As the CEO of a major publicly traded company, Jeff Strand* carefully managed public relations messaging about him to remain positive as part of his organization’s reputation management plan. But when he was caught up in a DUI bust for being under the influence of cocaine with a prostitute in his car, he became front page news for a reason he could not have imagined. Several of the largest newspapers in the country wrote 1000+ word stories about him, including his mugshot and salacious details from the police report. His professional and personal reputation was devastated, and he came to Digital Strategies for assistance.
How Google evaluates Search Requests and Determines Order of Results
Strand’s problem is one faced by many people who have problematic results in search engines. Bad news tends to rise to the top in Google and understanding why this happens is the first step in learning how to fix it.
Search engines use dozens of different signals to understand how to rank results when you search for something. What you search for is called the “keyword expression,” and results are based on the exact keywords you enter into Google. The search then looks for results that are most likely to address what you are searching for, using a complex algorithm to determine how to rank the various web pages that contain the keywords you selected.
Some of the most important factors in ranking are the authority of the web page that contains the keywords, the number of other web pages that link to it, the traffic it gets, and what people do when they land on the page. When site visitors spend lots of time on the page and navigate to other pages in the same site from it, Google concludes that the page satisfied visitors and promote it higher in results. If they spend just a short time on the page and use the back button (called a bounce in Googlespeak), the search engine assumes the page didn’t address their need, and the page is lowered in rank. Dozens of other factors are at play as well in the algorithm.
Why Bad News Usually is at the Top of Google Search Results
Given the way results are ranked, it’s a lot easier to see why bad results rank high. They tend to be in large, well trafficked publications which have significant investments in Search Engine Optimization, to improve their own search visiblity. And human nature dictates that people like reading gossip and salacious information, so the time visitors spend on the page is higher. Plus this kind of reporting tends to be syndicated, so many publications with often have variations of the same story. To a search engine, bad news looks like big news. And big news rises to the top of search results.
When we are contacted by clients, they have often attempted to use technology based “online reputation management” firms to fix their results with very limited success. Now, to be sure, technology based online reputation management can and does help with some kinds of problems. But when we are dealing with large numbers of negative stories in large publications, technology alone will not repair your reputation. You need a customized approach.
The Three “R”s of Online Reputation Management
When we talk with organizations or individuals with substantial online reputation problems, we explain the three “R”s of reputation management:
- REMOVAL: Removing content that is defamatory or violates the terms of service of the site on which it is located.
- RERANKING: Lowering the visibility of negative content by promoting positive content to higher rank.
- REPOSITIONING: Developing new messages that reduce the relevance and the harm caused by negative material.
There are dozens of methods Digital Strategies uses to implement each of these elements of a successful engagement. Here is an example of how we used each technique on behalf of Jeff Strand:
A number of publications had made claims about our client that were demonstrably false or had been proven untrue as his case worked its way through the legal system. We worked with our client’s legal counsel to shape letters to those publications that resulted in the removal of defamatory content. A number of the most well trafficked links were completely removed; others had their content significantly altered to our benefit.
Like many people, our client had maintained a limited footprint in digital and social media. As a result, what other people said about him dominated his search results. We built a new ring of online presences, from a personal website to very high performing social media channels, that over time pushed their way into the top of his search results.
Hopefully, you will never have a problem like our client, where your mug shot appears in a number of the largest newspapers in America. But if you do, we still can help. Recognizing the reality that it will be impossible to make these results invisible, we worked instead to make them less credible. We used our public relations practice to secure online expert commentary roles, place opeds, and make sure he was mentioned frequently in media on the same size websites that contained disparaging information. As a result, even when people saw the disparaging information, they saw newer high credibility links that placed our client in a very positive frame of reference.
Public Relations | The Secret Weapon of Online Reputation
When tech driven ORM firms talk about repairing reputation, public relations is rarely mentioned, because they don’t work in that arena. And that’s a shame, because quality PR is the secret weapon of online reputation management. It stands to reason that if your reputation was harmed by being mentioned in major publications, the most effective repair will incorporate positive stories in those same publications. It won’t work without the other elements in place, but when they are… nothing delivers better results.
Public Relations is a very specialized arena, requiring strong media relations and advisers with deep experience in crisis communications. That’s why Digital Strategies is the firm of choice for high profile individuals and organizations with emergent problems in reputation management.
Contact us for a completely confidential evaluation of your situation.
*Name and certain details changed to protect anonymity.