Google on Manipulating Search for ORM


Yes or NoOn 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:

  1. Protecting your personal information
  2. Removing offending information about you from the source
  3. 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.

Your Comments

  • Nick LeRoy

    With so much false information and slander being thrown around the internet, I would be shocked at any other response from Google. It’s funny how many ‘internet warriors’ are out there willing to talk crap. Many of these are frugal people that recognize the issues that can be caused with bad reviews and are just looking for free stuff or discounts.

  • George

    “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.”

    Anyone who has crushed a competitive ORM campaign knows that this is one of the major strategy pieces. And it also gives you assets for search share with non-brand. IMO, let’s call a spade a spade. Build lots of sites and SEO all of them. It’s only spam if the user doesn’t want to consume the content you put on the sites.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      Spam is relative. Owning multiple sites that support each other with different information presented on each isn’t spam in my eyes. In my opinion, what is spam is building a network of sites with the same information presented on each, but simply restructured. Not only is that spam it’s irresponsible ORM as it makes what the brand is doing glaringly apparent to anyone with an already negative opinion. I’d rather do the work in a way that builds the brand up without also subjecting them to closer inspection. It depends entirely on the situation and the level of sensitivity.

  • Rockfish Search

    “Let’s ignore the fact that “ORM” is new and play by the same old “SEO” rules.”

    …provide uniquely relevant content for the user.

    If search result has the wrong thing, correct it to be what the user asks for.


    example.. type in “Dawn Maire” – its my bosses name… see #3 which we pushed up. We are currently testing what it will take to change Google’s Lexicon of Misspelled Words. We are doing this by optimizing search results to give people searching for her name the most uniquely relevant content for their query.

    Good Article Rhea

    • Rockfish Search

      it takes about a week to change something in Google’s Lexicon of Misspelled Words. Fyi… phase 1 and 2 of the project is complete.
      Now redesigning the experiment, to remove the misspelling question, now that the assumption has been removed.

      p.s. ORM is usually done on a retainer for $5k a month.. at least that is what we charged my previous clients.

  • George

    @Rockfish, it’s not _that_ new. It’s just really difficult to do well, and requires a lot of resources.

    “The price for this type of service usually starts at $100k per year and goes up from there (for the people that can actually deliver what they promise). I know a few of the best in the Industry that do this and let me put it this way: it’s worth it for companies that do billions in sales to spend a few million a year on Search Engine Reputation Management over and above what they spend on PPC, links and rankings.”

    from SEOBlackHat

  • Jill Whalen

    Thanks for the great article, Rhea!

    I have a client who has a slight online reputation problem. ORM is not my thing, nor something I really want to delve into as I see it as something peripheral to SEO and not actually SEO itself.

    They’ve asked me for some advice on how to handle it and I basically told them much of what you’ve said here. Be sure to have impeccable customer service so that even the most disgruntled of customers will at least know you care and are listening and to ask your happy customers to provide a variety of positive reviews in different venues.

    I also recommended that they hire a PR company that can ideally help them get lots of good press over time, which it sounds like you’re recommending in the putting good news in front of bad news.

    Unfortunately, you know clients. They want a quick fix! Is it even worth it to set up all those social media profile pages? To me that just seems like spam.

    • Rhea Drysdale

      I suppose it depends on the purpose of the profiles. It’s important to protect your brand, especially if it’s trademarked and likely to get squatted on. What you do with the profiles is a different story. I will say we’ve become more selective about the profiles we beef up. If a community doesn’t make sense for the brand or individual to be on then it isn’t worth the effort of setting up a profile that will likely be removed.

    • Lori

      Those complaint sites are a nightmare. The listings tend to really stick. I’ve got a client now who (aside from press releases), doesn’t want to create any new content created that is branded for their company which makes the ORM incredibly challenging.

      Researching the competition – just like standard SEO – helps to identify which sites do tend to show up high in the search results for your specific industry and your client can develop a plan to be sure they are listed on these sites too.

      Build links to any worthwhile mentions of the company. And of course, wikipedia, google places… these things all help and in my mind are more legit than ghost SM accounts.

      While this and other creative ideas are being implemented, a good PR team can be putting out press releases which definitely helps improve the search results. But in my experience the results are temporary, so the effort needs to be consistent.

      Companies need to be pro-active and in it for the long haul. Stellar customer support in the first place definitely goes a long way… Many attacks can be alleviated if companies just listen and respond.

  • Carlos

    Your article talks about the first option to do. Next, you must put that new sites (profiles) on top10. Not always is easy. That’s a SEO job.