The web is now the first place we turn to learn about each other. Potential customers, clients, employers and investors are Googling you before making decisions to work with you. To help people look their best online, the Online Reputation Management (ORM) industry was born.
Online reputation management is the process of improving what shows up when people Google your name. To do this, a company will create a positive online presence for you and optimize it to be as search engine friendly as possible, with the goal of burying web properties that are irrelevant or damaging to your reputation. While the idea isn’t new, an increasing number of companies specializing in online reputation management approach it in different ways. When looking for a company to manage your online reputation, it’s important to make sure the company you're working with is ethical, trustworthy, and transparent with their process.
Before engaging any online reputation management company, make sure to ask these five important questions.
1. Can I See Real Examples of Work You've Done?
You wouldn’t hire a designer without looking at their portfolio first. The same applies to online reputation management companies. Any established company will have case studies or clients willing to showcase their work. If they’re hesitant to show you real examples, that’s a huge red flag. And if you aren’t impressed by the quality of their work, then nobody else will be impressed by what they’ll do for you.
So ask to see real examples of work:
- Websites they created (live websites, not screenshots)
- Social media profiles they created
- Blog posts they wrote
- Any other real pieces of content they created
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the content well-written? All content should be written by a native English speaker with excellent grammar. Beware of companies that outsource their content creation, because poorly written content will not reflect well on your reputation.
- Is the content rich and informative? Search engines prefer showing search results that are filled with lots of relevant information. Make sure the examples you see have more than just a small paragraph of text. They should be legitimately useful to readers.
- Is it designed well? This is where many reputation companies fall short. Remember, how a person’s website looks is a direct reflection of their personal brand. People are turned off by poor design –and impressed by great design.
2. Can I Talk to the People Who Do The Actual Work?
You wouldn’t hire a babysitter before meeting them and making sure you’re comfortable with them. The same applies to reputation companies. Ask to speak to the people who will be creating your strategy, writing your content, designing your sites, etc. If a company is hesitant to let you do so, they have something to hide. That’s a big red flag.
Also, having a say in your campaign is extremely important. You should have an open line of communication with the people who are directly working on your search results to ensure they understand the voice and image you want represented online. The more involved you are in the process, the more effective your campaign will be.
3. Can You Explain Exactly What They Do?
Despite what many companies claim, managing your online reputation is not rocket science. Your company’s strategy should be easy to understand, even if you’re not technical at all.
So ask exactly what their strategy will be. Make sure they’re specific, and don’t let them mystify the process or claim they have proprietary techniques that can’t be explained. These are all red flags preventing you from understanding what you’re actually paying for.
There are only two reasons a company would be unclear about their strategy:
Firstly, they don’t want you to realize they’re only doing stuff you could do yourself. Remember, this process isn’t rocket science. In fact, search engines like Google regularly publish guidelines to educate people about how to improve search results. A company that won’t explain its strategy may be trying to make you think they’ll be doing more than they actually are.
Secondly, they’re using unethical techniques meant to trick search engines. These are called “black hat” tactics, and they only worked in the early days of search engines. However, all major search engines including Google have become very sophisticated the last couple years. One of Google’s recent algorithm updates dubbed “Panda” cut the cord on all remaining black hat techniques. Not only will they not work, they could end up penalizing you, making your results even worse. If someone doesn't explain exactly what they’re doing, demand that they do – or look elsewhere.
It’s important to note that there’s no silver bullet to remove unwanted search results from Google. And you should be wary of company that claims there is a silver bullet. There’s simply no guaranteed way to get rid of unwanted results. The only effective way to improve your online reputation is to:
- Build high quality websites and profiles about yourself (filled with lots of relevant, well-written, informative content)
- Optimize those websites and profiles so that they are search engine friendly and meet all of Google’s webmaster guidelines
- Regularly update these sites and profiles with fresh, unique, relevant and timely content (This is very important, because search engines prefer showing recently updated content to searchers, because it’s more useful and likely to be accurate).
By following those three steps, a reputation company can populate your first page of search results with positive and relevant content, bumping negative or unwanted results off the first page. This is how to suppress negative results and protect yourself from any negative results that may pop up in the future.
4. How Quickly Can I See Results?
Google does a great job of keeping their search algorithms a secret. While a lot can be learned from experience in the industry, there’s simply no clean-cut answer to how long it will take for Google to update its results. It depends on the authority of existing search results and the extent of the reputation campaign.
All search results are not created equal – Google gives more authority to some links over others. Bumping a New York Times article off the first page of results will take much more time and effort than bumping down a random blog post on someone’s personal website. However, both will take months of proactive work, and then to make those results stick (rather than revert back as soon as work is done), a company will need to continually put in work to build and maintain the authority of the positive results suppressing the negative. Any company that promises quick results is either lying, or using unethical techniques that could end up making your situation worse.
If you ask how long it will take for a search result to move in your results, expect an estimate – not a promise.
5. Can You Guarantee Results?
Guaranteeing results is probably the most common red flag. In this industry, there is no guarantee. Nobody actually controls Google results except for Google. Even if you’re doing everything right, you may not get the results you want. To use an extreme example, if you’re name is Lindsay Lohan, it doesn't matter how much great content you create, you will never control that first page. If someone guarantees that they can clean up your first page, or that you’ll see results in X days, I encourage you to ask them to put that in writing. If they do, read the fine print. There is no way they can make that guarantee and back it up. Guarantees that come with catches in the fine print are one way some companies try to rope you in.
The only promise that can be made is that they’ll put in the necessary work to build a robust, positive online presence around your name.
Now that you’re armed with knowledge, print out those questions and make sure to ask them before engaging with any reputation company. Any company that makes you feel confident and comfortable with their answers is a company worth trying. And any company that doesn’t should be crossed off your list.
Recap of questions to ask:
- Can I see real examples of work you’ve done? Ask for the following: Websites you’ve created (live websites, not screenshots), social media profiles you’ve created, blog posts you wrote, and any other real pieces of content you created.
- Then ask yourself the following: Is it well written? Is the content rich and informative? Is it designed well?
- Can I talk to the people who actually do the work?
- Can you explain exactly what you’ll do? Be specific and explain any “proprietary” processes.
- How quickly can I see results?