Last week I visited Milan, Italy thanks to the generosity of the US State Department and Marco Montemagno, organizer of Social Media Week. I was, first off, impressed that the State Dept. had a formal program to encourage digital entrepreneurship and the promotion of Internet use as part of their mission to spread democracy. I was even more impressed that Marco’s Social Media Week garnered more than 25,000 attendees (granted, most events were free, but still exciting numbers).
During my participation in the event and in private meetings with several folks from local businesses and government offices, I was surprised at how many times the issue of SEO for reputation management arose. Perhaps Italians on the web are given to sparking controversy or perhaps it’s merely coincidence, but either way, I promised to write a post describing some of the most powerful methods we’ve observed for driving down negative or unwanted results in Google and controlling one’s own listings.
The following are my (more advanced) suggestions to anyone seeking to “own” their SERPs in the engines:
#1: Cultivate the Right Social Profiles in the Right Ways
A big mistake many in the reputation management field make is to register social profiles at dozens or hundreds of sites and point links to as many as possible, hoping that some will take over those top rankings. This actually dilutes the effectiveness of the strategy, as those links could be consolidated across a few powerful profiles instead, often with much greater effect. The general sites I recommend include (in order of profile effectiveness):
That said, another big mistake is presuming that just registering a profile is enough to take over the rankings. My experience has been that participating heavily in the sites (for example, on Flickr, uploading lots of photos and sets, making lots of friends, getting others to comment on your photos, etc) can be more valuable to help those profiles rank than just earning external links. This is why if you’re passionate and active on a community like DeviantArt, Quora, Armor Games or another niche social site, those can outrank even the big guns of the social world. Regular, authentic partcipation is key.
Some additional rules to remember with social profiles include:
- Name your profiles correctly. If possible, don’t use pseudonyms, but rather your full first and last name (or brand name) either as a single word or with hyphens
- Fill out the profiles completely – photos, bio, videos, links, topics, tags – whatever the platfrom offers, take advantage of it fully.
- Leverage your address book or a list of your social media active contacts – friend/follow/connect with them on each of the platforms.
- Make new connections on each platform, too. Use OSE’s top pages tab to find the most linked-to URLs on the social platforms and see if you can comment, connect or otherwise get your profile linked-to from those pages.
- Don’t forget about relevance – if the page looks unnatural or keyword-stuffed, you risk having the profile banned by the admins of the site and jeopardize your ability to authentically participate and make connections with other people, brands and content.
Like everything else in life – nothing worth having comes easy. Invest in your social profiles and they’ll reward you with controllable front-page real estate in the rankings.
#2: Author a Universal Bio with Embedded Links
If you or your company appear in press, media, at events or even receive mentions and references on the web, there’s almost always a stock “bio” or “profile” that’s requested by the publisher. This stock paragraph is a remarkable opportunity to link to your various pages on the web in relevant, appropriate ways. For example, let’s say I’m crafting a stock profile for SEOmoz to be used whenever we’re a sponsor, participant or reference-source in an event/media piece). I’d go with something like:
SEOmoz is a Seattle based software startup focused on making SEO (Search Engine Optimization) easy and accessible to all marketers. The company’s popular SEO blog serves more than 80K daily subscribers, while their SEOmoz twitter and Facebook accounts interact with thousands more in the social world. For more about SEOmoz, see funding + investors via Crunchbase and job opportunities on LinkedIn.
Notice the multiple links with reasonably good anchor text pointing back to pages we control on the web? This works reasonably well for companies, but is even more effective for individuals, as these “bios” tend to follow you everywhere in your professional/public life. Be sure to follow up when you send these to press outlets, places you’re advertising or events you participate in/sponsor to make sure the links are included. 50% of the time or more, you’ll need to send a reminder email to make sure they’re properly attributing.
