Which Is More Important: Technical SEO or Reputation Management?

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by Jayson DeMers

There are many moving pieces in an SEO campaign, but only a handful of broad categories of tactics to use regularly. For example, most people intuitively group tactics into the categories of on-site optimization and off-site optimization, which are clearly defined by whether a given tactic takes place on your site or somewhere else. But there are different dimensions to consider as well–for example, you can think of a split between technical SEO and reputation management tactics.

Which of these are more important to the success of your overall campaign?

Reputation Management

Reputation management, as the name suggests, is all about building up your brand’s image online. This could involve a number of tactics, including the publication of valuable content on other websites, the promotion of your brand name and image, and the establishment of personal relationships with your customers.

For example, MediaOne suggests optimizers create LinkedIn Groups and post regularly to enhance their reputation; not only will you gain more social followers, you’ll also earn backlinks and establish ground for publishing content in the future.

There are a number of benefits to these tactics:

  • Brand visibility and recognition. Obviously, your reputation will grow with reputation management tactics. More people will see your brand, you’ll rank higher for branded searches (and see more of them), and the visitors you attract will be more acquainted with your business. That means higher click-throughs for all your rankings, and more conversions when they get to your site.
  • Backlinks. Reputation building is also a good way to earn more inbound links. If people read your content and value it, they’ll be more likely to link to you as a credible source, which will boost your domain authority.
  • Guest posting and future potential. Building your reputation also opens the door to bigger and more authoritative publishers for guest posting opportunities. These give you immediate benefits of brand visibility and inbound links, but also a path to even better opportunities in the future.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO, on the other hand, is all about making precise adjustments to your site to improve its visibility in search engines. Here, you could update your site’s code to be cleaner and easier to crawl, target specific keywords and include them in your page titles and meta descriptions, and even rebuild different areas of your site.

For example, QuickSprout notes the importance of user retention, and encourages optimizers to make tweaks to their websites so they load faster and preserve a worthwhile user experience.

There are several benefits here:

  • Real search visibility. Google can’t rank your site if its search engine bots can’t see it. Your biggest priority with technical SEO is making sure that search engines are able to process your site to index and display it accurately.
  • Precise targeting. Technical SEO also gives you the ability to make and reach for precise targets. You’ll have the opportunity to research various keywords and keyword phrases, and reorganize your site to rank for them.
  • Troubleshooting. If something goes wrong with your site, technical SEO will give you the tools to analyze the problem and eventually correct it.

The Problems With One Over Another

After reading this far, you may intrinsically favor one over the other. However, there’s a problem with identifying one set of tactics as “better” or “more important.” If you focus exclusively on technical SEO, you won’t have the opportunity to develop your brand reputation; you may slowly climb the ranks for a handful of specific keyword terms, but your visitors will be apathetic to your brand, and you won’t grow nearly as quickly without reputation management.

On the other hand, if you ignore technical SEO and focus only on reputation management, you could overlook a key fixture that’s necessary for search engine visibility. For example, you might update your robots.txt file incorrectly or accidentally make your site uncrawlable. You’ll get a respectable volume of customers from other areas, but your direct rankings in SERPs will tank.

The truth is, no SEO campaign can survive while only pursuing one of these sets of tactics. You’ll need both if you want to establish a wider presence. Technical SEO is necessary to be seen and properly “understood” by search engines, but reputation management is necessary if you want to reach people and grow at a reasonable pace.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Personal Branding & Social Strategy Advice You HAVEN’T Heard, Live from #Pubcon

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Personal Branding & Social Strategy Advice You HAVEN’T Heard, Live from #Pubcon was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Personal branding and social strategy – it’s a subject close to all digital marketers’ hearts. Mark Traphagen, Matt Craine and Mel Carson are speaking on this hot topic at Pubcon Las Vegas. Hear what they have to say on the importance of personal branding in a world where everyone is Googling everyone else.

Branding and Social Strategy from Proven Experts(1)

Real People Power for Brands

Mark Traphagen (@MarkTraphagen), senior director of online digital marketing at Stone Temple Consulting kicks it off. How can personal brands work for business? Businesses need to make real connections, he says, and that’s hard to do if you’re simply a brand. You need to create emotional connections with your consumers.

How do you take something as dead and inert as a brand and make it alive?” asks Traphagen.

