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Google’s Use of Online Reputation to Rank Your Company’s Site

When consumers comparison shop online, a brand’s website and where it ranks on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) can directly impact how searchers convert into paying clients. A websites ranking authority is determined by many factors, but none so important as online reputation. A poor online reputation can not only hurt brand perception, but it can affect how Google ranks your website. This can prevent consumers from finding your brand and essential information about your products and services.

Google measures a brand’s reputation by looking for signals demonstrating expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (what are referred to as E-A-T criteria). The strength of those signals determines which sites have the authority to take precedence in Google’s search rankings.

To ensure it delivers the best possible content in search results, Google employs a team of human reviewers to manually evaluate the quality of its SERPs. Google’s team of Search Quality Raters scour the internet to find evidence of E-A-T levels. Information gathered from these evaluations goes into Google’s understanding of a website’s relevance for a given search query.

Google started examining factors like reputation and customer experience for search ranking purposes back in 2018 when it rolled out a collection of updates to its ranking algorithm known as the “Medic” update. Since then, customer reviews have become one of the most important metrics used by Google to measure a company’s reputation. This has made customer reviews a powerful component of search engine rankings.

In Google’s eyes, reputation supersedes other ranking factors, directly impacting a business’s site’s standing in the SERPs. Even if a website meets all the technical requirements for search engine optimization (SEO), it can still be held back in search rankings by a negative online reputation created by unfavorable reviews or other types of unfavorable content. Getting held down in search rankings raises your company’s risk of being overshadowed by competitors, potentially impacting sales. 

Fortunately, business owners can turn this kind of situation around. Suppose your business’s reputation has been damaged by negative reviews (including fake feedback) or other kinds of content. In that case, there are professionals that can help you work to recover your company’s reputation. With the right approach and tools, you can improve brand perception and boost your site’s ranking, allowing potential customers to find your website more easily when comparison shopping online.

Brand Narrative and Visibility

As Rachel Botsman said in her TED Talk on trust in our modern economy, “Reputation will be your most valuable asset.” 

Google follows this philosophy as well. What people say about a brand online gives Google’s Quality Raters an idea of whether consumers trust that brand. Analyzing the online sentiment toward a brand helps find answers to questions like: Does the brand deliver on its promises? Does the brand offer assistance to customers after the initial transaction? If a customer has a complaint, does the brand jump in to offer a solution? All of this information helps them decide how your website and its content should rank in the SERPs.

Brands need visibility because consumers need a way to gauge a company’s reputation when researching them for the first time. Google’s algorithm attempts to emulate a consumer’s gauging metrics when it decides how to rank sites, making visibility doubly important. In the age of comparison shopping, customer engagement around a brand needs to be visible as well. 

Ideally, the online narrative surrounding your brand should provide proof that your business has earned consumer trust, been established as an expert, and holds industry authority. A lack of available information, which creates a lack of narrative, should not be interpreted as a good thing. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that zero discussion about your brand is better than critical discussion. Your reputation is an asset, and you must cultivate it accordingly.

Combining a positive brand narrative with visibility in search engines helps create an online reputation with real-world value. A strong reputation will earn more customers for your brand and potentially even allow you to increase your prices while remaining competitive.

Review Your Reputation

Reading customer reviews about businesses and products has become an integral step in the comparison shopping process, particularly during the past year of relative isolation and inability to shop in-person due to the pandemic. Reviews have the power to sway people toward one product or service in particular and even help create support for one business over another. As a part of your brand’s reputation, they also influence your site’s search ranking.

Google favors review sites because the customers writing reviews can be confirmed as real people, honestly providing feedback. This means these sites will likely continue to grow in popularity and prevalence, making them an important consideration for your business. Because their content can influence the real-life financial decisions of others, review sites fall into a particular category of sites known as “YMYL” (your money, your life), which receives intense scrutiny. 

To examine sites of all kinds effectively, from review sites to your company blog, Google employs its Quality Raters. They review search results by entering example queries into Google and examining the web pages returned to see if they meet company standards. A set of instructions, called the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines, advises Google’s reviewers on what criteria to look for and how to look for it. 

“Reputation research is necessary for all websites you encounter,” the guidelines state before going into more specific details. The guidelines state the following regarding the kinds of customer reviews aggregated on review sites: 

“Customer reviews can be helpful for assessing the reputation of a store or business. However, you should interpret these reviews with care, particularly if there are only a few. Be skeptical of both positive and negative user reviews. Anyone can write them, including the creator of the website or someone the store or business hires for this purpose.”

This all goes to say that customer reviews, both positive and negative, can have a direct impact on how Google’s Quality Raters perceive a site’s reputation. In turn, that has the potential to affect a website’s search rankings. 

Reputation Repair

Reputation Management services work with businesses to take back control of their brand’s online narrative, restoring their reputation in customers’ minds and helping their websites rank higher in search results. 

Specializing in brand visibility, reputation repair and protection, Reputation Management companies offer the following types of services:  

  • Review management: Includes monitoring, responding to and/or removing reviews. Active review management can help shape Google’s understanding of a company’s reputation, which determines website rankings in search results.
  • Negative content removal: Getting negative content removed by demonstrating that it is fake or published solely for malicious purposes.
  • E-A-T: Establishing expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness through regular creation of quality content.

These strategies are targeted at boosting a brand’s reputation, which can help a company communicate to Google’s Search Quality Raters that their site deserves to rank prominently in search results. When a site ranks high, and searchers can easily view a company’s products, services and overall brand, it will have gained a leg up in the current comparison shopping landscape.

Taking Reputation Seriously

Gaining website authority used to hinge on the technical prowess and SEO effectiveness of a site. While those factors remain important, Google’s algorithm changes and guidelines for Search Quality Raters have given reputation and customer experience more pull than ever before

Brands can’t afford to overlook risks to their reputation—it’s too important a factor of winning customers in today’s comparison shopping landscape. The longer negative content stays online without being addressed, the more damage it can do to your brand’s reputation and, in turn, its visibility in search results. 

Services provided by reputation management companies act as insurance for a company’s brand, which deserves the same protection as any other valuable asset. 

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