Online reputation management services are an evolving necessity for digital marketing agencies and consultants. The growing online review ecosystem has continued to be a key strategy for brand development among digital marketers, but that's a different animal than reputation management.
Who understands the nuances of reputation management better than Andy Drinkwater? Andy, an industry leading SEO freelance consultant and founder of iQ SEO, has been in the SEO industry for 19 years. When he added reputation management services, he saw the signs that this aspect of SEO was going to grow in importance for local businesses.
He was kind enough to chat with me about the evolving marketing channel, the differences between reactive reputation management and proactive review management, and the different types of clients based on industry and location. Check out our phone conversation below!
Defining online reputation management
Garrett: In your own words, big picture, what is online reputation management?
Andy: So, online reputation management, or ORM as some people call it, depends a little bit on the client from my perspective, and certainly from the client's perspective.
Big picture is looking after your brand, whether you've done something wrong or whether you want to prevent something from going wrong further down the line as well. So the whole online reputation management side of things wasn't as much of an issue 30 years ago as it is now. The actual clue being that it's all now online!
It's trying to focus on what's going on with your brand. If there's something negative going on, are you dealing with it? If there's something that might happen in the future, are you doing something that's going to circumvent that in the future as well?
The whole ORM thing is looking after your brand, your brand message, and how your brand is portrayed on the internet.
On adding online reputation management services to an agency
Garrett: You've been doing this for 19 years. The whole nature of search engine optimization and the internet has changed over that time. About 10 years ago, you decided to add online reputation management as one of your core consulting services.
Andy: That's right.
Garrett: Why did you decide to add that? What, ten years ago, got you going into it? What types of clients were reaching out to you, and what were their specific needs at the time?
Andy: I really sort of stumbled into it when a client said they'd been getting some negative reviews. What can they do about it?
I don't even remember which platform they were on.
They'd been getting negative reviews, and it seemed they were getting them unfairly from someone who was just trying to belittle them, just basically badmouth them online.
They said, "What can we do?" These negative documents are showing up in Google. We don't really want them here.
There's a real similarity between some areas of SEO and online reputation management. Ultimately, I'd say what you want to do is get rid of what's already there.
I had used some of the SEO skills that I've developed in order to push positive articles up and bury the negative. That's when I thought,
"That's an interesting prospect. It's only going to get more and more interesting as businesses are more open about what they're actually doing and the types of reviews that people leave as well."
There's good, there's bad, there's indifferent. So there seemed like there was this whole sort of area that I wasn't really focusing on that businesses had a need for.
On what the actual online reputation management service entails
Garrett: Absolutely. It's really interesting, because early on it seems like a lot of it had to do with reacting to negative content online. How are you helping your clients in the early days? To what extent were you actually performing the work, creating content, optimizing it, getting it up for the brand searches that their potential customers were doing, versus just educating them on how to represent their own brand, through their own content.
Andy: You're quite right in what you say. Most of it tended to be, and in general even now most of it tends to be reactive. A lot of businesses wait until something's happened before they try and deal with it. They don't try and sort of look forward. They can't always do that.
But I started out by taking on everything for the clients. I would take all of your issues, I'd put it all into one big pot, and I'd say "this is what I need to deal with this side of the things, this is what we need to do with this side of things." There was an element of education in there as well. I'd handle the negative articles, or the negative issues that were hounding them. I would also create documentation to give them a positive push in the future. It was proactive education so hopefully they wouldn't have something come back to bite them again.
So, a lot of it is reactive, a lot of it involves traditional SEO, as I said. You're looking at pushing positive or neutral articles to the forefront of Google with the aim of burying these things. I've done this with newspaper articles as well. They obviously take more work because of the strength the domains tend to come with as well, and the articles. Of course, these things are shared all over the place. So the stronger the area where the reputation issues were actually coming from, the more that's involved in actually saving the brand reputation.
Online reputation management services are going to be a case of looking at what can be done, or looking at what initially had to be done, bury the articles, create the positive, and create the documentation so the business doesn't get these issues again.
