by: Brian McHale, CEO, Marca Global
Managing your business reputation online is as much about natural exposure as it is about the right message. In fact, even the best messaging strategy matters little if no member of your target audience actually sees it. That’s what makes search engine optimization and results so crucial to your online reputation management strategy.
Every year, Google alone processes more than 3.5 billion searches, making it the most popular website in the world. Members of all demographics and regions use it to find the information on they need across industries, topics, and interests. If you get your strategy right, your business will live among those results they find during their next search.
To get to that point, you need a plan. An understanding of just how Google actually ranks its results is core to building a strategy that showcases your business in the right outlets, with the right message, and at the right time. Do it right, and your placement in the top results of search engines like Google can play a major part in your online reputation management strategy.
How Google Ranks its Search Results
First, you have to understand just how Google and similar search engines rank websites, to begin with. When you enter a query into the search bar, what actually determines the pages you see at or near the top of the results page?
The answer is complex. We know that Google uses an algorithm that compiles dynamic results based on a wide range of ranking factors, but the exact ranking factors are not actually public knowledge. So while we know that a complex math equation runs in the background as soon as your audience hits enter, we don’t know what that equation actually looks like. On top of that, the search engine continually changes and updates its algorithm to better account for current user behavior, preferences, and expectations.
While even experienced SEO experts don’t know the exact algorithm, however, we can deduce a number of important factors from public statements, case studies, and past experiences. Backlinko has perhaps the most comprehensive list of ranking factors, 200 in total. Listing all of them here will take too long. They range from domain-level factors, which start when you first register your business website, to spam factors, which is Google’s way of punishing websites that circumvent its rules.
Put simply, Google cares about technical optimization such as site speed and mobile friendliness, content optimization, and credibility gained through links to it from other high-ranking websites. If your business website can boast all three, you have a better chance of appearing high in relevant searches.
3 Types of Pages That Tend to Appear in Top Search Results
Given the plethora of ranking nuances among search engines, you might find it difficult to determine exactly how or what tends to rank near the top of searches across the board. Part of that is undoubtedly true. Search results can vary wildly based on the general category, industry, or location you’re searching from or about.
Still, aggregate the billions of searches occurring every day, and you begin to see trends. And as it turns out, these trends become invaluable in helping you understand just how understanding top search results can help you improve the reputation management strategy for your business.
More specifically, three types of websites consistently rank at or near the top of results for almost any Google search. That’s partially deliberate, and partially a factor of the ranking factors mentioned in the previous section. An understanding of each of these website types, and why they rank well, helps you understand how you can leverage for your own exposure and targeted reputation-focused messaging.
1. Major Media Outlets
Almost any searchable topic relates to a recent news story of some kind. When it does, you will find major media outlets like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal among the top results. That’s because they’re inherently credible.
News stories tend to get plenty of external links from legitimate sources, driving their ranking. In addition, their site and content is naturally optimized search engines, a product of the fact that news outlets have recognized search engines as their biggest traffic driver.
2. Product and Industry Review Sites
The rise of the digital age has brought with it an influx of peer reviews of both products and services. One survey found that nearly 90% of internet users trust online reviews from strangers as much as personal recommendations from a friend.
That, in turn, has led to online reviews becoming a core part of the online experience. You’ll find industry-specific sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp or more general alternatives like Consumer Reports all ranking highly in search results of all kinds. They naturally attract traffic in helping potential customers research the products and services in which they’re about to invest.
3. Social Media
Finally, the rise of social networks alone has led to a preponderance of social media links in search engine results. They get natural traffic and are naturally optimized for speed and efficiency, which is why they tend to attract Google’s attention and high rankings.
Twitter especially tends to find a prominent place. Google has started showing specific Tweets near the top of relevant search results pages to get a quick ‘social overview’. Add the seeming ubiquity of other networks, and social media takes a prominent role on these results pages.
How Your Business Can Rank in the Top Search Results
Don’t let the three types above fool you. into thinking business pages don’t play a major role among top search results. They absolutely do. Especially for branded searches. In that case, users search for terms that include a business or brand name in their query, SEO is absolutely vital. The nature of branded searches is such that users already know about your business. So branded search results should be a core component of your online reputation strategy.
Get the strategy right, and your business can begin to appear near the top of the results through a Google My Business listing as well as organic rankings. To get to that point, of course, you need a comprehensive strategy.
