Rank Ranger Blog

In Search [Episode 48]: Online Reputation Beyond SEO

Don't forget, you can keep up with the In Search SEO Podcast by subscribing on iTunes or by following the podcast on SoundCloud!

Summary of Episode 48: Online Reputation Beyond SEO

In Search SEO Banner 48

Former Search Engine Land editor and current AimClear VP of Product Innovation, Michelle Robbins, joins us to talk about online brand reputation in the modern web era:

  • Online reputation beyond links - expanding the SEO mind
  • How to handle negative brand presence online
  • Beyond gimmicks - how to build positive brand sentiment

Plus, we go into what might be a new way that Google is rolling out its algorithm updates!

A New Google Algorithm Update Paradigm?

A funny thing happened last week when Barry Schwartz of SERoundtable reported on a large amount of industry chatter that showed some sort of mega algorithm update was upon us!

Now, we, as in our Rank Risk Index, generally, pick up on such updates. Can you guess what our rank fluctuation weather tool showed as the SEO world went into a tizzy? Nothing. It showed no rank fluctuation spikes. And it wasn’t just our tool, it was all of the SEO weather tools.

So we here at Rank Ranger brainstormed and we came up with some good old solid speculation. We came up with a highly speculative answer as to why the tools showed nothing yet the chatter was through the roof. The answer? Small movements.

We looked at a ton of different keywords and during the period that corresponded to the update, we saw a significant amount of small ranking movements. Sites moving up or down 2 - 3 positions one day and another 1 - 2 positions the next and so forth.

And that’s not typical, at least not to such an extent and with such consistency each day. Meaning, the tools, which rely on an average level of rank fluctuations to pick up an update had not yet calibrated enough to identify such a gradual roll-out (but they will in time once/if this dynamic becomes the norm).

And yes, you may have seen some sites with crazy ranking shifts, but the trackers don’t track one or two sites. It’s an average. That average surely includes sites that saw massive movement, but it also included sites showing micro-movements as well. But again, this is all highly speculative.

While we didn’t look at enough data to make a real conclusion it does align to something Mordy saw with some of the core updates. As Mordy noted during the June 2019 core update, the average number of positions that sites moved when undergoing rank fluctuations was relatively low all things considered.

Personally, Mordy thinks this is we’re headed - to a world where massive rank movement is not as common. But first let’s ask, why does Google make crazy large adjustments to their algorithm? Big change means something big had to be corrected or it means Google was chunking a lot of smaller changes and in aggregate it became one big change.

The problem is both of those options are bad. If Google makes a big change it means that until then Google has been showing users non-optimal search results. If instead Google waits and saves up a bunch of small changes to then unleash all at once, that will form one giant tsunami of changes which is also bad for users.

Let’s put it this way, wouldn’t the best thing be to update rankings continuously, as much as is possible? That is, make constant small changes that result in the SERP undergoing an unending series of tweaks? Obviously, it will acquire more resources for Google to do this, we’re just thinking of the ideal goal - which is constantly occurring change. This way, users get the best results at the quickest rate. You don’t want to make large sweeping changes as that implies things need major fixes and you don’t want users to have to wait for small changes either.

Now you might say that rank is always being tweaked. Here, however, we’re talking about substantial increases with even more small changes being made to even more keywords even more often than they are now in such a way that it replaces the large and impactful algorithm updates we have become so used to. Not that large Google updates would be eliminated, rather that they would become a rare one-off that you see a few times a year, not something you see once or twice a month as it currently stands in some cases.

It only makes logical sense that with Google’s more nuanced approach to understanding content that a more nuanced approach to updating that content on the SERP should follow. Smaller, more consistent changes to rankings is just the natural evolution of Google being way smarter and having a more nuanced understanding of what’s out there and what’s relevant.

And all this means that tracking your rank volatility is going to be way more important than ever! Of course, Rank Ranger’s Fluctuations Insights Report is one of the only tools out there that tells you that information!

To sum up, Mordy thinks you’re going to see way more smaller rank changes that constantly take place versus the bigger sort of updates. And don’t worry, the rank fluctuation weather trackers will catch on to these smaller changes, they just need time to reset themselves.

Last thing on this, don’t forget that these small rank changes have always been happening to an extent. While we do talk a lot about big and sudden rank losses, Google will increase or decrease rank movement over the course of a prolonged period. Meaning, your rank might be fine one day to the next, but over the course of say a month there may be a slow decline/incline.

