Reputation management is a lot like the airbag in your vehicle — you hope you’ll never need it, and if you do, you’ll be thankful you have it and pray that it works in time to minimize damage.
This is an often misunderstood facet of digital marketing because the fact that someone needs to change what shows up in the search results for either their personal or business brand doesn’t always mean that they are unethical, dishonest, or trying to hide something.
More often than not, it’s a single upset customer, or in some cases, even a shady competitor causing a problem. Unfortunately, either case can result in tremendous loss of revenue and opportunity.
In other words, it’s an essential part of modern digital marketing.
Act Before a Problem Arises
Because it relies on SEO, reputation management tends not to be a fast process. That’s why it’s critical to be proactive.
If you can take over the first page, or better yet, the first few pages of the search results ahead of time, you’ll be in a much stronger position if and when a crisis does strike.
The importance of controlling how you are perceived online is obvious. The only real question is whether you should handle it yourself or hire a firm.
DIY vs. Hiring a Reputation Management Firm
You can take a DIY approach, especially if you have a fair understanding of SEO and aren’t already in the middle of a crisis.
You’ll just need to be prepared to invest the appropriate amount of time, and in some cases, money, to get the results you’re looking for. Sometimes this can be significant.
On the other hand, if you don’t understand SEO and/or are already facing a crisis, then you may be better off hiring a reputation management firm.
Even if you do choose to hire a firm, it’s still important to have an understanding of the process so you can effectively evaluate potential vendors.
Hiring a firm, however, opens up a different set of challenges.
The industry has earned a bad reputation, both because of the type of clientele they frequently work with and because of how they sometimes behave.
I’ll give you a couple of examples:
- Solvera Group was hired by Texas Realtor, Tom Grisak, to remove a negative review posted about him.
- Solvera then paid someone to post a second negative comment on that post, and hired a Texas attorney to file a defamation lawsuit against the poster, whom they claimed they had identified — even though it was the wrong person.
- The firm then presented the courts with a falsified settlement agreement, and the judge signed a final judgment based on this misinformation, which ordered Google to deindex the post from their search results.
- Throughout the process, all of the lawyers, clients, and judges involved were misled. Eventually, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton caught on and helped shut the operation down.
- Managers of Status Labs, Darius Fisher and Jesse Boskoff, were sued for the equivalent of embezzlement of more than $1.5 million by one of their partners.
- Rather than comply with the court order to stop stealing, Fisher and Boskoff instead set up a shell company, Blue Land Partners, moved the firm’s clients over and used their reputation management prowess to hide this fact from their new potential clients and their partner.
- Fisher and Boskoff’s actions in plundering Status Labs were so egregious that the federal judge quoted John Wayne from the iconic movie, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, saying: “Life is hard, but it’s even harder when you’re stupid.”
- Fisher and Boskoff were later held in contempt for violating the judge’s order and were forced to return some of the stolen money to avoid jail time.
My point here is that if you do choose to hire a firm, you need to go into the relationship with your eyes wide open and do plenty of research to make sure you’re hiring a reputable firm.
Whether you’ve chosen the DIY approach or have decided to hire a firm, it’s important to understand exactly what goes into it.
This ensures that you have a solid action plan in the event that you’re doing the work yourself, or, if you’re hiring a firm, it helps you to better evaluate which ones are competent and trustworthy.
1. Optimize Your Own Website
Reputation managements starts with your own website because you have complete control over it.
Obviously, you’ll want to pay close attention to the technical SEO, especially semantic markup and internal links, but don’t stop there.
It’s equally important to publish content and earn links that will make Google view your website as an authoritative result for your name.
The most logical way to do this is to publish articles on your website. Lots of articles.
But it’s important not to put quantity over quality. As you build a library of useful content, your author pages on your website will become significantly more authoritative for your name.
From here, it’s also wise to build quality links to your author page. Unless you share a name with someone famous, it usually won’t take very many.
In most cases, if you have at least a few dozen quality posts on your website, then you can probably get by with less than a dozen quality links. That’s easily achievable by guest posting on other relevant, high-quality websites.
2. Contribute to Industry Publications
Major industry publications tend to be authoritative because they publish a large volume of high-quality content, and that content, relative to similar content on other websites, tends to earn more links.
