Developing an SEO Strategy to Mitigate Reputational Harm

To paraphrase an old expression: We live in an age where reputational damage can be worldwide before repair attempts get their boots on.

For online reputation repair, an important facet involves search engine optimization (SEO), sometimes called content suppression, a method to mitigate the impact of negative or misleading information by strategically managing search engine results. This involves a multifaceted approach, after an initial, and crucial, first step of identifying keyword groups pertinent to the individual’s online presence.

With proper search terms in hand, a key element of suppressing false and misleading information online is the proactive creation and continuous updating of positive content to displace or mitigate the prominence of undesired Google search results. In other words, a proper SEO strategy focuses on pushing reputationally damaging content further down in search engine results, though it can also involve legal actions against defamatory material or content violating laws.

Understanding content suppression in SEO is key to shaping digital perceptions. Prominent search results greatly influence how individuals are perceived. Therefore, strategically selecting and managing keywords is crucial for steering the online narrative toward accuracy and positivity.

Don’t misunderstand us: Done well, these efforts do not involve the creation of “fluff,” “spin,” or one’s own version of fake news. Rather, it includes creating and promoting positive, accurate and authoritative content across various online platforms and strategically optimizing it to rank higher in search engine results.

Mitigating the Consequences of Online Reputational Harm

The reputational recovery process often demands an extensive effort, and—to be effective—may need to continue for a considerable time. Throughout a reputation repair program, which can span several years, one can witness a significant transformation in one’s online reputation.

PR practitioners must understand that these sophisticated efforts extend beyond traditional crisis communications. While press releases, statements and social media campaigns can help, they may not fully address the complexities of online misinformation and its spread.

A comprehensive approach must encompass a range of organic tactics and strategies. A dovetailed approach to crisis communications response and effective SEO and content suppression efforts might include the following:

  • Identifying Misinformation Sources: Pinpointing the origin of misinformation is crucial to effectively countering it. This may involve analyzing online forums, social media posts and news articles to identify the primary sources of false narratives.
  • Rebutting Falsehoods: Once misinformation sources are identified, providing accurate and verifiable information to contradict false claims is essential. Achieving this goal is possible through various means, including crafting blog posts and articles, active participation on social media, or direct communication with those impacted by misinformation.
  • Enhancing Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing online content for improved visibility in search engine results can elevate positive and accurate information to higher positions in search rankings, enhancing its prominence and reach. This increases the likelihood that individuals will come across truthful content.
  • Promoting Positive Content: Encouraging positive reviews, testimonials and endorsements can help balance negative online content and create a more favorable online presence.
  • Monitoring Online Conversations: Continuously monitoring online conversations and social media platforms is essential for identifying potential reputational threats and addressing them promptly.
  • Legal actions and court-assisted removals: As discussed, depending upon the jurisdiction, websites and hosting companies may be legally obligated to remove certain content. At times this is required after a court determines that the content is false, defamatory or otherwise causes harm to the concerned party. Such removal requires legal action—or, at the very least, the threat of legal action—but can be effective, even with difficult website administrators who boast of strict no-removal policies.
  • Negotiated removals: Negotiated removals with website administrators offer the highest chance of success when mistakes are involved. Where legal efforts fail, appealing to their emotions and providing proof of a mistake can often be successful. Successfully negotiated removals hinge on the essential elements of persistence, respect and non-threatening communication.

In the end, this is about ensuring truth rises to the top, in the face of a world where false and highly misleading information is increasingly a reputational threat to individuals and organizations alike. Reputational threat actors are highly sophisticated. A reputational repair program to mitigate the negative impacts of false and misleading information must be equally sophisticated to succeed.

James F. Haggerty is CEO of PRCG | Haggerty LLC and an attorney, author and communications consultant. Eric W. Rose is a partner at EKA PR in Los Angeles and a veteran executive in public relations, marketing and communications.