“How do you take something as dead and inert as a brand and make it alive?” – @MarkTraphagen
Click To Tweet

Build community. Moz does this spectacularly. One of their great successes has been building this active, passionate community around their brand. This community is, in turn, more inclined to try out Moz’s products

The Brand Humanization Ladder

“We’re not all ready to be at every stage, but we can do something to start the climb. Humanize your business to make it more connectable with people,” says Traphagen. Here are the rungs of the ladder:

Cause Supporter

Get involved in things that really people care about. Traphagen shares an example of a pet insurance company creating content about not leaving pets in cars when it’s hot. People care about that, and that made them care about the pet insurance company by proxy.


Look for real conversations that they can engage in in real time. Denny’s was on its way out as a brand. On the verge of bankruptcy, they began to listen online to what people were talking about. They learned it wasn’t about food, but about getting together with friends at 3 a.m. Denny’s began to engage in those conversations and make their brand “hipster cool.”

Employee Advocacy

Give you employees the freedom and tools to be involved in social on behalf of your brand. “Advocacy is born form culture, not technology or marketing” Jay Baer – you can’t order your employees to do this, but if you create a culture where your employees LOVE your brand, it will come naturally. Encourage it.

Personal Brand Representation

Develop and encourage people to be personal brands. It can have a powerful effect because it is human. We have a desire to belong and to connect. We want that as humans. We want to converse. We want to speak and be understood. Conversations are extremely important. We’re very drawn to humans. It’s called pareidolia. Evolution has trained us to be drawn to other humans. Consider the now defunct Google authorship – Google recognized the value in seeing a really face next to a content.

Your brand will most rapidly and successfully gain the social trust of its audience when it is associates with powerful personal brands. As they go out into the world and connect with people, that authority of those people is transferred onto the company itself. Read more from Traphagen on personal branding here: stonet.co/pbrmoz

Personal Branding: 10 Practical Tips

Mel Carson (@MelCarson), founder of Delightful Communications, calls brand an experience. An effective brand, he says, is way more than a logo. What is the impression you’re leaving?

He shares a quote from Seth Godin: “A brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Be discoverable. Be shareable. Be memorable.

Build a brand through PR and social. Build relationships to become trusted. Differentiate through emotional connections to become more remarkable and unmistakable. Only 15% will be believe a brand, but 90% will believe a peer, friend or family member, according to Nielsen. Nurture your loyal fans.

Personal Branding Sweet Spot


The Ten Personal Branding Tips

  1. Own your own name
  2. Invest in a professional photo. According to PhotoFeeler.com, the photos that resonate the most with other are close-up, smiling and showing teeth.
  3. Make your out-of-office email work harder. Don’t just say you’re out of the office. For personal branding, you should say why you’re out of the office. Offer a Twitter handle. An email signup, etc.
  4. Create a social media ratio that is 60% business and 40% personal.
  5. Be thoughtful about your bio on third party sites.
  6. Label your photos with your name for SEO.
  7. Add Social channels and messages to emails.
  8. Make your business cards stand out.
  9. Make LinkedIn a living profile.
  10. Be social by design. Link channels and repurpose content.

Personal Branding of the Company: AKA Your LinkedIn Profile Probably Sucks

Brand Strategist Matt Craine (@MattCraine) asks “what is your brand?” It’s not what you think it is – it’s what they think it is. You don’t own your reputation – you’re at the mercy of what everyone thinks of you.

85% of consumers rely on search engines to find a local business. 78% of consumers consult reviews or ratings before landing on a business. Reviews are a really big deal. But what does this have to do with you as an individual?

Everyone is a stalker. People are online researching people they’ve met in business. When you’re in business, you are getting stalked. Craine guarantees us we’re all being stalked.

By association, you are part of the company brand. Everything online about an employee reflects on the company. With everything else equal, people buy from people they like.

If you own or represent a business, everyone employee has to clean up their act everywhere:

  • LinkedIn
  • Google+
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Image Search
  • Videos

Change your LinkedIn view settings. By default, your profile is not public. Change it to public. (67% of B2B marketers are actively using LinkedIn).

Buy the domain name for all your employees. It’s $10 for a domain. It’s $20-45 for a good WordPress template. It’s $10 a month for hosting (or less!). If you and your employees dominate the first page you’re way ahead of the game.

October 10th 2015 Reputation Management

Is regulation an adverse event for pharmaceutical social listening?

