seoIn light of recent hacking issues and PR blunders that have plagued brands such as Burger King, Mountain Dew and KitchenAid, there is a growing need to proactively defend your brand’s SEO rankings as a crisis management technique. We all know that too many bad, spammy or low-quality links can harm rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) — basically undoing any optimization efforts.

No company or individual is exempt in the digital space, where negative word-of-mouth travels at the speed of a tweet. Every business is at risk of being a victim of bad publicity, whether from a hacked social media account or contest, a product quality issue or an unintentional communication sent through owned media.

Why is SEO ‘Hack-Proofing’ Important?

The truth is that everyone is directly affected by SEO rankings and will have to deal with a crisis at some point in the future; it is simply the cost of doing business in digital. Negative publicity that shows up on a SERP has a direct impact on how your company is perceived by potential customers and can make the difference between life and death for your agency or client.

Strategically, clients need to think proactively about hack-proofing their brand’s SEO rankings — especially if they operate in a high-risk industry (BP) or if a key competitor has been a recent hack victim (Jeep). Small businesses need to worry even more than major brands, as they are typically at a disadvantage due to limited resources and difficulty in bouncing back from a crisis or negative reviews.

Five Defensive Strategies

Fortunately, there are five defensive SEO strategies agencies and brands can implement to counter negative links, manage online reputations, address negative reviews and hack-proof SEO rankings:

  • Proactive Planning: Identify potential risk areas early on and develop proactive solutions to protect yourself should an emergency or crisis arise. Engaging in proactive planning will allow your brand to mitigate risks and respond swiftly to control the story.
  • Social Listening: Actively engage in social listening for high-volume negative keywords, and stay on top of news headlines and stories as they break across the Web. This not only allows for the creation of timely digital content to hold your ranking but will also help “push down” negative (and often factually inaccurate) news stories about your brand.
  • Online Presence: Maintain a strong online presence through all owned social media properties, well-indexed websites and press releases to fortify your SEO rankings. Include high-volume keywords and search terms as part of your content strategy across all owned online media platforms to assist your ranking for these topics or keywords. Active profiles on popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr provide more chances for engagement with customers and increase your chances of ranking well on SERPs. Use Google’s Ad Preview Tool to view unbiased search results on targeted keywords and to identify potential areas for defensive SEO.
  • Wikipedia: Use Wikipedia to moderate the tone of what is said about your brand and observe any particular crisis. Wikipedia consistently ranks high for most brand searches and is the primary source of information for many search users and potential customers. Since Wikipedia prides itself on the accuracy of its information, this is your company’s chance to set the record straight and source your claims. Be honest and accurate when engaging on Wikipedia and avoid self-promotion.
  • Direct Responses: If you cannot outrank them, respond positively to negative comments and false claims about your brand on message boards, forums and blogs. Remember to apologize, address concerns and stick to the facts — advertising speak does not belong here! This will allow you to “humanize” your brand, defend your position and positively influence negative brand perceptions regardless of where you rank on SERPs.

It is important to note that these defensive SEO strategies are by no means a “quick fix,” and it generally takes some time to witness results. However, implementing these five defensive SEO strategies will significantly boost your crisis management efforts and assist your brand in reclaiming your first page on Google. Remember to stay calm, stick to your strategy and focus on your customers.

free template: social media crisis plan

Originally published Apr 15, 2013 1:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017