This article originally appeared on VanguardOnlineMedia.com
Reputation Management, Brand Protection, Social Media Management and SEO have merged into one highly developed and intricate strategy now being used in super-competitive markets, such as online gambling. These are proven strategies used by many of the top agencies in the world.
Brand Protection and Reputation Management has become one of the top “paid-for” services. Search Engine Optimisation (a.k.a. SEO), Paid Search, Email and Retention used to be the model of a successful internet marketing plan. In 2014 the spend on Reputation Management and Brand Protection has nearly equalled SEO and PPC spend for the companies that invest heavily online and offline to promote their brand. Add to this Social Media and you have a very full plate to be concerned about.
Brand Protection and Reputation Management are like driving a car; Better to be on the defensive, not the offensive side. Being proactive reactive can mean thousands or millions, depending on your approach.
Brand Protection is sometimes needed because someone is ‘cybersquatting’ on your domain name with a different extension (e.g. .net, .it or .com.mt). They are either holding you hostage over the domain or, as an Affiliate or competitor, attempting to draw traffic by using your brand. It could even be a disgruntled but SEO-skilled individual as I have seen many times. But that’s more about Reputation Management and I’ll cover that later.
Proactive Strategy – The truth be told, anyone can buy a domain with your brand in the domain or not, have advanced knowledge of SEO and rank for your brand name. Then they either build traffic and attempt to sell you the site, or they sign up as an Affiliate through you or a third-party and steal your traffic. PPC, although not as effective as in the past, used to be a goldmine for this type of strategy: They bid on your brand.
The obvious solution is to copyright your name, regulate your Affiliate agreements and enforce the DMCA when necessary. The not-so-obvious solution is to use a domain monitor tool like DomainTools.com. This tool takes your brand (or keyword) and monitors any domain purchases that include it and notifies you. While this may not be a solution to the problem it gives you the information you need to know to help deter the buyer from DMCA actions. TIP – Google has a tool that will allow the site owner to manually remove a page/website. This may be a useful if you have fallen in to the next category.
Reactive Strategy – In most cases the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) can protect you against a direct violation such as using your copyrighted brand in their URL (website address), using your logo or selling your goods or services using their brand. Usually this can be accomplished without the “Lawyer Letter” needed in the past. In fact many blackhat SEO’s regularly send fake DMCA violation reports to big names like GoDaddy and 1&1 to get sites taken down for a short period. Unfortunately this ‘short period’ for some can amount to millions.
Reputation Management is necessary in many situations. Some of the projects we have worked on have deserved the negative posts, whether from an individual, an organization or a watchdog site. Others are simply victims of a competitors questionable practices meant to slander their rivals in an attempt to scrape clients away from them. In either case we approach them the same.
I have seen these types of seemingly rare cases escalate into full-blown war, fuel a blow-back that cost a company millions, and yes, even put some out of business all together.
Unfortunately in some cases the company does not deserve this type of slanderous feedback, but a disgruntled punter on a gaming site, a guy that didn’t meet his soulmate on a dating site, or a traveller that got a bad waiter one night and they decided to vent it publicly. Even worse is that in this day and time a company receives good feedback from 1 out of 10 clients. They receive bad feedback from nearly 8 out of 10. Then you have the facetious, the “I’m having a bad day” guy, and of course the individual that no one could ever please under any circumstances.
Proactive Strategy – Of course a proactive strategy is difficult to incorporate if you don’t know when or where this negative feedback will show it’s ugly head, but there are ways to proactively spend time putting things in place that could help minimize any negative aspects due to actions taken, or not taken on your part.
The first thing that we do before undertaking a new project is to evaluate the damage that is done. Not necessarily the story or the credibility behind it. (That is left for when everything else has been done and you just need to pay them off if possible, or make them happy…but we have never reached that point…knock on wood).
Then we look at the top 100 search results and categorise them into the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s the difference;
•The Good – Very few social media sites showing in top 10-20 positions. Neutral or positive comments/feedback or reviews
•The Bad – A derogatory comment or single review ranking top 10
•The Ugly – Multiple negative listings in the top 1-20 results, multiple user-generated negative comments, bad reviews on review sites, negatives like WOT ratings and Google ratings/votes, brand-smashing websites created by competitors, etc.
The Proactive strategy here is to dominate the top 5, then the top 10, then the top 20 for your brand search. The way we do this is by dominating search results with a mixture of social media, press releases, optimized images, pdf renderings, doc files, sub-domains, subdirectories, multi-brand domains, multiple domain name extensions and aggressive posting on various other sites like Wikipedia that rank high due to natural trust and authority earned through Google algorithms.
