Online Reputation Management and SEO

What’s the Connection?

One of my favorite professors used to say that brands are built, reputations are earned. And more than ever, that holds true for online reputation management. There’s no free lunch in achieving a positive reputation online.

Research shows shows that 94% of B2B buyers do research online for purchase decisions (Source: Accenture). This means that it’s critical for your business to be found in search results in order to even be in the consideration pool. But what will users see when your results appear?

There's a downside of having an unmanaged reputation online. If negative comments begin to dominate review sites or there’s negative press about your company, it unquestionably affects your sales, but it also affects vendor and supply chain relationships, your ability to recruit and retain talent, and potential PR opportunities.

Over the last few years, we've received inquiries from clients with various versions of this same scenario: there was a negative news story or review that surfaced and it was persistently hanging around page 1 search results. What could be done?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy problem to solve quickly, particularly if search engine optimization (SEO) and online reputation management aren’t part of the program. So let’s look at the relationship between SEO and online reputation management, and why it pays to have active programs for both.

Online Reputation Management is the Apple Tree, SEO is One Leading Branch

Online Reputation Management Tree Graphic

A company’s online reputation is the sum of all the websites and sources that include its company/brand in some way – whether it’s a review site like Yelp or Glass Door, a media mention or its own social media pages. All of those web properties are jockeying for position in search results, and increasingly, the ones with the highest domain authority rise to the top. That means that a search for your company or brand may yield results from Angie’s List or Indeed.com ahead of your own company's website. But how can that be? In part, it’s about domain authority – a measure of the power of a domain name. Domain authority is based on multiple factors, including size, age and trust factor of the domain. [See this page on Moz for more info and free resources.] So if you look at the totality of the results that appear for a branded keyword search, that’s online reputation.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of tactics that fall under one branch of online reputation. SEO is the practice of trying to get your specific company’s web pages to appear favorably in the search results for certain keywords. In this way, SEO is primarily about trying to increase performance for your website, whereas online reputation is about managing how your company or brand appear across all potential websites. There is interplay between them, but they are distinctly different and should be managed as such.

SEO is an important influencer of one’s online reputation, but there are several others including:

  • Content marketing
  • Public relations
  • Social media cultivation
  • Review site management

Let’s say that you have an SEO plan in pace to optimize your website for target keywords most relevant for your industry, and you do that through a combination of “on-page” tactics such as optimizing page copy, page titles, image tags, site architecture and URL planning. In addition, you deploy an “off-site” SEO strategy, also called an inbound linking strategy, so that external websites  –  preferably ones with high domain authority – point to your website and provide incoming traffic. That’s great. You are influencing which of your website pages might appear in search results. But what about the other sites that appear on page 1, such as Glass Door, Indeed, Google reviews, Angie’s List and Yelp, to name a few - are you looking good there? Having a plan in place to proactively manage your reputation on any site where your company or brand would appear in search results is critical – because that’s what users are going to see.

How to Start Actively Managing Your Online Reputation

As a prescription for clients in this predicament, we suggest they start to manage their online reputation more proactively. Depending on which sites are dominating your top search results, the first step may be to start with Glass Door, which is a job search site that incorporates peer reviews as a major component. In other cases, it may be Yelp or Facebook reviews that are most relevant.

TIP: To do a quick assessment of your company or brand’s online reputation, type your brand name into Google and note all of the results that appear. What sites do you have control over in some way? Focus on enhancing your presence on each and every site where your name appears and schedule monthly ‘check-ups’ to gauge progress.

For many B2B clients, Glass Door is one of the most prominent sites appearing when they do a branded keyword search, so first step is to ask existing employees to post an honest review of the company on the site. Other audiences on Glass Door include former employees, interns, and interviewees. To achieve a well-rounded reputation there, consider asking people from all these different categories – but start with current employees.

Next, we suggest focusing on getting some positive Google reviews from your clients, who are happy to share feedback when asked. If you have only a few Google reviews and one bad egg rolls in, it has a lot of weight. You look bad. However, if you have dozens of Google reviews and a bad egg rolls in, it’s impact is diluted. Extrapolate this concept to all the various review sites your brand appears on, and you get the idea. If you take a proactive approach, it's less likely to cause a headache.

Finally, we suggest our clients look at professional membership organizations to which they belong and look for ways to enhance their company listing – at the least, make sure it’s up-to-date. Can you add a photo, a hyperlink to your blog, a recent award, or anything else to bolster your appearance? Some of these professional organization type sites may show up towards the end of list on page 1 results or even on page 2 or 3. Remember that search results are fluid and ever-changing; just because a result is on page 3 now doesn’t mean it won’t become a primary result in the future. Therefore, look at the page 2 and 3 results for your branded keyword search and include those in your online reputation management plan of action.

When you do the Google search for your specific company or brand as the Tip above suggests, even if your website shows up in the first few slots on page 1, you're not out of the woods. What if the Glass Door result is just below that and the average review is just 2 stars? You might as well just say goodbye to half of your potential talent pool. User behavior shows we have a tendency to glance down the page to get a sense of the range of results before clicking, and those ratings show up loud and clear from many review sites.

SEO is Good Practice, but Think Holistically Towards Reputation

The bottom line is that you can’t control all of the search results that appear when a user searches on your company or brand name. But you can exert some influence over what appears by having a plan in place to actively manage your online reputation. SEO is an important part of that overall plan, but it shouldn’t end there. Take a holistic approach to managing your reputation online, and sales will follow. If attracting new talent is one of your goals, then definitely manage your reputation proactively on sites like Glass Door, as they have very high domain authority.

For more information on measuring the bottom line and managing online reputation, read this informative Forbes article - it’s from 2014, but still very relevant in today's landscape.