What is the right way to manage an online reputation challenge?

Over the past week or so, a number of news articles have appeared detailing how one university handled an online reputation issue. Rather than get into the specifics of that case, I want to address the general question – what is the right way to manage an online reputation management challenge.

I am the CEO of Five Blocks, a boutique digital reputation management company. Individuals, brands, organizations, and companies retain our services to handle online reputation crises. More than half of the clients engage us because they don’t like something they see when they or their brand is searched, typically in Google or Bing.

Our message to them is that their best bet is to utilize Google and other search engines to tell their own story, or that of their brand. This means optimizing their own website/s to appear prominently and to tell their story. It also means utilizing social media and business profiles to present what their organization stands for. Many of our clients need to publish more content or produce more video than they have previously. Our job is to provide the expertise to help them do it.

Yes, I know you want to get rid of an outdated negative news story – but the right way to do that is it provide searchers with rich, relevant, timely content that legitimately deserves to displace that news.

In some cases our clients will need to address specific negative news and in so doing, start putting it behind them. In other cases they may choose not to address the crisis directly within their online presence.

Our experience has shown that a long-term strategy should be about telling a story rather than hiding a story. You have far more resources available to use when you are telling a story than the opposite. You will also find yourself and your organization spending efforts on ensuring accurate information is easily found, addressing stakeholder concerns, and sharing thought leadership – all efforts you may have neglected in the past. And best of all, you will be working with Google’s algorithm rather than against it.

There are many tools and platforms that are available to you including: on-page content and technical SEO, Google and Bing Webmaster Tools, Wikidata, Social media profile optimization, YouTube video and channel optimization, Google images, Google Plus, etc. To really tackle these, you will often need expert help – and this is what digital reputation management experts should be helping you do.

For me, the difference between addressing unfavorable results correctly vs, incorrectly boils down to attitude. If your plan is to outsmart Google and subvert their algorithm, you will usually be unsuccessful – certainly in the mid to long-term. If instead, you use the situation as a catalyst to do a better job of telling the story of your brand, both through your owned properties and via third-party websites, and you utilize all of the tools available to do so, you are likely to be far more successful. In the process you will have added significant value to your brand’s reputation.

Maybe this should be the litmus test. Are you better off after the crisis than you were before. Is your brand better equipped to handle unfavorable news? Are you in better control of how your own presence appears online? If the answer is no – you have treated the symptoms of your problem. If you are now stronger – you have gotten to the underlying causes and you are well on your way to a long-term positive digital reputation.

Google Trends on Same-Sex Marriage vs. Gay Marriage

When I opened Google Trends today they had a story on how America expressed interest trough search in ‘Same Sex Marriage’ as a result of the supreme court ruling last week.trends-ssmarriage

I decided to compare the search traffic for Same-Sex Marriage vs. gay Marriage – wondering which phrase users are using more and if there is a difference by location.

The results are clear – overall Americans search Google far more for the phrase ‘Gay Marriage’ than for ‘Same Sex Marriage’

trends-gayvsssmarriage

Next I looked to see if search phrase choice was related to location of the searcher. Not surprisingly there were significant differences.

The term Same-Sex Marriage was most prevalent in the following locations

regional same sex marriage

The term Gay Marriage was most prevalent in the following locations

regional gay marriage

 

Want to Game Google +1?

We are seeing very interesting behavior in our testing of Google +1.

As I mentioned on Rand Fishkin ‘s post a few days ago, we started doing some testing of Google +1.

We tested buying packages of 30, 50, 70 +1’s using Fiverr.
We also tested a system on http://www.plused.net in which you +1 a bunch of sites (in rapid fire from their site) and other people return the favor. We used this to add tens of +1’s to several webpages.
We also tested getting REAL +1’s from a modest group of people who actually like a page.
We did our tests on pages we wanted to move up as well as ones we wanted to move down.

Conclusions so far –
– Google figured out that the rapid fire +1’s and the bought ones were fake and, they actually removed them from the count.
So we saw he numbers go up to say 60, and then the next day they were down to 10 again.
They could be seeing a large group of users with common +1’s and ruling them out. They could also be looking for rapid fire +1’s.
In any case, our conclusion is that Google has at least a basic system for identifying fake +1’s – which is good to know.

We did not see any evidence of fake +1’s causing a page to move in either direction in the SERPs.