But since then, I've sort of pulled back a little bit in terms of how I work for clients now. I'll go into this in a little more details if you need me to, but more often than not, I'm now being asked to provide what's needed in terms of a plan. Sometimes I am still required to get involved in publishing the articles, making sure they're published in the right places, get some people on board with publishing these as well.
Things change. Things have changed in the last sort of ten years. I've seen big changes in how people are dealing with online reputation management.
The whole thing around it is going to continue to evolve as well. It is all very interesting.
On how local small business clients are talking about online reputation management and review management
Garrett: Yeah, exactly. So when clients come to you and they're talking about online reputation management, you know, that's been the term in terms of the reactive component.
Is that still how most businesses are talking about their kind of brand management (in terms of the reactive way?) Or are you seeing any changes to the meaning of the term? For local SEO, we're seeing this more proactive renaissance, but I still get the sense that most businesses, especially old school ones, think about it from that idea of reputation management vs. review management terminology.
What are you seeing the past year, past two years when you're talking to local business prospects?
Andy: Well, certainly the local side of things has, the last couple of years, seen a huge shake-up. Google reviews have really sort of been a big push for lots of businesses. As people become more savvy about where they can find out information about someone, they'll do a search, they'll see something negative.
As soon as they see something negative, that's a warning flag. It's been waved in front of them. So, for local businesses, where you've got a Google My Business listing, it is imperative to make sure that you're trying to get your positive reviews in there.
There's nothing good that comes out of doing nothing. All that's going to happen there is it's just going to come falling around your ears. The last couple of years, you mentioned, what are businesses doing with regards to review management and reputation management? I still think there's still a lack of education. It's not really ignorance. There's not really an understanding of what it is that's actually required and what the differences are. Many local businesses don't even know what can be done.
Probably the last two, two and a half years, I've seen more businesses worried about things that are about to happen, or they think are going to happen, compared to five to seven years ago.
People are taking a bit more of an interest in their online reputation, because Google loves brands. If your brand's got a good name, you're also going to get benefits from that. If it comes to something negative, then that can have a whole host of issues that you might not even be aware of that are happening. If somebody sees a negative review, you won't even know if they've ever made a decision to not purchase something.
It's taken a big, big shift.
Garrett: While the average business owner doesn't necessarily understand digital marketing or SEO, when it comes to reputation, and, specifically, reviews, it seems like business owners have strong feelings about them. Reviews hit them in an emotional way, whether it's a positive or negative review.
How do you think Yelp, Facebook, or any of the industry specific review sites are impacting online reputation management? How are business owners talking about reviews to you?
Andy: Oh, it's huge. When I talk, or when someone says, "We're getting negative reviews," or "we want to get more positive reviews, how can we do this?" There are so many strategies around this.
You have to think outside the box a little bit. I'll give you an example. There's a car wash company. Not a million miles away, but here in the UK. They said that they were struggling getting reviews about the services.
I said, "So what are you doing to actually get reviews?"
"Well, we asked them when they leave the carwash, leave a review for us."
By the time they've left, and they've done the shopping or whatever else, and they've gone back home, they've forgotten they even have the car wash.
So I said, "what you need to do is you need to try and engage with them before they've even left." So what they ended up doing, was to use a tablet while they were actually having the car washed. Give them the tablet. It was asking questions about what they were looking for. Put your email address in and we'll put you into a draw (contest) for these prizes.
The business was really engaging with the customers before they'd left the car wash premises itself.
That saw, I think it was something like a 94-95% increase in reviews. All positive reviews as well. Just by doing something a little bit different. Because it's simply boring when you're having your car washed. You sit there, and you crawl forward, and you stop. You sit there, and you crawl forward, and you stop.
This made things interesting. It was almost like an interactive car wash. That really made a difference.
So when they said, "we want more reviews," it's a difficult one, because you can't necessarily just assume somebody's going to go say, "yes, that was a positive experience."
Those people that were leaving reviews, they had an email address as well, so they're added to a mailing list, "don't forget if you had a good experience, leave a review here." It went really well for them, and it's continuing to work well for them.
That's probably a couple of years in.
So, reviews are a big part, a big big part. People are coming and sort of saying, "what can I do to get more positive reviews?"
