Reputation Management is a derivative industry of SEO or SEM. SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) essentially were born when people began to heavily rely on search engines to guide their buying/hiring/retaining decisions. Before 2001, there was very limited methodologies for individuals to really sort, investigate, and learn about products, businesses, or people since search was a very simple function that had limited complexity and was offered as a secondary feature by ISPs like MSN and AOL.
Google, quite obviously, changed all that. Google began to develop and create complex automated algorithms that evaluated a websites relevance and quality with the intention to provide the best possible search results to end users. This wasn’t done by Google with any altruistic intention- it was done with the right thought that if they provided the best search results, they could generate significant amounts of money through advertising and marketing relationships. And the internet has never been the same.
Of course, once Google began to sell advertising, and once search results became one of the biggest means for a customer to choose a new business provider, choose a new professional service company, or choose a product, lots and lots of money was spent trying to garner first page ranking in Google (and Bing/Yahoo) results. The earliest Google algorithms were rather simple to manipulate. Certain factors on a website counted for a lot of ranking value with Google and so the earliest SEO/SEM companies sold changes to those websites that didn’t necessarily improve quality, but did improve search ranking.
That started the evolution of Google’s algorithm- once the highest spender was able to generate the top ranking, the quality of the search results were degraded or corrupted.
Over the last decade Google has taken into account thousands of additional variables, measurables, and elements to produce its search rankings. It is still a flawed system, and their algorithms don’t necessarily always improve search results quality. Because the algorithm factors have become more technical and complex, and the interval at which changes are carried out has decreased, the SEO/SEM industry has begun to garner significant strength and value as the marketing/advertising of the next century. Television, newspapers, magazines, and yellow pages ads show decreased ROI, decreased reach, and decreased impact as the web becomes the source for consulting for purchasing/hiring decisions. That makes SEO and SEM quite important to most businesses and individuals as a lifeline for their success.
But search results are a double edged swords and news stories or things that garner ‘buzz’ or ‘discussion’ (like a criminal trial or high profile court case) can quickly overtake a company or individual’s reputation online. In the pretrial phase, news and publicity seem to be especially fickle and public opinion can be cemented even before a case has been tried or an iota of evidence presented.
A good reputation management company works to populate the first two or three pages (thirty to forty search results) with content that is neutral or positive in nature. If these rankings are established before a news story breaks, or soon after, a reputation management company has the opportunity to strengthen these results before the other search topics become more relevant. If we begin service after these stories have gained prominence, they’re more difficult to dislodge and the speed at which we’re able to affect change is decreased.
We populate those first thirty to forty results by targeting the individual’s/company’s name, relevant industry keywords, professional service areas, location specific items, topic specific items, and social media profiles. Because the web offers hundreds of ways to promote something, we generally can control and buttress against negative publicity items or critiques or negative reviews/commentary/editorial.
Ultimately, this means that the individual or company in question is better able to survive and move on from these types of occurrences.
There are a growing number of companies offering reputation management, and as with any growing industry, the skill and product outcome are hugely different. I’m sure that this is true for the law profession and all others. There are some who practice their profession with skill, dedication, and a higher degree of knowledge, and those who falter in any/many of those areas.
Some of the largest reputation management firms in volume of clients and revenue (Reputationdefender.com, etc) focus on low quality, spam type reputation management campaigns. This means they automatically generate hundreds of web pages that are supposed to protect a client’s name. However, since these sites are auto generated, are not actively managed, and are of low quality in Google’s eyes, they are easily replaced and supplanted by news websites (which Google gives significant prominence in search ranking, compared to individual company websites/profiles). In some instances, these low quality, auto created pages are damaging in and of themselves.
As an attorney/law firm/PR firm, reputation management and SEO can be quite helpful in a number of ways. SEO can be used to actually promote your firm as the number one selection for certain practice areas. It can also be used to promote successful outcomes that you’ve achieved in your cases or on a client’s behalf. A good SEO & RM campaign can help maintain distance from especially negative court cases, poor results, and can help protect named partners and others from reputation attacks. A solid reputation management campaign early, helps to control the court of public opinion, may help to sway prosecution or opposing counsel towards more beneficial settlements or agreements, and could potentially help control the information that a jury pool is exposed to. Obviously, these items directly impact outcomes.
If you want to see some good examples of reputation management, Google search ‘BP’. The oil spill, which garnered so much news coverage and so much outrage recently, is nowhere to be found. Similarly, news coverage about it garners little interest and little emphasis since search seems to indicate that users are no longer interested. We know for a fact that someone has run a very extensive RM campaign on their behalf (and on their executive teams behalf), with great results. This campaign could help BP settle lawsuits more favorably, settle government fines and regulations more quickly, and limit the damage/impact on investment, funding, and efforts for expansion.