Written September 11, 2015

I recently wrapped up a pretty unique reputation management project with beyond expected success and I wanted to outline the strategy I used here. I’m hoping someone reading this can use this strategy to fight some negative search results, or maybe if you have your own strategy – let me know what I left out!

Damaging Google Suggested Searches

This client approached me with a problem more and more companies are facing. In August of 2008 Google released an autocomplete feature to their search engine. As potential customers search, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities. All of the suggested searches shown have previously been searched by other Google users, and typically at a relatively high volume to be shown as a ‘suggested search.’

google reputation managementUnfortunately, that means many businesses are seeing suggested searches with potentially damaging results. In the screenshot to the right, you can see a branded search for this clients name (blurred for confidentiality) along with the very damaging ‘scam’ suggestion. It easy to understand that if the second or third suggested search is ‘scam’, potential customers will click on it and we know that 67% of purchases are influenced by online reviews.

fighting negative reviews in search results This was also effecting their search results page.

Of course my client felt like this was having a negative impact on their business, particularly when you consider that branded searches often come at a point in the sales process when a customer is ready to purchase. There’s no way to know how many possible customers were scared off by the ‘scam’ suggested search and second organic listing.

It’s important to note that my client runs a completely above the belt business and delivers a service that satisfies 99% of their customers. They happen to work in a volatile industry that involves terms and agreements that are often hard to understand. It’s really an industry problem and not specific to this business. None the less, by serving this industry online since 1999 more than a handful of angry customers have taken to posting negative reviews.

Because of these negative reviews and content, when a searcher did click the ‘brand name scam’ suggested search they were quickly met with about 12-15 pieces of negative content in most cases posted on personal blogs, forums and third party sites built with this kind of negative publicity in mind.

Initial Research

Before outlining a plan of attack it’s important to understand why this became a suggested search. Even with an active online storefront for 16 years serving a high volume of customers, I couldn’t imagine that that many people were specifically searching ‘brand name scam’.

One idea I have is that this companies brand name is extremely recognizable and easy to remember. Due to this, there are not a lot of branded searches outside of exactly their brand name. This means to become a ‘suggested search’ it will only take a handful of searches before it shows up. Once it begins showing up in suggested searches it piques the interest of all future searchers of the brand name which creates a snowball effect. More searches for ‘brand name scam’ (because it was suggested) means more people are interested in this phrase. The more people Google thinks are interested in this phrase, the higher it begins showing in search.

I’ve toyed in the past with influencing Google’s suggested search feature with minimal success. The idea is that if you can place more (positive) suggestions into Google’s list by creating traffic around these searches they will eventually push the negative suggestion off of the list.

Instead, the strategy I employed and ultimately had great success with was placing more positive content directly in the SERP that the client had complete control over. By building a network of controlled content on this negative phrase, we could outrank the truly negative content and push it off of the first page. There’s an older (probably out of date) report that suggests only 2% of searchers click on anything outside of the top five positions. Knowing this, the idea became that if people are going to click the ‘brand name scam’ search, they’ll have to dig deeper to find the negative content.

Reputation Management Playbook

Upfront – and to a client uneducated on the practice – my strategy may seem a little ambitious. I started with the goal of owning 90% of the first two pages (roughly 14 positions) and claiming the top five positions within 60 days. To control 14 positions I’d need roughly 30 pieces of high quality indexable content. With 30 pieces of content I can determine what type of content Google is favoring and which pieces aren’t gaining traction.

To begin I decided to categorize my content into two buckets – existing content and new content.