But don't necessarily worry about negatives! Everybody gets negative reviews. You can't hope to possibly keep everybody happy all of the time. A negative review here or there might even make all of the reviews seem more natural.
You don't necessarily need to worry if you get one or two, here or there. Learn by them, engage with people leaving the negatives, use this as a learning curve for yourself.
On working with clients in different industries
Garrett: I love that. I love that example, and the interactivity. It's really just speaking to the idea that with any business they are developing a relationship with their customers. The engaging. Just being friendly and showing that you care has a ton of value.
In terms of those best practices for proactive review generation, when you're working with that car wash owner, are you getting the employees involved?
Does it have to come from the top of the organization in terms of these types of campaigns to get reviews? How do you start talking to clients about implementing the strategies that you recommend?
Andy: Well, it has to start with whoever puts the inquiry forward. Generally I'll start by going out to see them if they're local. If they're not local, I'll arrange a Skype chat. Because my clients aren't, by any stroke, just UK folks. They are literally world-wide.
Garrett: You're very international with customers in Australia, and US and everywhere.
Andy: Correct, absolutely. Generally the initial inquiries tend to come the from business owners or department owners. Sometimes even service managers. There's a number of different people that will initially contact me.
I'll always make sure (if it isn't their decision) that I get somebody else involved whose decision it is. Things sometimes get lost in translation. I will always put documentation together and make sure that everything in there is understood, go through it with them, and take the time to understand their issues. I'll make sure that everybody involved understands what is being proposed.
Garrett: Regarding understanding the issues of your clients, I assume, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you work with clients in different industries. What are some of the differences that you've seen when it comes specifically to review management from industry to industry?
Because obviously to your point of having a waiting room in a car wash, or waiting room in a doctor's office, versus a restaurant that's very quick and transactional, it would require different types of strategies for getting those reviews.
How do you approach those differences with clients?
Andy: It takes a little bit to get under the skin of what the goals of the business are.
Like you said, everything's going to be different. From a car wash to a product, to really getting engaged with some of this. It's all going to differ quite a lot depending on the industries.
Sometimes you do need something outside the box a little bit, because not everybody just wants to be hounded by email. Not everybody wants to sort of be, if you're in a restaurant, you don't want a waiter coming up and saying, "How's your meal? Can you fill this in for me?"
So you've got to think about things a little bit. There's absolutely no harm to begin someone's meal by handing them a little card by saying, "Look, if you fill this in, if you've got any problems with the meal, anything like that, write the details on here. We'll address them, we'll solve them, we'll look at these. And if you're happy with the service, go leave a review on one of these for us."
I'm a big fan of making sure that if you've got a problem, and you're not dealing with it, that you're educated about why you should be dealing with it. Because if you're not, you're just going to keep dealing with it. And it will (I've said this before) it will come back and it will bite you.
So, the industries do differ. They will continue to differ as well. You need to continue to try to push the boundaries a little bit. You don't want to be the average Joe. You want to be somebody that's making people remember your brand.
Online review management is not just about getting the reviews as well as getting people back in through the shop door as well. Whatever the product makes no difference at all. You want people to come back and remember you because they've had a good experience. You can continue to do that by staying engaged with them.
So it's not just a one-click solution. You don't want to just get a review and move on to the next person. You want to continue to engage with these people. Get them on your Facebook pages. Follow them on Twitter. Instagram. Whatever it is, wherever you're active, make sure that you stay engaged with them as well.
On social media's role in online reputation management services
Garrett: I think you made 3 really good points there. One I just want to address - I love the idea of the printed card, and I think that can work in a bunch of industries, whether it's at the doctor's office, whether it's at a hotel, you know at the end of your stay you leave it on the pillow one night, or something like that.
I love the idea of addressing, listening to your customers and addressing their problems. And I think there's this aspect of review management where if you don't run a good business, you're not going to get good reviews. How do you work with clients when they've got some things to work on in their business, but they've come to you for their reputation?
Andy: It starts really by looking at the business. There's a couple of things here.
