by Jesse Boskoff, Co-Founder and COO, Status Labs

Welcome, stay for a few. I’m going to assume you’ve Googled something related to reputation management and you found your way here. You’re in a good place, because unlike almost every other article out there, I’m speaking from a place of unmatched experience.

For the past 8 years, Status Labs, the agency I co-founded, has helped over 1000 people and companies successfully navigate the dangerous and often unfair world of reputation management. I’ve been in the trenches as our COO, overseeing the strategy and execution of our initiatives to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance to properly show the world more about them than just a disparaging article, blog post, or negative online reviews that often took place years ago and still defines them when people look them up online.

So, I’m here to share with you a comprehensive guide to online reputation management that may help you figure out your options, along with some lightweight best practices that any of you can implement for free on your own time.

First, it’s important to understand that there are different categories of reputation management. The term takes on a different meaning and it’s important to understand those nuances.

To some, it means simply improving the way they look online and taking control of page 1 of their personal or branded search results. To others, it means suppressing or hiding a negative piece of content that shows up when people research them online.

In either case, the objective is the same: to prominently display content that showcases your best achievements and casts you in the most positive light possible. It’s no different than people posing for a photo and turning a certain way so that people see their “good side”.

Anyway, let’s get to it. Time to dive into the weird but all-important world of managing your online reputation.

(By the way, you can contact us anytime by clicking this link for a free quote within 24 hours.)

Why do I need online reputation management?

The reason you need to take control of your search results is simple: when people want to know more about something, whether it’s a person, company, or product, they turn to Google. Online reputation management, also known as ORM, largely involves the process of taking control of your digital assets to give them the best shot at ranking on page 1 of search results.

Why is page 1 so important, you ask? If it isn’t on page 1, people probably aren’t going to see it. According to a Moz study from April 2019, only 7% of 1400 searchers surveyed said they go past page 1 of search results when looking for information about something.

The bulk of searchers, by and large, stick to the 10 results that appear on page 1 and scan them thoroughly before deciding to click on the most relevant search result or a website they trust.

Only 7% of people search past page 1 of Google

Source: Moz

There are three important things for you to take away from this:

  1. If something doesn’t show up on page 1, there’s less than a 7% chance that someone will ever see it when they search your name.
  2. If a negative piece of content about you shows up on page 1, there’s a greater than 50% chance that a searcher will find it, especially if the headline is somewhat revealing.
  3. If that negative content comes from a trusted website, a searcher is even more likely to click on, and read, the content.

I will come back to the importance of 3 a little later in this article. For now, understand that if it’s on page 1, searchers are more likely than not to see it – even if it’s near the bottom.

If you’re someone with negative news articles, blog posts, lawsuit documents, or any other unflattering content that shows up for your name, this is likely to cause you personal distress. Your considerations may be a job search, where you fear that employers are likely to see this. It may be your personal life, where family and friends or potential dates come across this.

If you’re concerned about the digital reputation of your company or business because of a challenging search landscape, and the possible impact that may have on your ability to make sales, you have every right to be concerned. Another study conducted by Moz a few years ago found the following:

Source: Moz

What does this mean in plain and simple terms? One negative article on page 1 of search results will cause 22% of searchers not to do business with your company. If there’s a second negative result, an additional 22% of searchers will call that a dealbreaker, meaning you’ll lose 44% of interested customers with two negative results. If there are three pieces of negative content out there that people see, that number jumps another 15% to 59%. And four or more means you’ll lose 70% of potential customers.

Google your company name or a product you sell. Then consider the number of searches that receives per month.

Let’s say for a second that your product gets 8,000 searches per month and there’s even just 1 negative search result on page 1 of Google. 22% of searchers would be 1,680 people. Now let’s pretend your product sells for $50.

What does this mean?

1,680 searchers x $50 per sale = $84,000 in lost potential sales per month.

$84,000 x 12 months = $1,008,000 in lost potential sales per year.

In our experience, negative search results that aren’t tended to will often linger on page 1 for 3, 5, even 10 years sometimes. Now you can easily see how a suboptimal online reputation is truly a multimillion dollar annual expense to many companies. And it’s why estimates peg the reputation management industry at over $750 million per year now.

If your company runs ads, you’re more likely to see high search traffic. After all, the more you spend on marketing, the more potential customers you reach, and customers these days will Google you before they buy.