Building a Comprehensive SEO Strategy
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a core part of digital marketing today. It’s unsurprising, then, that it also plays a major role in building your online reputation management efforts. Reach users on the world’s largest website with relevant messaging, and establish yourself as an authority in your field, and the benefits can be significant.
At the same time, the opposite can occur as well. Negative news stories, due to the inherent power of news outlets on Google, can have a magnified effect. Only a comprehensive SEO strategy that addresses all of these variables and magnifies your presence on all of the above-mentioned types of top ranking websites projects and ensures long-term return and reputation building.
1. Optimize Your Business Pages
Naturally, SEO starts internally. Optimizing your business page is easier said than done, and can take months to complete. Anything from the technical makeup of your site to the content that you feature on your individual pages plays into the ranking of your business website on Google. All of these factors have to work together to achieve success over time; the average top ten result on Google is more than two years old.
But when you get to that point, the potential benefits can be immense. You begin to own the content your audience first sees when they google a brand or industry-related term. And once you have their interest, the fact that they land on owned media allows you to drive them deeper into your brand. So you can build your reputation with consistent, in-depth, thought-leadership content.
2. Build a Strategic Social Media Presence
Too many businesses make the mistake of stopping at their own website. On the plus side, that means you can set yourself apart by going further. Above all, that means building a social media presence designed for search engines as well as native audiences.
You probably already know about the power of social media as it relates to reputation management. But at the same time, it can be just as valuable for your reputation SEO strategy. Through social media, you can drive inbound links to your website, rank tweets among top search results, and optimize your posts for local searches.
Again, getting to that point takes time. And yet, once you’re there, the inherent SEO benefits of social media make it a valuable tool for your larger business reputation management strategy.
3. Encourage and Leverage Customer Reviews
They’ve risen in importance for your business reputation. And so has the need for a comprehensive strategy that encourages and magnifies positive reviews while minimizing the potential impact of their negative counterparts. That only becomes truer as you consider the impact of review pages on your search engine optimization.
A strategy that addresses these concepts has to include a way to encourage reviews from satisfied customers on independent sites. Cooperating with larger review entities like Consumer Reports can also help to magnify outside reviews. A number of businesses are now leveraging automated systems that include not just satisfaction surveys, but the opportunity to share these thoughts on sites relevant to the industry.
Finally, don’t underestimate the potential impact of negative reviews. As independent review sites tend to rank highest on social media, the potential for a negative review is almost inevitable. And yet, 86% of internet users don’t buy from businesses with negative reviews. Building a strategy for handling negative reviews can help you magnify the positive reputation management impact of these independent sites.
4. PR and Media Relations for the Digital Age
Finally, a comprehensive plan that builds your reputation throughout top search engine results has to include a way to leverage the naturally high-ranking news outlets. These might be general news like the New York Times, or more industry and niche-specific alternatives such as TechRepublic.
Either way, it’s time to update your PR strategy for the digital age. Your goal should no longer be story placement in local and relevant media. It should be relationship building with digital outlets whose stories are likely to rank highly in relevant searches. Consider the difference a well-placed quote coming from your CEO or subject matter expert can be when included in a news update your audience is likely to read.
That means communicating your company’s expertise and niche to these media outlets. It also means making yourself available where needed. And of course, it means building digital press releases (ideally featuring more than just text) that have a high likelihood of placement in the built-in SEO power of news outlets.
Are You Ready for Search-Optimized Online Business Reputation Management?
Nobody said that managing your business reputation would be easy. Even the single aspect of search engine optimization requires a comprehensive, multi-channel strategy that addresses exactly the types of pages and factors leading to top rankings for relevant queries. And yet, done right, the potential for success in both increased exposure and positive brand connotations can be immense.
The result tends to be something akin to search-optimized online business reputation management. Once you realize just how frequently your audience finds you and searches for you through Google and related sites, you begin to understand the importance of SEO in your reputation management strategy. And once that happens, you can unlock the various ways you can deliver your focused messaging to an engaged audience.
That strategy has to be comprehensive. It has to include not just your website, but a variety of outlets (such as review sites) that tend to rank highly across industry searches. But that doesn’t make it impossible. A reliable partner, in fact, may be just what you need to get started. Contact us to learn about and begin to implement the nuances of search engine optimization for managing your business reputation.