We did see a possible connection between the real +1’s and a ~15% bump in traffic for a site receiving 2,500 visitors/day.

That’s it so far – we will keep you posted!

What if Matt Cutts told you all his secrets?

On Saturday in Alon Shvut I tend to spend some time schmoozing in the park while my kids play. It’s one of the main reasons I enjoy living here. So yesterday someone asks me about Google’s secrets and how much it would help me if I just knew Google’s secrets.

My answer? Not that much. I don’t think that knowledge is the biggest issue in SEO Success. I feel like we know what needs to be done – getting real sites to talk about our company and products in the correct context – getting links from the right kind of natural sites etc. When we’re not doing these things we are trying to make it look like we did these things. The most interesting information that Matt Cutts and his Webspam team have is probably information on how people are trying to beat the system – all the shtick that people pull etc. But that stuff won’t really get you far because presumably those are the holes they are filling as they become aware. Also you can’t create a long-term business based on using some loopholes.

I don’t feel like there are secrets out there that would help me all that much. I think that SEO’s would probably do better just building their sites and doing everything they can to make them either popular or make it look like they are popular (hint: sometimes it’s easier to actually do something interesting than to pretend to do something interesting…) and leave the chase after Google’s secrets to someone who is bored!

It would be interesting to know what Bing has in store for us – I am personally hoping the after Bing and Yahoo combine there will actually be a significant competitor to Google in the Search Engine space. I never like all my eggs in one basket.

Sphinncon Israel 2010

Sphinncon SMX Jerusalem 2010
This past Sunday afternoon Barry Schwartz hosted a mini-SMX in Jerusalem, Israel. Vanessa Fox joined him from the US as well. A short, relaxed version of SMX. Nice event – loved that it was so close to our office! It was good seeing my friends and colleagues from various places in Israel who made their way through the mountains to Jerusalem on what turned out to be a beautiful springlike day!

I spoke about Reputation Management Pitfalls and I will share the main points.
Note: when I say reputation management I mean getting negative results for your keyword out of the top 10 in Google.
1) Understand what your client really wants – it’s not always what they tell you at first. Dig deeper.
2) The goal is to “own” the top ten in Google and other search engines by working with Google – create and promote sites full of relevant content and get authoritative and/or topic-relevant links.
3) Don’t confuse Rep Management with SEO – it’s not a good idea to overdo the linking process – you will end up making your job more difficult – you will need to compete with yourself to move more sites into the top ten.

I will post the presentation on Slideshare soon.

SEO Dark Matter

For about a year my company has been utilizing a new set of techniques to help us in our online marketing efforts. While the techniques are not unique our results are in some cases singularly unique and valuable.

Even if you are new to online marketing you probably already know that some of the main “types” or areas of SEO are:

1. On Page – things you can do on your site to make your site rank better (think rich on-topic text, titles, descriptions, keyword choice, site structure, interlinking etc.)
2. Off Page – things that can be done on other people’s sites to make your site more popular (think linking and creation of pages and content on other sites that influence the search engines and push your efforts forward)

Aside from these, there are actually many other, sometimes equally important arenas where you can act to increase your site’s popularity and rankings for specific keywords. These include:

  • Properties of the website itself – the age and provenance of the site (getting the right site may involve finding an existing site with the right qualities and purchasing it from the current owner, or finding an expired domain that is either for sale or even dead and building it back up)
  • Redirects – taking sites or pages that are popular especially if they are popular for your target keywords, and redirecting them using linking 301 redirects or other redirects to concentrate their linking/power toward your target site
  • Behavior on tracked sites, search engines, etc. Search engines are capable of seeing lots of activities and inferring real popularity of a website- think bounce rates, CTR – basically the same things that Google uses to determine “quality scores” in adwords.
  • Location of of your site/server – this means IP Address, the identity of your domain registrar, the geographic location associated with your IP Address, Hosting neighborhood, unique IP vs. Shared hosting, Hosting and OS environment, and the like

Looking at this incomplete list, it stuck me that aside from the very visible link acquisition and site building activities there are a lot of very valuable activities that contribute to a site’s dominance of a keyword, but which are much harder to see. I call these activities SEO Dark Matter because we can sense they are there but we may have some difficulty actually detecting and monitoring them.

