Negative content can damage a company or person worse than the author often realizes. Sometimes it can be taken down, other times it must be pushed down or suppressed. An online reputation suppression strategy is based on moving newly created, and existing positive search results, higher up in search engine results in order to move down or 'suppress' negative search results.
What's the right strategy for negative content?
Deciding on the right online reputation management strategy (ORM) can be a challenge. Solving the problem that caused the negative feedback is paramount. But even after that's been done there is more work to do. Here are some sample strategies:
- Remove results directly from Google
- Remove from the source through negotiation
- Remove from the source via legal channels
- Paid removal
- Weakening of negatives
- Development and optimization of branded content
- Review improvement and management
- Optimization of existing content
Most reputation problems pertain to bad reviews, negative blog posts, or unflattering online newspaper articles. Since most content cannot be removed, a reputation management strategy centered around suppressing or pushing down bad search results is the most common strategy after review management.
The case for removal
There are effectively three ways to completely remove a negative search result at the source. These comprise:
- Have the web site owner remove the page entirely.
- Have the web site owner add a NOINDEX tag to the HTML of the web page you want Google to ignore. (NOINDEX tells a search engine to ignore the page). This effectively removes the page because it removes it from search engines without actually taking the page away.
- Change the content on the page so it is no longer relevant for the target search query.
These methods rely on the website owner to do the work. Therefore, the only way to remove negative search results at the source is to have the owner of the website do it. There is a fourth option, hack the site to remove negative content. But this method is frowned upon (sorry, Reputation X doesn't hack).
As complete removal is comparitively rare, it is necessary to understand how negative online content can be suppressed. Although the word 'suppression' may be an inaccurate term because, for the most part, what is really happening is promotion.
Can search results be manipulated?
Yes. But "manipulation" isn't as good a term as "engineered". In most cases, no funny business is necessary to change search results.
Let us say that a negative search result is identified and it cannot be removed from the source or from the search engine (Google, Bing, Facebook, etc.). The next step is to identify positive search results that exist below the negative.
We call these PBNs or 'Positives Below Negative'. These are search results that search engines think are relevant, and therefore deserving of high search results. But they tend to be returned just below the negative.
We assume the search engine thinks the content is good, but not quite good enough. So we help search engines to understand that the PBN is actually more relevant than the negative, thereby causing the positives to rise.
What is the procedure for suppressing negative internet content?
Clicking the heels of your red shoes together is a good start, but it'll take a bit more effort (sorry).
Firstly, existing content such as Facebook, LinkedIn, articles, blogs, and a Wikipedia page, etc., are identified. Technical aspects of each existing content piece are examined, as are the types of content, and search engine optimization factors. We're really trying to understand "user intent" so we can solve the problem more effectively for our client by understanding what people are really looking for. This helps us understand "why" people and engines think the content is deserving of high marks.
After this, high quality additional content based on the objective is created. We work to make the experience better for the user. In so doing we not only help our clients, but make the web better for everyone.
We find gaps in content by looking at the online profiles of competitors and similar entities. For example, unreported charity work may be leveraged, and images, news articles, press releases, websites, and so on, may be designed, developed and populated. This gives search engines more to consider when deciding which results will be sufficiently honored to be placed on the first page of search results.
Should I just create content to change search results?
Not anymore. In the past, a large part of web reputation management strategy was the creation a large amount of online content. Then, well... prayer. This used to work, however, times have changed. This was the "build it and they will come" mentality. While the majority of reputation management companies still use this method with far less success than previously, nowadays it's important to promote existing and new web properties so that search engines consider them to be good enough to rise above the negative search results. It takes both content and promotion.
Web reputation promotion is expensive because it involves research, outreach to publishers, content creation, negotiation, administrative costs, and much more. There are a lot of people involved because the majority of the effort cannot be automated. Inferior online reputation agencies don't execute real search engine marketing, but since it's essentially invisible to the client no one's the wiser. Reputation X uses search engine promotion for all suppression projects.
So, if I build it they won't come?
Probably not. In order to effectively suppress negative search results, it is essential to build relevant web properties, populate them with first-class content, and employ search engine optimization.
It's also important to refresh the content. Freshness and up to date web content is a big indicator of the quality of a web page; as are social indicators such as Facebook Likes, tweets, and so on. Therefore, the execution of a good online reputation strategy must incorporate all these points.
What if bad content is really strong?
That's a problem, but not insurmountable. For instance, a company like The New York Times has an outsized voice online. If they write something unflattering about a brand it could crush the company, causing millions in damages. This is because a company like the New York Times has massive authority to search engines. What they say is essentially more important than what the average blogger says by default. Since large publishers tend not to remove content, the only path to saving the brand is through a combination of online reputation strategies designed to beat them. That means better content, better promotion, and higher authority. It's tough to do, but quite possible.
It's possible because after a period of time the publisher is usually no longer promoting the content. It will normally begin to flatline. New content and inbound links will no longer be added at the original pace. This provides opportunity to create something more relevant. Granted, it's a lot of work, but we do it everyday at Reputation X.