This is why many CMOs recognize the value of ORM as a companion investment to their digital marketing spend. If they can clear out any dated or unfair criticism from page 1 of search results, and/or boost more favorable and informative coverage, that positive online presence will help them see a higher conversion rate and a lower cost per customer.

Whatever your reason may be, take a deep breath and relax with the knowledge that there is a way out of this. While there are exceptions to the rule – for example, a story about you that was so newsworthy it generated national coverage in nearly every major media outlet – every situation can be mitigated to some extent. It’s all a matter of how much, how quickly, and what it’ll take to get there.

If you’re of the belief that your reputation damage is costing you money, contact us here for a free, no-obligation quote and consultation.

How much does online reputation management cost?

The cost of an online reputation management campaign typically ranges from $2,500 to $50,000 per month. Don’t panic, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be anywhere near that $50,000 – it mainly applies to big companies with very high search traffic and a widespread negative media cycle.

I should also mention that there are companies out there willing to quote you less than this. All I can tell you, with the firsthand experience that I have and the stories of many who took that approach only to be disappointed, is that there are companies out there willing to do this for less money because they’ll gladly take your money even if it means a dissatisfied client. You’ll typically end up with a cookie-cutter approach that simply doesn’t solve your problem and won’t push any of your negative content down.

What an effective reputation management solution might cost you essentially comes down to a few factors:

1.  How many negative articles or reviews on page 1 of Google search results are you trying to push down?

The higher up on page 1 any offending content ranks for your name, company, or product, the more search results it’ll take to outrank that before it falls to page 2. For example, if something ranks #1 in search results, you’ll need to see 10 other results jump above this before it’s at #11 or lower. By any stretch, this is a time-consuming task compared to pushing something down from #10 (the very bottom of page 1) to #11. In principle, it’s 10 times as much work.So the higher your negative content ranks, the more it’ll cost.If you’re trying to push something down that’s already on page 2 or even further down, this will typically be an easier job that lands on the low end of pricing models. I will explain why as you continue reading, but rest assured that what you’re interested in is very doable. If you’re looking to suppress negative Yelp listings or other authority review sites, making the page disappear altogether will be very challenging and sometimes impossible. In these situations, working holistically on your reputation and encouraging happy customers to leave reviews will be the best way to boost your overall rating, minimizing the impact of any negative customer reviews and low ratings that exist there.

2. Which website(s) does your damaging content appear on?

Domain authority is one of the key influencers in the normal SEO world, and the same applies when it comes to ORM. The more authoritative a website is, the more clout it carries with Google. Understand that this simply doesn’t mean that the most popular websites have the biggest leg up. While they do, there are a few other ways that a domain can carry high authority for your keyword in Google’s eyes:

a) If the website is specifically related to your industry, you can expect it to rank prominently in search results. Say you’re a software company and a website that covers the software industry writes about you. This, in Google’s mind, makes the article highly relevant to searchers – way more so than had a food blog                  written about your software company

b) The locale of the website as it relates to you or your business. For example, let’s say you live in Wisconsin and a local news website wrote about you. This will be highly relevant coverage as Google’s algorithm sees it (especially to Wisconsin searchers), and pushing this content down will be notably harder than pushing something down that came out of a Florida news website or something without a local focus.

c) And of course, the overall authority of a domain plays a major role in how well that article, review, or blog post may rank. Generally speaking, the following  factors play a role in domain authority: popularity (traffic) and a website’s backlink profile (how many other websites have linked to it and how popular those websites are) are the two main factors. There are many others too, but I won’t bore you here. Just know that if it’s a website many have heard of that’s written about you, there’s a much greater chance it’ll rank for your name than an obscure blog that sprung up a couple months ago.

3. Engagement metrics on the negative content

Google’s algorithm wisely relies on engagement metrics to determine what to show to searchers. After all, its top priority is to maintain users’ trust that the best and most important stuff ranks the highest in SERPs, minimizing the time searchers spend finding the most relevant content to their query. As a result, Google, via algorithmic mechanisms known as Rankbrain and Hummingbird, looks at the following signals when determining how relevant a page is to a particular keyword:

  • Clickthrough rate on a search result

    Based on where any given piece of content ranks, it’s expected to get a certain percentage of clicks in search results. For example, this study conducted by Chitika shows us the average CTR (click-through rate) on each result on page 1. (Source: SearchEngineWatch).Chitika CTR organic search results

Let’s pretend for a second that a negative article about you settled at #5 in search results a month after it was published. Over time, this might be expected to see 6.1% of clicks from searchers.

