Rick Santorum has a whole campaign team at his disposal to fix his Google problem, not to mention spots on Mashable and Search Engine Land in the past 48 hours that address his issue specifically. They've had quite some time to address the problem and haven't made many moves, so whether they will actually try to fix the issue remains to be seen. But how do business owners and marketers with comparatively less resources rectify this issue when faced with it? It's not an uncommon problem: Businesses with the same name as you could be the ones appearing in the top of the SERPs, or negative ads could outrank your website, causing serious damage to your reputation.
With concerted effort, there are things you can do to ensure you're putting your best foot forward in the SERPs. Let's break down exactly what you need to do to reverse any of your brand's Santorum-like search engine faux pas and keep your web properties following SEO best practices.
Audit the Search Landscape
What websites are outranking you? For what terms? Where do you stand in the SERPs for those terms? How many indexed pages do these competitor sites have? And how many other companies of the same name exist that you'll have to combat, whether they're beating you in the search engines or not? Or, are you fighting against sites like Yelp! and Wikipedia? You need to know where you stand in order to set a plan of attack and measure progress.
Set Up Reputation Management Alerts
Google Alerts and Google's tool Me on the Web are tools that alert you to mentions of your brand. Setting these up will allow you to get a handle on the frequency with which negative mentions or misrepresentations of your brand occur so you know how much manpower you need to put toward combating it, and when immediate damage control needs to happen.
Make Sure Your Site Structure Is Correct
Your site should exist on one domain, and all pages built off it should follow either a subdirectory (www.unicorns.com/blog) or subdomain (blog.unicorns.com) structure. To pull this off correctly, you have to check for duplicate content issues. Let's take a look at an example Search Engine Land found from Santorum's campaign to show you what not to do:
Ensure Every Page Follows SEO Best Practices
Every page on your site should be optimized to follow SEO best practices. That means your meta data is complete, you're using header tags within your content, you have an optimized page title, you've optimized page content with important keywords, you're using keyword-rich anchor text, the URL includes keywords for which you're trying to rank, and images include alt text so crawlers can read it. Go back and optimize pages that aren't following these best practices, and don't publish another page in the future without doing so.
Consistently Publish Quality, Optimized Content
Consistently publishing well written, high quality, and optimized content will help you overtake competitors and outrank negative online sentiments over time. You need to have a credible site for Google to consider you as a top search engine result, and that credibility comes from publishing great content regularly that relates to the keywords people are searching. Make sure you're sharing this content socially, too, as Google's algorithm does consider the relevance of content based on how much it is shared on social networks (particularly Google+!).
Target Long- and Short-Tail Keyword Phrases
It's not that you shouldn't target short-tail keywords (also known as head terms), it's just that you'll be able to win the long tail search ranking game much more quickly. But take heart! Targeting long-tail keyword phrases inherently helps you rank for the head terms that keyword phrase includes. For example, if Rick Santorum wanted to rank for the head term "2012 nominee," he would be helping his case by continually targeting the long-tail variation, "2012 nominee for US president."
Campaign for Inbound Links
A ton of remarkable, keyword-optimized content will get the ball rolling, but you won't win any search engine ranking wars without inbound links. And while you may get some inbound links by sheer luck, being proactive about link building is the best way to fix your search engine reputation problems swiftly.
Build up your social networks and share your content on them regularly to increase its exposure, and thus the likelihood someone will link to it. Be a guest blogger, and offer guest blogging spots on your site; your guest bloggers will probably link to your site to promote their content, and you can link to your own site in content you write as a guest blogger.
Finally, don't be afraid to just...ask for inbound links. This doesn't mean you should email blast an entire database requesting an inbound link from their site. But you should tap into your close network and ask them, when there's relevant content on their site, if they would consider linking to your page on the subject.
Focus Your Efforts on a Small Handful of Pages
When campaigning for inbound links, you need to have a targeted purpose. You already know the keywords for which you're trying to outrank your competitors in the SERPs, so figure out which pages on your site you would like to appear when you do show up in position 1 for any given keyword. Then focus your link building effort on those few pages instead of splitting your effort (and impact) across many pages. Keep this strategy in mind when you're creating your anchor text for internal links, too.
Lobby for a Better Reputation on Big Review Sites
If you have a big review site like Yelp! beating you in the SERPs (and hammering you with negative reviews while they're at it), put some time into PR. Focus on your customer service on the back end to try to mitigate these unfortunate circumstances before customers take to the internet, and be responsive and helpful when negative reviews do pop up online. You should also ask some of your most happy and loyal customers to publish positive reviews; most consumers expect a few negative reviews, but if you can tip the scales to weigh more positively in your favor, you'll actually be happy when review sites turn up in the top of SERPs for your brand!
Are you battling reputation issues in search engine results pages? When is the last time you audited your brand's presence in search?
Image credit: Danard Vincente