Defusing a SEO bomb after it goes off

This article originally appeared on Adotas, written by John McCarthy, Director of Search Engine Optimization of WebMetro/Godwin

ADOTAS — At 3 pm on a Friday,  I received a phone call from a public relations agency regarding a crisis management issue.

Within a few days, the local press would release a negative story about the agency’s client. Apparently, a former employee was going to air some dirty laundry regarding the sales practices for the well-known service company. As it turns out, the less than stellar statements are true. Two years earlier, the company hired a talented young sales manager that was looking to move up quickly.

In order to compensate for a soft market, this sales manager devised and recommended his sales team implement a few sales methods that violated industry best practices. Initially the sales team employed these practices sparingly but over time they became a crutch for the group. As the market slowed, this company continued to have higher than industry average sales in a down economy, which caught the eye of industry watchdogs and so begins our story. Now the company is being investigated by the local district attorney’s office and possibly federal officials.

The public relations agency asked how fast we could implement an SEO reputation management campaign to suppress the pending negative news stories in the search engines. I responded that technically we could start today but the reality is it was too late – as the damage was already done.

I explained that the negative press cannot be removed. Instead, we would employ a three-tiered strategy to position positive mentions ahead of the negative mentions.

Tier 1: Inventory Client Web Assets

First, we would take an inventory of the client’s existing web assets. Ideally a client will have a minimum of 3 or 4 web assets (e.g. corporate portal, product sites, and corporate responsibility site).

Tier 2: Positive Third Party Web Assets

Next we would develop an inventory of websites that mention the client in a positive reference. These could include but are not limited to local print outlets, TV websites, radio stations, third-party press rooms or investor portals, and press releases. Preferably we can identify 5-6 third-party web assets that can be leveraged as part of the reputation management campaign.

Tier 3: New Web Assets

Finally, we assess how many new web assets need to be created to occupy the top 10 organic listings in search results. If we have 3 client-owned assets, 5 third-party websites, this totals to 8 positive mention web assets. This leaves a minimum of 2 web assets that must be created and quickly promoted in the search engines.

I explained the initial process of inventory analysis would take a few days to perform. And, the work was just beginning. Once identified, we would need to aggressively promote those sites with on-page and off-page optimization (e.g. link development). I explained that with Tier 1 and Tier 3 assets, we could perform both on-page and off-page optimization. However, with Tier 2, we would likely be limited to off-page optimization techniques without access to the content on the sites.

The optimization process would take from a few weeks to months before suppressing the majority of negative mentions on Google and the other search engines.

“Months?” cried out the representative from the public relations agency.

“Yes, months,” I responded. “Depending upon the number and intensity of the negative mentions.”

“Worse yet,” I stated “it will be expensive. My team will need to drop what they are doing today and spend the weekend performing the inventory analysis. Once they find positive mention assets, they need to immediately start promoting those assets while simultaneously developing the actual SEO reputation management campaign in parallel.”

I explained to the public relations agency that had we implemented an SEO reputation management campaign before the crisis, this event would be much less expensive and frankly less traumatic to the client. Chances are we would have had 7-10 positive mentions already well ranked for the clients brand name. In the event of bad press, we would be chasing 2, 3, or 4 mentions in the organic rankings not 10.

Near the end of the call, the representative of the public relations agency chuckled as we discussed next steps. He stated, “I guess the old idiom applies to SEO reputation management. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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