Every month, more than 100 billion searches are conducted through Google. What turns up, especially at or near the top of the results, has the most power to influence opinions around the search subject itself.
ompanies increasingly recognize the impact that appearing at the top of a search engine such as Google can have on their reputation, both good and bad. But Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as it's known, is a complex issue requiring specialist consultancy. Imagine a situation in which your company becomes embroiled in a public scandal. Naturally, you would want to issue a statement that distances your company from that event. But given the way SEO works, a statement could end up doing more damage than good by creating an unwanted association between your company and that scandal. The negative results could be felt for many months.
Unfortunately, no single formula will propel an organization to the top of the best search results pages. At least, not if you want to do things the right way. There are, however, strategies that can help organizations manage digital optics. By looking at how success is measured and the methodology behind that process, companies can find ways to both reactively and proactively influence search results about themselves.
Below are five considerations for managing your reputation online along with key takeaways for each.
1. Consider where your target audiences reside online
With the rapid growth of the number of social media channels, not to mention forums, blogs and news sites, the most important step in successfully managing your online reputation is identifying where your target audiences spend most of their time online. This means using analytics tools, sentiment tracking and social media listening to understand who your critical opinion formers are and where they congregate. Only once you have established this will you be able to plan and create content that is appropriate for these audiences and identify the channels that are most effective at reaching them.
Finding your audience requires skill, a passion for data and creative flare. Once a plan is in place, however, you have the best possible foundation on which to build your high-quality content. That means your content will be keenly received by those who stand to exert the most influence on opinions around your company.
Always start by identifying where key opinion formers congregate online
2. Post consistently high-quality content that is searchable
Two circumstances have accelerated the need for producing high-quality content that can easily be found. One is the explosion of user-generated content and the rise of social media platforms over the past decade that allows anyone to create and circulate content rapidly. Companies must compete with these outsiders for attention. The other is that journalists are working in a pay-per-click reward system, which means they are in a race to get ahead of the curve on awareness of a story. That in turn accelerates the production of fake news and affects the overall accuracy of content — which can be detrimental to a company considering that perception often forms based on the first results that turn up.
It’s therefore important that your messaging reflects positively on your brand and is created in such a way that search engine algorithms will view it favorably and, in turn, prioritize it. A larger volume of content might help organizations reach higher positions in search results, but prolific content posting isn’t always the solution. Neither is sharing high quality content at an irregular cadence. The quality of content should remain consistent in everything an organization produces and shares. Content should not only be of a high quality and aligned to the company’s brand, ethos and values, but also appropriate to the competitiveness of the marketplace.
Establish a cadence of high-quality content that turns up first in search results.
3. Develop Short and Long-term Strategies
There are two strategies to managing your company’s online reputation: reactively or proactively.
Reactive measures typically fall under the umbrella of crisis management. To combat negative content, first start by mapping where the content appears. The next step involves creating a traffic-like system where the content that poses the greatest reputational damage can be addressed. Most corporations today are concerned with negative content, which can be mitigated with a proactive strategy.
The proactive strategy is as it sounds — campaigning more positively. This means going back to the core narrative of your corporation, branding your ethos, and defining not only what you stand for but stating why you deserve to be listened to. Then, look at the content that performs well in Google searches across certain terms. It’s one way a company can use SEO to their advantage and frame their optics.
Leverage SEO, meta descriptions, and crisis management techniques to optimize your online presence and steer away from bad press.
4. Measure Your Success
Just like managing your online reputation, there are two ways of measuring your content’s success: qualitatively and quantitatively.
From a qualitative perspective, companies can look at the receptiveness of certain audiences and see how they are engaging with the company’s messaging. Looking at the media’s reception, and how they are sharing and engaging with content, allows a company to measure the perception gap between how they present themselves and how they’re being perceived.
From a quantitative standpoint, there are many platforms that can measure the performance of a brand or an individual within certain searches. Platforms like Google Analytics can tell you how quickly you're improving, how accessible your content is, and how you are performing against your competitors.
Looking at your metrics, and the overall reception of your brand online, can help determine how you’re performing.
5. Establish a Comprehensive Time Frame
There are many factors that can determine the performance and progress a company makes in their search engine results, most of which have to do with the mechanism of the search engine itself. Google, for example, will take several days, if not weeks to index any new content or pages on a website.
Companies should expect to see some changes around two months, with significant results occurring between eight to ten months. It's a complicated landscape that involves many different factors such as the build of the website, the HTML that’s used, the meta description, etc. However, you can perform more immediate tasks such as crafting social media content, and refining your proactive online reputation strategy. You should also look to address any glaring issues on your website which may be inhibiting Google and other search engines from properly indexing and recognizing your content.
Refining your online reputation won’t happen overnight, but developing a short and long term strategy can help increase customer acquisition and retention.