SEARCH RANKINGS AND CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS: Tips for controlling the “World’s Remote Control”

Advocacy advertising has long been a staple of the crisis communicator’s playbook, and — as BP’s ubiquitous “Gulf of Mexico Response” TV spots attest — it is still widely used. In recent years, however, paid crisis messaging has increasingly found its way into a new form of media — Google search. In the past few months alone, brands from Tylenol to Toyota have poured tens of millions of dollars into search term buys on Google and other search engines, ensuring that their news and links show up at the top of search page.

While these links appear in the “sponsored” section of the screen, most advertisers don’t feel their relevance is diminished and — since they only pay if the link is actually clicked on — there is virtually no waste in the buy. Certainly BP’s crisis media strategists must have felt search buys were a good value; the company reportedly increased its search spending from less than $57,000 per month pre-spill to more than $3.6 million per month at the height of the crisis, putting it almost on a par with BP’s television expenditures.

Perhaps most importantly, crisis communicators understand that messages delivered via search are messages that consumers are actively seeking, not passively bombarded with. “Google has become the remote control for the world,” Dentsu/Innovation Interactive CEO Will Margiloff told Advertising Age recently. “It’s the first stop, not the TV.”

But what should organizations do that can’t spend $60k per month (much less $3.6 mil) on search buys? There are a variety of other, organic ways for organizations to improve their search presence, beginning with fully utilizing social media channels. While some organizations approach social media outlets with a “set it and forget it” attitude, using them merely for ranking’s sake, the positive effect of social media sites on search ranking is much more pronounced if they have robust content. By building up these positive assets, organizations can outflank — and thus outrank — negative listings. To start with, you’ll want all of them to feature the brand’s name so you’re creating a strong ranking signal. Here are some other basic tips:

– Choose a branded vanity URL
– Brand the profile
– Be active, proactive and open
– Create conversation and interaction; engage your community
– Encourage feedback
– Customize look and functionality of your page
– Create multiple accounts
– Launch products, updates, specials
– Publicize new content
– Use video

– Choose a branded handle
– Use brand terms in bio
– Use branded terms in tweets
– Engage in the community
– Provide compelling content (including video)
– Actively build your base of followers (to increase clout, generate better rankings)

You Tube
– Brand the channel
– Brand each video
– Include brand terms in video tags
– Promote the videos
– Engage in the community

– Brand the profile
– Brand each picture
– Include brand terms in picture tags
– Continually upload photos

– Brand the domain
– Brand the blog name
– Post regularly!
– Tactfully include brand name in posts whenever possible
– Remember content comes first

Linked In
– Connect with employees and encourage them to connect as well
– Add applications
– Update content
– Engage with the community
– Answer questions

Create branded web micro-site domains (if the micro-site’s topic is large enough to generate substantial traffic for just that subject.)
– www.(brand)
– www.(brand)
– www.(brand)

Remember, none of these channels is a magic bullet; it takes months for them to truly impact your search ranking performance. And, keep in mind, traditional PR (publicity) tactics will also help you; the best way to get in front of the news is to get in the news. To optimize the effect of your social media outlets and earned media coverage, link up your assets and cross-promote them across your outlets and on your website. Above all, be interactive and transparent — monitor who is saying what about you online and respond accordingly. If you find a conversation occurring on another blog, contribute to the conversation and direct people back to your branded site. Engaging in the conversation will not only build up trust and goodwill among your community (and allow you to mobilize them in times of crisis) it will improve the likelihood that your messaging will be found during search.