HOS: How does the search function impact on company reputation?
Shaoolian: Before committing to working with you, potential customers usually will use search to find your company name and the names of key executives and employees. What they find in the search results will help determine whether you will win a new customer or whether someone will be driven away by negative comments and an overall negative perception.
As Ben Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” In the past, companies only had to worry about bad coverage in the press or on television; today, the Internet has opened up thousands of platforms where your company's name can be attacked.
HOS: Where does the danger lie?
Shaoolian: Today, virtually anybody can become a “publisher” by using a personal Web site, a blog or any one of a dozen major social media sites to broadcast their opinions to the world. Companies can be hit hard by competitors, former employees, rejected job applicants and disgruntled current employees. Anyone can claim they got food poisoning at a restaurant, were ripped off by an appliance store or received terrible legal advice from a lawyer.
And of course this content is picked up by search engines, no matter how dubious the source. The question is, how can companies deal with this?
HOS: What's your advice?
Shaoolian: Use the same techniques that enable search marketing to drive traffic, leads and sales. Companies should create as much positive content as possible, and then create the quickest and most efficient paths to drive traffic to that positive content.
The best place to start is to make your Web site a “cheering section,” promoting your company as a leader in its field and as a solid citizen in the business community. Landing pages can include testimonials, and other pages can feature company philanthropy in its giving back to the community.
Also, add positive press with an “In the News” section or landing page. And you'll want to include humanizing content about the company, with executive profiles and items about company culture. For this last item, you might even want to include an executive blog.
HOS: What should companies do about negative comments?
Shaoolian: If there is controversy about your company on the Internet, deal with it head-on. Everyone makes mistakes. How you deal with the mistakes can make all the difference in the world.
If you know the identity of the persons making the complaints or criticisms, try to personally engage them. Get to the root of the problem—be candid, open and apologetic. If you're at fault, fix the problem. People really do appreciate when a brand is responsive.
If there has been a major problem with an entire product line, then keep people informed about the steps being taken to fix the problem and how affected customers will be treated. This is a great opportunity to include a “Message From Our Chairman/CEO” landing page, where the negatives can be turned into positives.
HOS: And the connection here to search marketing?
Shaoolian: Simple: All of this proactive activity is readily searchable. In addition, companies can use a variety of advertising platforms to augment search. For example, when users click on a paid search result for your company's name, consider linking it to your most positive content, whether it's testimonials, company wins or positive news.
The same strategies can be employed to bolster the reputations of individual executives. When people are looking to do business with your company, they are really looking to do business with the individuals who matter. On this point, executive biographies should be extremely detailed, providing biographical information as well as awards, honors and press coverage.
The point is, when it comes to your online reputation, it pays to be both vigilant and proactive. Flood the Internet with these positive messages so any negative messages can be lost, or at least well hidden. Even if your company has never been attacked online, it makes sense to create a vast network of positive messages about your company, and then drive traffic to that content.