In the last few months I’ve been called on by individuals and businesses to help them clean up search engine results for branded terms. (A branded term: specific to the organization or business. For example: TAKCAM Social Media and Digital Marketing is a branded term. Or Sally Smith Real Estate Agent. Or Ben Brown Insurance.)
This is one of the first steps you can take in online reputation management. If you’re a public person or a large brand, you’re likely familiar with active online monitoring using tools to catch brand mentions (negative, positive, neutral) comments, reviews, hate websites, namesquatting etc. If you’re a small business, you can still benefit from active online monitoring. There are both paid and free tools you can use (beyond Google) to take a temperature check on your brand and business.
But if you haven’t already, go ahead and Google your business or your name. Are you surprised by the results? Are there multiple social media sites set up? Are they active or dormant? Are there website results from previous employers or partnerships that are no longer relevant? Are there negative results? Negative Results aren’t uncommon for businesses and personal brands. A negative result may be a service or product review that’s less than favourable to commentary on a forum.
Google/Bing/Yahoo your business, brand or name. If you haven’t done so, take a minute to perform a search across the various search engines (Google, Bing & Yahoo are most popular.) Audit the search results. Do you rank for social media sites? Do you show up in news? Are search results and corresponding information accurate, relevant and helpful to your business or brand?
Open Excel And Take Notes. Use excel to set up a spreadsheet of key information that turns up in the results. (e.g.: Columns with Social Profiles, News, Partner Sites.) Keeping track of where you’re mentioned can help you stay on top of your online reputation; it’s a good way to keep record.
Kill Off Dead Social Media Profiles. Sometimes businesses and individuals will set up multiple social sites by accident (e.g.: people I’ve worked with have multiple LinkedIn profiles because they forgot passwords or no longer have access to a profile after they’ve left a job.) Speaking of LinkedIn, have you ever noticed that when you Google search a person, LinkedIn typically returns top search results? This is why it’s important to kill off social media sites that are no longer relevant or active. It may seem like a painstaking task, however, if a dormant LinkedIn profile (or similar) is the first thing to come up in search, you’re doing a disservice to the effort you put into other sites. If you no longer have the username/password for a social site, you’ll need to at least know the email it was set up with and have supporting documentation to kill off social sites. (e.g.: with LinkedIn, expect to share your drivers license when you want to delete your profile without a password!)TIP: If you haven’t already, you need to develop a Social Media & Digital Marketing Legacy Document. This is a basic document outlining every social and digital site you’re a member of, including credentials. Having a legacy document will help keep you organized but also in the event that others need to access sites on your behalf, they know where to find all of the critical information.
Ask To Be Removed. Recently I was asked by what happens when information about a former employee shows up on a past employers website. There are a couple of ways to approach this, the easiest is to get in touch with the company (IT department or marketing/communications) and respectfully ask them to remove your information. In some cases, they may not be cooperative so an alternative is to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act Request DMCA request (USA) or a Notice and Notice process (Canada). In the case of DCMA, the copyright owner can contact the ISP (internet service provider) when they believe that the person or organization infringing on copyright is using the ISP to do so. Upon receiving this notice, the ISP must take down any copyright infringing content. In Canada, with Notice and Notice the ISP must only notify the person or organization infringing on copyright. In both cases, the ISP must take action to avoid liability.
Ask for errors to be edited. In this digital age, speed sometimes trumps accuracy. If you notice in search results that information about your brand or business turn up incorrect information, do your best to reach out to site owners to have that information corrected. For example, real estate aggregator sites will put together profiles of industry professionals. Typically they will scrape this information from multiple sources, which can result in bad information about locations, emails, work hours, expertise etc. When you notice these issues, contact the site administrator and ask for it to be corrected.
Always Think Of Optimization. What does that mean? Depending on your goal (e.g.: being known as an expert in your industry or field) you should be consistent across digital and social media profiles. Whether you’re a small business or a big brand, make sure you’re using the same colours, logos, tone, etc. so it’s easy to identify you. Always secure vanity URLs – e.g.: www.facebook.com/TheRealTAKCAM … or www.youtube.com/TAKCAM or www.instagram.com/TheRealTAKCAM etc.
Be proactive. Now that you’ve begun the process online reputation management, think about how you want to show up in search results in the future. Which keywords and phrases do you want your business or name to be linked with? Break down priorities in terms of your overall objectives. Do you have a product or service? Are you an expert in your field? To take back some control of search engine results you must create your own content and optimize (search engine optimization.) Build up your authority for concepts you want to be known for. Take control of content images that come up. Make sure that when you’re adding images to your website they are adding all tags and file names that relate not only to the image you’re sharing but the overall goal of your website – including keywords.
How long can I expect the process of cleaning up search results to take?
Beyond actually taking the above mentioned steps to clean up search results, the actual results could take anywhere from three months to a year. There are a couple of factors that affect the timeframe:
(1) Popularity Of Brand Terms And Brand Name. If you’re a large company, household name or have a company name similar to a big brand – you may have your work cut out for you. For example: my company name TAKCAM used to be usurped by a company called Tascam. Each time I searched for my company, it automatically returned results for Tascam. It took nearly a year of adding consistent content to the website to have search engines only return TAKCAM results.
(2) Volume Of New Content. It depends on how much content exists around your business, name or personal brand. Are there mentions on authoritative websites? Popular social networks or forums? How much effort has been put into being proactive with content and social media? The last client I worked with to take control of their personal brand took just over three months to return positive results. A couple of factors helped. (1) It was for a name that wasn’t competing with others (e.g.: John Smith) and (2) we secured vanity URLs for every social channel she was active on (even some she was not.)