Existing Content

  1. News Articles
    • Since this client has been around for such a long time there was a large amount of high quality backlinks that already existed. On the clients site I created a “Press” section which linked to these authoritative sites. Through anchor text alone I was able to link to these sites and get them to begin ranking on the ‘brand name scam’ phrase.
  2. Niche Specific Wikis
    • The ubiquity of ‘wiki type’ sites have hit critical mass. There is an authoritative Wiki for just about every industry you can name. By claiming their Wiki listings, building a few links, and naturally including the word ‘scam’ into the wiki listing these sites began ranking on the negative term.
  3. Blog Posts
    • Yes, this client obviously has its detractors, but it has far more positive reviews and content out there. Many of these positive blogs actually ranked on the ‘brand name scam’ term because the comments section on these articles were filled with this phrase. It was actually pretty easy to see that in the large majority of these cases it was the same anonymous source posting these as the comments were copy and pasted from site-to-site.
    • I used a two-fold approach here. One approach was adding positive blogs (with closed comments) to our new ‘Press’ section and including ‘scam’ anchor text so the blog would begin ranking for that term. Second, I manually reached out to the authors of these posts and shared the other locations these negative comments were shared. The majority of these authors could see the toxic intention of the person and willingly removed their comments.

New Content

  1. Blog Posts
    • The first and logical step was to begin producing blog content on the clients site that contained this phrase. An obvious topic included addressing the scam issue which made it easy to load up on the keyword phrase. In future block posts we began sprinkling in the ‘scam’ keyword in natural ways. After all, an official site is the most likely to rank highly for any branded search term.
  2. Article Directories
    • There are a lot of highly authoritative sites that allow article submissions that Google is quick to index. Medium, Squidoo, HubPages, etc. We began creating micro-blogs exclusively for these platforms optimized for the ‘brand name scam’ term.
  3. Domains
    • Like I mentioned in the first step of this section, an official site is the most likely to rank on page 1 for branded searches. Knowing this I created a subdomain on the clients website. http://scam.brandname.com. Exact match domains are a thing of the past in most cases, but it this case it was a perfect fit. We also purchased http://brandnamescam.com, .net, hyphens, no hyphens – you name it. All of these sites contained a very well written article addressing scams in the industry, why you can trust this brand and it served as a valuable method of damage control for anyone already searching this term.
  4. YouTube
    • It’s no secret that Youtube (owned by Google) is a highly authoritative site and ranks extremely high in the SERP. We used this in our favoring by creating a Youtube video featuring the CEO addressing industry scams, what to watch out for and what actions a customer has if they feel they are in a bad contract. The title, description, and tags were all optimized around the ‘scam’ phrase.

The common factor in all new and existing content that we promoted is that we were in full control of either the entire site or at least the comments. All pieces of content were well diversified, from several domains, many featured client testimonials and reviews, addressed scam concerns, included guarantees and general business information.

Link Building to Climb The SERP

Once we had all of our new content built we needed to give it a little push to get it climbing the SERP. Some of our highly authoritative backlinks (Huffington Post, Forbes, etc.) only took one or two links from our site network to get them to page one, but our newly created content on fresh domains needed a lot more help.

seo internal link buildingI began mapping our different resources and estimated the amount of “juice” each would need to rank for the ‘scam’ term. I avoided anything that might signal to Google that there may be some sort of link exchanging going on. You can see in the attached screenshot a basic version of how our interlinking began. Granted it became more robust and fleshed out as we created more content, it should still give you a general idea how the sites associated with each other.

And the winner is…

Was this a perfect plan? No, probably not. Of course all of those negative pages indexed in Google still exist. They always will. However we now own this search term to the point that not a single piece of negative content shows up until the very last position of page 1, and not again until page 3. The company now owns 19 out of 20 positions on this negative keyword term.

Essentially we took a search phrase filled with damaging content and now made it a major focus of this business by presenting them as the ‘good guys’ combating all of the scams commonly attributed to the industry. Searchers see the ‘brand name scam’ as an immediate red flag, but upon actually clicking the suggested search see a wave of positive results.

Overall I was very happy with the outcome of this strategy and excited about the reproducibility. Brand and reputation management is becoming increasingly important for businesses as the barriers are broken down between a single angry customer and a massive audience. Having a in-house strategy to combat this situation could be a difference making in closing your next sale.

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About The Author

Dallas McLaughlin

Dallas is a badged Google Partner, certified in both Google AdWords and Google Analytics. Dallas helps business owners understand how to succeed in a digital first world. Utilizing innovation and unparalleled strategy, Dallas has successfully executed hundreds of search engine optimization, social media marketing and pay-per-click advertising campaigns.

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