#3: Speak, Invest, Donate & Hire
These four tactics are the most effective ways I’ve seen to get your brand/bio/links propogated across the web. Speaking at events is typically free (other than travel), promotes yourself and your brand, and almost always carries a high quality bio with links. Investing in companies or donating to non-profits or even individuals is similarly effective and can save the travel/pitching/Powerpoint. Even small amounts carry recognition from powerful pages, press releases and media articles to help boost your links.
Hiring is unique, because the ads are often temporary. However, many sources for job ads will maintain a permanent profile so long as you regularly or intermittenltly have jobs available. If you’re used to posting only on your own site or on Craigslist (where ads do dissappear fast), consider leveraging other services and including your company/personal bio when you do. Even if it’s only a contractor position or a role you are considering, these can have a dramatically positive impact (and you might find someone great to add to the team!).
#4: Avoid Wikipedia Pages & Other Free-for-All Sites
Wikipedia pages are powerful, right? Thus it must follow that it’s wise to create profiles/pages about our companies or ourselves on the site to use for reputation management, too? Wrong.
The first rule of reputation management is – own the listings with pages you control completely. If other people can leave comments, edit your material, insert additional references or otherwisely editorially negate your work, don’t bother. I’ve actually had to fight with Wikipedia’s bureaucracy on two separate occassions to have my page there taken down. I have little faith in the accuracy, quality or intentions of their editorial board and with such a powerful profile (my Wikipedia page, the day after it was first created, with no additional external links I could find, ranked #3 for my name in Google and #4 in Bing), it’s not worth taking chances.
This applies to many others (actually, TechCrunch’s “Crunchbase,” which I linked to above in the SEOmoz profile example, is another potentially risky candidate). Before you invest time, effort or external links, be sure of the general practices of the site around control of content and profiles. Generally, places like LinkedIn, Flickr, Twitter, etc. let you control that real estate unless you’re engaging in serious mischief (and even then, they won’t allow negative material to be posted about you on those URLs, they’ll just take them down).
#5: Start an Alternative Blog
Blogs naturally attract a lot of links and external references, which is why so many reputation management SEOs recommend registering firstlastname.com or brandnameblog.com and using it as a professional or personal blog. What I don’t often see, but have observed working brilliantly, is alternative blogs on separate topics using a similar system.
For example, imagine I want to control my name “Rand Fishkin.” I’d not only run a blog at randfishkin.com, but I’d also strongly consider starting a cooking blog or a sports blog or a travel blog at randfishkincooks.com or the like. Yes, it will take work to set it up, author some real content and build up a web profile for the new domain, but if I can tie it to something I already do and love sharing, the references will come fast and furious.
Be sure, when doing this, to leverage your existing network for blogroll links and share via Twitter/Facebook/etc. You’ll be surprised how friends, family and business contacts will come out the woodwork to link to your new property.
#6: Leverage Lower Quality Links for Social Profiles, Higher Quality for Self-Managed Domains
I’d never suggest buying crappy links, but if you must or if you have other links you control that are of questionable quality or you think search engines might consider low value or even manipulative, don’t point these to your newly registered domains or the sites you own. Instead, point them at the powerful, high authority social profile pages you’ve created and let the engines decide what/whether to count them.
This works particularly well for nofollow links from comments, wikis and other social participation forms on the web. I’m not sure whether the nofollows directly get counted or if the pages get scraped and re-published in some followed format, but time after time I’ve seen examples of nofollows seemingly doing the heavy lifting to get social profile pages ranking.
If you own some old, neglected sites that are questionable in quality and rankings from the engines’ point of view, you could try testing these by pointing them to other social profile pages (and observing/testing the impact on those URLs’ rankings) before pointing them at your own profiles. Better to be safe than sorry, and there have been plenty of cases where aggressive SEOs have gone too far with linking to social profiles and had either the search engines penalize the pages or even the site administrators pull down the profile, wasting hours or days of work.
Have some effective reputation management tactics of your own to share? Please do – I’m sure those working in this sector will appreciate them.