On Tuesday, Search Engine Roundtable covered the WebmasterWorld thread, Create more content to bury negatives? Fair game says Google, in which tedster and the WMW community discussed Google’s apparent stance on online reputation management. The conversation was sparked by a quote from a Google representative on NPR’s All Tech Considered:
Meanwhile, Google doesn’t seem to have a problem with the whole game [search suppression]. As the world’s largest search engine, a spokesman there says creating new content to hide negative material is fair play.
You can listen to the full broadcast here: The Business Of Burying Internet Search Results
We’ve known for awhile now where Google stands on managing your reputation through search results. They condone it! Susan Moskwa said so in her post on the official Webmaster Central blog. Google sees online reputation management as a combination of:
- Protecting your personal information
- Removing offending information about you from the source
- Proactively publishing your information
Google would prefer it if business owners actively managed their brands through online reputation management rather than demanding Google remove search results, which goes against the very essence of Google and probably isn’t going to happen. It would make Google’s life a heck of a lot simpler if brands would take ownership of their search results rather than leaving them up to the algorithm, spammers and opportunists (yeah, I’m looking at you unnamed consumer website).
How often does Google have to defend itself against individuals and businesses angry about their competition appearing for keywords much less libelous (and often accurate) reviews? From a litigious standpoint it’s financially in Google’s best interest to encourage brands to learn to effectively promote positive mentions for themselves. And, from an algorithmic standpoint it’s in Google’s best interest to rank brand-owned results for branded search queries as seen in their recent more search results update.
However, over on Search Engine Roundtable the following question was posed:
“…do you think Google is saying they are okay with you ‘manipulating’ the search results for ORM purposes? I doubt it. I guess it depends on how you define the word ‘manipulating.”
Does “proactively publish information” mean that Google condones manipulating search results? We have to look closer at the nuances of online reputation management:
Creating Profiles About Your Brand
When you use a service to register your username, you’re protecting your brand and probably giving your community another way to network with you. Assuming you abide by the guidelines of that community, there shouldn’t be a problem with grabbing your trademark or name. Unfortunately, there’s a slippery slope here.
Once you’ve registered your username, what are you doing with the accounts? You need to personalize the information, not duplicate verbatim what you’ve provided on a hundred other profiles. More important, you should be adding value to the community. In the eyes of Google, a hundred profiles that say the same thing about you and provide no additional value probably don’t need to appear for brand-specific search queries. If there is more relevant information about your brand in the form of recent job postings, news, reviews or press releases, those are going to have more relevant content, authority and freshness and justify a higher ranking.
Creating a Website or Blog for Your Brand
You really do need a website. I cannot count the number of reputation management problems that arise when a brand or individual comes to us with not just a poorly optimized website, but no site at all. In 2010 there’s no excuse for not having a site where visitors can find accurate information about you including the holy grail of ORM, reliable contact information or an attentive customer service department. The only time Google is going to take issue with your website or blog is if they can’t crawl it, understand what the site is about or you’re breaking their guidelines.
Creating LOTS of Websites for Your Brand
If Google likes websites, why not create a couple dozen about your brand?! That would be neat-o, but you’d also be dipping into some serious spammer territory depending on how you structure the site, write the content and promote it. This gets into the fundamental issue Google has with duplicate content. We know they have an issue because they’ve said so and given us a number of ways to reduce it. So, this is a definite area where Google might not condone manipulating the search results if these sites provide no new content or value to the user.
Publishing Positive Reviews About Your Brand
Google loves reviews. They include them in search results, on Places pages, on Products pages and more. The larger the quantity of reviews, the more statistically significant the results are and the more value that is being passed onto the user. I don’t really trust one stellar review or one really bad review, but I do trust thirty reviews that tell me whether a location is clean, friendly or affordable. This isn’t about Google, it’s just good business for brands to encourage online reviews from happy customers. So, where might Google have an issue? Just like with multiple websites and profiles, Google’s probably not going to want to promote the same review(s) posted across a dozen different websites.
Putting Good News in Front of Bad News
This is perhaps the most important component of online reputation management for brands with major disasters. Have you taken a look at Tiger’s search results lately? Putting good news in front of bad worked even for the most epic gossip fodder of the decade. Just like reviews, managing your brand through relevant news is just good business.
Where is Google going to have an issue? When you decide to start flooding the search results with press releases that no one will read or care about. These will stick around for a little while, but trust me, in two weeks they’re going to fall from the top SERPs and your budget and time will have been wasted.
Google is fine with online reputation management, just like they’re fine with search engine optimization. What they probably aren’t comfortable with is manipulation that breaks guidelines and adds no value to a user. Let’s ignore the fact that “ORM” is new and play by the same old “SEO” rules.