I was online looking for a printer the other today and took to browsing through Hewlett Packard’s search results. After flicking through for a while, something started to feel odd? Wasn’t there a big scandal in the news about HP recently? Where was it? Everything seemed rosy in the Search Engine results.
If you search for "Hewlett Packard" you need to go to page 6 on Google to find even the first mention of the corporate spying scandal that hit the company in 2006. Yahoo is even kinder. You need to go to result #264 before you find the faintest hint of scandal.
Compare this to poor old Choicepoint who lost the data of thousands of customers to identity thieves. That scandal is #5 on Google and #6 on Yahoo searches for "ChoicePoint". Contrast also with Halliburton and Enron who find accusations against them at #2 and #3.
In fact, its not only companies but also celebrities that vary greatly in their Search Engine success. Mel Gibson, despite a film career stretching back over 25 years, is faced with news about his anti-Jewish tirades at #4, whereas Paris Hilton escapes unscathed in the first two pages of search results. Perhaps not surprisingly, the queen of media damage control appears to be Madonna who has only positive news in the first 6 pages of her results.
We went head and did some digging into three different groups. One was companies hit by scandals, one was celebrities in trouble, and finally I looked into firms with a reputation for bad customer services. We added two examples of small companies local to us in Atlanta who have a reputation for building leaky kitchens and running a bad school (we’ve been nice enough to keep them anonymous).
So whats the secret of successful companies such as HP?
- They have great Search Engine Optimization. HP has multiple inside pages with a PR of at least 8.
- They assiduously court their online image. Madonna has a blog, MySpace account and numerous fan clubs are pouring out positive news. HP has numerous strong subdomains and international sites that earn high rankings.
- They are heavily involved in the SEO industry. You’ll find HP representatives at all the major SEO trade shows.
A big company might be able to ride out negative publicity but smaller firms can suffer the effects of bad online reviews for years. Would you buy a kitchen from someone when result #4 showed photos of worm-eaten cabinets? Would you send your kids to a school where a lawsuit full of allegations is at #4.
So, what can small companies do to protect themselves against negative publicity of the sort that overwhelmed the school and cabinet maker?
- Make sure you are listed in as many directories and trade publications as possible. Check results for Alledia and you’ll find our accounts on dozens of sites. The kitchen cabinet company has only ten positive listings online so its easy for a negative review to rank highly.
- Be proactive. Good search engine results take months and years, but bad publicity can be indexed in weeks.
- Actively seek good publicity with press releases. Madonna’s results are full of articles telling her side of the story.
- Make sure groups don’t form against you. PayPalSucks.com , Registerflies.com, HalliburtonWatch.org and a series of forums run by ex-students of the anonymous school are all examples of how difficult it can be to dislodge an organized group from the rankings. Step in and try to reconcile with such groups before they get traction. Compare those sites to hewlett-packard-sucks.com which is a page of ramblings that barely ranks at all.