manual review that can result in getting penalized in the rankings. The rule of thumb: Make sure all content on your subdomains serves a purpose, can legitimately stand alone, and are not duplicates of content you've published elsewhere.

8. Blogging platforms are useful, too.

If you need to create new content in a hurry to potentially push down negative content, set up a blog on WordPress.com, Blogger.com, or other easy-to-use blog platforms. Make sure to put your company name in the URL, so that it reads yourcompanyname.wordpress.com or yourcompanyname.blogspot.com, for WordPress.com and Blogger, respectively.

Blogger.com, which Google owns, may give you a slight edge in the search results, Beal says. "I've created a Blogger.com blog for a CEO who wanted to test blogging, and within 20 minutes, the blog ranked in the top results for the CEO's name," he adds.

9. Optimize your social media channels.

Your Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube profiles as well as your Facebook Page should be optimized with your company name. If your Facebook Page has at least 25 fans, you can change its URL to a custom URL that contains your company name, Beal says.

You can also create a customized LinkedIn URL. And, as mentioned earlier, make sure to talk about yourself or your company name in the third person on LinkedIn; it can help push your LinkedIn profile up in Google search results for your name.

10. Pay attention to the Wikipedia page about your company.

Wikipedia entries about companies almost always rank highly. To see how it works in action, just Google the names of a few well-known companies. In most cases, you won't have to look further than the first five search results to find its Wikipedia entry.

Wikipedia entries are tricky because anyone can edit them; that's the whole concept behind Wikipedia. So if your company doesn't have a Wikipedia page, you shouldn't automatically create one.

For starters, creating your own page violates the "neutral point of view" spirit of Wikipedia. Worse, someone could come along later and post unflattering information about your company on its Wikipedia page. As long as that information is backed by a credible online source, such as a newspaper article, there's nothing you can do about it. (Sure, you could edit it out, but now you're really playing with fire; Wikipedians don't take kindly to such tactics.)

If you decide to create a Wikipedia entry about your company, do so carefully. Ask a neutral, established Wikipedia editor to write it. Make sure it's written in a neutral point of view. Pay attention to Wikipedia's notability requirement: Clearly explain why your company is noteworthy and back it up with credible online sources.

Online Reputation Wrap Up

There are plenty of other things you can do to protect your online reputation management: set up a Flickr account optimized with your company name, ask your business partners to post an optimized profile about your company on their site, and so on.

The important point to remember is that the top 10 Google results can change from day to day, if not hour to hour. Take the necessary measures now to make sure you own or influence as much of those top 10 results as you can while keeping an eye out on the second and third page results.

James A. Martin is an SEO and social media consultant and blogger. You can follow him on Twitter.

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