Online Reputation Management: An Interview With Joe Devine

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Synopsis — Joe Devine, CEO of The Search Engine Guys, is well-known for his experience in working with prominent law firms, providing quality web marketing services to them and other businesses. With a broad range of experience in all aspects of search engine marketing, Joe joins us to answer some questions about online reputation management, an area that is obviously close to the heart of law firms in particular, but needs to be an important part of any business’s online marketing plans. Joe discusses not only the incredible impact that negative reviews and dissatisfied customers can have on a company’s online reputation, but how to manage the situation to avoid such occurrences.

With some specific nuts-and-bolts tips on counteracting negative comments that may appear in search engine results when your company’s name is googled, he provides insight into how you can use tactics such as multiple entities and a robust social media profile strategy to mitigate problems and work on turning your online reputation around if you have encountered problems (including a specific case from a client to illustrate the tactics discussed).

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Online Reputation Management: An Interview With Joe Devine

Joe Devine (Chief Executive Officer) initially founded the Search Engine Guys, LLC (TSEG) in September 2007 with Rodney Organ (current CTO). Joe is TSEG’s strategic visionary, responsible for the overall direction and growth of the company. Prior to founding The Search Engine Guys, Joe managed several business units within the legal services industry and served as VP of Sales for one of the largest privately held legal directories on the web. TSEG is devoted to providing quality web marketing services to law firms and small-to-medium-sized businesses. TSEG initially focused on natural search engine optimization, but has since expanded its service offerings to web design, pay-per-click marketing, social media optimization, local search optimization, online reputation management, offline identity packages, custom photography, and video optimization. Currently, TSEG has offices in Austin, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois, with clients across the US. Their website is located at: www.the searchengineguys.com.

SMS:  Welcome, Joe. Thanks for spending some time with us today to chat about online reputation management. Let’s start with how exactly you would define online reputation management?

Joe: Online reputation management simply means managing your brand image (or your clients’ brand image) on the Internet. When an angry customer, disgruntled employee, or any individual chooses to turn to the web to voice their disdain, it can be incredibly damaging to your business. These reviews could dissuade potential clients from doing business with you and cast your brand in an unflattering light. In this day and age, it takes only one person to ruin the reputation that you have spent years building. Monitoring and managing your company’s online reputation is mission critical.

SMS:  How damaging can a negative online reputation be to a company? Do people really believe everything they read online?

Joe: If negative feedback is visible when your company’s name is searched for on the major search engines, the results can destroy your business. In our opinion, we believe that negative reviews can be mitigated by volume. For example, a 95% positive rating looks better the more reviews you have. It can be challenging if you only have 5 or 10 reviews. People tend to agree with popular opinion. They may not believe everything they read online, but if the negative comments account for a significant portion of your reviews, it may be easier for consumers to believe them.

SMS:  Is online reputation management only about search results? What about monitoring social media for negativity?

Joe: Monitoring social media for negativity is extremely important. There are a number of social-media tools (e.g., Trackur.com, PostRank, Radian6, Alterian) which allow you to track both positive and negative feedback about your company. Having the instant feedback these sites provides allows you to quickly respond to any issues that may arise.

SMS:  What “nuts and bolts” strategies can you provide our audience on ways to monitor their online reputation?

Joe: Typically, we recommend to “Google and Bing” yourself, key employees, your company, and variations of your company’s name at least three times a week. Although consumers most likely will not look past the first page, we recommend reviewing the first three pages. Other recommended strategies:

  • Set up Google alerts for your company (www.google.com/alerts).
  • Monitor social buzz on Trackur.com or any of the other sites listed above.
  • Search review sites (such as Yelp, Citysearch, Google Local) for your company’s name.

SMS:  Can you recommend the top three “nuts and bolts” strategies for counteracting negative comments showing up in Google?

Joe: There are several ways to counteract negative comments that may appear in the search results pages for Google and other search engines. In our opinion, the three most important strategies are:

1.  Encourage positive reviews from clients and vendors whom you know are pleased with the services or products that your company provides. It is important to garner enough positive reviews to outweigh the negative ones. Our goal is a 10:1 positive-to-negative ratio for an effective campaign.

There are many different strategies companies employ to encourage positive reviews from their clients: giving gifts, offering discounts, and doing favors. However, we encourage having step-by-step “how to” instructions explaining the online reviewing process. This will make it easier for clients to complete this process accurately. In our opinion, the most important thing is to make sure that your consumers are telling the truth in their reviews.

Through researching your online reputation, you can identify review sites on which your company has a disproportionate number of negative reviews. For example, if Yelp is your weakest forum, it is important to encourage clients to upload positive reviews on that particular site.

Our 10-to-1 ratio is an internal goal we strive for. Obviously, the higher positive-to-negative ratio, the better. We hesitate to give a hard-and-fast number, as these statistics are naturally highly subjective.

