If you’ve been following this blog, you know that online reviews are here to stay. Unfortunately, the same is true for online reputation management (ORM) companies that claim they can make bad ones go away.
They can’t — once something is posted online, it’s typically there in one form or another forever — and you shouldn’t consider their offers without fully understanding how they work.
At the simplest level, ORM companies promise to monitor what’s being said about you on the Internet and counter negative content. The goal is to suppress the latter entirely — essentially impossible unless the commentary can be deemed libelous — or at least push it lower on search engine rankings so users are less likely to see it.
The problem arises when ORM companies resort to so-called “black hat” SEO techniques in an effort to manipulate search engine rankings. Keyword stuffing, posting links as blog comments and creating mirror or cookie-cutter websites are all designed to flood search engine results, effectively pushing negative commentary out of sight and out of mind.
The worst offenders go so far as to promise that they actually work with user-review sites to manipulate reviews. Just this week, business owners with Yelp listings received an email saying:
We’ve recently seen an uptick in reports about “reputation management” companies that claim to work with Yelp to remove your negative reviews or otherwise boost your ratings… for a fee (of course!). If you’re wondering how these companies can make good on this offer, the answer is simple: They can’t.
In fact, according to a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek, ORM companies may not even be able to counter poor reviews about their own services. The article notes that when people search for industry-leader Reputation.com on Google, the search engine’s auto-complete feature often returns a result that reads “Reputation.com scam.”
“To solve this for ourselves is not an option based on the time and money we’d have to put into it,” the company’s CEO told the magazine.
Something to consider the next time you get a pitch promising to manage your online reputation.
1. Recognize the difference between good and bad ORM practices
While removing bad reviews is all but impossible and burying them is a Band-Aid at best, you can counter their influence by adopting white-hat ORM techniques. Listing your business on well-regarded social media sites, creating community via a blog or forum and ensuring your website offers quality content will all improve your ranking in searches by pushing negative reviews lower in ways that won’t set off search engine alarms.
2. To accentuate the positive, latch on to the affirmative
Doctors who embrace online reviews typically discover that most patients are happy to write about their experiences. The more patients you can get writing positive reviews on your website, community forums like RealSelf and elsewhere, the less value the search engines will assign to the occasional negative review.
3. Respond to all reviews, both good and bad
Social media is all about the conversation and search engines increasingly view those conversations as indicators of website quality. Responding to comments not only creates valuable links but studies have shown that users view businesses that respond to user reviews more favorably than those that don’t. We’ll look at one of those studies in more detail tomorrow (yes, doctors can legally respond to reviews!).