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by Mike Moran

Every industry has its unique issues. Yet some regulated industries have special concerns when they embark on social media listening. I’m talking specfically here about pharmaceutical companies. Many have taken the plunge, but others sit on the sidelines, spooked by the requirement to report all “adverse events” from medications. What do the listening companies know that the sidelined companies don’t?

First off, I don’t want to minimize the regulatory concerns of pharmaceutical companies. It is indeed true that they have a duty to report to the FDA any reports they become aware of that one of their drugs has produced an adverse event in a patient. Typically, they become aware of such incidents when the patient calls them to report a problem, and they have well-worn processes to collect the information and make the proper report to authorities.

But what do they do in social media? How do they report that @patient tweeted that she felt dizzy after taking brand-name-drug? Some companies believed that they could protect themselves from liability by intentionally NOT listening to such chatter. If they are not aware of the report, then they are under no compunction to report it. It’s logical from a legal point of view, but does it make sense? I mean, the same lawyers could just as easily disconnect the phones to call centers to remove the risk of hearing of adverse events by phone.

Clearly, pharmaceutical companies must do more. The leading companies are taking the same approach in social media that they do for any other contact with patients, but it takes some thinking. When a patient phones you to ask a question or report a symptom, the company can make sure that all of the questions are answered so that a complete report can be filed. In social media, that’s not so easy.

One study shows that 0.3% of social media conversations contained any report of adverse effects from brand name drugs, and that, of those, only 14% contain enough information to file an official report with the FDA.  So, the companies were not required to file reports in the rest of those cases. What’s more, because the companies have all the processes in place to file reports from other sources of information, all that was needed was a mechanism that identifies those events and triggers the existing reporting function. This triggering mechanism is not unlike the training that phone reps get as to when they should be asking questions on the phone to file a report.

As with most things in social media, problems that start out seeming big usually turn out to just take a bit of extra thinking. Now, the FDA might at some point change its regulations and impose even more requirements on what is expected of companies in social media. Perhaps companies will be required to have listening programs. Maybe the government will even go so far as to require companies to reach out in dialogue to gather more information from the 86% of people who report adverse events without meeting the reporting requirement, just as they expect a phone caller to be asked enough questions to file an adverse event report. If that happens, the companies who have already taken steps in social media listening will be ahead of the game.

But even if the regulations do not change, the vast majority of conversation about pharmaceuticals is NOT about adverse events, so companies ignoring this conversation are missing a wealth of information that could help them make better business decisions today.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Revleap: Yelp’s Allegations Completely False, Unsubstantiated

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Last week, Yelp said it was “taking a stand against misleading ‘reputation management’ companies,” as it filed a lawsuit against a company called Revleap, which it said is a scam, and puts small businesses at risk because of the Yelp Consumer Alert program in addition to federal and state regulations.

Yelp said has Revleap had operated under various names like Yelpdirector and Revpley, and “has spammed businesses with unsolicited messages claiming that they can get good reviews to stick and remove bad reviews.”

The actual suit alleges trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition, cybersquatting, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations, and false advertising.

We reached out to Revleap for comment, and the company said Yelp’s claims are “completely false and unsubstantiated.”

Here’s the full statement we received:

Since RevLeap’s inception as a platform for businesses to connect with their customers to gather feedback in a new way, we champion the freedom of speech and open internet. “The Open Internet” as described by the FCC calls for 1. Transparency, 2. No Blocking, and 3. No Unreasonable Discrimination.

RevLeap services are legal in all aspects of the law, and we specialize in only legitimate reviews from real customers. Yelp has filed completely false and unsubstantiated claims against our company. We aim to decrease defamation and increase awareness of free speech for businesses. We level the playing field for everyone who uses the internet or reviews on any site.

We believe the internet, business owners, and their customers benefit greatly from having an open internet. Any disruption of these principles like the Yelp “Filter” or described on Yelp’s website as “Recommendation Software” preys on businesses using the reviews as leverage as described in thousands of FTC complaints against Yelp from 2008-2014. Yelp’s Yelp Profile has over 10,000 1-Star Reviews from business owners, friends and family of business owners who have been hurt by Yelp and we hope through our services we can restore faith in the internet and reach a point of transparency with Yelp.

