How to Repair Your Online Reputation With Auditing

By Colleen Brown / 25 April 2019

Most online reputation management initiatives are highly tactical but not rigorous enough. We outline the roadmap of the brand reputation audit process that helps companies not only put out today’s fires but be more proactive about their brand reputation.

The online reputation management (ORM) space is a largely unregulated jungle of providers with opaque pricing schemes and wild variations in methodology (and ethics). These providers are primarily engaged to put out fires - persistent, negative coverage or bad reviews that have hit leadership’s radar and need to be fixed.

In this engagement model, an ORM vendor will attack a handful of negative listings to varying degrees of success. This work is necessary as the price tag of a poor reputation is readily evident. 

Wells Fargo, for example, saw a drop in profits and a 51% spike in ad budget to rebrand in the wake of its fake-accounts scandal

Reacting to negativity is important, but what about optimizing a company’s or executive’s online footprint to proactively build a better brand that earns more in the future because of its carefully tended reputation? 

The Negative Reviews You See Are Only the Tip of the Reputation Iceberg

A general manager at an international technology firm was involved in a malpractice case where his actions were posted on prominent blogs. 

Ultimately, this created two unfavorable links that were displayed on the first page of Google when searching for the company's name. 

Because the employee was frequently referenced as a general manager at the company, Google's algorithms deduced an association between the company and the employee. Due to this association, Google started indexing these unfavorable results on the first page when people searched for the company.

The response required a customized plan, which included the development of numerous digital assets such as websites, blogs, press releases and other content to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Producing positive content and making sure their content was “seen” by Google helped push down these unfavorable links in the search results. 

The company’s name became dissociated with the problematic employee and sales rose since the negative press was no longer the first thing clients saw when searching online. 

A superficial and purely tactical approach to ORM will miss opportunities and hazards like these because it lacks rigor and an auditing step. 

An audit can serve as a foundation on which your future reputation-based earnings rest. 

A truly rigorous brand reputation audit will reveal:

  • Causal factors that drive your prospect’s perception of you—and their likelihood to engage with you—in extremely granular detail
  • An actionable roadmap to not only grabbing this quarter’s “low hanging fruit” (the obvious stuff you’re seeing today when you Google yourself or your company), but also a metrically defensible view of longer-term steps
  • A data-centric understanding of unfavorable asset engagement; you can now see how the general population is engaging with any unfavorable article and how that is affecting your business

If you are unsure how to conduct a brand reputation audit, consider consulting with online reputation management companies that have experience in your industry. 

A Brand Reputation Audit Is a Multi-Step Process 

Twenty-First Century ORM straddles the public relations and digital marketing worlds; top-tier brand reputation audits are usually executed by a cross-functional team that draws on marketing, technology, crisis management, public relations, and legal expertise.

Conducting a brand reputation audit is best approached when broken into manageable steps. 

1. Analyze Your Business and Related Keywords

The first step to any reputation audit is an external ORM survey that queries mentions of your business and the business’s leaders. 

Research keywords and phrases consumers would use when referring to your brand.

Top factors to include in a reputation audit include c suite company name, brand name, top service names, and company influencers.

It’s not enough to work with only a handful of common keywords; you will need to harvest more specific terms that include your:

  • Company name
  • Brand name
  • Top service names 
  • Key company influencers such as current and former C-suite executives
  • Company locations
  • Any common misspellings of the all the above 

By keeping in mind all potential keywords customers might use, you will be able to conduct a more thorough reputation audit. 

2. Collect Data on Keywords

After you’ve compiled a list of keywords related to your corporation, brand, leadership, and any third-party connections, you will then conduct a series of online searches. 

Most small businesses use a combination of platforms to monitor their online reputation, such as social media (66%), Google search results (57%), and third-party review sites (42%). 

Top 3 platforms small businesses use to monitor online reputation include social media, Google search results, and review sites.

Businesses can use these platforms to see: 

  • Keyword hits on all leading search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo
  • Review site mentions
  • Current brand/company market share which will give you a high-level overview of your reputation profile versus key competitors
  • Local awareness impact; this will help you see how search engines help or hamper your ability to drive localized interest versus competitors

Ideally, you will repeat this process three to five times to ensure quality control and consistency with returned results. 

If your company has multiple locations, use a proxy search tool so that you will get “geofenced” results. 

When you’ve completed your iterations, compile it into a report that gives you a more actionable picture of your true online footprint.

3. Create a Near-Term Roadmap and Put out “Fires”

Set up achievable goals based on your newly centralized knowledge of “fires” such as negative listings, articles, and other assets displayed on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This includes:

  • Negative mentions on social media, blogs, and online articles
  • Internal and external reviews, including sourcing, the aggregate rating, targeted location trends and frequency

Armed with this information, you can launch tactical campaigns to:

  • Suppress negative information on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
  • Debunk company and industry misperceptions relating to your market position
  • Drive fresh, new, and relevant reviews
  • Target placement opportunities with authoritative websites to safeguard your reputation

4. Build a Holistic Plan for the Future

In the second leg of your brand audit journey, you’ll analyze your findings to form a “big picture” view of your online reputation clout and how it impacts consumers’ likelihood of responding to your value proposition. 

While creating a long-term strategy, you will also analyze the causation between online reputation behavior and not only lead generation but determining how many leads your poor reputation might be costing you. 

Proactive Online Reputation Management Starts With a Rigorous Audit

We are at a market inflection point where ORM practices are becoming inextricably fused with digital marketing and PR. Our prediction? Short-term operators and their repertoire of SEO parlor tricks will either change their approach to be more strategic and accountable, or they will disappear in the cresting wave of more rigorous best practices.

Businesses will need to adopt a more methodical approach to execute an ORM strategy that not only sands off blemishes but lets them control their online narrative to build long-term value in their brand. 

A better brand audit gives you the foundation for this value. 

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