SEO as your brand watchdog

You’re already using search to drive traffic and generate e-commerce. Here’s a tip: it’s just as useful in managing your brand.

There are 10 organic search results on the typical search engine’s first results page, but your Web site can occupy only one. Aren’t you concerned about what the other nine might be?

You can bet that JetBlue, Taco Bell and Hillary Clinton are. Each of them has reason to be less than excited about the results of searching their names.

Part of the beauty of search engine algorithms is their democratic nature – any site can rank for any word with the right combination of content, structure and links. The problem is that you might not like the other results that pop up when people search for your brand.

Take control of search engine results. It’s an important lesson for corporate leaders. As much as you can, you should try to take control of the visible results of any search related to your brand.

During normal times, you want audiences to get positive search results rather than the Web site of that ex-employee with a grudge. But during times of crisis, when your company comes up in the media’s crosshairs, all the more reason to have created a protective, pre-emptive barrier around your search engine results.

Once scandal strikes, it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle or do much damage control. But if you’ve done your homework, you can minimize the impact of random search engine results. At the very least, your site should rank No. 1 for your own site’s domain name. Take a coordinated approach to search engine optimization and you can also take greater control of the other nine slots.

If you build it, they will come. Building and maintaining sites is a laborious and costly endeavor. You have enough trouble keeping your main site current, right? But if you want real control of the top 10, you will need control or at least have influence over multiple domains, all of which can be optimized to rank for your brand, products, trademarks and key executives.

So, how do you fill up 10 results? In addition to your main corporate site, how about your other sites? What about your and .ca and other domains, the CEO’s blog, Wikipedia entry, press releases, recruitment board, charitable foundation site and a few of your top partners? Building more sites gives you the materials to block out the front page and take advantage of linking.

Link aggressively. First, understand the basics of how search rankings work. If the typed-in keyword is in your page, especially in the domain name, the page will rank well for that keyword. But it’s links from other pages to yours that really multiply the higher-rankings effect.

What that means is that you should not only focus on optimizing the content, technology and structure within each site, but coordinating and cross-linking all of your sites or related content. With the right content and the right links, you can dominate the top ten.

You are your own best advocate. Who is going to write more about your brand than you? Individuals who are determined to find the salacious tidbit about your company will find it. But why allow the search engines to offer up the dirt, even to people who were just trying to find more general information about your company, such as potential partners, foreign investors or customers themselves?

Take a lesson from GM. Most often, you wouldn’t know who’s doing this right, because you don’t hear about them. Do a search for “General Motors.” You’ll see plenty of results controlled by GM, not just on the first page, but several pages deep. You’ll find links to the corporate site, the Wikipedia entry, vice chairman Bob Lutz’s blog, international divisional sites, the GM showroom site, stock price from Yahoo, information on auto repair from GM arm Goodwrench and positive coverage of a new electric vehicle on the Chevrolet site. These formidable results help crowd out the “GM sucks” page, which could have been created last night by that just-fired marketing guy.

Paid search is important, too. In addition to clearing the results landscape around your visible organic results, don’t overlook the paid results. Then the entire results page – right column and left – is clean, neat and positive. If your trademarks do not also have a generic meaning, you can invoke your legal right to cease and desist, should some wild-eyed animator start slinging paid dirt under your name.

If you provide enough valuable, relevant content about your company,through multiple sites, you’ll not only take control of search when something does go wrong, but the other 364 days of the year, your name yields positive, desirable messages that you

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