Online Reputation: Thinking Outside the "SEO Box”: A Conversation with Michelle Robbins

[This is a general summary of the interview and not a word for word transcript. You can listen to the podcast for the full interview.]

Mordy: Welcome to another In Search SEO Podcast interview. I am completely honored to introduce the former editor in chief of Search Engine Land, a prolific industry speaker, and the current VP of Product Innovation at AimClear, the one, the only Michelle Robbins!


Michelle: Thanks, good morning.

MO: I have to ask you since I know you’re a Star Trek fan. Who’s your favorite Star Trek captain?

MR: Jean-Luc Picard. Is there any other?

MO: I’m a Kirk fan myself. It’s nostalgic for me. I grew up watching it with my grandparents.

MR: Yes, there’s definitely something to nostalgia. I grew up on Next Generation and Jean-Luc was my first captain. Then I went back and watched the original series and thought what is this madness?

MO: That’s exactly what it is.

Let’s start talking about online reputation and thinking outside the SEO box. Just to help make sure everyone listening is on the same page, when we talk about online reputation and preventing reputation attacks, what are we talking about?

MR: For me, it really is about brand sentiment. It’s how your customers and potential customers perceive you as a whole.

MO: And how does that differ from what SEOs think about their brand on the SERP (that even if you’re not getting any clicks at least your brand is on the SERP)? Is this a totally new way of thinking about branding? Do the two relate somehow?

MR: I think they relate. Every channel combines and creates your brand and Search is no different. The way you surface your brand, the way you present your brand, and the tactics you use have the same foundations regardless of the channel.

MO: Can you please enlighten us about backlinks and link farms?

MR: So when you talk about backlinks and link farms, that’s more of how the search engines perceive you and not how people perceive you. SEOs tend to think a little too much about how the search engines think of the brands. I focus on the user, how people think about your brand. People don’t know your backlink profile. What they know is what they read on Twitter, Facebook, in the news, within search results, etc. That’s what we focus on and in the end, it will trickle down on what the search engines think about your brand.

MO: I want to talk to you about deep fakes. I once saw this deep fake of Arnold Schwarzenegger and I thought it was really him speaking. How can this new technology affect brand reputation? How do you protect yourself because it seems so easy to fool an audience?

MR: Deep fakes are about your eyes believing what it sees. Technology has gotten to the point where one person is saying something he didn’t say it all (which is super hard to detect) or it’s a completely different face superimposed on someone else. The former is more concerning because when changing faces you know something isn’t quite right. It’s the uncanny valley. You can tell something’s not right, but you don’t know exactly what. What’s really hard to detect is changing the audio track to the source video as you’re not changing a lot of the video, just a little bit.

Right now, deep fakes are the biggest concern for celebrities and politicians, but if brands aren’t thinking that there are competitors that will work on the "other side of the line”, then they’re not paying attention.

MO: Right, if you have a celebrity spokesperson, your competitor might use a deep fake of them to spoof you.

MR: I think it will be more low-tech than that. Let’s say you had a bad experience with a brand (not even as a competitor) and you were very angry with them for whatever reason. You can videotape any interaction between a customer and a desk clerk on your phone and then edit it to look like the clerk was cussing or saying something horrible that if the video got viral it will be a huge hit to the brand [Michelle does not endorse any such act]. Suddenly you have a problem you have to face.

MO: Wow, that’s actually really scary.

MR: It is. And we know that people have done this before to harm brands they were angry with or harm competitors. It’s logically the next step with technology changing.

Having a strong brand is the best defense against these things. Seeing is believing. If you know enough about a brand that they’re not terrible people then you will question what you’re seeing a little more. That’s what the goal has to be. To build a brand strong enough to mitigate any deep fake attack.

MO: Besides building a strong brand, what have brands done when hit with a deep fake attack?

MR: I don’t think there was a deep fake on a brand that I’m aware of as of yet, but there were other situations that caused reputation problems for brands that how they responded was of everything. A couple of examples are like when United dragged that guy off the plane or when Starbucks let those two men get arrested when using the restroom. Those were PR disasters. Cases like this bring about a ton of news articles filling the SERP that’s negatively affecting your brand.

So how do you mitigate it? You respond immediately and effectively. You have to address it meaningfully. Apologize, apologize, apologize. Do everything you can. Generate more news and more information to knock the negative news out.

MO: Let’s shift from negative to positive. AdWeek recently reported that brand trust has fallen to an all-time low (something like 55% of consumers don’t trust companies). How do you build a positive trustworthy persona for your brand if people aren’t going to trust you from the get-go?

