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…