I try to pay attention or note common questions that get sent to us regarding SEO and what have you. By far the number one repeated question we get is in the Reputation Management space, "I have created a page at all the social sites and we are still not able to push out the negative results?" I have had my share of posts talking about filing out social media/news sites in order to protect the top then, but I have always tried to emphasize that you can't just fill them with fluff or watered down content if you wish for them to really make an impact on your search results. I am going to focus on just that in this post and hopefully shed some light and add to Mat's recent post of how hard core and long term your reputation management strategy needs to be.
Understand Your foes
Do you really understand why the negative sites rank for your term? Every single Reputation Management issue I have looked at is different and needs different things. If you go about Reputation Management with a systematic approach with no room for adjustment or ramping up, then you will get stuck more often than not. It can be literally hundreds of reasons, and most likely a combination of multiple reasons. The most common reasons we have combated are:
Domain Trust (Wikipedia and Rip Off Report)
User Generated Content (a lot of comments using the term on a blog post is certain death)
Keyword Repetition and Stuffing (especially Title tag)
In Bound Links
Internal Linking Using Anchor Text
Usually it is a combination of both, the two that I am the most afraid of are Domain Trust and UGC. You need to know exactly what factors are helping that page rank, you should break them down into what you feel are the most important factors as well. If there are no inbound links, and very little content you can probably bet on Domain Trust being the major factor. If it is a new domain but has a lot of content and is linked to from the main navigation you can note that extra juice. Make a list of all the factors you think are making that negative page rank and try to note which might be more influential, then create a strategy to mimic it as much as possible. I know that we can't know exactly why it ranks as we are not Google but if you have been around the block long enough and you really dive into it you can get it figured out enough to make that page lose it's spot.
Now that you have your map as to why your page is ranking, you need to try your best to follow it. Let's say you have 2 negative results ranking in your top ten results. One is a newer blog that got a handful of inbound links (10 and under) along with about 25 comments to which half of them mention your brand name. The second is a super old pre 2000 domain with no inbound links from external sites but 3 from high PR trusted internal pages. It has your name in the title tag, but the copy isn't that long or strong.
Let's make it simple to get the point across, for the first site go find a blog that is at least 3 years old, has a good saturation in Google's index especially no duplicate content or shallow indexing problems. You want to make sure your post gets indexed right away. If you don't own a site you may have to due some shopping. Talk to friends, hit up forums like Digital Point or others, look at paid posts from places like pay per post or review me (although I haven't had to use them). You want to be very selective, one of the reasons I haven't used mainstream paid blog services is you are paying for a review and you may not get good comments and you won't have a lot of control over your page. If you troll some forums to look for a blog to use you need to be very selective as there is so much junk out there. Pay a lot of attention to index saturation, index rates, and search Google using terms in other post titles to see if those pages are in the top 15-20 results.
Once you have your site, you need to look back on your notes, and pay attention to the on page seo factors. All the stuff from seo 101. How many times the term is used in the Title, Body, Anchor Text both internal and external, all that stuff. Then you want to mimic it with the content in a positive light. If we take our first example of the newer blog post, you would be noting, Title Tag, Body, Comments and then look at the link count both internal and external etc. Once your post is done, go and comment, and start a conversation. If you are not putting time into your comments and just trying to use an excuse to mention your Brand Name it will show and it won't do anything to help you. Once your search results start to show this new post, the negative post will not be gone at the same time they will exist simultaneously for a while. Make sure these pages have great content because the best way to look shady is to fill the search results with a bunch of fluff.
It is the same thing for the old domain example try to find an older trusted domain to push your content, preferably not a social site as you can lose control of the page.
Why Spamming Squidoo Isn't Enough
Back to the original message, filling out a lens on Squidoo, Claim ID Hub or any of the like is not enough to combat a well thought out attack against your company. You need to link to these pages and make sure the content is totally unique and not rehashed over and over. Link to RSS Feeds, other pages on your site and turn it into a page that is useful. Think how would I use this page if Reputation Management wasn't an issue.
MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT CREATE A LINKING BREAD CRUMB
Most likely the people that email me saying they have filled out profiles on 200 plus social sites and 4 of them rank in the top 20 and they can't figure out why their negative page is still dominating all have the same problem. They link to all their hubs from each page. They create a reciprocal link circle that would make 1999 jealous. They leave a trail straight to Google's office saying, "all of these pages are optimized for this company and they are all trying to rank for these terms, please spank them."
Again think about how Google works and why that page is ranking against you. Google wants original content cited from trusted sources that isn't the same as the other results. They want people to find what they are looking for as quick as possible so they are going to fill their results with diverse pages in order to offer as many options as possible. If there are 100 pages that are using very similar content and the only links they have are from each other that negative page will never go away in fact it may rank better as it is one of the only original page in the whole bunch.
Do not interlink any of your pages at all, and make sure their content is totally unique and different. Get links to all of them but from 100% different sources, and when you build links try and create co-citation with trusted articles and even competitors as that will also help you look more organic and natural and more like the negative page that is ranking.
The Secret Weapon
Social sites can be your secret weapon if used correctly and just like anything with seo if you use some elbow grease and originality you can create silver bullet pages that will always rank and that will build a virtually impenetrable wall blocking out any future negative pages. I see so many spammy Digg submissions or fake profiles trying to leverage the sites trust in order to out rank negative results and it never works. What you need to do instead of spending time filling out 200 profiles across every social site on the planet is pick a core group of 10 or more and turn your profiles into good accounts.
If you made a Digg account that was your company name and it made the homepage once or twice that thing will be top 3 over night. Create a Stumble Upon profile with your company name as the sub domain and go and rate some pages, have someone stumble your profile page after you have shared a good amount of useful content and before you know it that will rank like mad. A Mashable profile that comments a lot is going to rank, Del.icio.us profile that tags a lot of content and is the first to tag some pages that make the Popular status will rank over night as well. These are all legit methods and they work better than most anything as far as long term results that always rank. SEOMoz marketplace ranks really good as well.
I hope this has helped a lot of you that have been emailing, you are half way there just try to have a little more tact in your execution and work on some social accounts and next thing you know your negative listings will be long gone.