A searcher’s first experience with your brand happens on Google’s SERPs — not your website. Having the ability to influence their organic first impression can go a long way toward improving both customer perception of your brand and conversion rates. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand takes us through the inherent challenges of reputation management SEO and tactics for doing it effectively.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are chatting about reputation management SEO.
So it turns out I’ve been having a number of conversations with many of you in the Moz community and many friends of mine in the startup and entrepreneurship worlds about this problem that happens pretty consistently, which is essentially that folks who are searching for your brand in Google experience their first touch before they ever get to your site, their first experience with your brand is through Google’s search result page. This SERP, controlling what appears here, what it says, how it says it, who is ranking, where they’re ranking, all of those kinds of things, can have a strong input on a bunch of things.
We know that the search results’ content can impact…
- Your conversion rate. People see that the reviews are generally poor or the wording is confusing or it creates questions in their mind that your content doesn’t answer. That can hurt your conversion rate.
- It can hurt amplification. People who see you in here, who think that there is something bad or negative about you, might be less likely to link to you or share or talk about you.
- It can impact customer satisfaction. Customers who are going to buy from you but see something negative in the search results might be more likely to complain about it. Or if they see that you have a lower review or ranking or whatnot, they may be more likely to contribute a negative one than if they had seen that you had stellar ones. Their expectations are being biased by what’s in these search results. A lot of times it is totally unfair.
So many of the conversations I’ve been having, for example with folks in the startup space, are like, “Hey, people are reviewing my product. We barely exist yet. We don’t have these people as customers. We feel like maybe we’re getting astroturfed by competitors, or someone is just jumping in here and trying to profit off the fact that we have a bunch of brand search now.” So pretty frustrating.
How can we influence this page to maximize positive impact for our brand?
There are, however, some ways to address it. In order to change these results, make them better, Minted, for example, of which I should mention I used to be on Minted’s Board of Directors, and so I believe my wife and I still have some stock in that company. So full disclosure there. But Minted, they’re selling holiday cards. The holiday card market is about to heat up before November and December here in the United States, which is the Christmas holiday season, and that’s when they sell a lot of these cards. So we can do a few things.
I. Change who ranks. So potentially remove some and add some new ones in here, give Google some different options. We could change the ranking order. So we could say, “Hey, we prefer this be lower down and this other one be higher up.” We can change that through SEO.
II. Change the content of the ranking pages. If you have poor reviews or if someone has written about you in a particular way and you wish to change that, there are ways to influence that as well.
III. Change the SERP features. So we may be able to get images, for example, of Minted’s cards up top, which would maybe make people more likely to purchase them, especially if they’re exceptionally beautiful.
IV. Add in top stories. If Minted has some great press about them, we could try and nudge Google to use stuff from Google News in here. Maybe we could change what’s in related searches, those types of things.
V. Shift search demand. So if it’s the case that you’re finding that people start typing “Minted” and then maybe are search suggested “Minted versus competitor X” or “Minted card problems” or whatever it is, I don’t think either of those are actually in the suggest, but there are plenty of companies who do have that issue. When that’s the case, you can also shift the search demand.
Reputation management tactics
Here are a number of tactics that I actually worked on with the help of Moz’s Head of SEO, Britney Muller. Britney and I came up with a bunch of tactics, so many that they won’t entirely fit on here, but we can describe a few more for you in the comments.
A. Directing link to URLs off your site (Helps with 1 & 2). First off, links are still a big influencer of a lot of the content that you see here. So it is the case that because Yelp is a powerful domain and they have lots of links, potentially even have lots of links to this page about Minted, it’s the case that changing up those links, redirecting some of them, adding new links to places, linking out from your own site, linking from articles you contribute to, linking from, for example, the CEO’s bio or a prominent influencer on the team’s bio when they go and speak at events or contribute to sources, or when Minted makes donations, or when they support public causes, or when they’re written about in the press, changing those links and where they point to can have a positive impact.
One of the problems that we see is that a lot of brands think, “All my links about my brand should always go to my homepage.” That’s not actually the case. It could be the case that you actually want to find, hey, maybe we would like our Facebook page to rank higher. Or hey, we wrote a great piece on Medium about our engineering practices or our diversity practices or how we give back to our community. Let’s see if we can point some of our links to that.
B. Pitching journalists or bloggers or editors or content creators on the web (Helps with 1, 4, a little 3), of any kind, to write about you and your products with brand titled pieces. This is on e of the biggest elements that gets missing. For example, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle might write a piece about Minted and say something like, “At this startup, it’s not unusual to find blah, blah, blah.” What you want to do is go, “Come on, man, just put the word ‘Minted’ in the title of the piece.” If they do, you’ve got a much better shot of having that piece potentially rank in here. So that’s something that whoever you’re working with on that content creation side, and maybe a reporter at the Chronicle would be much more difficult to do this, but a blogger who’s writing about you or a reviewer, someone who’s friendly to you, that type of a pitch would be much more likely to have some opportunity in there. It can get into the top stories SERP feature as well.
C. Crafting your own content (Helps with 1, a little 3). If they’re not going to do it for you, you can craft your own content. You can do this in two kinds of ways. One is for open platforms like Medium.com or Huffington Post or Forbes or Inc. or LinkedIn, these places that accept those, or guest accepting publications that are much pickier, that are much more rarely taking input, but that rank well in your field. You don’t have to think about this exclusively from a link building perspective. In fact, you don’t care if the links are nofollow. You don’t care if they give you no links at all. What you’re trying to do is get your name, your title, your keywords into the title element of the post that’s being put up.