So somebody comes to me with no real reputation, or maybe it's quite negative or neutral, they're an average player in the industry. Nothing particularly bad, nothing particularly good. Then I would tend to start a campaign with them, first of all, looking at what the service is, what it offers, how it can impact the markets. Is it better than the competitors? What's the perception of it? Do people think it's better? Do they think it's worse? Do they think it's not anything in between at all?
What are they doing to promote themselves? What are they doing to try and make sure that users of these particular services, tools, visitors to restaurants, whatever they are, and takeaways make no difference to what they're doing at all. What are they doing to make sure that they're getting themselves seen in the right areas? That they're getting themselves out to the right markets.
If you're a pub or you're a bar, you're going to want to make sure people are aware of the pub. Maybe you've got a karaoke night. Are you telling people about them? Maybe you've got quiz night. Are you telling people about those as well?
Try and engage people. Everyone knows, when they've had a few drinks, getting together and enjoying fun. There's no doubts about this. Make sure, as well, you focus on, and for me this is quite a big thing as well...is it family friendly? There are kids out there as well. Is it an evening thing, is it a daytime thing, is it more of a restaurant?
Whatever it is, make sure you've targeted the right audience. So, with those sorts of things I say it depends on what's on the type of review that's aiming to be built. If it is just neutral, there's got to be a starting point somewhere. But there's no point in procrastinating about these things.
If you're not going to do anything, you're never going to push it anymore. You need to work on it.
Garrett: Absolutely. I think you touched on it earlier, and I really want to touch on it again. Is this whole idea of your reputation also being tied to social media. I know a lot of folks are focusing on monitoring their social media channels, but also curating an image and a brand on social media. How does that play into some of the services you work with clients on their social media reputation?
Andy: For most of them, everybody should have some sort of reputation on social media. As an example, I am my brand. Everybody that I want to know about me, search for Andy Drinkwater, or even IQ SEO, and I'm big on Twitter. That's my biggest platform. And I make sure that I'm active on Twitter.
I've got a decent-sized Twitter following, I publish information I want people to understand about. On Twitter it's predominantly the SEO side of things.
Garrett: That's how I discovered you, on Twitter.
Andy: Is that right? Ok! But on Facebook I'm not as big. Most of my audience are probably on Facebook somewhere, but would probably not take to Facebook to go and find this information out.
So it's not like I've got lots of information I can sort of share on there around SEO that is going to hit the end user. So I tend to not focus as much on Facebook. I like Twitter as a platform, it works for me.
But social media is an element of the whole ORM side of things. It's huge. You can't do without it. And if you try and do about it, you're missing a huge trick.
People will say, "Well it doesn't cost anything to get set up on there."
And it doesn't cost anything. But it's your time that's involved in it as well. The publication of any articles. There's going to be an element of cost somewhere. But it doesn't necessarily need to be a monetary cost.
You need to make sure you're identifying where your target customers are. And it might be Pinterest. Pinterest has taken the market by storm for certain industries. Clothing. Beauty. Menus. Anything like that where it can be visual.
Garrett: Lifestyle is a whole thing.
Andy: All those sorts of areas. For me, I can't really see how Pinterest would work for me. So you've got to understand where your market is, and you've got to try not to delve into something. Just because someone says, "Instagram is fantastic, they get loads of followers."
Yeah, but they're not really going to follow me for SEO. But if you've got somebody who's a photographer, and they're on Instagram and they're on Pinterest, that's going to be huge for them, moreso than Twitter will be.
So understand where you need to be. Understand your markets. What you've got to have. You've got to have some sort of presence somewhere.
On the difference in local search and review sites for different geographies
Garrett: Speaking of markets, that's one of the great things about social media. It's so international, global.
I realize that's probably where you get a lot of your clients, but when it comes to the review ecosystems one thing I've noticed is reviews, while Google is obviously global, there are a lot of 3rd party review sites, or almost country-specific review sites that only work in a certain country.
What have you seen with the different clients based on the country and the way they approach reviews? Is it different in the UK vs. Australia vs. the US from your experience?
