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Online Reputation Management VooDoo

In a discussion in a search marketing forum known for it’s hardball approach to online marketing, a Social Media expert today suggested that reputation management might be traded for links. On the surface, that might not seem odd. But looking more closely…. I think it’s very interesting.

As a search engine, Google values links, and rewards web pages receiving links by giving them a higher position in search results. As a commercial advertising business, Google makes a fortune selling links. So naturally linking on the web has become big business, with links created, bought, traded and obtained deliberately through influence. Responding to this threat, Google the search engine suggests that purchased links are bad. Google threatens to devalue links if it determines they are not “genuine”, and suggests that web publishers mark paid links using specialized technology (designed by Google for that purpose) so the links don’t get counted and don’t influence search rankings. Google has even penalized (banned?) link exchange networks in the past. Since Google is arguably the largest link seller out there (via AdSense and AdWords), this is a very controversial topic in the online business world. So how does linking relate to reputation management?

Online Reputation Management is an aspect of PR (public relations). When Google presents a particular web page at the top of a search result set, the majority of Google users click thru to that page. If the search was “your name” and the highest-ranking page was a page proclaiming you to be a “dastardly scoundrel”, you have an Online Reputation problem.

How do you solve such a problem? Forget about asking Google. Asking a PR professional might work, but only because that PR person will hire an SEO (search engine optimizer) to do the work on their behalf. We SEOs can influence the search engine results sets; it’s what we do. So if a PR person uses our services to “correct” a misleading perception, via the search results, that’s a form of online “reputation management”.

And now it gets interesting…. “will trade online reputation management for links”. Full circle, it seems. Links build reputations (good and bad), and people suffer the consequences, so they hire “managers” who hire SEOs to fix the problem. They can now “pay” for the services with “links”. And not just any links… the links asked for in this case were “.edu links” which means links from an educational institutions (because Google seems to value them more, probably because it trusts them to be less commercial). Of course most .edu links that are “traded” are the illicit kind…placed onto web pages at schools and Universities for commercial purposes. In this case, that is clearly the reason… place edu links in exchange for help managing a tarnished reputation.

Done something bad, and got a bad rep? Want to cover it up? Well, just violate a few more guidelines, violate a few University policies, exploit your .edu publishing privileges, and you too can have a clean reputation once again! Ain’t it beeee-you-tee-full!

Ya gotta love this industry. The Devil went down to Georgia; he was looking for a soul to steal…


  1. Lee Odden wrote:

    Hey John, entertaining post.

    I have a few thoughts on the comment, “Asking a PR professional might work, but only because that PR person will hire an SEO (search engine optimizer) to do the work on their behalf”

    Some less than capable PR firms would use search results displacement as the sole means of dealing with negative mentions in the search results. This is akin to sweeping dirt under the rug and does not deal with the source of the problem. i.e. it addresses the symptoms of the situation and is by no means a cure.

    The good PR firms that I know would address the dissenters directly and depending on the situation, also provide a forum for a dialogue. Communication can solve most ills in such a situation. If it cannot, then there is typically a much larger problem.

    This would be in ADDITION to displacing negative search results via SEO tactics.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 6:06 pm | Permalink
  2. john andrews wrote:

    Yes yes yes Lee… thanks for reminding me I’m not alone here on the blog ;-)

    I have been on the receiving end of one of those PR follow-ups and while the firm that contacted me wasn’t very good at it, I totally agree on the potential for the approach. So I would adjust your statement from “Communication can solve most ills in such a situation. If it cannot, then there is typically a much larger problem.” to “good communication can solve most ills in such a situation. If it cannot, then there is typically a much larger problem.

    To the other reader(s) out there, Lee is one of a rare breed of professionals… he understands both SEO and Public Relations!

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Sante wrote:

    Interesting reading, conclusions and comments. Online reputation is probably the next frontier in SEO that is rapidly changing leaving technical issue to technical people, moving towards people and their conversations.

    Broadband is putting people in front of their computer and they are “talking” to other folks, and when they talk there’s always an opportunity to talk about someone or something – in a good way or a bad one …

    I really don’t think there is too much VooDoo, it’s just another way of doing business, a new one where there are rules with people willing to play by them or break them.

    We could enter into an endless discussion on SEO and how people have manipulated the search engine results (and I’ve seen quite a bit of that over the past 12 years).

    People are of all kinds – birds of a feather flock together.

    Managing online reputation is certainly about linking, but that’s just the first setup. You won’t go very far if, once you’ve captured the readers interest, you cannot entertain and engage in interesting conversations, which in turn generate real links and genuine reputation.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007 at 1:18 am | Permalink