2.  Launch other online entities (websites, blogs and social-media profiles) optimized for the infected keywords. These entities will serve to drown out the negative noise concerning your company.

3.  Distribute press releases highlighting positive actions within your company. Examples of these could include charitable events, announcements of promotions of staff members, or positive achievements that your company has earned in its industry.

Of course, there are legal remedies based on copyright laws and trademark laws: summary judgments, court orders, etc. Although legal options can be effective, we typically view these as a last line of defense, as legal battles can spiral out of control, causing even more negative publicity.

SMS:  Can you elaborate more on launching other entities?

Joe: Launching additional entities is important because, if run correctly, they can help push negative sites from the first page of Google results. Launch websites under your company name, emphasizing different aspects of your business (for example, cocacola-jobs.com, cocacola-charity.com, cocacola-news.net, etc.), and optimize them accordingly. Cocacola-charity.com should focus on your company’s philanthropic efforts, with keyword-rich content. Blogs can focus on particular aspects of your company and its services; department news, announcements, and other updates may make great themes for blog sites.

We believe a company should maintain – at minimum – social profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We also believe that the more social profiles you maintain, the better off your company is. A great timesaving tool is Ping.fm, which shows you a number of social profiles and allows you to simultaneously update them.

Once you launch all the entities you plan to, it’s incredibly important to provide back-links to them, which will make them more attractive to search engines. They need to feature valuable content to encourage back-links from visitors. For example, if you start a new job-board website, you can tweet about your new job openings. In this competitive job market, everyone knows someone who is interested in new job opportunities, and they may re-tweet the post.

SMS:  Would you recommend directly contacting a website owner and asking them to remove a negative comment?

Joe: We typically do not recommend this strategy, as there are a number of things outside of your control that could go wrong. Instead, we recommend that you work to move the site with the negative content off the first page of results.

SMS:  What precautions should be taken to prevent (or minimize) a negative online reputation from ever getting started?

Joe: The first precaution you can take is to run your business in an honest and ethical manner — to treat all the people who come into contact with your business with respect. Give your clients realistic expectations; don’t oversell your product. It is important to be proactive in monitoring your reputation. You should be encouraging your happy clients to review you online with the most popular review sites (e.g., Yelp, Citysearch, Google).

Purchase multiple domain names with your company name, and variations of it (e.g., cocacola.com, coca-cola.com, coke.com). This includes top-level domains (TLDs), such as cocacola.net, cocacola.biz, and cocacola.org. Additionally, buy negative domain names such as “cocacola-stinks.com.” You never know when an unsatisfied individual could use this domain against you. Owning it already helps you manage your online reputation proactively and allows you to maintain control.

SMS:  Can you give us a specific example where TSEG turned around a negative online reputation (real names not needed)?

Joe: We encountered a serious reputation crisis with a client who had a disgruntled former employee. This particular employee had left the company several years before, and had created a website called “Client’s Name Sucks.” The company involved is very prominent in their industry, and their image is vital to their company’s ongoing success.

This particular case required a strategy that involved many different facets, including launching a multi-website optimization effort concentrating on their firm name, a PR campaign, and social-media optimization centered on the negative site.

Since the outlets that covered the negative site were “authoritative” (industry-specific publications, statewide media outlets, and highly page-ranked blogs), we decided on an aggressive campaign. We developed an SEO-centric strategy based on creating websites centered on different aspects of the company’s business (such as their services, industry news, testimonials, etc.), and then optimizing these sites accordingly.

We know that displacing authoritative sites often requires robust counter-sites. The majority of the content was written in-house after consulting with the client.

SMS: Where do you see the future for online reputation management? For example, teenagers who use MySpace and the like may one day regret what they posted. How do you think these issues may be addressed in the future?

Joe: On personal and family levels, I think the most important thing is education. Parents need to educate their children about the ramifications of the online world. The Internet never forgives, and it never forgets. From a parenting standpoint, it’s going to be important to use all the tools at your disposal to monitor your children’s actions online.

From a business standpoint, we believe companies are going to become more aggressive in managing their reputations online. Currently, we see most companies are in a reactive state – responding only when a crisis emerges. As more and more companies face economic challenges because of online reputation issues, savvy companies will be proactive in managing their online brand.

SMS:  What is the bare minimum you recommend a company needs to do today to proactively manage their online reputation?

Joe: The absolute bare minimum has two major components. First, encourage clients that you are already certain are 100% happy with your products/services to write reviews about their experience with you. Second, obtain the domain name variations of your company’s name, even if you don’t develop them at this point, to safeguard them for the future. Of course, there are a lot more tactics that need to be taken, even by a small company, to protect one’s reputation online.

SMS: Thanks, Joe, for giving us a rundown on some of the first steps one should take with online reputation management. It’s good to know that there are ways one can protect oneself as your company grows.

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