The word "Google" is no longer just a brand name, it's also now a verb recognised in the English Dictionary. The reason for its new meaning is that we all, without thinking, now type the name of a product, company or individual into Google in order to find out a little more about it. The results of those searches can have significant impact on our perception of the company, or individual, involved and might even affect our purchasing / hiring choices. While Google (and other search engines) are constantly revising their search algorithms to refine their search results, they will always remain machine-based processes that will, inevitably, rank relevant & popular searches above others that aren't clicked so much.
So what can brands do when things go wrong? If an aggrieved customer, competitor, employee or associate is successfully spreading false and damaging rumours online, and those rumours appear on the first page of a Google search, it's going to cost - in terms of reputation and / or sales. The good news is that there are steps brands can take to make sure only what they want to be highlighted appears in searches.
Firstly, protection is better than cure so it's important brands exploit the tools available in order to actively promote the good, and suppress the less good, information about them. This means proactively creating and managing the positive output that they want to see online. Blogs are an excellent way of controlling a company message and publishing positive news, but they need to be monitored and all comments tracked because search engines will pick them all up.
Blogs are also excellent repository for pulling lots of external information about the company into one place. By linking to their LinkedIn, Flickr and Tumblr accounts brands can add more 'Google juice' to their blog, pushing it further up the rankings. Also promote new positive content across social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Stumbleupon and Reddit. Similarly brands can look to develop more rich media content, such as videos or images, to tell their story as Google ranks them higher than text alone.
There are occasions, however, when even after implementing all these tools, brands can find themselves in the midst of a reputation disaster where negative or unwanted information is appearing high up in searches. What are the options then? It's unlikely that Google itself will help much, although its Webmaster Tools do give advice on how to deal with pages that urgently need to be removed. Similarly recourse to legal action is complex, costly and often ineffective. If it's a case of mistaken identity, firstly try contacting the publisher of the original article to have the article updated with the correct information. This is also true for information that is misleading or false. In addition, you need to supplement this with new positive (or at least neutral) content about you or your brand and to quickly share this across the web.
There are a number of cost effective or free online assets available that can quickly disseminate your messages and content, such as newswire services. Also, make sure that all your assets are interconnected, and don't forget about twitter and social media site which hold a lot of weight with search engines when properly managed and active.
Quality content reigns supreme for anyone managing their reputation online. Whether you're protecting your brand and image or promoting it, without distributing new content on a regular basis, you can quickly be misrepresented on search engines.