Houston, We Have A Problem

Time and again I've gotten on my soapbox to preach the importance of integrating search into the overall marketing mix, but this time the writing is on the wall...or should I say, the search results page.  It's time to see things for how they really are: search impacts brand.  End of story. 

Failing to acknowledge search's impact on a brand's reputation is not only naive, it could also be downright costly.  After all, your company's reputation in search engines isn't just about brand, it's about customers and their perceptions--and as a result, it's about dollars and cents.  Manage your brand's reputation well in the search results, and you'll keep your customers and gain new ones.  Manage it poorly, and you can kiss them goodbye.  FOREVER.  Remember, consumers have long memories.  If you don't believe me, ask me who my first cell phone carrier was.  They don't even have the same name, yet I know who they are and I will never do business with them again.  PERIOD.  



Why You Should Care

Does your company really need to pay attention to your brand's reputation in search results?  Is it that important?  Well, given that 400 million searches are conducted in Google alone everyday, you might want to consider it.  What's more, according to Jupiter Research, over 80 percent of Internet users turn to search engines to find information.  EIGHTY PERCENT.  So should you worry if a Web site or two that have negative things to say about you start popping up in the search results when prospects and customers search for your brand or your products? You do the math.

Viral Spiral

The overall growth of search isn't the only factor driving the importance of managing your reputation in search results.  User-created content plays a big role.  Given the inherent viral quality of the Web, this type of content has experienced explosive growth.  Users want their voice heard, and they are turning to the Web to make it so.  And while this type of content raises the buzz index, it also bumps up the competition in the search results.  Chances are you're competing with it for share of voice on the search results page right now.  This is particularly important, given that content of this nature comes in three flavors: positive, neutral, and negative.  Moreover, consumers are increasingly buying based upon word of mouth--so clearly, the power of influence of this genre cannot be denied.  You can no longer afford to ignore it.  Your brand depends upon it.

Admitting the Problem

Protecting your brand reputation in the search results requires continually monitoring their content.  If you don't know what's out there, you won't know if a problem exists.  You need to check it out, continually.  And if there's a problem, you'll know it right away.  For example, if a search on your brand yields three negative results out of the five that appear above the fold on the search results page, it should tell you something. Loud and clear. You need to take some action.  Now.  

Getting A Grip

So how can you get started?  To protect your brand reputation in the search results, you need to do a few things.  First, you need to gain an understanding of your audience(s).  Next, you need to examine the content and determine its classification: positive, neutral, negative.  Then you need to understand the severity of the situation.  Next, you need to examine whether the problem lies with a particular engine, page, or community.  Once you have a grasp on these elements, you can analyze the situation to get a clear picture of how your brand is showing up.

Making it Happen

Once you have the lay of the land and have identified whether or not a problem exists, you can begin to develop strategies and tactics to combat the situation, being mindful that while you may not be able to eradicate the damage completely, you can certainly mitigate it. 

Your first order of business in protecting your brand reputation in the search engines is to be sure your site is organically optimized.  If your situation is particularly dire, you may want to consider using paid search as a quick fix to guarantee you appear in a positive light.  Non-branded micro-sites are another solid tactic.  Partnering with industry associations can also be helpful, as such groups will rank well with your audience and occupy additional page real estate, helping to push that negative content off the top of search results pages.  Obviously the strategy depends on the situation, but overall, you need to work with your SEM provider to develop an effective approach.

Bottom Line

Search impacts brand.  There's no doubt about it.  It is paramount that brand reputation management extends into the search channel.  Manage your brand well in the search results, and it will not only remain healthy, you'll also keep your customers and gain new ones.  Manage it poorly, and your brand will most certainly suffer, and your customers... well, they'll begin to disappear.  FOREVER.

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