D. You can influence reviews (Helps with 3 & 5). Depending on the site, it’s different from site to site. So I’m putting TOS acceptable, terms of service acceptable nudges to your happy customers and prompt diligent support to the unhappy ones. So Yelp, for example, says, “Don’t solicit directly reviews, but you are allowed to say, ‘Our business is featured on Yelp.'” For someone like Minted, Yelp is mostly physical places, and while Minted technically has a location in San Francisco, their offices, it’s kind of odd that this is what’s ranking here. In fact, I wouldn’t expect this to be. I think this is a strange result to have for an online-focused company, to have their physical location in there. So certainly by nudging folks who are using Minted to rather than contribute to their Facebook reviews or their Google reviews to actually say, “Hey, we’re also on Yelp. If you’ve been happy with us, you can check us out there.” Not go leave us a review there, but we have a presence.
E. Filing trademark violations (Helps with 1 & 3). So this is a legal path and legal angle, but it works in a couple of different ways. You can do a letter or an email from your attorney’s office, and oftentimes that will shut things down. In fact, brief story, a friend of mine, who has a company, found that their product was featured on Amazon’s website. They don’t sell on Amazon. No one is reselling on Amazon. In fact, the product mostly hasn’t even shipped yet. When they looked at the reviews, because they haven’t sold very many of their product, it’s an expensive product, none of the people who had left reviews were actually their customers. So they went, “What is going on here?” Well, it turns out Amazon, in order to list your product, needs your trademark permission. So they can send an attorney’s note to Amazon saying, “Hey, you are using our product, our trademark, our brand name, our visuals, our photos without permission. You need to take that down.”
The other way you can go about this is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protocols. You can do this directly through Google, where you file and say basically, “Hey, they’ve taken copyrighted content from us and they’re using it on their website, and that’s illegal.” Google will actually remove them from the search results.
This is not necessarily a legal angle, but I bet you didn’t know this. A few years ago I had an article on Wikipedia about me, Rand Fishkin. There was like a Wikipedia piece. I don’t like that. Wikipedia, it’s uncontrollable. Because I’m in the SEO world, I don’t have a very good relationship with Wikipedia’s editors. So I actually lobbied them, on the talk page of the article about me, to have it removed. There are a number of conditions that Wikipedia has where a page can be removed. I believe I got mine removed under the not notable enough category, which I think probably still applies. That was very successful. So wonderfully, now, Wikipedia doesn’t rank for my name anymore, which means I can control the SERPs much more easily. So a potential there too.
F. Using brand advertising and/or influencer marketing to nudge searchers towards different phrases (Helps with 5). So what you call your products, how you market yourself is often how people will search for you. If Minted wanted to change this from Minted cards to minted photo cards, and they really like the results from minted photo cards and those had better conversion rates, they could start branding that through their advertising and their influencer marketing.
G. Surrounding your brand name, a similar way, with common text, anchor phrases, and links to help create or reinforce an association that Google builds around language (Helps with 4 & 5). In that example I said before, having Minted plus a link to their photo cards page or Minted photo cards appearing on the web, not only their own website but everywhere else out there more commonly than Minted cards will bias related searches and search suggest. We’ve tested this. You can actually use anchor text and surrounding text to sort of bias, in addition to how people search, how Google shows it.
H. Leverage some platforms that rank well and influence SERP features (Helps with 2 & 4). So rather than just trying to get into the normal organic results, we might say, “Hey, I want some images here. Aha, Pinterest is doing phenomenal work at image SEO. If I put up a bunch of pictures from Minted, of Minted’s cards or photo cards on Pinterest, I have a much better shot at ranking in and triggering the image results.” You can do the same thing with YouTube for videos. You can do the same thing with new sites and for what’s called the top stories feature. The same thing with local and local review sites for the maps and local results feature. So all kinds of ways to do that.
Four final topics before we wrap up.
- Registering and using separate domains? Should I register and use a separate domain, like MintedCardReviews, that’s owned by Minted? Generally not. It’s not impossible to do reputation management SEO through that, but it can be difficult. I’m not saying you might not want to give it a spin now and then, but generally that’s sort of like creating your own reviews, your own site. Google often recognizes those and looks behind the domain registration wall, and potentially you have very little opportunity to rank for those, plus you’re doing a ton of link building and that kind of stuff. Better to leverage someone’s platform, who can already rank, usually.
- Negative SEO attacks. You might remember the story from a couple weeks ago, in Fast Company, where Casper, the mattress brand, was basically accused of and found mostly to be generally guilty of going after and buying negative links to a review site that was giving them poor reviews, giving their mattresses poor reviews, and to minimal effect. I think, especially nowadays, this is much less effective than it was a few years ago following Google’s last Penguin update. But certainly I would not recommend it. If you get found out for it, you can be sued too.
- What about buying reviewers and review sites? This is what Casper ended up doing. So that site they were buying negative links against, they ended up just making an offer and buying out the person who owned it. Certainly it is a way to go. I don’t know if it’s the most ethical or honest thing to do, but it is a possibility.
- Monitoring brand and rankings. Finally, I would urge you to, if you’re not experiencing these today, but you’re worried about them, definitely monitor your brand. You could use something like a Fresh Web Explorer or Mention.com or Talkwalker. And your rankings too. You want to be tracking your rankings so that you can see who’s popping in there and who’s not. Obviously, there are lots of SEO tools to do that.