Imagine this: You're a senior executive with considerable corporate responsibility, and made an error of judgement that resulted in a drink-driving conviction. Having made reparation and acknowledged your mistake, you want to pursue your career without this being the first thing anyone learns about you and your company when doing a Google search.
Another scenario: One of your franchises was involved in a business failure five years ago, and you would rather your many other successful franchises popped up ahead of this in search results.
While people can go through a 12-step programme and recover everything, including their reputation, Google is not so forgiving. For companies and their executives, it’s increasingly necessary to take charge of reputation through the prism of search engine results.
But on Google, as in life, there’s no room for fakery. The only authentic, lasting way to build a good reputation is to create news about other positive aspects of your business (or in the case of the drink-driving executive, your life). The reparation you make personally or professionally, and the other worthwhile things you do, can be optimised to eventually replace the negative story.
Recovery from reputational crisis must be organic. Good results must be generated naturally to ‘push down’ the bad in the Google results list. Some operators use what are known as ‘black hat’ tactics, but these won’t stick because they’re illegitimate and Google is constantly changing its algorithms to pick up any unethical SEO.
For the client, performance is everything – they must have genuine good activity to show – but online reputation management (ORM) is about ensuring that they aren’t dogged forever by a single event.
Of course, you can be in the market for ORM even if you don’t have anything you’d rather see ranked further down the Google results; perhaps you simply want certain things to have greater prominence.
If you need to manage your own or your company’s online reputation, or perhaps recover from some more serious damage, here are the 12 steps to ORM recovery:
1. Look for a good quality search engine optimisation (SEO) company.An SEO company is skilled at improving the rankings of client websites and promoting positive news to page one, and ORM works in a very similar way.
2. Scour the internet and try and find the best quality ORM company.
3. Once you have found a company that seems to fit the bill, ask about its methods of implementing ORM. How a company does what it does has ramifications for its level of service and the sustainability of the results.
4. If you have selected an international company, go back to step two and consider a local outfit. A local SEO/ORM company is likely to have a more intimate knowledge of local rankings – this is crucial.
5. High quality ORM for a corporate client must involve a good quality PR agency versed in crisis management. If the SEO company is handling everything in-house, this is a big red flag.
6. A lot of ORM companies will just create lots of profile pages for the client. This is a short-term solution and cannot achieve sustainable results – rather, high quality original content creation should be part of the strategy.
7. There is no sustainable fix that can happen immediately. High quality ORM that lasts takes time. A minimum of six months is a reasonable benchmark; 12 months is more realistic.
8. Once you have chosen a company to assist with crisis management, make sure it does not use automated tools. If it does, revert to step two. It is worth taking the time to find the right company.
9. Once the due diligence is complete and your partner is selected, it should be providing a comprehensive monthly reporting package that charts the progress.
10. Do not expect to see any tangible benefit for the first three months of the campaign. It takes time for the work undertaken to begin to take effect.
11. Content creation will be an integral aspect of the campaign, and a specialist PR agency will work with you to produce it. Nothing should be published without written client approval.
12. The timeline of the campaign will depend on the nature of the content to be dealt with. Some campaigns for some clients are ongoing.
Richard Conway is founder and MD of Pure SEO, which works with clients in New Zealand, Australia and the UK to provide both ORM and SEO services and partners with Alexander Communications, a full-service public relations agency with expertise in issues and crisis management