This makes these publications incredibly powerful assets.
As with publishing content on your own website, the goal here is to rank your author page on industry publications on the first page of the search results.
What you want to do is contact the editors of two or three major publications in your industry to pitch the idea of you submitting an article.
If you have any contacts in common with the editors, it would be a smart move to ask for an introduction, but let’s not put the cart before the horse.
First, make sure you can answer these questions so you can pitch in a way that presents maximum value:
Who Is Their Typical Audience?
Is their audience mainly other people in your industry or to the end consumer? That will usually make a big difference in the type of content will resonate well with them.
You would write a completely different article when writing for an audience of your peers compared to writing for potential customers.
You can look at my writing as an example. When I write for publications like Search Engine Journal, I tend to write at a far deeper technical level because the readers here usually understand it.
On the other hand, when I write about digital marketing for publications in the construction industry, I try to simplify my writing because my audience there doesn’t typically have the same level of knowledge on these topics.
Why Does Your Opinion Matter?
If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that everyone has an opinion about almost everything, and most of these opinions are worthless.
So why should they listen to you?
What knowledge and experience do you have that qualifies you to share your opinion m on a particular topic?
This is an essential part of pitching an editor on your idea for an article.
What Will the Reader Gain From Your Article?
Your article needs to provide tremendous value, in the form of:
- Unique and original insight.
- Detailed instructions on how to do something.
- A comprehensive resource that is unavailable elsewhere.
Skip the shameless self-promotion.
The publisher wants to provide value to their readers in order to ensure that they will return, and they’ll only do that if they gain something from the content on that website.
3. Optimize Your Social Profiles
Social profiles such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are relatively easy to rank, which makes them another valuable asset.
Your profiles on social networks should include all relevant information, including your:
- Hours of operation.
- Phone number.
Your social profiles should also be properly branded with your logo, brand colors, and appropriate header images.
The information included makes it more relevant to search engines, helping the profile to rank higher, while the branding increases engagement with real people.
Some of the social networks you should consider might include:
You don’t have to do everything all at once. In fact, you can’t do everything well all at once unless you have a massive budget and enough employees to perform the work.
I recommend starting with between one to three social networks and create a following there before branching out into others.
While I don’t suggest trying to use every social network at once, you should secure your profile on every network so it’s available when you’re ready to use it.
4. Leverage Public Relations
As an experienced expert in your field, I’ll assume you probably have something valuable to say.
If you can leverage your insight into positive media coverage, you can create a valuable asset in your reputation management efforts. And the beauty is that it’s infinitely repeatable.
Large publications like Entrepreneur, Inc., and Fast Company are authoritative and tend to rank more easily. Especially for your own name.
It’s essential to approach PR with the intent to add tremendous value to the editor, contributor, and audience. The mistake most people fall into is trying to make it all about themselves. This is a surefire way to get ignored.
Unless you’ve done something truly monumental, like launching a car into space, no large publication is going to write a feature story about you. It just isn’t going to happen.
Instead, figure out what the audience wants, and find a way to deliver that in a way that includes you, and pitch that to the editor or contributor.
The editor wants more eyeballs on their content. The contributor does too, but they also want to simplify their job of writing the article. Especially when you consider that most contributors aren’t paid for their work.
An effective way to do this is to leverage newsworthy topics. You can see examples of this in articles where I was quoted on the gun control debate in The Business Journal, and on Ja Rule’s failed event in Forbes.
“The key to maximizing reputation in PR is to provide remarks or content that provides high value in terms of being something the readers didn’t know and wouldn’t likely have guessed, such as a surprising insight, backed by data (with the data properly linked and sourced), and perhaps some color and complexion around an example of how that surprising finding plays out in real life,” according to thought leadership and crisis PR expert Cheryl Snapp Conner, of SnappConner PR.
“Include your characterization as an expert and whatever link is best for people to use to find out more about you. That leads people to the right association with you, as opposed to, perhaps being linked for contributing a ‘sky is blue’ quote to an article on something unrelated to your expertise, such as tips for closing a deal on a golf course,” she said.