MR: You don’t sell your value proposition, you sell your values. Instead of producing content that focuses on your product, focus on your people and values. Nike is a brand that is doing an incredible job at this while doing incredible brand marketing. The way they advertise, the way they promote equality, demonstrates the values of the brand overall.

Another brand is Dove. A number of years ago they decided to not use models, stop touching up pictures, and start showing real people in real situations. Knowing Dove’s ethics and values makes me more inclined to purchase from them. You develop an affinity to them. In marketing, the value proposition used to be the best product, the best price, etc. Now, we don’t think as much about how we are aligning our products and services with our value statement which will resonate with our target audience. Inasmuch it’s about understanding ethics it’s understanding which values and ethics are most important to your target consumers. It means more if you step into something that’s potentially divisive.

Any time a brand takes a risk I’m more inclined to believe that it’s genuine.

Think of the Gillette campaign. Have you seen the Gillette campaign?

MO: Yeah, even the sports talk shows were all over this. This was not fun for anyone.

MR: Well, except for Gilette who wasn’t hurt in the long run because you can think about the data Gillette has on its consumers, who is doing the purchasing in the homes and on who are the primary constituents they were planning to target. They were actually trying to grow their women market with their female products like their female shaving products. It was an incredibly smart campaign because it resonated with every woman. It may have upset a lot of men, but maybe it wasn’t targeting the men which made it genius.

MO: To me, everything starts with brand identity. What you offer, what your content focuses is on and subsequently how both search engines and consumers view you all seems to start with how you view yourself. Forget being a more "personal brand” but how do you think a brand should go about creating an identity for itself?

MR: It’s not something you can do in a day. Let’s start micro and then go macro. Think about yourself and your reputation. You probably don’t wake up every day thinking this is how I’m going to manage my reputation. You don’t. You have set values and live them. You don’t walk around telling people you’re not racist. No one does that, I hope. You demonstrate it by the way you act, behave, and live. Brands need to do the same thing. The decisions of what those values are is decided by the founders, the marketing team, or branding experts.

Let’s say you want to support women in sports getting equal pay. Equality is a value system. It can be a big topic, narrow topic, or whatever. Pick a value you want to align with and make sure everything you’re doing with your product, your customer service, your employees, etc. aligns with your values. How you get there is individualistic. The most important thing is that you actually demonstrate it.

Here’s an example I love to give. Do you know Aleyda Solis?

MO: Absolutely, we had her on the podcast two months ago.

MR: Aleyda is an amazing person and John Mueller as well is an amazingly nice person. Now imagine there was a video of both Aleyda and John sitting down at a coffee shop and Aleyda passes John an envelope and John says, "We’ll fix that for you.” Imagine seeing that. What would you be first reaction to seeing this?

MO: That something is wrong going on here. Knowing them, something’s not right.

MR: Exactly. Your first instinct is to say something’s not right because their reputations are so strong. What we know about them will make us question that situation. That’s what brands need to do. We need to develop a strong enough reputation in whatever communities we’re in that if something like that happens, it's easier to address because it seems so unlikely.

MO: Do you mean it’s so strong that even with the fact that people believe so much nonsense that it will overcome even that?

MR: I think it’s so strong that people are willing to question it. There are always people who believe in almost anything or who believe in conspiracies and they will take it and run with it. Something that brands should be doing is social listening. There are a lot of tools out there that enable the ability to listen to what people are talking about in general and what’s the sentiment to your brand in general. You should always be optimizing for positive sentiment. As brands, you should be monitoring what’s happening in the marketplace. If it turns out there’s a pocket of detractors, address them, don’t ignore them. Address them head-on and keep building your brand with positive sentiment so that pocket becomes smaller and smaller.

MO: Do you have to be careful when you address it though because you could come off as being aggressive or overly sensitive?

MR: I didn’t mean to directly address it. There are a lot of ways you can address things without directly addressing the person, individuals, or the incident. Basically, resurface information that the brand has done that flies in the face of what the brand is being accused of. That’s your best offense. It shows the point that a brand isn’t built in a day, nor a month, nor a year. A brand is a long term strategy and long term play.

It was spoken about for years that Google has a brand bias. Google doesn’t have a brand bias, it has a data bias and Google has access to a wide amount of brand data, not just from the brand’s website. Brands have more signals, more data, and people talk about brands more. It’s really hard to be a new brand now without going the extra mile. No one knows who you are, you have to build your brand and trust. It takes a long time and you have to be in it for the long run.

MO: I feel obliged to tie this into SEO at this point…. Do you think that the idea of having a core brand identity plays into how Google understands who you are (as an entity)?

