Traditional PR vs. Search Engine Reputation Strategy

by Brett Borders

There are major, fundamental differences in how traditional media and search engines serve up news and information. The public also consumes, evaluates and remembers info they see in search engines differently from what they see in print.

PR pros who are getting deeper into online reputation strategy should consider these fundamental differences:

Traditional Media Is Temporal & Fleeting

Traditional media is cyclical. News is refreshed each day. Bad publicity lasts only as long as the paper is on the newsstand, and after that it lingers faintly in most people’s memory. That negative memory can be effectively offset by putting a “positive spin” on things. So… the PR firm orchestrates a disabled children’s charity drive and fires off a dozen press releases to announce it. If this is done skillfully, the public’s negative perceptions are slowly massaged out of the collective memory and replaced by positive perceptions, one media mention at a time. There’s nothing to compare side-by-side. The negative information is no longer in sight. Just warm fuzzies brightening up yesterday’s dark thundercloud.

Search Engines Are Permanent

Search engines index information “permanently.” As long a page is live on a webserver somewhere (and the domain does nothing shady to get penalized or banned) – the search engine will probably keep “listing” it somewhere in the search results. It will usually remain in the index until the website goes out of business or gets taken down by the webmaster. Even if you manage to get some “positive buzz” right on the front page, the negative information will probably still be there – right in front their faces.

(“Wash all the negative stuff out by flooding it with positive information” is mostly the mantra of hucksters and ORM novices. It can sometimes work in mild cases of reputation damage, but it rarely works for severe reputation problems that are impacting established businesses.)

Search Engines Directly Invite Scrutiny and Comparison


Search engines naturally encourage people to compare a variety of contrasting web pages, side by side. There’s a ton of junk on the web, and people have adapted and become very discerning about the credibility of content they’re consuming. Many people can spot fake reviews and PR puffery a mile away. Heartfelt negative sentiment mixed with phony, manufactured positivity and praise looks worse than just negative sentiment alone. It is my firm belief that creating neutral, natural pages is usually far more credible than stuffing “positive” pages into search engines.

That’s the way of the web. Adding a “positive spin” on things doesn’t work in the same way it does with temporal, cyclical traditional media. The negative information will still remain there – perhaps for a long time to come – and adding too much positive stuff just seems to accentuate and validate it.

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  • http://www.wchingya.com wchingya

    I was particularly enlightened by the part: to input 'neutral' pages instead of massive 'positive' ones in reach of credibility. It strikes me as in real life, if we look at this issue as a consumer towards a service, we are easily influenced by bad reviews; if the service is generally not too impressive, keeping things neutral is more persuasive than stuffing all the perfect remarks because the doubt is there.

    Unless, if the positive testimonials from recent clients starting to mount by themselves, do you think there's possibility that positivity can do wonders after a period of time? Yes, it requires patience. A lot of mending work to fix the past reputation and gain trust again. Another reminder that branding is hard to build and need to maintain at all times.

    Great tip on the neutral part, it really slips off my mind before this. :)

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Wchingya,

    Making too many “positive” pages usually looks bad. Most information in the Google search results is neutral or informational, not “advertisment” like.

  • http://www.lookuppage.com/ Udi Drezner

    Hi Brett,
    Great Post. Interesting to see the different ways of communicating your business to potential clients.

    Regarding Online Reputation Management, I recommend LookUppage (http://www.lookuppage.com), a branding tool used to create a web page of your own, for business & personal purposes. The web page created becomes visible on all search engines. It comes in both free and premium version.

    You're more than welcome to check it out…

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