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10 Ways to Protect Your Online Reputation

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By Barry Hurd

RISMEDIA, Nov. 20, 2007-Do you remember a professional situation where you found out through a friend of a friend that some nasty rumor was floating around? What about the time you found out six months afterwards – or the time it seemed like everyone but you knew the rumor?

While the online world is transforming business, it is also transforming the way potential customers, employers, employees, and mainstream media is finding out information about your business. The blogosphere has begun transforming search engines into conversations about your reputation.

Many businesses understand the value of showing up for a beneficial keyword such as “New York Real Estate,” but what happens when your business shows up for “Real Estate Fraud” because an unsatisfied client or unscrupulous competitor managed to get a story to show up under searches for your company name?

When such reputation nightmares happen, companies face the challenge of removing those negative results off the first few pages of the search engines or with getting information out there that provides a balanced dose of positive articles. Unfortunately it is often impossible to get a negative article removed from search engine results, but it is possible to make sure that it is hard to get information to show up instead.

Here are ten recommendations for establishing a healthy presence and reputation on the search engines.

1. Make sure your own Web site shows up.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but unfortunately I’ve seen several $25k sites that don’t even show up in the search engines for the proper name of the business or the executive team. Do not trust your Web designer when they say your Web site shows up. Check yourself. Try doing a search for your company name and brand, along with the personal names and brands of the people on your team.

2. Buy the domains that are important to your business.

When you created your site, www.yourbusiness.com sounded great. How about your personal name www.firstnamelastname.com? How about your streetaddress.com? Domains cost less than $10 a year each, so spending an extra $20 to $100 dollars a year could be a very worthwhile investment if you plan on having control of your brand. If properly setup all those extra domains provide a sure-fire way to have your main business site show up on a variety of names that are important to you.

3. Start a blog.

You have www.yourbusiness.com, but how about buying www.yourhometownrealestate.com as a blog? You can use popular blogging software such as www.wordpress.org to create an almost free blog attached to your current Web site. By providing fresh and weekly content to the blog, the articles in it will show up on various long-tail keyword phrases for your company name. After a few months you will have multiple results whenever someone searches for your company.

4. Use sub-domains.

If you really do not want to budget for buying individual domains, try sub-domains on your primary domain. Most hosting services allow you to have multiple free sub-domains such as www.careers.yourbusiness.com. Sub-domains are treated as individual sites in the eyes of the search engines and have almost as much power as the primary domain. By adding a few pages of information to sub-domains such as biography, careers, location, and team, you can add dozens of results for searches to find your information.

5. Use social media accounts on other sites.

There are literally dozens of social media sites out there that can be used to create free profiles that show up for your company name. Linkedin.com, RISMedia.com, and RealTownBlogs.com offer free profiles that show up in the search engines. When you are given the choice of creating a profile name or adding a title to the account, think carefully about the exact phrase you want to be found under and try to utilize your company’s most common name.

6. Grow a social media site.

Search engines love constantly growing and evolving information. By starting your own forum or social media community, you can provide the search engines with new pages of information under your company name every time one of your users creates a new page or comment on your social media system.

7. Check out pay-per-click ads.

While I almost never endorse paying for pay-per-click advertising, you may find someone has decided to spend the $1 a click to advertise why they hate you on your own name or for the terms that drive business to you. There are ways of requesting this advertising cease by contacting the search engine, and if you spot something on your own name make sure you click it once or twice… you’ll find some quick comfort knowing you just cost the person a few dollars.

8. Use free directory profiles.

There are literally hundreds of free directories online. Google, Yahoo, and Superpages are all examples of sites with free directory profiles. In addition to having the benefit of being found by the search engines, having profiles on these directories is a way of being found by fairly substantial user communities. After creating the profiles, be ready for the follow-up sales call looking to offer you a lot of fairly useless advertising enhancements.

9. Volunteer your information and expertise on other sites.

The blogging world is always looking for fresh information. If you have a recent article or viewpoint to share, contact a local blogger or newspaper. Good information is always newsworthy, and it is usually fairly easy to get information published about a local community event you are sponsoring.

10. Use video.

You may be saying “but I don’t have a $5k budget to waste on fancy video.” Don’t listen to your budget! It doesn’t take a huge budget to put on a business suit and find a decent backdrop to take a quick thirty second video of your office. Even a casual video on YouTube under your company name is a hundred times better than an aggressive attack from an opinionated critic.

There are hundreds of other ways that can be tied together into a solid foundation for your business reputation and brand. Depending on the goals of your business, the above points can be integrated into search engine marketing plans to drive SEO results, to aid specific business projects, coordinate affiliated business partners, or even to establish your own business community. Taking a few minutes to examine and detail your current situation and the goals of your brand is essential to safe-guarding a company’s future. Understanding what people find when they search for your company name and how they interact with that information is critical to making sure that searchers find the information you want them to.

About the author:
Barry Hurd is president of Social Media Systems, an online marketing and advertising consultant group working with search engine marketing and leveraging social media communities. He has over 15 years of entrepreneurial Internet and online marketing experience. As an author and prolific blogger, he has reached online audiences around the world. Since the mid-1990s, Barry has been involved in numerous efforts to bring forth technical innovation through online business models. Past projects have included NIKE, REI, TMP Worldwide, Monster.com, Verizon Superpages, Intuit, and RISMedia.

For more information, visit www.socialmediasystems.com.

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