The lasting image of an individual, brand or company is created by first impressions.
Building an image used to mostly depended on word of mouth or acquaintances. That limited your brand's exposure to a small group of people. Prior to the internet, as we know it today, only larger companies with substantial advertising budgets, or access to celebrities, had the ability to become household names by promoting themselves in traditional media, such as television and newspapers.
Today, digital media has revolutionized exposure and improved access to an individual's or a company's profile. Social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube – and search engines – Google, Yahoo, Bing – have disrupted commerce and the global economy by providing instant access to unfiltered information. The first page of search engine results, which generally show news, videos, images and third-party content, now represents a key foundational pillar of company’s overall reputation and brand. Moreover, these results often remain in perpetuity on the internet, unlike in traditional media where the news appeared for a short span. Fortunately, these results can be properly managed and influenced through various tools such as search engine optimization (SEO).
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The digital era provides a more level playing field for young, smaller companies that can leverage the social media platforms to gain more website traffic. On the other hand, failure to create a digital presence can jeopardize a company’s chances to compete effectively.
How search engines impact your online reputation
According to netmarketshare.com, Google has a market share of 70% and 90% on desktop and mobile/tablets respectively. Internetlivestats.com shows that there are around 65,427 Google searches per second or 5.6 billion searches per day, which means that approximately 75% of world population, per capita, makes at least one Google search every day.
These online searches can be about anything, including a company’s business, partners, management and so on. Whenever someone searches about a company's name, product or management, a set of search engine result pages (SERPs) appears. The information contained on the first page will tell a story about the company. If there are positive links, then people researching are more likely to assume that the company is trustworthy, while any negative links can potentially raise doubts and erode trust. [Are you looking for reputation management software? Check out the business.com best picks and reviews.]
A recent study conducted by Internet Marketing Ninjas (IMN) showed that the click-through rate (CTR, a measure of clicks per impressions) for page 1 results was around 60% and about 15% for page 2 results. This shows that the majority of people searching online do not move past page 1 results.
Generally, the information consumers find will have an anchoring bias, which can influence their decision-making process. In other words, internet users will place greater importance on what they read on page 1. If a positive search result becomes an anchor, it will be beneficial for the company. However, if it is negative, then it will likely harm the reputation of an individual or detract from the perception of the business.
It is important to note that most people have a bias known as the "isolation effect" or the "Von Restorff effect," in which if there were just one negative result among a slew of positive results, the negative result is more often remembered than the positive one. Therefore, it's imperative to manage the first page of search results so they display the most representative digital assets.
Plan of action to manage negative results
Negative reviews or search results often originate from dissatisfied customers, disgruntled former employees or mischievous competitors. These reviews are typically available on online review sites such as Glassdoor, Avvo and Yelp, and social media websites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Defamatory content may also be found through blogs of online aggregator websites, including Forbes and Reddit. The negative results can appear from past or current allegations against the company at large or specific members of the executive management team. The company could be named in an allegation without being at fault or have been found innocent of charges, but older website links with select key words continue to appear and resurface.
There are a number of strategies to repair a digital reputation. Dedicated internal team members may not have the knowledge to address these issues. Depending on the situation, expertise offered by professional advisers may be required to suppress the negative search results, and where possible, remove the content.
For example, direct negotiation with publishers or managers of domain authority to hide the content from search engines often yields limited results relative to experts with an understanding of the legal ramifications. Building content that reflects the mission, vision and values of the business is helpful when addressing short-term issues or deploying a long-term strategy.
The last one is the most important defense because it is fundamental to counteracting negative reviews. To do this, the company should build its own website, create authentic social media profiles and share original content. If a negative search result appears on the first page, the company should increase its efforts by posting timely technical content that will shift the ranking of the negative result to the next page. It is imperative to monitor digital presence as it continuously changes and manage the negative results by using appropriate SEO tools.
Understanding online reputation management (ORM) assets
The most obvious online reputation management asset is the content on the company's website. When someone searches for the company or its brand name on Google, the first link, in most cases, is the company's website. Moreover, Google also appears in certain organic site links for free when the algorithms have clarity on the architecture of the website. This will direct the information consumer to the most relevant company website sub-page. Therefore, it is important to have relevant content on these sub-pages. Meta tags and meta descriptions are also important for organic search engine optimization.
There are a number of inorganic methods in which a company acquires ORM assets, including managed assets (social media profiles and their content), influential assets (information aggregators such as Wikipedia), earned assets (positive news articles in media and blogs), and paid assets (advertisements on Google search pages).
Managing online reputation management assets
All types of ORM assets should be managed together rather than separately to improve your ranking on Google's desktop and mobile algorithms. However, the assets that are managed in-house by the company (i.e., the company's own website and managed assets) should be improved on an ongoing basis and optimized when first deployed. Google and other search engines will automatically investigate some important components, such as URL, location of business, keyword strength, site encryption and important tags, from the website and social media handles, which provides more reason for managing these assets first.
After looking at these components, the most important consideration is whether the company is publishing engaging content. A website with images, videos and infographics to complement authentic text will generate more traffic, as these images would often appear on the first page of SERPs. Some other ways for a link to receive a higher ranking on search engines include publishing news with a hyperlink to third-party news websites, answering frequently asked questions, and adding jargon-free content with keywords that might commonly be used by the consumer.
As far as manageable assets are concerned, social media content should always be back linked to the company's website to improve its visibility. This also improves social media appearances on search engine results. Social media platforms often encourage user engagement because they improve the quality of backlinks on SERPs. Successful strategies on one social media channel may not correspond to another. Understanding the nuances of each platform is critical. For example, a video link from YouTube shared on Facebook will receive less engagement and views relative to the video file being uploaded directly.
In regard to earned assets, it is important to have a public relations or reputation expert professionals that manage digital content published on trade publications, newspapers, or broadcast stations. This team should be dynamic and attentive to displacing negative results by strategizing, making tactical decisions, and continuously monitoring the company's reputation. Finally, paid assets attract traffic to the website, with links on SERPs receiving the highest ranks possible.
A negative result on a search engine can have a damaging effect on a company, while a positive result can enhance its profile significantly. We don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Therefore, it is vitally important that a company manage its digital reputation assets seriously and carefully before it’s too late to salvage its reputation.