When I was a kid and started noticing patterns in life, my mom affirmingly said to me, "There's nothing new under the sun... That's in the Bible, Crockett."
I just looked it up, and here it is:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Today, I've been running a business working with search engines and web sites since 1994. I've observed many of the "hottest newest best things" come and go... and come again... and again- but with new marketing labels each time: N-Tier Application Development, Application Service Providers, Software as a Service, Web 2.0, working in "The Cloud" - These are a few examples of stuff that's pretty much the same as it ever was, just relabeled each time we reach a new level of capability with the development and enhancement of new clients/servers/tools/languages.
My point is that most of what is sold by internet consultants (myself included) is the same stuff that has always been good for business, only repackaged and redefined in a context that is more appealing to our current culture and market. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.
"Hey you promised to give me insider secrets of online reputation management! Where are you going with this?"
Here is the Insider Secret: Online Reputation Management is no exception to the "nothing new under the sun" rule. There, I said it. There is nothing novel about Online Reputation Management. It's all part of any thorough, high-quality, "Total Web Presence," strategy. As consultants, we differentiate Website Development, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Off-site Link Campaigns, etc. in order to properly set expectations, compartmentalize ideas, and simplify the concepts of the services we offer, all in the service of not totally blowing the minds (or boring to sleep) of our beloved clients.
Today, however, mainstream internet users and small businesses have reached a level of sophistication where they want their Total Web Presence built and managed now, rather than starting out obscure with plans to "someday "have a real online presence.
That's what we do at CDLLC.
And I'm happy to tell anyone exactly how we do it.
"What? Why would you tell me how to do what you want me to pay you for???"
I'll tell you exactly why. Engineering a Total Web Presence is a lot of work. A lot of work that requires lot of time. And a lot of expertise. And that expertise takes time to gain.
In addition to the benefit of hiring a specialist, there are other economies of scale, and therefore the simple reality is that it is more cost effective to pay my team to take care of engineering and managing your Total Web Presence than trying to directly manage contractors or do it in-house.
If you are the tinkering type and you do want to take this on yourself, here is some information to get you started.
Do it yourself Total Web Presence Engineering and Monitoring:
* Check your presence on Google/Yahoo/Bing.
Not just your Page Rank, or how high you come up in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for targeted key phrases. Also build a profile** for you or your business (Google Profile, Yahoo Pulse, Bing Community), and create content in as many of the top 3 providers' services as possible: Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local (be sure to read the terms of service to avoid getting penalized for being too aggressive with your key phrases). The local listings require telephone or mail validation to "claim" your business listing as well as a few days for the listing to be reviewed, so be patient and don't forget to follow-up. You will also need to inform a person who is available to enter or receive a special confirmation PIN by phone, or keep an eye out and not trash the confirmation code that comes in the mail. There is information freely available online about how to create a positive, optimized local listing.
While you're in Google, make sure you are setup with Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools- these require validation that your webmaster can help you with. As for the other search engines, Yahoo and Bing have Yahoo Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Tools respectively. Get your site maps submitted to all of these. You can build our own XML sitemap with plenty of free online tools. Learn more at sitemaps.org.
It certainly helps to run a Google Adwords campaign.
Get yourself on YouTube (which is a Google service, and shows results inline with Google "everything" search), too, with key phrase rich descriptions, and links to all of your other web properties. Don't have any videos? Consider a slideshow. And remember to complete all of the fields for each video AND your channel. Consider building some playlists. Get involved in the community around similar topics.
Are you selling directly online? Then you need a presence in another Google service: Google Merchant Center (Google Product Search/Shopping, formerly Froogle). You can read Google Help about how to structure the XML feed for your product(s). Depending on the complexity of what you sell, you might create the feed manually, or have your shopping cart software export an updated feed as inventory changes. IMPORTANT- you have to update your feed before it expires every month.
At this point, you have a handful of "control panels" that require periodic monitoring: Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Google/Yahoo/Bing SERP rank (checkout free or paid rank checker tools), Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer, Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, YouTube, and Adwords if you use that service. In order to keep track of all of these properties, you will want to create a spreadsheet that contains rows for each web property, and columns for the URL, admin URL, username, password hint, content, and notes (to-do/have-done).
Within a couple weeks, once all of your services are active and listings are confirmed, you should begin pushing out a consistent marketing message to all of these web properties, ensuring that each web property contains links to all others. Most importantly, you will see these "local" listings scraping the internet and aggregating mentions and reviews of you, your product(s), and your business on other websites. These sites, which include Angie's List, Yelp, CitySearch, Manta, and many more (specific to your industry), have their own procedures for registering and claiming your profile, so be sure to document all that information in your Total Online Presence spreadsheet as well.
Remember, there will be up to two weeks before you are ready for the above item, so what to do in the meantime?
* Google yourself for any negative content you want to have removed or buried. I say "Google" yourself meaning not just searching Google, but Yahoo and Bing as well.
* Begin your Off-Site Link Campaign - get involved in communities related to your industry. Contribute information, and plug your business and website at every opportunity. But remember, you must give to get, so don't spam without offering relevant information.
* Begin your Social Media Campaign - This is really just part of an off-site link campaign. Build out your profile and contribute to sites like Facebook, Twiiter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Blogging... you can take this as far as you want- Identica, Friendfeed, Plurk, Jaiku, Delicious, Bebo, Plaxo... the list goes on.
* Analyze your website for On-Page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) opportunities. You can read online all about techniques of on-page SEO.
* Check out your top competitor's presence in ALL of the above web properties for ALL of the above campaigns, and cover at least all of the places they have covered.
* Setup periodic monitoring for new and updated mentions of you/your products & services/your business on the WWW. You can do this manually, sign up for a free service like Google Alerts, or use a paid service to aggregate information and filter results for you. Many of the online directories and review sites allow you to be notified via email whenever a comment or review is posted, so be sure to sign up for that option.
* Create a schedule for periodic contributions to social media & blogs. This scheduled time each day/week/month is also a good time to go back to step one and review your progress as mentioned in the periodic monitoring.
If you have followed the steps above, you now have a clear idea of your online presence. But what if there is already information out there about you that you don't like? This is where Reputation Management and Monitoring comes into play. Many sites allow you to respond to negative reviews. Inappropriate reviews can often be removed by request. It is always possible to suppress negative reviews and comments by implementing a practice of regularly soliciting positive reviews.
In conclusion, there is nothing new under the sun. This is not rocket science. All of the information needed to manage your total web presence is available online. Although some of the websites monitored will vary by industry (for example, with reputation management for doctors we work with Healthgrades, Vitals, UcompareHealthcare, Wellness, and more). The REAL requirements to manage your total web presence, including your online reputation, are time, patience, discipline, and diligence.
** Important note- ALWAYS READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE wherever you create a profile. In certain communities, such as Facebook, it is a violation to create a "personal" profile for a business (as opposed to a business page), and the consequences of such a mistake can include deleting of your personal account and business page. Every web property's listing has its own set of rules, some of which are stricter than others.