The strategy here is to create and/or push your YouTube, Facebook, Twitter accounts, website images, press releases, reviews etc. up in to the top results because they represent your brand, and they will prevent a dual-listing from say a disgruntled client or an evil competitor from showing up in any search results. These Social Media sites usually adapt a ‘DMCA-style’ approach. So if you have a copyrighted brand it is possible to get a rogue Social Media account (your brand) back, or even get these sites/accounts taken down or banned.
Another proactive measure would be to monitor your brand on multiple levels. When your brand is mentioned you need to know about it…good or bad.
Google Alerts – Create a Google Alert to monitor your brand or website and email you immediately when it finds any results. This will be in real-time. When I have a new client the first thing I do is add multiple specialised and global monitoring tools;
•Technorati – Blogs
•YackTrack – Social Media
•TweetBeep – Twitter mentions
•Filtrbox – only delivers most relevant and credible mentions
•SocialMention – searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and microblogging services
All of these services can email or send you an SMS immediately. This is the best time to handle the problem. But if you are notified of negative content you have unfortunately dropped into the Reactive Strategy category.
Reactive Strategy – At the end of the day there will always be the one that you couldn’t manage to budge a bit. We have had situations where somehow someone upset a person to the point of no return, and even the offer of a cash settlement wasn’t an options. We have also had client that had ruthless competitors that would stop at nothing to become more successful or hurt the clients rankings or reputation. Posting bad reviews, pointing bad links, hiring voter-teams to steer a negative results or creating a website specifically naming & shaming you, all of these are real threats.
Unfortunately in these cases, when you have done everything else you can to protect your interests, you need to fight fire with fire.
The mission here is to get the top 10 results showing for a brand search and purge the unwanted.
This is where SEO comes in to play.
You have a few options; black hat, grey hat, white hat, and the natural order of things. We are going to concentrate on the white-grey versions.
Pointing bad links using SENuke, posting banned keyword links on 1000’s of blogs with Scrapebox, buying nasty links through services on Fiverr or creating your very own relevant website network, get it penalised, then starting your own little blackhat network is not what I want to tell you about…that’s Blackhat after all.
Google’s Universal Search and their endless updates (the last being the 3.0 Penguin) mean that fresh, quality content from trusted sources are websites that carry an unnatural bit of Google Goodness and are considered to be more trustworthy and authoritative in Google’s eyes. Done tactfully you can create or push more of your desired results in to the top 10.
Some examples of these sites are Facebook (Pages and Corporate), Twitter, LinkedIn, PRWeb, ABNewswire, Local Directories, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, VK (Russia), Flickr, Vine, Google Images, Google News, Wikipedia and PPC.
All of these referrer sites have the potential for a top 10 listing for your brand, but keep in mind that many websites dominate the rankings with their brand and brand strength. 888 Casino for instance dominates the results with alternate properties as well as subdomains. A search will result in these sites as the top 5 on Google;
Losing a top 3 position to negative feedback can be a huge blow. The top 3 non-paid results are funnelled-out to third-party sites like iWon, Netscape and AOL. Additionally they take that traffic from your website. This could amount to thousands of visitors. Losing one spot in the top 10 results can also result in an equal loss, especially if the culprit knows what they are doing and create a damning headline like “YourCasino.com is a Scam!”, so it is important that your strategy towards online marketing includes not only a budget for SEO and PPC, but also content, social media and brand protection and reputation management.
Many companies have watched their hard-earned foundations crumble or revenue earnings undermined due to poor Reputation Management and negative content and/or poor Brand Protection due to a lack of attention. Cybersquatting, a few indiscriminate Affiliate sites, and competitor efforts prey on these types of companies and look for the weak spots. Many could have been prevented. (i.e. UltimateBet).
Get your overall website health in check, monitor 100% of what is online in real-time, take control of the assets you have accessibility to, and have an emergency fund set aside for this sort of thing in case it comes to a worst-case-scenario situation.
At the very least I recommend you have a full-time internal or external Brand/Reputation Management Specialist in your operating budget. This person/Department/Agency handles everything I have mentioned here, but most importantly he/she/they have experience in negotiation and are very detailed. But most importantly they are not afraid to use hardcore methods required sometimes to win.
Put a plan in place now rather than later. Consider what a few months of losing 40% of your revenue is worth…This is your annual BPRM budget. It is significantly easier and faster to act proactively rather than spending a lot more on fixing the problem already in place. As an Agency 100% of our clients have always been fixing problems.
Like they say, “It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”. Unfortunately most of our clients in this category are the latter.