At Outspoken Media I get a lot of online reputation management leads. Unfortunately, most of those leads deserve their bad online reputation.
SEO agencies know it is difficult to try and explain to a client why they do not deserve to rank for a particular keyword. My approach is Commandment 3 of Setting Expectations in SEO — be brutally honest by letting the SERPs do the talking. It is even more difficult for an ORM consultant to try and explain why they cannot help a potential client fix their bad reputation, because the SERPs rarely make that decision. So, what makes me question someone before signing them for ORM services?
1. You Broke the Law
We are not talking about Google law, you broke the real law. You had to go to court and a jury of your peers found you guilty of a crime. This feels like a no-brainer to me, you have to pay for your actions. When you steal or hurt someone, you deserve your bad online reputation. Taking a public beating is human nature. It is not just human nature to inflict suffering on those that have harmed us, it is transcends that, it is animal nature, but chimpanzees are less spiteful about it.
2. What Happened Is News-Worthy
What makes a story newsworthy is up for debate, but if your actions broke the law or hurt a community, it is important that the public be informed. Product safety, health alerts and unlawful acts are the most obvious pieces of need-to-know news. If the facts add up and the community cares, you are going to have to face the bad press. The more you hide from the facts or try to cover them up, the worse it will become.
3. You’re Lying (to Yourself)
Lying can be as nefarious as outright fabricating information or as subtle as disbelief in your deserved misfortune. Whenever I do something that my father thinks I am lying to myself about, he likes to tell me that “Denial” is not just a river in Egypt (thanks Dad!). I cringe whenever I hear it, but it makes his point. Lying to myself is counterproductive. Also, when you lie to yourself, you probably have a history of lying to your customers and business partners, and you will most certainly lie to me. This is by far the most important rule breaker for me, because if you cannot understand the predicament you have put yourself in, you cannot take action and fix the problem. Nor can I in good conscience help you.
4. Lack of Quality Control
Everyone can have a bad day, even a bad season and that is to be expected since we are only human. But if you are consistently producing sub-par quality products and/or customer service, you deserve a bad online reputation. You are robbing your customers of the quality they were expecting. You are not taking the action you need to fix a known problem. You are lying to yourself, possibly breaking the law and this could even be newsworthy.
Now that all of the preachy stuff is out of the way, does “deserving” your bad online reputation mean you do not deserve a chance to fix it? No, but from an agency perspective, if you have not found a way to right your wrongs, been dismissed of charges or discovered fraudulent claims, then you are inviting more negative coverage and/or reviews. This will tie our hands as an ORM agency, because we cannot accurately quote the time and work or anticipate future coverage (of course the latter is never a guarantee).
Agencies and ORM consultants know how to bury search results, but we are not a replacement for your board of advisors or legal counsel. This distinction is important, because all too often I am asked to do something that feels not just morally wrong but legally wrong on behalf of a potential client. Maybe I am a prude, but I will not help you sweep your history under the rug when you are still committing the very act that placed you in this predicament. You cannot eat puppies and expect me to make you the poster child for PETA.
Enough ranting… I want to end on a positive. Our clients are awesome. I know every agency says that, but with online reputation management we really get to see it. They are business savvy, pro-active, humble and nimble. They recognized a problem and took the necessary steps to fix it before trying to fix the SERPs. They make my job easy, but more important they make me proud of their brand and if I feel proud, so do their customers and they cannot buy a better online reputation than that.