How Well Do Search Engines Really Know You?

Hot on the heels of my earlier post about reputation management and terms used to label successful people come signs that I’m in no way alone in my questions about the authenticity of claims and accuracy of press releases. Control of information is a growing concern.

Not long ago I met someone in the search engine marketing business who told me about being frustrated with search results on his own name. Being “Googled” brought up information that was incorrect and he was desperate to change it.

An article written by Matt Creamer was referred to me by a friend, who thought I’d be interested in his story. I was. Optimize Me: A Reporter’s Journey into the World of SEO and SEM is about his experience hiring a firm to perform SEO services to improve his reputation in search engine results. He disliked what a search for his name brought back in search results.

The firm he hired used social media marketing to turn his personal “brand” around. He writes,

Reprise created for me no fewer than 13 social-media accounts that would link to each other and, where possible, be loaded with keywords including my name and words like “advertising” and “Ad Age” that would turn them up high in relevant searches. The overall effect, ideally, would be a web of content that would push to the top of my search rankings — and, in the process, drive traffic to my stories on Ad Age, all the while pushing the impostors out. The hub for my brand would be MattCreamer.com, a brand-new blog that hosts links to my work for Ad Age as well as posts about news in the marketing and media world.

Success in social media, I quickly discovered, is being comfortable with the proposition that every single waking thought and feeling you have is important enough that other people will want to read it.

Now, after all this was done, a search on his name brings back a friendlier, more accurate portrayal of who he is.

I can understand wanting to have your best possible professional self facing the public, but what he had to do scares me. I can’t imagine handling 13 separate social media accounts. And couldn’t the same tactics of building out sites with controlled content to build up someone, also be used to take them down? Is there no type of web site that’s safe from being used as an SEO tool?

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Bryan Eisenberg also brought up the “expert” label topic this week. He, too, is uncomfortable with it and has another idea. In his blog post called, In How to Leverage “OPM” (Other People’s Mistakes), he asked, “Have you ever taken bad Web advice from a so-called expert?” His company is writing an ebook on that topic.

While conversion has something to do with usability, multivariate testing and web analytics, the bigger overarching issue is almost always marketing (read: persuasion)-related. When our clients have a challenging search-related issue, we refer them to a search marketing firm we trust. Are there really any social media experts yet (although we may be getting there)?

* Did you get blacklisted from a search engine for following bad advice?
* Did you spend a ton of money on a tool no one uses?
* Did you do a “redesign” and get poor results?
* Did you create a “viral” campaign that nobody noticed?
* Did you invest in the latest and coolest Web 2.0 initiative only to see a small return?

He mentions “social media experts”. I think someone like the above journalist, Matt Creamer, might feel the company he hired falls into that category already. I’ve seen the phrase “social media marketing expert” and not understood exactly what it means. This is similar to “usability expert”. What, exactly, to these experts do? Each industry, whether it be usability, social media, web design or search engine marketing has branches of related skill sets. Sometimes there are specialties within each genre and the approach is a team effort for a client.

Matt Bailey wrote a different angle on this, in When Bad Reviews go Good where he describes,

Business owners are horrified at the prospects of someone leaving a horrible review of their business. The helpful and positive reviews aren’t even considered because of the potential of a bad review.

His article offers examples of how a supposed “bad” review of a product or service may, in fact, be someone else’s “good” point. It’s interesting food for thought.

It ties back to reputation management and what we can, and can’t control. User generated content may be a creepy unknown, uncontrollable risk factor of doing business on the Web that we may have to learn to live with.

Credibility, Trust and Customer Satisfaction

A new web site called MyWOT (WebofTrust) has jumped on this. The site’s purpose is to help Internet users identify web sites they can trust doing business with.

What if you’re not even online yet? Should you be concerned about your reputation at the conception stage?

The answer is yes, if positive customer satisfaction is a priority. The Repertory Grid: Eliciting User Experience Comparisons in the Customer’s Voice offers an advanced perspective from the user testing angle, but offers this as food for thought.

For example, during the business intelligence phase of a project, when a product team is defining the business goals and objectives for a product, business stakeholders usually have their own perspectives on how a Web site or application fits in the marketplace and what customers’ perceptions are. However, their experiences and constructs are likely different from those of their customers. Therefore, what stakeholders think is important might not be important to customers at all.

It’s not enough to have good intent. The more public an individual or company is, the more likely there will be something negative written or said somewhere about them. How strange to consider that we may need to worry what a search engine displays about us and I wonder…

How much longer will we have any real say anymore?

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