How Should Reputation Management Respond to Search Updates?
Less than a generation ago, the world got its news primarily from television with a healthy thoughtful dose of opinion from print media.
The Internet has changed everything.
Although broadcast and cable television remain strong information channels in media, online streaming platforms are catching up.
The world of print journalism and opinion is collapsing before the onslaught of online publication. The Internet allows anyone to create a blog via their own site or on a major platform like Facebook, Medium, or WordPress. Social media is an unending conversation between people and the media organizations that report much of the news.
In a way, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become the new cable channels, although the crowd does a poor job of vetting facts and covering all angles of a story.
All of these venues come together in one place that affects everyone’s reputation: search engine indexes.
Bing provides the search results for over 100 niche search engines and the search portals provided by dozens of Internet Service Providers.
And Google is the most popular search engine in the world.
When Bing or Google change how they collect, index, and choose information to show to their searchers, industries boom and bust overnight.
Bing changes its search system more than 100 times per year.
Google changes its system more than 1,000 times per year.
Both search engines refresh their data, tweak minor algorithms, and unveil massive core updates throughout the year. The core updates are large, unsettling, mysterious and subject to wild speculation and rampant conspiracy theories.
In the midst of all this turmoil, public relations and law firms helping their clients with reputation management must sift through fact and fiction.
Search Reputation Management Isn’t Like Business SEO
Search engine optimization tries to improve the traffic that a search engine sends to a Website.
Most SEO companies and departments concentrate on Google because its unpaid or organic search results can be so profitable.
There are specialists who focus their time and resources on Bing, but everyone agrees that Bing’s audience is smaller than Google’s and that Bing’s search results are more stable.
Reputation management clients – like eCommerce and media companies – think first of Google’s search results when they think about search reputation management at all.
But improving a full page or two of search results is different from managing the traffic coming to a single Website.
The search reputation management specialist must promote many sites at once, most of which allow none of the standard practices of optimization strategies. Where possible new content is published but much of search reputation management falls into the area of finding appropriate links for positive, supporting content.
A company that only needs to build traffic for a single site only needs 1 or 2 listings in the search results. A company seeking to manage 10 or 20 listings is more likely to be devastated by an unfavorable change in algorithms.
Search Reputation Management Works Best with Diversified Strategies
Although SEO specialists usually pursue preferred strategies for the sites they help, the search reputation specialist must think about many more needs. The sites one promotes in a search reputation management campaign are likely to have their own SEO goals and strategies.A
A successful online reputation management campaign has the luxury of spreading risks among many strategies because those strategies are usually developed by the site owners. What seems like a weakness or an obstacle to structured success has a tendency to build resilience into the campaign.
Effective reputation strategies choose strong properties – such as news Websites – to leverage for improved search visibility. These strong properties shoulder the burden of responding to search updates for their own content. That allows the client campaign to look for new opportunities with a minimum of investment in time and resources.
Pre-emptive Strategies Work Better than Opportunistic Strategies
In reputation management, a pre-emptive strategy leverages strong, favorable content on popular sites like major news stories. Client social media accounts are also helpful if they have earned significant brand value and recognition.
Choosing highly visible, well-established domains to promote at the start of the campaign lessens the impact of unforeseen changes in search algorithms.
An opportunistic strategy is more likely to depend on a constant flow of new content – often published by the reputation managers – to create visibility for the client campaign. Sometimes this is necessary because clients may not generate much positive news or social commentary.
But the pre-emptive strategy relies on more stable, trusted, vetted content.
Search Algorithm Changes Always Trigger Wild Speculation
Aggressive marketers who invest resources in high-risk or overly popular strategies are most likely to initiate speculation about what changed in search systems. These marketers may represent the views of many small business sites and bloggers, but they may also adopt and promote inefficient SEO methods.
The temptation to follow the most vocal advocates of search enhancement strategies and tools may be strong, but it doesn’t always lead to the best decisions. Reputation clients should be counseled to patients while strategists work through the speculations and impromptu explanations of algorithms.
One consequence of following the crowd that favors a radical strategy or analysis is that if the crowd is wrong, the reputation management campaign sets itself up for failure.
Speculative responses to algorithm updates may gain widespread visibility quickly, but they are often shown to be incorrect by more knowledgeable people – usually engineers from the search engines themselves.
Websites May Move Up and Down in the Search Results
Because search engines change their algorithms throughout the year, many Websites experience what is often described as turbulence in the SERPs. The idea is that their listings move up and down in rankings on a periodic, almost regular, cycle.
Whereas individual site owners may concentrate their efforts on understanding why their search results change, the reputation strategist only need find sufficient favorable properties to support to ensure that turbulence doesn’t become a problem.
It should not matter to the client if one major news story takes the place of another on the front page, so long as they both present the facts as the client needs them to.
The goals and strategies demanded by single site SEO are not as important or useful when any number of sites can fulfill the same needs.
What Works for Favorable Content Works for Everyone
The downside of every algorithm update in a search reputation campaign is that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Hostile content published via social media, personal blogs, or news sites may benefit from the next update as much as strategically positioned content. This may even affect the Google autocomplete suggestions that start to appear and that eventually convert to the related searches that are very hard to fix.
The campaign strategist and the client should anticipate occasional setbacks because the search engines intentionally reward sites with different perspectives or signals.
The campaign manager should set the client’s expectations appropriately. Some client handlers believe they should only present a positive point of view to the client. The positive perspective is considered the best way to manage the client relationship.
As long as everything works as desired this is an effective client-management strategy.
But it sets the relationship up for disaster when search results change overnight.
Clients should be prepared for radical changes in search results. They should be advised well in advance that these things happen and that all is not lost.
If a likely downturn never happens the client will be happy anyway. If it does happen, the client won’t have a reason to feel misled or deceived.
No Strategies Are Perfect
No matter how well a reputation management campaign works, there is always the chance that it becomes a collateral victim of changes in search systems that are meant to fix unrelated issues. There are multiple services within each ORM campaign that have different effects.
Search engines must resolve billions of queries in millions of different situations.
The law of unintended consequences predicts that when enough changes occur in a complex system, some changes will produce undesirable results.
Even when search results change only temporarily – for whatever reason – these changes may be unsettling for clients.
An effective reputation management campaign relies on diversified resources and strategies to spread the risk of setbacks across many different sources of content.
It’s easier for a reputation management specialist to walk away from a strategy that seemed to be working than it is for a single site to do so. It’s like changing the patient’s prescription when an old medicinal therapy stops working.
Radical changes in search results should not be viewed as disastrous, no matter how extensive the changes may be.
If anything, these situations help reputation strategists assess the quality of the sites they have been working with.
Think of search algorithm updates as stress tests for the content and links that have been chosen to assist a client.
But be critical at the same time.
Some reputation management companies are inflexible and cut corners to maximize their profits. They may not have the clients’ best interests at heart.
The thoughtful strategist is sympathetic to the clients’ needs. The successful strategist plans for worst-case scenarios. Just as you want to work with a strategist who has a backup plan, you want your clients to expect your specialists to be prepared for change.