Marketing / How Google can make or break your business

How Google can make or break your business

It was never meant to be this way, but suddenly I’m in a room which smells of incense, being mistaken for a baronet.

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“Are you David Baxter, the first baronet and linen manufacturer from Dundee?” he asks, scrolling past a Wikipedia link. “Or did you record the song Whispers?”

None of the above, I tell him. But my host, Edward James, is busy searching for me online. He is getting some colourful results.  Nothing about me comes up until the reassuring sight of a Business Reporter link on the second results page. I’m doing my best not to look pathetically disappointed.

Around two years ago, James was involved in founding Go Up, one of a number of firms dealing in what has become known as online reputation management. As he is patiently explaining, online obscurity is not a bad thing for the everyday individual.

“Unless you are a celebrity, it’s perfectly fine not to be prominent in Google results,” he says. “That’s a good place to be. There’s this feeling that people need to show up, but that’s not right.

“If you are a business and people type in your brand name, that’s different.”

More and more, firms have begun to worry about the concept of reputational risk. And while part of this is a question of keeping your hands clean and not getting embroiled in any major scandals, James warns that many decent firms are suffering because negative comments on forums, review sites and social media – what one of his colleagues jokingly dubs “corporate trolling” – can dominate Google search results for the company name.

James says: “It’s quite a weird situation where you can be a business that’s definitely doing nothing wrong, but if you upset one client and they go and write a negative blog post, suddenly when you type your brand name into Google there’s a chance that post will be the second or third result.

“There may just be one person saying something negative, but often people believe that if it’s on Google, it’s got to be true.”

Online abuse is frequently in the news. This summer, we read the shocking news that a schoolgirl had killed herself after being hounded online. Around the same time, women’s rights campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and a number of prominent female personalities received rape and death threats online.

James points out that abuse aimed at individuals online is beginning to get noticed in the news, but it also hurts businesses.

“It doesn’t get into the news, but there are companies which are losing money and going bankrupt because of this,” he says. “We have clients that are very successful businesses and they do a lot of good, but they are having problems.”

If a reputable business falls victim to a flurry of negativity online, James warns that having this removed from Google is a rather torturous process which can take around nine months.

So-called “black hat” methods – such as getting spam sites to link to, for example, a disgruntled blogger, leading to the blog being removed from Google results because this breaks the search engine’s rules – are possible, but murky. James warns against these.

Companies may want to jump onto social media to set the record straight, but they need to be careful.

A decent, regularly updated company blog, a LinkedIn page and a Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube presence are a good idea. But forums, and what he describes as “super viral” platforms such as Twitter quickly spiral out of control.

James says: “For any firms likely to ever encounter anything controversial, such as those in the meat industry, I would say stay off Twitter.

“Facebook may be OK, and sites like LinkedIn can be managed well. But on Twitter everything is so knee-jerk. There’s this mindset that comes with the internet, because there is a veil of anonymity. People feel free to say things they wouldn’t say in public, and with a forum or something like Twitter there can be a mob frenzy.”

He is keen for companies to be proactive and do things that could generate positive press. Strong brands online – national newspapers, the BBC website and popular bloggers – feature prominently in Google searches because of various factors, such as how active a site is and how much content it has.

With this in mind, James tries to get companies mentioned by these sites, so that they will push negative Google results down, or off, the first page.

None of this is quick – or cheap. But James argues that companies need to start considering solutions.

“For getting publicity there are two options,” he says. “If bad online press is losing you £4,000 of sales, then hire a company for four months, pay them £2,000 a month and get rid of the problem.

“If you can’t budget for it then be proactive. You can learn about SEO and social media, and everyone can do PR for themselves.

“It might be as simple as contacting bloggers and offering them a bouquet of flowers or a handbag, if that’s what your company makes, and asking them to review it.”

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