Safeguard your brand with search

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No company wants its reputation to be sullied by negative search results. So what are the best practices for brands to protect themselves? Four search experts share their tips.

Noah Elkin
VP, corporate strategy, Steak Media

Universal search, blended search, call it what you will — today's search results page is crowded with an ever-widening mix of text, images, video and user-generated content. And with the proliferation of user-generated con­tent, there is more being written about your brand than ever before. So how do you make sure you're getting your brand's message across and that it's being found? Start by using search to manage your brand's online reputation.

First, focus on optimizing your company's press releases for search. Tailor the language of a release with content relevant to specific queries and topics. Include tags, links and pho­tos that can easily be spidered by the engines as well as picked up by bloggers. All of this will enhance the reach of your news release.

You can also use paid search to promote positive news. Having posi­tive news appear in both the natural and paid results can have a powerful reinforc­ing effect on brand image. Of course, brand marketers can use the immediacy of pay-per-click ads to temper negative publicity as well.

Next, make sure you're creating a steady supply of relevant content. Develop your site into an information hub with feeds, reviews and articles about your company. Enable people to distribute and share this content with bookmarking buttons, which helps to build a large quantity of natural links. Having different sources, such as blogs, link to your site tells search engines that it is a trusted, quality resource.

Finally, own your brand terms. This may sound like a combination of Search and Branding 101, but it's a best practice many companies still neglect. Ranking in both the natural and paid results for brand terms is ideal, but at the very least, use paid search to bid on your brand terms.

THE TAKEAWAY
Search can help companies build trust, influence and authority


Sarah Hofstetter
VP of emerging media and client strategy, 360i

There are many ways that brands can manage their online reputation. However, marketers have the most success when they create and promote positive content about their brand, rather than try to deter negative information.

Instead of trying to change someone's outlook — a time-consuming and poten­tially risky task — find people who are neutral and/or positive about your brand and motivate them to become brand advocates. By engaging with these social influencers, a marketer can reach a network of people connected to that one individual. What's more, the message is personal — when a brand advocate recommends something on his or her blog, for example, a sense of legitimacy and relevance becomes associated with the brand. It's not easy to find and nurture brand advocates, but with the right approach, these rela­tionships can have a measurable impact on your brand.

There are times when those who cre­ate online content base their opinions and comments on misinformation. When that happens, marketers must be careful to approach these people diplo­matically and set the record straight. But before approaching the content creator, research what that writer has written about in the past — this will be critical to understanding his or her temperament, style and interests. What's more, find out the size of the writer's audience to determine if the risk is worthwhile. With certain people, outreach or trying to change their opin­ion can result in even more negative publicity — sometimes laying low is the best answer.

It can also help to apply strategic SEO practices to enhance your own online content. This can be achieved by opti­mizing your Web site, as well as via an inbound linking and social media opti­mization strategy. This helps ensure that negative content is pushed down in the rankings and that your brand and brand advocates can rise to the top of natural search results.

THE TAKEAWAY
Instead of changing someone's outlook, engage brand advocates


Steve Kaufman
SVP, media, Digitas

The first step for any company seek­ing to protect itself against negative content appearing in search results is to recognize the situation. Is this is a one-time occurrence such as a massive airline delay caused by weather or an ongoing assault by a few (or many) disgruntled customers? Is there appro­priate content available or do you need to create content to address the situation? Once these questions are answered, you must decide if you want to respond. Many brands choose to ignore negative content, particularly when it is in the form of one-off bad experience gripes. But assuming you want to protect your image, there are some action steps you can take.

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. A good way to ensure that “brand bandits” are relegated to lower positions in natural search listings is to engage in an active search engine optimization (SEO) program. By making all appropriate content search engine-friendly, an advertiser can domi­nate many of the top positions on the search page. Rest assured that the ban­dits will employ SEO best practices, so the brands need to as well.

Another tactic is paid search. In the case of protecting a brand from negative content, sponsored links can ensure a positive brand message is at the top of the page in the event that a bandit begins to appear. Given the way the search engines reward consistency and click rate, maintaining a branded paid search program can build up a strong quality score that most others will be unable to trump. And the more brand-friendly listings on the page — both paid and natural — the better.

By employing an aggressive SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) programs, monitoring the search space and responding when necessary, brands can better control of how they are por­trayed in search result pages.

THE TAKEAWAY
Employ both SEO and SEM tactics to protect against negative content


Adam Lavelle
Chief strategy officer, iCrossing

Customers are increasingly in control of how your brand is per­ceived online. In effect, customers have become your brand managers. Whether it is an Epinions.com post, user reviews on an e-commerce site, or a random post on a moderately influential blog, all will be front and center in the eyes of those searching. So, how can you control all this user-generated content?

The simple answer is that you can't. The good news is that brands can take steps to ensure that their message comes across front and center — not just dur­ing a crisis, but every day. How you get that message across, however, takes work. The strategy has to be driven by an understanding of how your audience behaves online, coupled with ethical and proactive engagement.

Your press releases, creative assets (including logos, images, and videos) and other content should all be opti­mized for keywords that reflect the lan­guage used by your target audience. Paid search strategies can be adjusted to help positive news rise to the top.

Another approach is to simply embrace your audiences by acknowledging them on your own corporate blog. It improves transparency and functions as high-authority content, likely improving the visibility of messages you want to share.

You can also actively participate in forums and conversations in places where others are talking about the brand (always being clear about your identity, of course). Having deep links back to your site on high-authority third party sites again benefits your visibility.

But remember the golden rule: be useful in your dialogue. Forums are not a place for blast marketing, they are a place to share, offer up new information, clarify issues, point people to answers, etc.

Successful brands are the ones who behave as truly “connected brands,” tapping into community discussions, sup­porting, getting involved, and sharing.

THE TAKEAWAY
User-generated content is here to stay — get involved and get connected

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