Nothing is worse than having a disgruntled customer. Bad business exchanges happen, but just because they happen doesn’t mean that anyone is necessarily at fault. Murphy’s law seems to come into full force and things start to fall apart. For example, your key employee sleeps in late causing mayhem in your business. You as the business owner are then left to extinguish the fires, appease customers and pull things back together. As the dust settles, you notice there is a negative listing showing up when people Google your business’ name. That darn listing is a result of the tornado that ripped through your business a month ago. What do you do?
Sometimes you need to whip out the ol’ SEO skills and rank up the positive pages that are listed below the negative page in your Google search results. By using some clever search marketing tactics you can bury that negative page down to page 2 or 3 in Google rankings. You will do this by making the positive listings rank higher than the negative listing, thus pushing it down off of the first page. At least then, when customers search your name they won’t be greeted by a listing that says “_insert your business name_ SCAM!!!”.
The purpose of this article is to give you, as a business owner, a strategy that I’ve used countless times to clean up business’ reputations in Google listings.
I feel the need to preface this article with a disclaimer. I do not condone scammy business practices nor do I wish to teach people how to bury their scammy reputations if they indeed are scammy. In my experience I have seen good companies targeted by sites like Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer. These good companies suffer from the enormous ranking power of sites like Ripoff Report and are helpless at the mercy of anyone who wants to negatively review them on the site. Sometimes these negative reviews even come from competitors who wish to sully the name of their rivals. This article is intended to help you clean up your reputation as it stands in Google search results after you’ve tried to connect with the disgruntled customer and make amends. Remember, in nearly all cases it is easier and better for both business and consumer to connect and resolve the issue together.
--Side Note -
I will be using the word SERP a lot in this article. The SERP is the Search Engine Ranking Page that shows up when you search a keyword. I’m positive you are familiar with what they are even if the jargon is new. This is what a SERP looks like when you search “reputation management”:
-- End Note -
Free and Simple Analysis
Identify the Landscape and Set Concrete Goals
In order to begin the journey ahead of you, you need to understand the task ahead of you. I recommend running a basic analysis on the SERP you are going to be cleaning up. I’ve created a template in Google sheets to help you analyze the SERP you wish to clean up. You can access the template here. Be sure to click “File” and then “Make a Copy” in order to make a copy that you can fill in with your own data.
This template will walk you through the fields you need to note down from your target SERP. All you are doing here is looking at the first 3 pages of the SERP you wish to clean up and then noting down the URL of each listing, the rank of each URL, and lastly the sentiment of each URL. The “how many links needed” column (column E) is something we’ll get to a bit later in the post so don’t worry about it now.
Be thorough with this. This step can make or break your reputation management campaign. You want to thoroughly ensure that you understand each page’s sentiment correctly. The pages with a positive sentiment are some of the pages you will be pushing up in the rankings in order to drown out the negative listings. The last thing you want to happen is to spend many hours working to push up a listing only to re-read it once it hits the first page and realize that it isn’t fully positive.
Deeper SERP Analysis
Now that you have a solid understanding which URLs are positive and which are negative, you will be able to see which listings need to get pushed down. You will also understand which URLs with a positive sentiment that you can rank up, therefore pushing the negative listing down lower in the SERP.
But just understanding sentiment is unfortunately not good enough. We must also understand which positive URLs have enough ranking power to climb quickly in the SERP. When you do this type of reputation management you are essentially doing SEO for every positive listing, so in order to make our lives easier we need to evaluate the amount of links and referring domains of each of the listings on the SERP.
You can analyze your target SERP through tools like Ahrefs, Spyfu, and SEMrush. The Ahrefs SERP overview tells you the number of backlinks and referring domains for each of the URLs in your target SERP. This analysis also tells you the rank Ahrefs has given for the domain and the URL. These are important to take into consideration. If the negative listing is on a large domain with significant authority, you will have to do your best to overcompensate on a URL level by building more links.
Here is what a SERP overview analysis looks like from Ahrefs:
Ahrefs SERP analysis for the keyword “anchor text”
When looking at an analysis like the one above, you want to note how many backlinks each url has. You can note these link counts in column “E” of the template cited above. The goal will be to build more and higher quality links to the positive pages than the negative listing has. So take note of how many links each positive URL has to get a feel for which positive URLs will pack a punch.