Andy: Very much so. The UK probably doesn't, from what I've seen, doesn't have as much of an issue as the US when it comes to the review sites. The one that I get asked about many times is Pissed Consumer. That site appears, numerous times per year, with people on there.
I've spoken to them on a number of occasions and said well, "how can you sort of take reviews from people who are just leaving something completely false, completely random? You don't do any work behind the review to see if it's actually true."
So you're sort of stuck in a bit of an area with the US where there are some places that people can leave these things. It's the whole sort of freedom of speech thing. It's very different to other countries. Within the UK, probably the one that I hear the most about, there's three: Facebook, Google, and Trust Pilot. Those are the three big ones over here that I hear the most issues with.
"Oh, we're getting negative reviews on Trust Pilot, how can we get rid of them."
Trust Pilot does have a system in place where they'll look at something, but they won't necessarily remove a review unless it fits their criteria. Most will have something similar in place.
If I was to look at Australia, that's probably the least, probably one of the areas I get the least issues from. In the last 12 months I've had one inquiry from Australia. Most come from the UK and the US, a few from the far east. But most are in those particular areas.
Because there's going to be a different platform. Because there's going to be different rules about what you can do.
Then you have to look at these, and you h ave to decide how you're best going to do it. And there's also, within the UK and Europe, you've got the right to be forgotten. But that even comes with its rules as well.
So you can't just say, "Oh, somebody said something negative about me," in the UK or in Europe, it's automatically going to be removed. It doesn't work like that. They still have to say something that is untrue, or that mentions your address or maybe a credit card number, or phone number. Something personal like that.
So, everywhere has its own rules.
You've got to understand the rules of the different locations as well. But for the most part, it's just UK and the US that I get the vast majority of inquiries from.
On negative review responses and when you can get bad reviews removed
Garrett: that's really interesting when you're talking about the negative reviews and how there's a lot of times that business owners don't actually have recourse.
Like, to your point, a lot of the sites have very specific terms and conditions of what's a violation, and what will have a review removed. You know, naming someone's information or saying something that's obviously a fake competitor.
How do you handle those situations for those different sites when they are obviously breaking the rules. And if they can't get the review removed. Like it's a legitimate bad review. How do you recommend business owners actually respond or handle those situations? Do they ignore them, do they try to resolve them? What's the best way to handle it?
Andy: If it's a true negative review, and somebody has had a true negative experience, then you can actually engage with these people. I'd say you must-do. You should never ignore a negative review. You need to always put some thought into it, do like a bit of due diligence. Is it real, is the person real, is what they're saying justifiable?
Never try and ask somebody to remove a review. Because that in itself can come with a whole host of its own issues, as well, and I've seen that go very very badly wrong for organizations in the past. Just a few years ago, you'll probably remember this yourself as well--there was a number of students who were teargassed outside of--
Andy: Yes. The school was found to be paying someone to try and bury that negativity. That did completely the opposite of what they're trying to do.
So you've got to be careful. If you've done something wrong, you hold your hands up. You're accountable for it, but you try and put it right. Let people see that you're putting right. Let people see that you're willing to learn from it. Then you've got the other ones as well. There's another example over there.
So there's a company here in the UK who dealt with Amazon accounts. I can't obviously mention the company name, but that's what they're doing. They have problems with Pissed Consumer. They've got a number of negative reviews on there which are just basically spam reviews made by a competitor that don't even really make any sense.
I've spoken to Pissed Consumer on a number of occasions. "Look, can you do nothing about this? Is it not right?"
And they say, "Basically we don't involve ourselves with whether it's right or it's wrong. We let you do that."
But that can open up a can of worms. So if you're engaging with some fake person who's just hellbent on making your reviews look as bad as possible, then what do you do with these things?
So what I'd do in those circumstances, I'd say you ignore them. And then you start to bury them. Because there's no point trying to talk with somebody who's just got it out for you. They just want to see your reputation damaged.
If you know who they are, then there's legal representation you can actually use, but you've got to be a bit sure that's what's actually going on there as well. Otherwise, that can cause problems. You don't want negative press for the sake of negative press. But as I said, there are those times when you need to bury these things.
