Reverse SEO Strategy: How to Protect Yourself and Your Business Against Negative Online Content

Sameer Somal
Sep 19 · 6 min read

by Laura Powers & Sameer Somal

The Importance of Your Online Reputation and Digital Presence

Did you know that 86% of consumers read online reviews, 57% of consumers will only use a business if it has 4 or more stars, or that 91% of young consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations? https://www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/

Considering these statistics, it is obvious why a business’s digital presence can work for or against them. An excellent, or even decent, overall rating is what draws prospective customers to your business, and a poor reputation is what keeps them away.

The average person makes decisions based solely on what populates the top positions of the search engine results pages (SERPs), and most often never looks beyond the first 5 results. For example, if a tax attorney’s profile shows up in Google’s “local map pack” or Google Maps when a user searches for “tax attorney near me” and they’ve received dozens of positive Google reviews, chances are that they’ve just won a new client.

In addition, when a prospective customer searches online for a business’s name, the first-page results are the first, and perhaps only, impression that customer has of the quality, responsiveness, and reputation of that business. And as we know, first impressions matter most.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Search engine rankings are not the result of mere coincidence. Search engine optimization (SEO) can make or break a good online reputation. Google calculates all search results based on highly complicated and undisclosed algorithms with hundreds of different factors.

We can classify these factors into two groups: On-page and off-page. On-page factors include everything that has to do with a webpage itself. Off-page factors refer to determinants outside the reach of a webmaster.

Both of these factors are important, and you will definitely achieve the best results with your optimization efforts if you focus on both equally.

Included below are the most important on-page and off-page factors.

On-Page Factors

Metadata

This includes the meta title tag and the meta description for each page that is part of a website. The title tag tells users and search engines about the topic of a page. The meta description provides a brief explanation (approx. 300 characters) about the content.

Content

In order to rank high in Google, engaging and informative content has become increasingly more important. An example of quality content would be an article that provides real value to your audience, in digestible language, with appealing images and possibly video. An enticing main headline, multiple sections with subheadings, short paragraphs, and bullet lists should be included. Links pointing to other internal and external pages can lend additional value.

Site Speed and Mobile User Experience

In 2018, 52.2% of all website traffic was driven by mobile phones (statista.com). Fast-loading speed is key to engaging your site visitors to provide a positive mobile experience with your business.

Off-Page Factors

Backlinks

Backlinks are the most important off-page ranking factor. But the counter-intuitive rule is: Less is more. Contextual links on other websites over to your website must be placed in relevant content published on authoritative sites that are trusted by Google. In order to secure quality backlinks, they must be genuine, avoiding obvious low-quality backlink patterns and over-optimized anchor text which can do more harm than good.

Consistent Business Citations

A citation is a listing of your business with a name, address, and a phone number (NAP) that can be found anywhere online — on Yelp, for example, or in another business directory.

With business citations, it’s important that they are consistent, so each one of them contains the same information and in the same format. If that’s not the case, chances are that search engines can work against you.

Social Media

A strong social media presence that maintains thousands of organic followers who like and share your content is an indirect ranking factor. Effective social media engagement provides a business with online credibility.

Managed, Partially Managed, and Unmanaged Content

SERPs are comprised of three different types of content for your business:

1. Managed content — Managed content is content you can control. This includes everything that’s published on your own website(s) and articles, videos, etc., that you publish elsewhere online.

2. Partially managed content — Review sites serve partially managed content. You can create and edit your own business profile, but you cannot prevent other people from publishing content about you or your business. In the case of a negative review, you can offer your support by responding immediately and thereby demonstrate your willingness to resolve the issue.

3. Unmanaged content — Unmanaged content includes everything from news about your business to blog posts and photos that you cannot influence because you don’t have any control over the original content source. Unmanaged content is also the most dangerous, and this is why you should use search suppression to protect yourself.

Reverse SEO: How To Build a Defense Against Negative Content

How can you defend against negative online content? There are three approaches:

Approach A — Address & Suppress

One way to manage negative online content is to address and suppress it as soon as possible, each time it appears.

The first thing to do is check if the content violates one of Google’s guidelines or terms of service (or the equivalent for any search engine website). For example, perhaps the content discloses confidential information. If that’s the case, you can use one of Google’s legal help tools to have the content removed.

If no guidelines or terms of service have been violated, you can try to directly contact the webmaster of the site where the content is published, or the creator of the content, to request removal. This is often achieved by reaching a mutual agreement, which may include a monetary settlement.

The next thing to do is suppress the negative content by pushing it down in the SERPs, by ranking your and other favorable content above it. This technique is called reverse SEO, and it requires the most amount of time and resources to implement. New content must be generated constantly and posted with frequency by someone who understands and can implement best practices in SEO to ensure high page rank.

Approach B — Being Proactive

Even better than reactive suppression is proactive defense. Remember, you are in control with this approach. By building an effective defense against defamatory or negative content, you don’t have to fear it anymore.

How do you build an effective defense?

Start by creating new online assets, such as social media profiles and accounts on popular blogging platforms — think Tumblr, Medium, and Blogger. You can populate these new digital assets with SEO content and build powerful links to them. High-quality press releases and guest posts can also be part of your online asset arsenal. In addition, endorse, share, and promote existing posts and articles that feature your business.

Approach C — Fight Back

Sometimes, the address/suppress and proactive approaches are only partially effective. Joe Meadows, an internet defamation and business litigator with Bean Kinney & Korman in Arlington, Virginia, has seen aggressive competitors, disgruntled employees, and rogue trolls — sometimes hiding behind fake or anonymous names — hell-bent on inflicting online damage to businesses.

Meadows advises clients to consider litigation if the content is defamatory (injuring reputation), disparaging (injuring products or services), an invasion of privacy or trade secrets, an infringement of intellectual property, or an unfair trade practice. He notes that internet defamation lawyers can recognize these claims and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case. But a word of caution, according to Meadows:

“Defamation litigation can be expensive and time consuming. It may even draw unwanted attention to the negative content. Still, pursuing a defamation case may be important to defend your name, brand, or reputation.”

Conclusion

Today, the majority of consumers rely on online reviews to find a business that they can trust. A solid online reputation and digital presence are crucial for attracting new customers. Content that appears in the top positions of the SERPs will help create a good first impression. With the help of the right reverse SEO techniques, you can build a strong defense against negative content. And if all else fails, consider fighting back in court.

The above article has been modified from its original version.

Sameer Somal

Written by

Speaker, Educator, Subject Matter Expert, & Entrepreneur at Blue Ocean Global Technology & Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Twitter: @BlueOceanGT & Insta: @iamssameer

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