However, you know that a provocative headline with negative connotations will typically catch your attention when searching, and it’s safe to assume that other searchers feel the same way. If that article, at #5, began to see something higher than that 6.1%, say 10-15%, over the next couple months, then Google would see this as a signal that it’s of interest to searchers and may belong higher up on page 1 than some of the results it’s outperforming. Effective content marketing strategy can sometimes lead to articles that pull readers in, outranking the older damaging search results you’re looking to suppress.

The opposite also holds true. If something isn’t interesting to searchers, a lower clickthrough rate will eventually lead to a demotion in its organic ranking.

  • Time on page and bounce rate

It’s also important to recognize that clickthrough rate isn’t the only determining factor of a search result’s relevance. Let’s say a clickbait headline doesn’t deliver on its promise and the content ends up being a letdown. You’ll probably end up leaving that page once you realize this, only to look for more results.

When someone leaves a page on a website without visiting any others, this is called a “bounce”. The higher the bounce rate, the less engaging Google will see the experience and the more likely its algorithm will believe that result doesn’t belong.

And as logic would have it, the less time they’ve spent on that result, the less of the article they’ve probably read. All of this would work against a piece of content since it sends a signal to Google that the user wasn’t happy with the result they clicked.

On the opposite side of things, let’s say there’s a long article that captures searchers’ attention. Not only do they spend a good amount of time reading the article, but some even click to see more content on that website.

Google will see this as an engaging user experience that was relevant to their search query.

Why do I raise this point? Because an in-depth negative article about you or your product will be a challenging situation to deal with. If something has searchers’ attention to this extent, it’ll take a lot of equally engaging articles or authentic positive reviews to push down this negative article.

4. Length of the negative search result (word count or video length).

The richer the page in content, the more relevant Google may see it to your keyword. There’s simply more information on the page, which again, leads Google to believe that it has more to offer to searchers than a result that just spans a paragraph or two.

5. Are you the subject of the page, or just a brief mention within it?

By you, I’m talking about the keyword in question. If the content is focused on you, Google will see this as more relevant to searchers than a big article about others that just mentions you once or twice.

A good way to gauge this sometimes is by looking at the title of the page as it appears in Google search results. If your keyword shows up in the page title, it’s a pretty safe bet that Google will see this as content about you.

6. How recent is this article or bad review about you?

Recency communicates relevance. After all, it’s more likely that something you read published a month ago will be more accurate and relevant to you than something from 10 years ago. Think about what comes up when you Google newsworthy issues or people. It’s usually articles published very recently that’ll show up on page 1 of search.

The same holds true, to some degree, when it comes to information about you. If there have been 20 articles written about you over the past 10 years and one of them was just published 2 months ago, Google will tend to see this result as timely and of interest to readers.

While this doesn’t mean that a news cycle with newer, more relevant content about you can’t devalue the recency of that article or review site post, it should be said that anything just published is more likely to stick around for a while on its own.

7.  Backlinks and social media shares. Has this page received any of either?

A decade ago, backlinks were the single most important SEO factor in a page’s ability to rank. If a page has received links from other websites, that’s an endorsement of sorts. Google used to value this above all else until they realized that many shrewd SEO practitioners were able to game the search results to their benefit, simply by building backlinks. This led to a poor user experience for searchers who began to complain that what showed up was low quality and irrelevant to their search query.

So, the landscape has evolved, but backlinks and social shares still do matter – especially if they’ve come from trusted websites. Therefore, a backlink from a NY Times article will be worth hundreds of backlinks from low quality blogs or forums.

Social media shares also factor into the mix. After all, newsworthy stories often see shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media platforms. If people shared a negative story about you, Google will also believe that searchers are likely to find it interesting and relevant in search engines.

If a negative result about you has received backlinks and/or social shares, there’s a good chance it ranks prominently in search results and will therefore take some more effort to push down in results.

How long does an online reputation management campaign take?

While I could go cliche on you and say that, like fitness, online reputation management is a never-ending process (it’s true to a degree – the more you do, the better you’ll look), I’m going to focus on the classic and most common example of someone looking to push one or more negative articles off page 1 of their search results.

