Blogging is neither dead nor for losers. Google Suggest would perhaps prefer to play devil’s advocate:
The search engine’s auto-suggest feature has evolved into a key marketing and online reputation tool, providing users with suggestions shaped by both global and local search patterns.
It also has the potential to produce headaches for bloggers and business owners.
Negative, misleading and even outright defamatory Google Suggest terms have cropped up for an array of companies and individual entrepreneurs. Turns out it doesn’t take much for “scam” or “is a rip off” to get appended to your company name in the Google Suggest box. And those are two of the tamer ones — search “BP is” for a look at how British Petroleum tends to fare these days in the land of Google Suggest.
To be sure, this has remained a concern primarily for larger companies and public personas. But the increasing integration of local search combined with the sweeping reach of social media is starting to bring these troubles a bit closer to home.
Blogging isn’t “so last year,” as Google Suggest might have you believe. But not paying closer attention to ORM certainly is.
Suggest and the Scam
Google Suggest culls its results from several sources. As with most things Google, the explicit recipe is a house secret, but it’s safe to say the major factors probably include page content from other sites, search frequency and a recent stream of content emanating from blogs and news sources.
What’s scary for bloggers is the search tool’s potential to become a negative echo chamber. It’s natural, if not a bit healthy, for a handful of readers to take issue with a post or express dissatisfaction with an info product or business practice. But negative comments and keywords in online reviews and other user-generated content can coalesce, gather stream and finally snowball until it’s picked by Google Suggest. A couple readers griping about your “scam” or “rip-off”— on your site or elsewhere — can spur a feedback loop that ties unsavory characteristics to your blog and brand in the formerly clean slate that is a Google search field.
Having “Blog X scam” as a top-tier Google Suggest result for your site isn’t the most desirable first impression.
Even more maddening is that innocuous comments and the regular flow of content and reader interaction can contribute to similar problems. For example, Copyblogger is one of the best run and most respected sites on the web (full disclosure: I’ve written for them). Yet here’s a look at recent Google Suggest results for the esteemed site:
Toward the bottom, sandwiched between “seo” and “tagline” is “scam.” Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see that most of the top-tier search results for the phrase link back to legit, contextually appropriate uses and not hot-headed screeds. Then again, perhaps you should hold off — the double-edged sword here is that searching the phrase only reinforces its validity.
In other words, investigating whether Blog X really is a scam might only serve to further popularize the phrase in Google Suggest.
For now, some of this seems simply inevitable. Bloggers aren’t likely to curtail their use of words or crack down on reader commentary for the sake of the search engines. But info products, writing services and the copywriting sphere as a whole is a competitive space, and there’s certainly potential here for others to knowingly exploit Google Suggest for their own ends.
For years, online reputation experts advised companies to start a blog as a proactive measure to disseminate good news and counteract complaints and criticism.
But what about when your business is your blog?
To an extent, the old rules still apply. Bloggers who sell info products or provide other commercial services should be quick to respond to consumer problems aired in public. The same goes for incendiary posts or comments, no matter their origin. Setting up Google Alerts for your blog name, your byline and any other business handles is a good first step.
Self-promotion is another important measure. Bloggers should embrace the power of positive press while striking a balance between arrogant and authoritative. Customer testimonials and spotlights can add a significant degree of comfort and credibility. You can even shell out some cash on Google AdWords that highlight those testimonials or your accomplishments.
Bloggers concerned about competitive wrangling can go a step further and defensively purchase domains — think BlogXreviews, BlogXsucks, BlogXcomplaints and the like. Park some, and turn others into separate entities that tout your service or showcase your responsiveness.
You can’t spend all day peppering the search engines with bloated press releases and fluffy blog posts. Nor can you require colleagues, contributors and readers to abstain from using words that might come back to haunt you.
But you sure as heck need to start doing something. Carve out a middle ground that fits and get to it — before someone else does it for you.
Chris Birk works with GrowthPartner.com, a unique firm that provides angel investment and online marketing expertise to emerging companies. A former newspaper and magazine writer, he teaches journalism and media writing at a private Midwestern university. He blogs at Write Short Live Long“>Write Short Live Long.