MR: Yeah, and it goes with the signals I was talking about. There are more signals from brands to digest. Think of Yelp when someone writes a review about Brand A and says that they were first using Brand B and then wanted to try and switch to Brand A, but they now want to go back to using Brand B. That article was about Brand A, but Brand B was mentioned, and Google is digesting all of this data.

Google’s not only taking online data, but it’s also taking people’s movement data as well. Imagine a small town with two pizza shops, one with a killer site that loads really fast, it’s fully optimized, it has a 4-star rating on Yelp with over 400 reviews. The other pizza place has a site that’s only a PDF with only 100 reviews on Yelp. Now imagine every week the highly optimized pizza shop gets 500 people through the door and the shop across the street gets 5,000 people because the locals know it’s better pizza. They don’t care about Yelp or search rank, these town folk care about the pizza. Google is capturing all of this. Google knows which pizza store is more popular. So which local pizza store will rank higher? In this case, the pizza store with 5,000 people ordering pizza will rank higher.

We have to broaden our understanding of what we think Google understands about brands in the world. Start thinking more holistically about the channels we operate in instead of just thinking about what I can do in order to optimize for a bot.

MO: I don’t know what it is with the SEO industry, but there is this blinder’s eye where nothing else exists outside of SEO and even in SEO it’s very linear. High search volume keyword? Perfect. Does it align with what I’m doing perfectly? Not particularly, but because it’s high volume I’ll target it.

MR: SEOs need to think about other things that could also be influencing what you’re seeing in Google search results. It could be the advertising team created a SuperBowl ad which is why your site’s direct traffic spiked. It’s important to understand everything a brand is doing and not just what you’re doing within SEO.

MO: What are some of the tools outside the SEO box that you’re fond of that help manage brand reputation?

MR: Again, it’s the social watch tools. There are a number of them so you should invest in the one that’s right for your brand and within your budget. Large brands might be already doing this in their marketing department so make sure to get access to this data.

Optimize It or Disavow It

MO: In a zero-sum world… which would you do, create really reputable video content to help build your brand reputation or you could spend time disavowing spammy links to better your backlink profile?

MR: I will take this back to what I said at the beginning to always focus on the user so I would create the content all the time.

MO: (Jokingly) But links are everything!

MR: Not for users. They do play an important role, but unless you have a really serious problem then you should create the content. And it’s something that’s going to benefit you in the long run, it will always exist once when you create it, and it’s something you can leverage across multiple channels and campaigns. SEOs need to sometimes think about the multiple channels and not think so narrowly. A piece of content isn’t something you use once and then throw it away to collect dust. Think of what you can do with the content across channels and campaigns. And it should be good content. Think about if you have something to say, if you have authority on this topic, and is it something that your customer needs. And if you can’t tick those boxes then move along to your next initiative.

MO: Thank you for that. I really appreciate you coming on, Michelle.

MR: Thanks so much, Mordy.

SEO News

Google Removing Featured Snippet Organic Result: Google was seen removing the Featured Snippet URL from the organic results. Meaning, the Featured Snippet URL showed only in the snippet and not a 2nd time within the organic results!

Google Grouping Same Domain Results: Google was also seen showing multiple results from the same site together in one box. As opposed to the results from the site showing in different positions on the SERP, Google threw them all into one box.

Google Updates Video Structured Data Help Doc: Google has updated its video structured data doc to be more specific and therefore more helpful. Check it out.

WSJ Accuses Google of Interfering in Search Results: The Wall Street Journal took a hard shot at Google accusing it of foul play. There’s a lot to expunge from this story. Basically, in Mordy’s opinion, the piece was a hatchet job with an agenda. The best part was that they did research on 17 searches. 17?! Seriously?! That’s it?! We might go more into this next week as a Pet Peeve segment.

Fun SEO Send-Off Question

If Google ordered takeout where would it order it from? 

Sapir believes Google will order from a Korean restaurant, things like bibimbap, kimbap, and other dishes (and in no way was her answer biased because Sapir once lived in Korea). Mordy chose Chinese food because it has so many flavors that Mordy can’t put a finger on as to what they are, just like an algorithm update where something is going on but we can’t quite figure it out.

Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.

About The Author
In Search is a weekly SEO podcast featuring some of the biggest names in the search marketing industry.

Tune in to hear pure SEO insights with a ton of personality!

New episodes are released each Tuesday!

Start your free trial

Get the ultimate SEO tools with Rank Ranger
Start Free Trial
No Credit Card Required