Quick Recap Thus Far
Now we have an understanding of how many URLs are negative in our SERP. If you’ve used a tool like Ahrefs to pull the SERP analysis you will also have an idea for how many links each of the positive URLs will need in order to bump their ranking up. You also have a template in which you can track your efforts.
Identify the Listings That You Want to “rank up”
You now are in a position with enough data to select which pages you want to “rank up”. These will be pages with a positive sentiment and that already have a good amount of backlinks. Another thing to look for are pages that may not have a lot of backlinks but are on high authority domains. These pages typically increase in rank faster with less links. The real magic happens when you can find positive pages that already rank in your SERP that have both many links and are on an authoritative domain.
One issue you may run into is that you don’t always have enough positive pages with enough authority. In these cases you will need to create pages that you can “rank up”.
Simply put, there are two types of pages you will push above the negative listings. They are:
- Already ranking sites with a positive sentiment
- New pages you will create
Let’s dive into the already ranking sites first, after which we’ll discuss strategies to launch new pages and rank them up quickly.
Already Ranking Sites
The first type of page you should target are pages on high authority sites that are already ranking within the first three pages of Google for the keyword you are focusing on. These sites can be directories in your niche that you are listed in, other sites that mention you in a positive way or other web properties you control like social media pages (e.g. your company's FB page, or Youtube page, etc.). Social media pages can rank up quickly due to the high-powered nature of the domain that they live on.
When you begin, start by identifying your brand’s social media pages. These pages are on high authority domains (e.g. Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, etc.) and typically only need a nudge to rank higher in your target SERP. Look ranking pages from other large sites like news sites.
New Pages to “Rank Up”
A better long term strategy is to try and control all of the pages that rank on the first page when you search for your brand name. If you own all of the listings, you are subject to less volatility. For example, if position number 3 is a reviews site like Angie’s List or Yelp, they may be positive for today. Many times have I seen angry customers or competitors blast these sites with negative reviews. So that position number 3 that used to be positive, now is negative. If you own all of the listings in the SERP, you eliminate the possibility for a negative review blast.
Where should you begin when creating new pages to “rank up”? For starters there are many sites on the web that anyone can post on. In many instances these can be large sites that allow users to create profiles and then pages. Medium is a great example of a high authority site that anyone can create pages on. It is a great domain with solid authority and ranks fairly well in Google.
There are many forums on the web where people discuss parasite SEO sites. These are sites that have a lot of authority and are easy for anyone to post on. If you need to build a large list of sites that you can “rank up” for reputation management’s sake, search for these parasite SEO site lists to make your life a bit easier.
Leverage News Sites
News sites are phenomenal for helping clean up your target SERP quickly. I like to position these as key elements in my short to medium term strategy due to their ability to rank on page 1 within a matter of days. If your company has some noteworthy items that would make a solid news story, reach out and begin working with local news publications to get a feature.
To amplify this portion of the strategy even further, pair this with a coordinated press release and you can quickly rank multiple news articles for your brand name.
One word of caution. In my experience, these will help clean up the first page fairly quickly. They also have the ability to fall off the first page quite quickly too. For this reason, they make for good short to medium term fixes, but do not rely on them for your long-term strategy. In my experience, they just don’t have the staying power as high quality non-dated pages.
Utilize Non-Dated Pages for Long-Term Ranking
Target non-dated pages in order to future-proof your efforts. If the posts you are ranking up have dates, they inevitably will fall as time goes forward and they become old news. You can counter the rate in which these will descend in ranking by building more links and/or adding new content to the page (that is, if you even have that option). But to be frank, this isn’t a good long-term strategy as it will require immense upkeep.
This is the most important part! Go out and build links. Build many! Build quality! You need a lot of links in order to outrank large sites like Ripoff Report. Because you don’t have the ability to optimize all of the specific on-page aspects of most of the pages you will be pushing up, you’ll need to overcompensate with links. Do what you can to exhaust the different creative approaches to link building.
When all is said and done and you have followed the above steps, you should begin to outrank the negative pages that plague you. Once that happens, you will need to keep an eye on your SERP to ensure nothing begins to crop back up. Use a tool like Google Alerts to alert you of new content created about your brand name. This way you can be ahead of the game if someone posts a defamatory article about your brand and get ahead of it.