For example – if you see a site rise in Google’s rankings for a tough keyword like “contact lenses”, checking its backlinks and the pages of the site itself will not allow you to see that the strength came from an old on-topic website that you redirected to the new site – you wont see the 10,000 incoming links that give it strength and you will probably be fooled by the 20 incoming directory links that have been purchased for the sole purpose of fooling you.

Another example – imagine your site falls for a target keyword – even you may have trouble detecting that the reason was that someone was generating a lot of erroneous search engine traffic to your website and has suddenly stopped that activity – sending the search engines a clear signal that your website no longer deserves the rankings it has.

That’s SEO Dark Matter – it’s harder to detect and it’s the next frontier of online marketing. At least for me.

The beetle and the online marketer

SEO BeetleI bike to work when the weather is decent. It’s only 5km but the route is pretty hilly so I get some real exercise on the way.

Today when I was on the last incline before reaching the office – I saw what appeared to be a beetle crossing the road.

In any case I swerved to miss him since President Obama recently showed us that to get the full effect of killing annoying bugs you need to be filmed…

Then I started thinking how if I had run him over I might have effected the whole population of his species in the area. Maybe this bug was destined to mother of millions… True – if this one was dumb enough to cross the road while thousands of her comrades were in the grassy fields – she probably wasn’t the most brilliant of the bunch, but there is a vulnerability when a single event can knock you out completely. Nassim Taleb call’s these unexpected devastating events “Black Swans”. I highly recommend his books on Randomness.

Of course with bugs they have it all worked out – they presumably diversify their activities and locations enough so that one event wont knock out their population completely.

Recently my cell phone website http://www.younevercall.com was penalized by Google, probably for overly aggressive linking and what we now know was a concerted effort to get the site penalized by a much wealthier competing website. (They actually reported their efforts on Twitter – but that has since been removed…)

YouNeverCall was run over by a Google penalty and appears to be in intensive care – possibly to awaken in a few weeks.

Much like the beetle, our company is set up so that that single event does not end our company – though it does have a big effect.

To learn from the beetle would mean:

  1. Stopping to rely on lower quality links and sites to aid in SEO
  2. Expect the unexpected – be prepared for the penalty before it comes
  3. Make logical rather than emotional decisions of what to do when crisis strikes.

I think the last one may be the most important one. At each juncture it makes sense to look at the resources: people, websites, available tactics, etc. and make intelligent decisions about where to go next.

This is the third time that YouNeverCall has suffered a penalty over the past 6 years and each time the website and the business as a whole has come out stronger.

I don’t think that can be said for the beetle.

Evolution of the Internet and what it says about us

Recently I was reflecting on how the internet has developed – following roughly the following stages:

  • Libraries and Universities post their information online – Internet as extension of the library
  • Corporations and Organizations build websites – Internet as extension of advertising space
  • Sophisticated users build their sites – Revenge of the Nerds – Meritocracy allows smart people to be heard louder
  • Everyone can build a site – Power to the people, internet is like flea market anyone can set up a table and peddle their wares.
  • Early Social Networking – We all create our own channels and tune in to the networks only occasionally
  • Everyone is Networking – Twitter – We are the network – continued decentralization of flow of information.

Note that even in today’s situation – many of the tweets and blogs point to content which is traditional media – this has not been displaced – but it definitely seems that there is a higher bar to meet. There may no longer be room for 200 newspapers in the US – perhaps only 20 can survive in their full glory.

What’s with the hyperactivity?

It’s interesting that as we have gone from the first graphical web browser (Spyglass Mosaic) to Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 (does anyone use that?) each successive step has been characterized by shorter attention spans and more linking.

Twitter is the epitome of short attention span – get it all down in 140 characters or less. No room for a whole link – suddenly bit.ly and tinyurl are a service everyone needs! I came to the realization last week (at about the same time as SarKE) that internet marketers as a group seem to be blessed with Attention Deficiency. Or perhaps they have the ability to be very focused on many different projects for very short periods of time. In any case, rather than being a disability – having a short attention span and being somewhat impulsive seems to be related to success in internet marketing.

Twitter makes perfect sense to people like me (Hyperactive Sam) who can’t wait until you finish your sentence – we are already on to the next thing. Sometimes 140 characters seems like an awful lot of characters when all you want to do is share a link 🙂