As the utilization of search marketing grows, the perspective from which you view its impact on your organization must also grow. Search engine marketing can no longer be viewed in a silo where its only measure of success is direct response metrics.
Whether you like it or not, you must realize that search engine marketing is a very important component to your branding strategy. Where you are in the natural selection of the search engine results and what the results say about your brand are powerful influences on how the public sees your company and brand.
We are in an era of online reputation management. A treacherous sea of corporate and consumer generated media where the dynamics of how well your brand fares in the search engine environment can change in a moment’s notice. A single post to a blog can launch an online reputation management tsunami, and if you are not prepared to deal with such events, then your brand can quickly drown.
The challenge of course is to understand where you are today, to understand how search engine optimization can be used as a tool to promote your company’s brand as well as insulate you from evil-doers. Of course, it is also a challenge to make sure you have a system in place to monitor and measure the positive impact your online reputation management program is having on the performance of your brands.
Fortunately, an online brand reputation management assessment is easy to do since the vast majority of people searching online will rarely continue beyond the first three pages before selecting a result or creating a new search. Therefore, it is reasonable to limit your brand reputation management assessment to the top 30 results.
Breaking Down the Rankings
From a brand perspective, one of the quickest and easiest places to start is an assessment of where you rank organically in the current search engine results pages for your key brand terms. For the most part, the natural search results can be broken down into three categories, positive, negative, and irrelevant — which is why they are called search engines and not guaranteed-to-find-exactly-what-you-want-every-time engines.
The positive category would include your Web site and other consumer, professional, or informational sites that frame your brand in a positive manner. You should also include companies and affiliates that resell your products or services as these are also great ways to control the visible organic search space. Keep in mind that reputation management is about controlling the search engine results space and not about having your site appear for every possible listing which simply is just not feasible in today’s search engine world.
The negative category would include sites that appear for your competitors and those that appear with a negative message.
The irrelevant category would consist of results that appear but are off topic.
So to find out if your online brand reputation is sailing in smooth waters or being pummeled by the perfect storm, I use a simple weighted scoring system comparing the positive listings to the negative.
Simply pick a major search engine and individually search on your brand terms. Then, run through the list and quickly categorize with respect to whether the result is positive or negative and score them as follows:
- First page listings = 3 points
Second page listings = 2 points
Third page listings = 1 point
Once values have been assigned for every result that is positive or negative, you just add up the total of the categories and compare. As I said it is easy to do, and it gives you a good overview. Further, it takes into account that the higher up in the search engine results pages the listing appears the more bearing it has on your brand.
Obviously, if you scored a 60 in the Positive category and 0 in the Negative category you would have a perfect score, and you would control the most visible part of the organic search space for your brand. However, I would imagine your reality is a bit less idyllic.
All Is Not Lost
Not to worry. There are many options at your disposal to regain your rightful place at the top of the search engine results.
First, use your new-found knowledge to justify a robust search engine optimization program for your on Web site. We all know that there are always multiple people competing for those precious IT and Web development resources, but armed with a reputation management assessment, you can better quantify to “the powers that be” the current position you are in as well as the impact a full-blown SEO program could have.
Second, think about calling into play your affiliate and third-party relationships. Using friends to help crowd the space is a great way to regain control if your internal resources are swamped or slow to move.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of your blog. Utilize this channel as a means to ensure the search engines are constantly being exposed to new and varied themes about your branded message.
Natural search space is up for grabs, and control will go to the companies that invest in multiple tactics on a consistent and long-term basis to ensure their online reputation is everything that they want it to be. The sooner you start viewing search engine marketing as an important component of your branding strategy, the sooner you will be well on your way to ruling the online reputation management seas.
Rob Crigler is the director of search engine optimization for Avenue A | Razorfish