Yelp has been talking about the “open Internet” itself. On Wednesday, the company released a blog post calling for people to express their support for Net Neutrality before the FCC votes on February 26, and saying that Yelp values users and works with other companies and organizations to “support adoption of the strongest Net Neutrality principles to protect the American Public.”

Here’s an excerpt from that:

Since Yelp’s inception as a platform to connect people with great local businesses around them, we have supported and relied on the principles of an open and free Internet in order to do business. These principles, which have become enshrined in the term “Net Neutrality,” provide that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all legal data and content equally, and not discriminate, throttle, or charge different rates depending on the nature of the site, platform or data being transmitted.

Regarding Revleap, Yelp says business owners often fall for such “scams” and pay “dearly, both with their bank accounts and their online reputations.”

You can see the full complaint here.

Image via Yelp

February 20th 2015 Reputation Management

88% Of Consumers Trust Online Reviews As Much As Personal Recommendations

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We at BrightLocal have released the findings of our annual Local Consumer Review Survey, which reveals the growing importance of online reviews in the purchasing decision. About Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 This is the 4th year we have conducted this study into consumer usage and attitudes…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

July 8th 2014 Reputation Management

Survey: 83% of Businesses Aren’t Prepared for Online Threats

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by Jayson DeMers

Following Target’s data breach, in which the financial and personal data of 40 million Americans was leaked online, cyber security has been the focal point of businesses everywhere – or so we’ve been told. A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, however, reveals that only 17 percent of businesses are fully prepared to prevent or combat a digital breach. 

This information is particularly evident when considering another recent – and record-breaking – security breach. In February 2014, a number of incidents resulted in the theft of 360 million personal records; those stolen records then went up for sale in the virtual black market. One theft in particular consisted of 105 million records, which is likely the largest internet-related security breach in history. Furthermore, this data does not include the 1.25 billion e-mail addresses also available in this marketplace. Even more alarming is that the businesses and organizations from which this information was taken may be entirely unaware of the incidents, although it is also possible that they are unwilling to disclose details about the thefts. No entity is safe, either – social media, financial institutions, dating sites, and job search engines are all at risk. 
These breaches can be more damaging than the theft of credit card information, because they include active user names and passwords. With this sort of information – which is often not encrypted – access is wide open to health records, business networks, tax information, and financial account information. And when consumers use the same user names and passwords for multiple accounts? It may make their lives easier, but it makes the work of hackers easier as well. 
Because firms are not always legally required to report security breaches, it is difficult to truly grasp the magnitude of the issue. In fact, 57 percent of businesses and organizations decline to report such incidents. That leaves a small fraction of entities that are willing to collaborate regarding potential safety guidelines and best practices. 
It does appear, however, that firms that have already been affected by security violations are taking things seriously. They are twice as likely as their unaffected counterparts to have intact safety with a third-part entity. Furthermore, it is expected that firms with a security-response protocol in place will rise to 80 percent within the next few years. 
Factors Affecting Businesses


must be alert and prepared to manage the ramifications of potential threats – and there are quite a few. 
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies are gaining popularity within workplaces. While there are a multitude of benefits to BYOD, significant risks include employee misuse of devices and company information, unreliable and inefficient applications, and minimal enforcement – or nonexistence – of policies and procedures.
  • The cloud is another virtual entity that has proven both beneficial and risky to businesses. Positive outcomes of utilizing the cloud can only be enjoyed, however, if there is sufficient data protection and assurance that personally identifiable information is strictly safeguarded. Businesses that fail to do so are penalized. 
  • After Target disclosed its security breach during the holiday season – a time when sales increase dramatically – the chain suffered a significant business slump. It can be concluded, then, that data thefts have multi-layered effects. Consumers are robbed of their personal information; businesses must then contend with wary customers, which may then contribute to the hesitance by entities to report said breaches. 
  • When businesses become victims of data theft crimes, their partners are affected as well. When Target was robbed, its partners were then forced to deal with their own security concerns. These are no small-name partners, either – Visa and MasterCard were among them. 
  • Aside from formal repercussions and system malfunctions, businesses that fail to effectively respond to threats will inevitably face dents in their reputations. Disgruntled customers whose records have been lost, for instance, will most certainly share their frustrations with others. Customer reviews and social media sharing are far-reaching, and negative reviews or comments on social media can compound the losses caused by the security malfunctions themselves. 
Brand Protection 
To avoid such catastrophic consequences, responsible businesses are protecting themselves by investing from the root of every website; it’s server. Third-party web hosting providers generally offer IT services, and the industry is evolving as the need for increased security for their clients grows. Professional web hosts can ensure that business-class software is in place and up-to-date. 
More web hosts, in an effort to protect not only their clients but also their own infrastructure, are beginning to implement software that automatically detects and removes malware. iPage, for example, searches for malware on a daily basis and immediately removes threats using its SiteLock Premium software. 
In the wake of major headlines involving data breaches, it’s more important than ever to ensure top-notch security. But saving face among a national media audience isn’t the only incentive to do so; search engine algorithms are quickly detecting and de-indexing sites with malware. So, losing visibility with search engines is a major concern that will continue to increase the priority of server security initiatives for webmasters and IT admins in corporations over the next few years.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