You won’t have a lot of control over how a contributor writes their article, so it probably won’t be optimized specifically to rank for your name. That’s OK, though.
It may rank on its own without any additional work, but if not, simply earn a few quality links to it and it should easily land on the first page.
5. Earn Positive Reviews
If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you probably already realize that trying to please everyone all the time is about as difficult as trying to make a pile of water.
This sometimes results in negative reviews. One way to combat that, however, is a large volume of legitimate positive reviews.
Earning those reviews is simple, but not easy. Let me explain what I mean by that.
It’s simple because you just need to ask your satisfied customers to post a review on websites where your new potential customers may see them. That’s simple.
But it’s not easy because you must provide an exceptional product or service. Not average, not pretty good — but exceptional. That is difficult. Especially in today’s highly competitive market.
I can’t help you provide an exceptional product or service. That’s all on you.
I can, however, help you to earn those reviews once you have. I’ll do that by sharing the email script that we use, along with our follow-up process.
That process is critical because while these reviews are monumentally important to you, they aren’t to your customers. I’m sorry, but they just aren’t.
Your customer is busy running their business, and they’ll only help you if you can make it easy for them, and even then, you’ll probably still have to remind them a few times.
OK, for the email, it’s simple:
I’d like to ask you to do a favor for me…positive reviews help us to build trust and bring on new clients. Would you mind posting a quick review about your experience working with us? If you want, I’ll even draft something that you can edit as you see fit. Just let me know if you want me to do that to make it easier and faster for you.
The links for Google and Facebook are below
Google: [Link to your Google My Business listing]
Facebook: [Link to the reviews tab of your Facebook business page]
The follow up is simple, too. My agency uses a tool called Boomerang for Gmail because we run on G Suite. We will set a reminder for one week, and if we haven’t received a review by then, we will send a reminder email that simply says:
Just sending a reminder in case this got buried.
We usually give it another week and send another email with the same message. If that still doesn’t produce a review, then it’s time to pick up the phone.
But before asking them for a review this time, first ask something along the lines of this:
Hey, I know you’ve probably been really busy lately, but since you haven’t posted a review yet, I just wanted to make sure do anything wrong or leave anything hanging. Was there anything we should talk about?
Usually, they will apologize and explain that they’ve just been busy. In most cases, they will post it shortly after this call. But in the rare cases where something was wrong, you’ve just bought yourself the perfect opportunity to fix it.
One quick note on this — I highly recommend placing positive reviews on your website as well, and where applicable, including Schema markup.
6. Launch a Podcast
Your podcast page on Apple’s website will generally be viewed as authoritative just based on the domain it resides on. This makes it an effective tool in your reputation management efforts.
Add some quality links into the mix and it can rise to the first page rather quickly.
This tactic isn’t a band-aid though, because maintaining a podcast requires a tremendous amount of effort. I recently learned this when I launched my own podcast.
I point this out because I want to emphasize that if you’re not prepared to invest the ongoing time, effort, and expense of creating a worthwhile podcast, it isn’t something you should start in the first place.
If you’re going to do this, I suggest committing to at least one year of weekly episodes. Anything short of that and you’re wasting your time.
7. Buy Relevant Domains
If you’re facing or anticipating particularly aggressive attacks, buying relevant domains is a wise tactic.
You probably have already registered the .com for your name and/or company name, but what about the almost countless other extensions available today?
At the very least, you should register the .net and .org, but I would also consider other domain extensions that may make sense for your company.
There are more than 1,000 extensions available, so be thorough but try not to go overboard. The idea here is just to prevent others from posing as you and/or your company.
Next, look at domains that could be used against you. For example:
I would especially make it a point to include a few non-standard extensions, like .online, .club, or .reviews because they tend to outrank comparable websites with traditional extensions.
This can come in handy if there is significant search volume for complaints or reviews for a name, whether it’s a company or a person.
You don’t need a website for each domain. In fact, in most cases, you won’t need a website for any of them unless things get really nasty. This may happen if you run into a particularly vindictive former customer or competitor.
Only once in nearly two decades have I personally run into a situation where creating additional websites to target visitors searching for reviews or complaints was necessary.
Typically, all of these domains can be redirected to your main URL.