Negative content can damage a company or person worse than the author often realizes. Sometimes it can be taken down, but most times it must be pushed down or suppressed. An online reputation suppression strategy works to move newly created and existing positive content higher up in search engine results in order to move down or 'suppress' negative search results.
The further down you can push negative content, the less likely a reader is to see it. In fact, most people don't look further than the first page of Google search results anyway.
We have created a list of proven techniques to help keep your negative content where it belongs: several pages deep in Google search results.
- Choosing the right strategy for negative content
- The case for removal
- Can search results be manipulated?
- What if bad content is really strong?
What's the right strategy for negative content?
Deciding on the right online reputation management strategy (ORM) can be a challenge. All too often, reputation work is placed on the back burner until you're already in the midst of a scandal. And that can be jarring. But it's important to remain calm as you pinpoint the cause of the problem and develop (and follow!) an action plan to help lessen the impact.
The first step is to solve the problem that caused the negative feedback in the first place. This is paramount. Take some time to really analyze what happened, and determine how you can make changes to avoid that same situation ever happening again in the future. Address that immediately to avoid further complications later down the road. Once that's been done, there is more work to do.
There are several concrete steps you can take to clean up your search engine results. 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
Reputation problems can range from bad reviews to 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
The best possible outcome when dealing with negative search results is to remove the content at the source. It can also be the most difficult tactic to achieve. There are effectively three ways to completely remove a negative search result at the source. You can:
1. Have the web site owner remove the page entirely.
Although it may seem like a shot in the dark (spoiler alert: it almost always is), it's still worth a shot to ask the owner of the page to remove it. It's low risk and high reward. If the owner will remove it, then you can stop reading this article. If they won't, continue reading for other tactics to remove or suppress negative search results.
2. Have the web site owner add a NOINDEX tag to the HTML of the web page you want Google to ignore.
A NOINDEX tag looks like this:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
It 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. Within a few weeks, the page is normally removed automatically from search results.
3. Change the content on the page so it is no longer relevant for the target search query.
Ask the webmaster of the site containing the information to remove the search phrases from the page. For example, if your company name is mentioned on the page and/or description of the page (in the HTML), and/or Title of the page (also HTML), the webmaster can change the words to something more vague, like "a local manufacturer" so your company name no longer exists on the page.
All of 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 convince the owner of the page to remove it.
There is a fourth option! Hack the site to remove negative content, but we cannot condone this option (sorry, Reputation X doesn't hack).
As complete removal is comparatively 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?
In a word, 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 spots high up on search results. But they tend to show up 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. With enough effort channeled into improving PBN rankings, you can effectively "bury" negative reviews in search results.
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).
Instead of relying on wishes and luck, we take a more systematic approach to suppressing negative content. We identify, analyze, and promote the right content that will effectively suppress existing negative content.
Identify existing content: This means we look at your social media presence, articles, blogs, and Wikipedia pages. 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 your problem more effectively by understanding what people are actually looking for. This helps us understand why people and engines think certain content is deserving of high marks.
- Create high-quality content: 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 of obscene amounts 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, it will generate 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. Keeping your content fresh and up-to-date 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 eventually 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 every day at Reputation X.
Nobody wants to see negative posts about their company or themselves, especially not on the first page of search engine results. If you find there are a lot of high-ranking negative posts flooding your search results, there are steps you can take to suppress them, or, in rare cases, delete them entirely. Implementing strategies like de-indexing, optimizing existing content and promoting positive content can help to bury negative search engine results. Contact us if you need help navigating the process, we are here to help.