April 4th 2014 Reputation Management

How do I improve our online reputation?

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by Mike Moran

I recently got a question from a company with a problem. They have a history of not-so-sterling treatment of customers during the sales process (think used-car dealer approach), which they’ve used throughout the history of the company. For years, the company has been successful, despite customer complaints, but now they are running into a snag. The company’s online reputation is not good, and they are worried that it is starting to affect their sales. They asked if I could help them eliminate the negative results that are popping up about them in search.

Many people will purport to help your company, if it’s in this situation. Usually, they’ll try to have the review sites remove the offending opinions because they are inaccurate. Sometimes that can work, but it helps a lot if those opinions truly are inaccurate. In this case, they aren’t. If the charges are true and can’t be removed, or if you’re bedeviled by an entire hate site (YourSiteSucks.com), you need to get those results off the search page completely.

The best way to do that is to accentuate the positive, which is actually good advice whether you have a reputation problem or not. Search engines aren’t necessarily drawn to negative news–they show the sites that seem to have the most attention, which can often be negative sites, but not always. You can use social media to create your own positive presence, but to do so, you need to have a story that people are interested in.

So, you can tell stories about the good things that your business does for the public and for your clients. And you can put out lots of helpful information that is not trying to sell something. You might think of many such stories, but you might want to start with the most important one: “We used to take a used car approach and we realize that’s wrong and we have cleaned up our act.”

But that’s the hard part, right? First off, you need to be willing to admit to what happened publicly (and more importantly) truly want to change. If you’re willing to be up front about that, it could definitely get some social media traction, but I’ve found it is the rare business with a checkered past that actually steps up to being open, honest, and willing to make amends for the past. If your company just sees online reputation management as one more thing to manipulate to succeed, I’d recommend that you not even try, because it is more likely to backfire and make things even worse in the long run.

If you are willing to take this step of changing your practices and making amends for the past, then you are in a much stronger position to respond to the negative reviews: “We’re very sorry that this happened to you. We wish we could say that this was an isolated incident, but the truth is that we made a number of mistakes in our sales approach back then that caused problems not only for you but for others, which we sincerely regret. Please reach out to us so we can make this right. In the meantime, we have completely overhauled our sales approach so that this will not happen to anyone else, but we would still like to make things right with you and with others who had problems in the past. Again, we are sorry for what happened and we’d love it if you would contact us at 1-800-WE-R-SORRY to let us know what we can do to set things right.”

This is a dangerous message because you might get unhappy customers coming out of the woodwork, but one that will leave a very different impression to anyone who sees that site than the one they get from seeing it now. If the company is truly ready to make amends and move on, this is the most effective approach with the sites that have dated negative information.

But to me, the most important part is the hardest part. You have to truly want to change the way you do business. If improving your online reputation is just another quick-fix manipulation tactic rather than a real “heart change” for your business, it will inevitably backfire, and the reviews you then get will make the ones you hate now pale in comparison. Whatever short-run success you might get by manipulating things will make it even harder to come back from when the backlash happens. because you can only fake sincerity once.

Originally posted on Biznology Blog.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

March 19th 2014 Reputation Management

Online Reputation Book Review: Repped by Andy Beal

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Online Reputation BookMany years ago when the role of search in brand reputation was really coming into it’s own, Public Relations and SEO were becoming unlikely partners as way to position positive messages about brands and individuals in search results. The combination of Search and PR was actually the genesis of TopRank Marketing.

As Google became a powerful reputation engine, the need for individuals and brands to monitor and manage their online reputations increased too.

