Today’s guest post is written by Sean McGinnis.

Online reputation management (ORM) is most usually brought front and center when an executive, professional, or brand notices an unflattering item on the first page of a search result.

In reality, it should be carefully managed before you get to that point, but it’s fairly typical people don’t pay attention to it until it becomes a necessity.

ORM is a semi-specialized niche within search engine optimization; the goal of which is to gain control of the first page of search results.

As you’ll see, this discipline goes well beyond SEO to include aspects of PR and external communication, blogging, copywriting, and social media.

I’ve summarized below a list of steps to take when embarking on an online reputation management campaign.

  1. Take an inventory. Audit all the online assets available to you. Sign OUT of Google and run a search for your name. Go three to five pages deep. Grab the URL of every result listed and classify each as positive, negative, or neutral. Now do the same thing on Bing and Yahoo.
  2. Stay alert. Schedule a Google alert for your name to arrive in your email box every time Google finds new material with your name in the content. This will help you stay on top of new results whether or not they hit the first page of search results.
  3. Optimize existing positive assets. Perform basic SEO on pages and assets you categorized as “positive” in step one above. Revisit the pages you can control. Make sure your name is in the title tag of each page. Ensure your name appears in the description field of social media profiles.
  4. Link to existing positive assets. Create links back to “positive” pages that are already performing but need a slight boost. For example, I’ve created a page on my personal blog where I link to guest posts I have written on other blogs. I also use the “publications” area of my LinkedIn profile to do the same thing. And my Google+ page includes the same set of links. You can create personal hubs that link to your social media profiles. Google+ is excellent for this, as are the “personalized home page” or “web resume” type tools. Two good examples are AboutMe and BrandYourself, but there are many others.
  5. Create new positive assets. There are certain tactics you simply MUST do when it comes to ORM. If you have not yet done so, create a complete profile on each of the big four social media locations: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. I also recommend the following profiles: Flickr (Yes – FLICKR!) Quora, Slideshare, Vimeo, and YouTube. Just creating the profiles is not enough. Use each service – at least periodically. Make sure you loop back to step four above and add links to these profiles from your link hubs.
    • Now, create a blog and make sure your name is in the URL. Ideally, you should buy the .com of your name. If that’s not available, buy the .net, .co, .me, or .us version. The subject of the blog is irrelevant. Until a year ago, was on the first page of every search I ever did. Now is on page one, and I blog there VERY infrequently.
    • Don’t forget about images and video when “creating assets.” Both major search engines offer blended search results, often including images and video in the first or second page of search results. Make sure you are creating images and video titled, tagged, and uploaded with your name.
    • Write guest posts for powerful blogs (ahem). They may not push down powerful profiles (such as Twitter and Facebook), but they may outrank some negative posts.
  6. Don’t wait until you need ORM to start a campaign. If you wait until you need it, it’s already too late. Practice with your name. Then move onto your business or product names. Devote one to two hours per week working on your program and get a head start on the Negative Nellies in the event something does happen.
  7. Check out BrandYourself. I mentioned them above as a good personal page tool. The site is MUCH more than that. Imagine a web 2.0 toolset that embodied ORM for dummies. I’ve been playing with the tool for a few months (they gave me a free paid account for three months to test it) and I was VERY impressed with the ease of use, the recommendations, and the quality of service.

Online reputation management is, in most cases, a relatively simple small-scale SEO effort. It can become complicated quickly, and in extreme cases can become an exceptionally critical business task that can alter the business landscape.

What has been your experience with Online Reputation Management? What is the most successful tactic you’ve used to own the first page of results?

Sean McGinnis is founder of 312 Digital, a digital marketing consultancy and training company that helps companies better sell and market their products and services online. Sean consults, speaks, and writes on a variety of topics related to digital marketing and sales and has led four different internet businesses and digital marketing teams since 1997, including one of the largest organic SEO teams in the U.S.