So it makes it a little bit easy with some of them. Pissed Consumer's not too bad because everything's on a subdomain. So you can actually bury the subdomain to the point where yours are just not being seen anywhere.
It's going to differ, but traditionally if you've done something wrong, you hold your hands up, you deal with it, and let people see you dealing with it. If it's something with a bit of contention in there, maybe take some advice on the best way to do it, if it's just somebody's trying to harm your reputation, you don't know who it is, just bury it.
Garrett: And it is interesting, because like with any sort of social network or online presence, there's always that debate of the ethics, responsibility, and accountability for the tech companies. And you know, our hands are tied. We're playing in their garden, and so you see in the US there are a lot of litigations between Yelp vs. consumers, Yelp vs. businesses.
But we both know that your reputation, your reviews, what's being said about you online, matters and impacts your business. So it's really hard for business owners. They want some recourse, some sort of control, even when they don't have it.
Andy: Yes, absolutely. A lot of people don't necessarily realize what the options are for them. This is so true.
There's a lot of reputation management services out there that say you can sort of use a service and then you can self-manage. But even with self-management, you've got to be a little bit cautious, because they don't give you a set of rules to necessarily follow. It's just going to be a service, oh, we'll put an article out here, I say you get some reviews on there, and get yourself on social media here, and that might not even be addressing the issue.
You've got to definitely understand what the problem is.
On new clients and developing the strategy
Garrett: I think this is such great information. I really do appreciate everything, Andy.
So in terms of someone who needs a solution like this, how would they get in touch with you, and what type of service specifically do you offer. What would a business owner want to ask you if they wanted to improve their reputation or had something they needed to fix.
How do they get in touch with Andy Drinkwater?
Andy: The easiest way is just head through my website, iqseo.org. Or just search for me, just search for Andy Drinkwater, and I'll sort of pop up at the top somewhere. That's traditionally how most people come through the site. People can reach out to me on Twitter. I'm pretty much on Twitter most days, not all days, so I'm always on Twitter. Again it's @iqseo. People can always get ahold of me there if they've got questions as well.
If somebody wanted to help, it helps me to understand what has been done, if anything. If is a negative article, if it's negative press, if something's gone really wrong, if it's a personal matter, if it's a business manner. Just a brief understanding of the scope of the issue helps. Where the negativity is coming from or where it's being published also helps as well.
Garrett: Right, because you're going to do your research, you're going to learn about the business, and then you're going to formulate the strategy once you get to know them.
Andy: Yes, absolutely. There isn't a set strategy for everyone. Everything's bespoke. Everything requires some level of different work.
I don't think I ever have any two that are the same. So I couldn't say, "Oh you need twenty articles here, and you need to put social media there." I'd love it to be that straightforward, but it just isn't. And this is part of the issue with the online services that offer these tools.
But what I would say, to anybody who wants to keep track of what's being said about them, Google Alerts. Set yourself on your Google Alerts, for your brand, for your business, for anything that's sort of related to your business. It's free, and you'll get it as soon as it's mentioned or through daily emails. So you know when it's being talked about to do with the brand or to do with yourself then it pops up as well.
That's a good one to keep tabs on things.
On what successful online reputation management clients have in common
Garrett: Finally, what's something your successful clients have in common? What's something that you know the reputation has a chance if you've seen across clients you've worked with?
Andy: For the most part, I would say they're happy to understand that something's gone wrong. Somewhere.
There's no point in sort of just shouting about, "Oh we've got problems, and this person said this and this person said something else about it," that's no help to anybody. I think for certain ones, an understanding or me helping them understand what's happened, and what they can do to prevent it in the future is always good.
Because there's no point in coming back to me year on year, saying, "Oh we've done something wrong again." And I say, "Well...go back to document A and read what you can do to make sure that doesn't happen again."
Nobody wants to be in that situation. I would say that most of the successful ones are happy to engage and go down the correct routes, and not rush at something. And certainly, if there's a negative, don't try and rush in there with all guns blazing and sort of cause all-out war, because that never does anything good for anybody.
Garrett: Really, I love it.
Get more of Andy's SEO and reputation management thoughts on twitter: @iqseo