Is your brand's reputation hurting your search rankings?

Last night Google announced a new algorithm demoting websites that have poor reputations. This could in part be a reaction to the recent story in the NY Times, but I don't think this is a rushed decision, more likely something Google has been considering for some time.

They are now incorporating opinion about merchant customer service into their algorithm. On the Google blog, Amit Singhal states "the algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result."

This puts a spotlight on what people say about you on consumer websites, online forums and probably Twitter and Facebook. Once again, the integration of social media and SEO demonstrate how important a brand's online reputation can be.

Brands should be worried. This new algorithm can be targeted by competitors to demote you in search engines. Competitors could stir up negative sentiment or worse, generate it. As well as hurting your brand, this can now hit your online revenues in a much more tangible way.

When your ranks go down, traffic goes down and revenues from search follow. Traffic generated from rank position #1 can be 50% of searches for a keyword. At position #2, clicks average about 15%, a massive 2/3 drop in click traffic. Worse still, the algorithm works at domain level, so all your ranks will be hit. If you are not engaging, and you allow people to consistently criticise your brand, your bottom line can plummet as fast as your rankings.

So what can you do?

Listening is the first and most obvious step. Listening isn't just about signing up for a tool, and pulling loads of data about your brand through. Our teams filter data about your brand, and look at key conversations across news and social platforms. But we also look at reputation from a search perspective, ensuring comments on review sites, blogs, and directories are not left out of the picture. Search and social are joined up, therefore the picture across both needs to match. It's good to see Google taking this concept on board in weeding out the sites that get slammed with negative reviews.

Engagement is the second step. Through listening, you will be able to identify where to engage people, and that means customers, journalists, and bloggers. Engaging with your audience allows you to take conversations that could be inflammatory offline, where you can manage those out of the public eye. BT and Virgin do this exceptionally well, and sometimes nothing will get you a quicker resolution that a tweet to either of them.

Google and Bing have admitted that they do assign authority to bloggers and tweeters. Social media monitoring tools can help you identify the key influencers to engage with, those people who have the most followers, fans, and post or tweet the most. These key influencer opinions are factored into the search rankings, making their comments on your brand even more valuable.

Online reputation has become more important than ever. It is time for brands to take control of their online conversations, and secure their rankings, so that negativity is minimised along with revenue loss.