“Google doesn’t really forget.” Ethan Zuckerman
If you’re unsuccessful in your attempts to have a negative web page removed, you’re going to have to use brute force. Google wants to show its users the most relevant and most popular web content for their search query. Unfortunately, that means that the negative blog post or one-star Yelp review has just as much chance of appearing in Google’s search results as your homepage or social media profile. Fortunately, Google is not quite the cold, heartless robot its algorithm would have you believe. In fact, Google has published guidelines and recommendations for anyone that finds their search results less than favorable.
Quoting from Google’s Webmaster Tools:
If you can’t get the content removed from the original site, you probably won’t be able to completely remove it from Google’s search results, either. Instead, you can try to reduce its visibility in the search results by proactively publishing useful, positive information about yourself or your business.
There you go!
Google completely sanctions your attempts to push out a negative web page from its search results. You just have to make sure you understand its search algorithm and its webmaster guidelines.
Assess the damage
If you’ve not conducted a Google audit since you suffered your reputation attack, this is your first task. As mentioned on Day 18, your audit should cover the first 30 results that are displayed when you Google your reputation. If you don’t see your detractor’s attack, then you can breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t let complacency set in. You should conduct a new Google audit daily for the next two weeks, then extend it to weekly for the next month or two, before settling back to your normal schedule. This process will ensure you can move quickly, should the attack start to rank inside the first 30 results.
Should you see the attack appear in your audit, you shouldn’t necessarily hit the panic button. Google’s algorithm includes many signals for freshness and diversity. Your detractor might show up in the top 30 results only because the web content is new and Google wants to make sure that it displays it, while it figures out if it’s important enough to earn its ranking permanently. In addition, the attack may well earn a boost while it’s displayed on the homepage of a blog or news site. Just as a link from your own homepage provides any page a Google boost, so too a link from a publishers own homepage will provide a hand up. It’s often temporary because that link will vanish, once other posts and articles are published to your detractor’s homepage.
Ramp up your optimization
When you look at your audit, pay attention to any web pages that you Own, Control, or Influence, but haven’t yet optimized. Do you see any opportunities to add a Superbrand link? Are you using pronouns in your descriptions when you could be talking about yourself in the third-person?
Now would also be a good time to ramp up your efforts to publish Amazing content. If you previously put off designing an infographic or a creating a new video because you decided it would be too costly, it might be time to reconsider that decision. Compare the cost of investing in web content that might rank above the negative web page versus the lifetime cost of your detractor’s attack finding a permanent home in your Google reputation.
Ignore the 80/10/10 rule
I know, I know. I told you that you shouldn’t optimize content that you don’t own. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. Take a look at the results in your Google audit and identify any pages that are just below the negative web page. If any of them are third-party owned, then you may want to consider giving those pages a helping hand. I know that if ever I faced a reputation crisis the Andy “I’m a billionaire” Beal from Texas, might just get some extra links to his web pages, courtesy of yours truly!
Buy your way out
Many online review sites are less than honorable. Poke around the underbelly of the internet and you will find sites that post anything from unverified customer reviews to naked photos of a scorned lover. Many of these sites have some kind of “advocacy” program that, for a small fee, will ensure the negative review is quietly removed. I use quotes around advocacy because many of them are nothing short of extortion. Still, paying a sleezeball webmaster $500 to make the nastiness go away could be a lot cheaper than the amount of time, effort, and money needed to push it down in Google’s search results.
On the slightly more savory side, you could always pay a blogger to carry out a paid review of your company or sponsor an advertorial on a popular news site. If you take this approach I would suggest two things. First, make sure that you fully disclose that the content is sponsored, so that you don’t give your detractor another opportunity to question your integrity. Second, it’s much better to consider this tactic now, before you face a reputation attack. Not only will it give the content more time to make its way into Google’s SERPs, but it completely removes any suggestion that you only used this tactic so you could clean up your Google results.
Hire an ORM professional
If you find all of this to be completely over your head, then you may decide it worth the investment to hire an online reputation management (ORM) firm. There are literally hundreds of ORM firms and consultants—all willing to take your money. Like any industry, you have large firms, such as Brand.com, all the way down to individual consultants. (Update: Andy Beal started his own Google reputation management firm)
Getting references from anyone you plan to hire would be great, but possibly tricky—no one wants to give a testimonial that admits their reputation was so bad that they had to hire a firm to clean it up! At a minimum anyone you hire should explain clearly the tactics they plan to use to help you rebuild your Google reputation. If anything sounds fishy, or runs counter to what you’ve read in this series, walk away. There are plenty of great ORM firms so you don’t need to take any further risks with your already battle-scarred reputation.
The road ahead
This is not going to be a quick fix. It may take you many months to fully clean up your Google reputation. Let that be a reminder and an encouragement to never let this happen again. Remember, you may be able to clean up the mess this time, but your stakeholders will be looking for consistency from you going forward. That’s why you need to circle back to the core of your reputation, your character, and make an effort to be better.