This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
Whether you’re a doctor trying to protect your practice from negative reviews, a parent trying to keep your children safe online, or a job hunter trying to make a good impression with hiring managers, protecting your online reputation is essential. For many, this means turning to an expert consultant for online reputation management (ORM) services.
However, not all ORM firms are created equal. As the need for ORM services has increased, so has the number of unethical companies that are more interested in emptying their clients’ pockets than they are in helping them.
Read on to learn more about ORM companies, including why you might need one, what they do, some of the important things to look for when choosing one, and how to avoid services that don’t work.
Why would I need an ORM company?
Unfortunately, there are many ways people can trash your reputation online. Former business partners, ex-lovers, estranged family members, disgruntled employees, and even total strangers can create reputation problems for you and your business in a myriad of ways. They could post slander about you on a gossip website, defame you in a Facebook comment, even run an entire smear campaign against your good name or rally people who are unfamiliar with the situation to shame and harass you in the belief that you’re somehow the bad guy. Thus, having an ORM company protecting you is a necessary part of doing business on the Internet.
Compounding the problem is the fact that our past mistakes never go away online. Many of us do foolish things when we are young. Unfortunately, the Internet has a way of bringing those past mistakes back for everyone to see—often when it’s most inconvenient, like when you’re applying to college or trying to get a job.
If you run a business, sometimes you encounter a problem that you just can’t shake, although you’ve taken steps to do so. Even the biggest and most well-managed companies will make a mistake at some point; just ask Coca-Cola’s marketing team how sick they are of hearing jokes about New Coke. An ORM company can help fix marketing missteps and public relations problems that would take far, far longer to go away on their own.
What do ORM companies do?
ORM companies help you assess, build, and monitor your online reputation. In some cases, they will also help you repair your online reputation if it’s been damaged.
Generally, reputation protection starts with search engine optimization, or SEO. Most people, if they’ve heard of SEO, think of it as a way of “controlling” your search results, but, in truth, the process is much more complex than that.
Search engines keep how they rank content a closely guarded secret, and they do so for an excellent reason; the top search result for a term garners more than one-third of all Internet traffic. Consequently, search engines are sensitive to any attempts to “game” their results.
ORM companies don’t try to trick search engines. Instead, they carefully monitor how search rankings change over time to see what factors can raise or lower search engine rankings. Then, they carefully apply these lessons to the content they develop for their clients to ensure that this content rises up in the results page. Each ORM company has a different strategy it uses and different methods to bolster content online, but they all have the same goal—to, over time, push up positive and relevant content about you while pushing down or even deleting negative content about you from the Internet entirely.
What qualities should I look for in an ORM company?
There are many different factors that should go into choosing the company that’s right for you, but there are a few overall things that you should consider first: Has the company that you’re considering been verified by a third party like the Better Business Bureau? Is its leadership team experienced in the Internet industry? Ask the company for customer testimonials. See if it has a social media presence on Twitter or Facebook. Credible ORM companies often answer questions and offer advice in public forums.
To ensure you hire the right firm, you should also ask the following questions:
- How many years of experience does the company have? Online reputation management is undeniably a relatively “young” industry, as the Internet itself really only came into its own in the last 20 years. Still, ORM companies that have been around longer are better able to accommodate changes in SEO trends and will have more experience dealing with smear campaigns, Internet blackmail, and other problems that younger companies may not have dealt with and might not be prepared for.
- How broad is the company’s focus? Far too many “reputation management” companies and their tools take a limited view of the Internet. It’s great that you’re able to track your social media engagement or see how a particular search engine is ranking you, but you often need a broader look at the entire Internet in order to fix your reputation problem. If a company only promises to improve your social media presence in one area of the Internet, you should probably keep searching.
- What kind of products does the company offer? Individuals and companies will have different needs regarding their online reputation. A small firm will have needs that are distinct from the needs than a large company, and a private citizen without much of a reputation will have different reputation problems than a local celebrity looking to get past a personal setback. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and any site trying to sell you one will probably wind up needing to be backed up by a more mature firm. The best companies will provide unique content strategies and personalized assistance available as well.
Part of gathering information should include asking how a company’s products and services work. Because these solutions will involve technical terms or complex concepts, some answers might be over your head, but that’s ok. You still need to ask, and if the company can’t explain their answer to you in a way that you can understand, you might want to consider another ORM company.
- What are the company’s products built on?—Companies that have been around for a number of years will have a history of products that their current ones have been built upon. This experience building software and strategies will be invaluable when you need something that falls outside of the “standard” reputation experience.
- What level of support does the company provide?: Some firms will only sell you some software, or a web login; once you get into their website or download the software, you’re on your own. A good ORM company will help you figure out what you need and even provide you with reputation advisors to help you get the best results from its products.
What type of companies should I avoid?
Just like every other type of business, the ORM industry consists of “good guys” and “bad guys.” These less-reputable companies engage in what the industry refers to as “black hat” tactics like the following:
- Astroturfing: This practice involves creating phony review site accounts and using them to compose positive reviews. Another astroturfing method is to pay people to write good reviews about clients to boost their ratings and balance out any negative posts. Because review sites now have algorithms that filter out these fake reviews, this tactic is not very effective. It’s also illegal and can get you in trouble with the FTC.
- Creating fake websites or content: By launching bogus websites and posting false information on them, unscrupulous companies can generate additional search results to help conceal negative ones. In a New York magazine article, Graeme Wood describes the experience of watching a high school acquaintance employ this black hat tactic to redeem himself online. As the author notes in his piece, these fake websites are fairly suspicious, and thus don’t do much to enhance one’s reputation.
- Keyword stuffing: With this method, ORM firms insert as many keywords as they can fit into a client website’s metadata to improve the client’s search rankings. This sometimes works for a short while, but in the long term, Google penalizes websites that do this, making your problems twice as difficult to solve.
- Link spamming: This technique involves pasting multiple links to a site someone wants to promote in the comments section of an article or blog. However, many sites employ blog software systems that are capable of eliminating or reducing link spam. Further, search engines that discover a link being spammed can remove the website from all search results because it is a “bad neighbor.”
- Invisible text: Some firms try to influence their clients’ search results by placing extra keywords on their clients’ websites. Also called “content cloaking,” this technique hides the words from view by making them the same color as the background of the page. Although this technique was widely used in the past, Google is now much more adept at discovering this shady tactic.
- Using spam bots: To prevent viewers from easily accessing negative content (thus causing it to rank lower in the search results) some less-reputable firms rely on hacking, denial-of-service attacks, and spam bots.
How should I judge the price of ORM services?
You should look for a tiered pricing system that offers low-cost entry to the ORM company’s service. Remember, most reputable firms will be willing to work with you on pricing. Everyone’s ORM situation is unique, and the cost of solving a problem isn’t always reflected on a rate sheet.
If a quoted price is more than what you’re willing to pay for your reputation management problem, feel free to shop around. A high price, however, doesn’t always mean a company is being greedy; rather, it might be an accurate assessment of how much work it will take to manage your reputation problem.
Here’s where educating yourself will pay off: If you determine that the price is fair given the amount of work that will go into your case, then you should consider paying for the service. Many people underestimate how much time and effort go into a sustained reputation management campaign.
Now that you know how to choose the best online reputation management services for your money, you should take a look at ReputationDefender. The world’s leader in online reputation management services and Internet privacy services since its founding in 2006, ReputationDefender continues to develop new ways to help its customers protect their good names online. We would be happy to give you a free, no-strings-attached consultation on your reputation issues and the most effective ways to tackle them.