Monitoring your Online Reputation in 2013
Recently, a law firm client contacted me in great distress. The third item on the first page of a Google search result for the name partner brought up a nasty malpractice lawsuit. His concern — probably rightfully so — was that someone doing research on him and his law firm would be scared away by this suit. It did not matter that he was exonerated in the end. Google does not Shepardize — i.e., legal terminology to describe a method of locating reports of appeals decisions based on prior precedents, or in other words, making sure the case law being cited by a lawyer is still “good law.” He asked me to look into it.
Erroneous vs. Harmful
After searching the three places that concerned me at all — Google, Bing and Yahoo! — and reading three pages of results on each, I came to a few conclusions. First, the negative result appeared in some fashion on all three sites. Second, there was no way to remove them. Third, it was the only ding on the law firm’s permanent record. In some cases, an erroneous or factually incorrect web page can be fixed by simply contacting the corresponding website and asking that it be removed. In this instance, it was not erroneous — simply harmful to the individual’s reputation. The good news was that the aforementioned lawsuit appeared on page three of one search engine — meaning the vast majority of end users would never even get there. I suggested that he could pay one of the many online reputation fixers out there to push it down — although with search result and algorithm changes, it can always rise up again one day. But my professional advice and conclusion was that one bad result for an attorney in today’s online world is minimally damaging. Instead, monitor your presence, and do things to push the result down yourself.
Anyone reading business publications today knows that online reviews — whether it is Yelp or an industry specific “review” site — have created a firestorm of litigation between the reviewer and the reviewed. More and more of those feeling defamed are fighting back. And courts are holding the critical consumer accountable in some instances. We live in an age where the online search result is the new brochure or biography — people are less interested in what you have to say about yourself than what others are saying about you. It is critical for any business person, especially those engaged in professional services, to vigilantly monitor and maintain a level of control over your online profile. There are companies that do this for you, but the reality is that for most of us, it is relatively easy to do it yourself.
Monitor Yourself Monthly
Set a tickler on your Outlook to conduct a monthly online review of search results for you, your business, and your colleagues. It is imperative that you do this on Google, but if you want to cover most of the playing field, do the same on Bing and Yahoo!. Look at three pages of results. If you see something negative, and believe it to be fixable, contact the appropriate website to remedy the situation.
If you are a frequent Web Marketing Today reader, I doubt you need to be educated on Google Alerts. This free service does the monitoring for you. Set up alerts for key employees at your place of business, the name of the business, and any other search term you wish to track. When the name or phrase pops — on a blog, in an article, on a website — you’ll get the email alert with the hyperlink.
Control Your Own Destiny
The best way to push down nuisance results is to push up positive ones. There is an expectation that the first results should be links to your own website, and potentially blogs and microsites you may be operating. If your own biography is not the first result when searching for you by name — call your website provider and complain. The next tier of results are often profiles linked to the big behemoth sites that are likely to pop next — Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. This means you should have those profiles and make sure they are set up and properly populated to say good things.
I can’t attest to being an expert in sites that are specific to the medical and accounting fields, or other areas of professional service. If you are in those fields, you know the key sites, directories and review/ranking destinations. As an attorney, I know the places that are critical in the legal profession.
There are no-cost, high-powered lawyer profile sites that will come up on page one of search results. Be sure to take advantage of them, not only for the free publicity, but because they will rise to the top of search results. Those include Justia and Avvo. There are additional sites that have various for-pay opportunities — Martindale.com, Lawyers.com, FindLaw and JDSupra are among them. Chances are they will have high placement, if you choose to partake. There are also numerous case-reporting sites, as well as sites that will display press releases and other practice results that can push the good up and the bad or inconsequential down.
The Reverse of Search Engine Optimization
We know the energy and money pumped into getting found online. This is what you might call “reverse SEO”. The stuff you don’t want found. While in most cases you can’t do much about the search result, there are multiple ways to mitigate the damage and decrease the likelihood that a bad link will cost you a client or prospect. More and more businesses are coming to the realization that as end-users become more sophisticated, they will care more about the data found about you, not by you. Not keeping an eye out is self-malpractice. It is an art, not a science. But you can do a lot to better control the picture. Resolve to watch yourself online in 2013.