Today, with billions of internet users empowered to post content anytime, anywhere, the articles and presentations we originally published on Online Reputation Management (ORM) are even more important today. And yet there are thousands of brands and even more individuals that are oblivious and in dire need of ORM.

The good news is that an excellent resource on the ORM topic has just been published by my longtime pal, author and owner of Trackur, Andy Beal. It’s called, Repped – 30 Days to A Better Online Reputation. Here’s a review of this highly useful guide that will serve both your online reputation and online marketing needs.

Andy Beal The premise is pretty straight forward: Whether you’re a brand, an individual or a “brandividual”, online reputation is an increasingly influential contributor to your success. Or failure.

What Andy sets out to do in Repped, is provide a 30 day plan to help any person or company build, manage, monitor and protect their online reputation.

For business people, think of how many times you’ve “Googled” someone you just met at a conference, vendors that you’re considering or a candidate that you’re about to interview. Have you ever found something that made you decline a meeting or feel differently (in a bad way) about that person? Do you think they were aware the information existed? Even more importantly, were they doing anything about monitoring and managing it?

What you find on the search and social web becomes a very important first or second impression.

As a business professional responsible for being in the public eye or managing business communications and marketing, being able to assess and affect how people see you online should be a top priority.

The good news is that Repped provides a handy framework for taking control over how you and your brand are known online.

Two great things about this book:

1. It’s designed to be used, get dog eared, post it noted and turned into action. At 176 pages, Repped is (thankfully) no War and Peace, so you can skim through. But it’s also structured as Day one, Day two etc so you can keep going back and get your daily advice with specific things to do with “Today’s Exercise” at the end of each chapter.

Some of the key questions answered in Repped include:

  • What is ORM (online reputation management)?
  • How do you set up social media monitoring?
  • How do you find influencers?
  • What kind of content should you create?
  • How do you build social networks and community?
  • How do you audit your brand or personal online reputation?
  • What do you do if someone is trash talking your brand?
  • How do you clean up negative search results about your brand?

2. What works for Online Reputation works for Online Marketing. The core of brand marketing is understanding how you want to be known. What is it that you should be the “best answer” for? Following the advice Andy gives in Repped will help you take control of your online reputation. At the same time, many of the tips and tactics offered in the book are just good marketing in this age of brandividuals, influencers and author authority.

Everything from social media monitoring to content planning to social media and community building are covered in Repped. It’s not a deep dive though, it’s a primer. It’s a smart introduction to 30 days of things you could be doing to optimize how your target audience, peers, and industry see you and your brand.

If you would like a good guide for the kinds of things your business needs to do in order to take control over executive and brand online reputation, this book is it.

You can get Repped at Amazon and here’s Andy’s site in case you want to know more about him and his social media monitoring company trackur. If you want to meet him person, make sure you attend the ClickZ Live conference in New York April 1-2.

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Online Reputation Book Review: Repped by Andy Beal | http://www.toprankblog.com

Are You a Felon? According to Google, You Just Might Be

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For the record, Pete Kistler—age 26, resident of New York, brown hair, slender build—is not a felon. The problem is, until recently, just about anyone who Googled him would have thought he was.

It started in 2009 when Kistler, a junior at Syracuse University, couldn’t figure out why all his friends were getting internships but he couldn’t even land an interview. He was an honors student with a 3.9 GPA, clean cut with a professional demeanor, and his “criminal” past amounted to a single speeding ticket. Still, “I wasn’t getting any calls back,” he remembers, “and I was wondering why.”

That’s when Kistler Googled himself.

Turns out, there are a few Pete Kistlers out there—one a suspected drug dealer, another implicated in some sort of sex crime. Naturally, Kistler panicked. “I went to Google and looked up how to remove bad results, and I found a bunch of really expensive reputation-management companies,” he says. One wanted $8,000 a month for its services. Kistler didn’t have that kind of money.

Fortunately, he did have Patrick Ambron, a friend and fellow Syracuse undergrad who knew his way around search-engine optimization. Once Ambron cleaned up Kistler’s online profile (“a mess,” Ambron recalls), the pair had a thought: Why chase after internships when they could go into the reputation-repair business on their own? “I realized we could make something that would be really easy to use and allow anyone to do it, because so many people need it,” Ambron says.