Again, if you’ve gotten something off page 1 of search results, at least 93% of people will never see it since only 7% bother going past page 1.

A successful ORM campaign will usually take anywhere from 3 to 18 months, where that range really depends on the difficulty of the project.

Before you go on worrying now that your job will take 18 months, don’t. I’d say that only about 2% of projects would ever take this long, and these are really the ones where someone’s story made national or international headlines, received widespread TV coverage, and is common knowledge amongst the majority of the population.

In reality, about 70% of projects fall within a 5-8 month timeframe. Another 15% or so will take 3-5 months (sometimes even less than 3, but we never like to overpromise), another 10% will take somewhere between 9-12 months, and about 5% will take longer.

Where you are on the spectrum really boils down to some of the same factors we outlined above. Without repeating them in the same level of detail, here they are:

  • The page 1 ranking position of the negative content – the higher it is, the more “distance” it needs to travel in order to sink down page 1, eventually to #11 and beyond. The closer it already is to #10, the faster it’ll be. If something right now occupies a ranking somewhere between 8-10, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in that 3-5 month range.
  • The number of negative search results – the more there are, the more possibilities created that one of them may linger on page 1 for a little longer. It’s mainly the projects with 4 or more negative results that are likely to take 12+ months, but this doesn’t mean that all will either.
  • How much additional news coverage regularly comes out about you that may be favorable or neutral. The more news there is to work with, the less Google and searchers may deem that older negative content as still the most important information about you. If you have an in-house public relations resource, they can be very helpful in accelerating the organic news articles written about you.

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What about ORM services that promise to remove or deindex negative articles?

A quick note on this since there are companies out there that offer to make your content disappear altogether. This obviously sounds like the best possible scenario, but take a minute to think about this first. Someone is promising you that, like magic, an article will disappear from someone else’s website without their guaranteed consent.

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Such is the case here as well.

Here’s what generally goes on in situations like these. In the vast majority of cases where companies advertise these services, one of the following two things is taking place:

  1. They are using legally questionable methods to attempt this strategy. Just look at the dozens of reputation management companies and their clients who have been implicated in illegal takedown requests. We’re talking falsified court affidavits, plagiarized content to claim copyright infringement, and more things you simply don’t want to expose yourself to.
  2. It’s a bait and switch. They say you’ll only pay on success, so they get you in the door this way. Then after a few months of trying to get this content removed, but to no avail, they’ll then attempt to upsell you on a traditional online reputation management campaign like the ones we offer. Only then you’ve already wasted a bunch of time making no progress, not to mention these companies simply don’t do the suppression work very well – or maybe they’d just be offering that to begin with.

So again, while we’d all love to push a button that makes these articles go away, it simply isn’t realistic. I know that our own lives over here at Status Labs would be far easier if this were a real solution.

Can I remove negative keywords in Google Suggest (Autocomplete) or Related Search?

A negative keyword suggestion from Google in the search bar can sometimes be more damaging than a negative article itself. After all, the suggestion will turn people on to something they never even knew existed! And then when it’s right there in your face, you’ll naturally be interested to know why it’s there, so you’ll end up pursuing that search to find a whole new set of search results explicitly about that news cycle.

In short, we help many clients with Google Suggest and Related Search issues. These require a steady effort of content and news items of interest to the public in order to produce new areas of interest to searchers, but it can be done. These campaigns typically take about 5-8 months for us to complete.

Closing Thoughts

There you have it, reputation management 101. Hopefully you’re less in the dark about a situation that leaves so many feeling helpless and without a clue as to what to do. Know that you can control the situation, but it takes a persistent effort that won’t happen overnight. In the end, it’ll all be worth it given the stakes at hand.

And this article wouldn’t be complete without one last shameless plug to let you know we’re here to help. We’ve successfully handled more projects than anyone else in the industry, and our track record speaks for itself. We’ve grown this operation from something we first started doing at home as a side gig, to one that now employs over 60 people with 3 US offices, another in London, and another in Brazil. All without funding, our growth has purely come at the hands of our hard work, which has allowed us to grow relationships and win plenty of referrals from happy clients.

We’re here if you want to chat more about your situation to see what it costs. Get a free quote within 24 hours.

Feel free to let us know in the comments, or contact us, if you have any questions I haven’t answered. I’m happy to expand and update this article with anything I may have missed.

Wherever you may find yourself on your ORM journey, I wish you the best of luck.