The blogosphere was abuzz last week about a YouTube video (called "United Breaks Guitars") complaining about a bad customer service experience with United Airlines that allegedly caused United Airlines' stock price to drop 10% costing shareholders a reported $180 million!
The PR fiasco suffered by United Airlines as a result of the video raises the question of how law firms should deal with negative references that show up online. As an example, we are aware of one firm that, when you plug their name into Google, some of top references in the search results include news about a major malpractice lawsuit against the firm, associate layoffs, and other negative items.
How does a law firm deal with negative references in Google search results? As explained by SEOMoz (a leading SEO resource), an online reputation management program has 3 components:
1. Identify which search queries (keywords) produce prominently listed, undesirable results (typically, we only care about the top 10 results or so on Page 1).
2. Create positive content on multiple sites with the intention of outranking the negative content (remember that, in general, Google will only list a maximum of two pages from a single domain on a given results page).
3. Optimize the positive pages with content and links to achieve rankings higher than the negative content, thus "pushing it down" to the 2nd page of results (or further).
However, as SEOMoz concedes, this is easier said than done due to certain algorithmic biases in Google's search engine tending to show a variety of different search results in response to a query.
How might a law firm implement such an online reputation repair campaign? Taking the case of the law firm with a negative reference problem discussed at the beginning of this post, here are a couple of strategies that can be followed:
1. Provide “link” support to existing “positive” references (since the number of links pointing to a particular site (known as “inbound” links) is one of the criteria that Google uses to rank a website. Additionally, the hyperlinks to existing websites with postive content should include the name of the firm, which tells Google that the destination websites are relevant to a search for that firm.
In other words, one effective online reputation strategy is to nudge up existing “positive” references on other websites by pointing links at them with optimized anchor text. Ideally, those other sites would be “trusted” domains such as a Wikipedia entry, LinkedIn profiles, a directory of jobs on Monster.com, and any other well known sites where the firm has a presence.
2. Add new firm-related content on authoritative domains favored by Google such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, JD Supra, FindLaw and other widely used content portals. In this way, a firm leverages the pre-existing strength of these domains for getting their content crawled and indexed by Google on a priority basis, and leans on the "authoritative domain" bias that Google shows in their rankings.
3. Distribute “positive” online press releases targeted at sites currently displaying “negative” content. The firm can issue online press releases concerning “buzzworthy” accomplishments, events and other firm news that will get picked up by major media and wire services. The goal is to trigger news coverage on sites now displaying “negative” content. Generally, the most recent news item that matches the firm's name will replace the existing negative item in the search results since Google favors content currency.
4. Launch one or more “niche” blogs. Search engines love blogs because blogs deliver what search engines want: regularly updated and targeted content that is rich with keywords and attracts many inbound links. Launching one or more blogs focusing on specialized practice areas at custom domain names, and then referencing the firm's name in key content areas (e.g., title and description tags), provides Google with yet additional positive references to display.
5. Develop a recruiting website under the firm's name on a separate domain name.
6. Deploy video content that can potentially get listed in vertical results. Creating video content relevant to the firm and publishing to YouTube and other video sharing sites should get picked up by Google, which often mixes in video results with text results.
These are just some of the key strategies to addresss negative references to a firm in Google.
To learn more, download our online reputation management for law firms brochure.
Click here to read further online reputation management strategies on SEOMoz.