Their company, BrandYourself, opened for business in March 2012, and two years and a round of VC funding later, it has come a long way from upstate New York. On a recent afternoon, Kistler and Ambron held court in their lower Manhattan HQ, an airy loft with pressed-tin ceilings, 25 full-time staffers, and two dogs named Grace and Sophie. The co-founders will not disclose financials, but report that BrandYourself signed up 150,000 users in its first eight months.

Clearly, everyday people aren’t merely cognizant of their online reputations but have begun to regard themselves in much the same way brands do—as commercial entities that will be appraised and selected based on the results of a Web search.

According to a Pew Research survey, fewer than half of Americans in 2006 routinely searched their own names online. By 2010, that had grown to 60 percent. “Ten years ago, when people talked about personal brands, it was about celebrities,” says Daniel Korschun, fellow at Drexel University’s Center for Corporate Reputation Management. “Now it’s making a jump over to the mainstream.”

A competitive job market has made us especially conscious of our online reputations. According to studies by Harris Interactive and Cross-Tab Marketing, 75 percent of HR executives now research potential employees online, while 70 percent report having found something that’s caused them to reject a candidate. And that doesn’t necessarily mean an arrest record. More and more, content as relatively harmless as a tasteless selfie or a casual reference to drinking or smoking pot is at issue. And it’s clearly not just about job searches—Google handles some 1 billion searches for people’s names every day.

No wonder rep-management firms have sprouted like mushrooms. Most of them target the business world, typically large corporations that can afford a high level of image custodianship. The top-shelf plan from Reputation.com, for example, runs $15,000 per year. And it’s a growth industry. BIA/Kelsey forecasts that small- and medium-size businesses will drop $5 billion on reputation-management services by 2015.

Kistler and Ambron aim to demystify the process, doing damage control for the average Joe as opposed to Coca-Cola and IBM. Their homepage features a four-step do-it-yourself section that walks visitors through the basics, like setting up a personal online profile and improving one’s own Google search.

The company’s proprietary software gives users a report card-style visibility score, and shows who has been Googling them lately.

The online tutorial is gratis, but for $100 annually, a premium plan enables members to track an unlimited number of personal links and get real-time alerts when there’s a shift in their search results. Beyond that, the concierge service (which starts at $299 per month) pairs the client with an in-house expert to create websites, profiles, articles and blog posts with the aim of putting salutary information high up in search results while minimizing negative content. Ambron stresses those working with consierge clients are all highly trained and have degrees in journalism and communications—in stark contrast with firms that farm out content creation, sometimes to companies overseas.

What do SEO experts have to say about the startup’s strategy? Lori Randall Stradtman, author of Reputation Management for Dummies, calls it “clever how they’re weaving in their own platform”—meaning those who come across someone’s BrandYourself profile, in effect, also see a plug for the company. Rebecca Lieb, an analyst for Altimeter Group, points out that “this is very basic SEO, but it’s an intuitive interface with an interesting building component.”

Drexel’s Korschun applauds its offering an affordable option for everyday people while noting its institutional prospects. Both Johns Hopkins and Syracuse University have enlisted its services for their students. “The product allows students to examine and improve their online presence,” says Mike Cahill, director of career services at Syracuse. “It’s not enough to tell students not to put bad things up online, but that they can create a positive image by doing various things.”

And yet, as Lieb stresses, BrandYourself faces the same hurdle all other rep-management firms do—claiming to know how to manipulate online search results when, in fact, nobody really does. “Google controls this stuff, and Google is a black box,” she says. “These are all businesses based on delivering something that is ultimately controlled by [an entity] that is out of their control.”

Stradtman wonders why the average person would even need such a service, claiming that 95 percent of the population would be served by a solid LinkedIn profile.

Kistler counters that in an age in which we all live online, everyone can use some guidance when it comes to managing their reputations. “Most people look you up online, personally and if you have a business,” he says. And even if you don’t have bad stuff to hide, he adds, “finding good stuff just solidifies their decision to do business with you.”

And, Kistler and Ambron are banking on doing business with them.


Operation Greener Grass: Why Aren’t SEOs Up In Arms?

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Once again, SEO is in the news. Once again, the media (along with an elected official or two — shocker!) clearly doesn’t understand how the industry works. While it seems New York’s elected (and appointed) officials could give a rodent’s posterior about protecting the…

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October 1st 2013 Reputation Management, SEO