Does Google Freshness Update Make Online Reputation Management More Difficult?

Google’s recent algorithm change that favors the most recent content for certain types of queries offers good opportunities for news and content sites. But for individuals and organizations, does the Freshness Update make online reputation management more difficult?

If you cover breaking news, hot topics or regularly occurring events the Freshness Update will create more chances for your latest content to surface highly for general search queries (like the name of a celebrity, sports team or TV show). Essentially Google has turned up the dial on its “query deserves freshness” algorithm.

But let’s say you are an individual or company that is trying to combat negative listings that rank highly for your name.

A fundamental part of online reputation management (ORM) involves pushing down those negative listings and getting more positive or neutral results better entrenched on page one. This is typically done through things like subdomains, social profiles and more favorable media coverage.

At times when your name is in the news (for reasons you’d prefer it wasn’t) an increase in the number of “fresh” listings on page one means it will be more difficult to keep negative coverage off of page one.

How It Works

Unfortunately a recent example that illustrates this concept in action is Joe Paterno and the terrible events that allegedly took place at Penn State.

Last week a search on “joe paterno” brought up these results on page one in Google:

Joe Paterno - Google freshness results

[Click to enlarge the image]

While the #1 and #2 organic listings are still a general bio and a Wikipedia page, the news onebox at the top and all eight listings under the embedded image results are related to the scandal.

Prior to the freshness change the news onebox would have still been prominent but only 2-3 of the natural listings would likely have been brand new content.

From a user perspective it makes sense to favor fresh content for this query, since it is likely that the majority of people searching for “joe paterno” or “penn state” last week were looking for information on the recent news.

But for the individual or organization in question, the resulting shake-up in the SERPs can be troubling.

To be clear, Joe Paterno is very serious example and I am not implying that he should have an ORM team helping to clean up his search results. It is simply a recent event that illustrates the Google freshness update in action.

What You Can Do

There are instances in which a company or individual is hit by a wave of negative coverage, whether fairly or not. At such times an increase in fresh results means it will be more challenging to keep unfavorable coverage out of the page one results.

So in that sense the Google Freshness Update does make online reputation management more challenging for PR and SEO professionals.

However, an important takeaway is the fact that the Freshness Update works both ways. It may bring more unfavorable content to the forefront, but it can just as easily give a boost to positive content.

At times when negative coverage is increasing, your ability to respond quickly with new content that conveys your side the story (through both owned media and earned media) will increase the likelihood that not all of the fresh listings will be negative.

It will also be important to continue to produce and generate additional favorable content for as long as the freshness algorithm continues to be triggered for your name.

You won’t be able to keep out all of the negative listings, but you can at least create a better balance in what users encounter in the fresh results.

Interested in learning more about Google’s Freshness Update? Check out:

Comments

  1. says

    I am not working with Fortune 500 companies so what you are discussing for reputation management has not affected me. At first I was concerned about this change, but it seems to only target Hot Topics. For ecommerce I have not seen any changes or had any issues and I do not think I will. What I think will change the SEO scene for Ecommerce is Google+. It may never be as popular as facebook, but businesses do need to start equating it into SEO strategy.

  2. says

    Adam, this is a great analysis. I am such a cheerleader for real-time Google updates that I hadn’t given much thought to what the freshness idea means for reputation. Thanks for that.

  3. says

    Thanks David. I’m looking forward to checking out your new book Newsjacking, which ties in nicely with this.

    Jacob – it will interesting to see what impact the freshness update has on e-commerce queries. In its announcement post Google did use “best slr cameras” as an example of a query that would benefit from freshness. The intent behind that query is more informational than transactional, but there are still opportunities for e-commerce sites in that space. All the more reason to develop a sound content marketing plan.

  4. says

    I have thought about that alot, and came to conclusion that anyone ca update their website as much as they want, to get Google to notice them more, and get them higher on search results, I had to change my entire site so I can keep it updated daily, cause once the update was published, I went down on ranks, but now that I resumed updating I`m even getting higher.
    Fresh and quality content are the new game, and all you have to do is update your site.

  5. says

    My company Five Blocks works on Reputation Management with both Fortune 500 companies and smaller businesses.

    We saw almost no change across the tens of keywords on which we work…

    A few additional comments:

    1) If you are taking control of the top ten results – making sure that the clients web properties are prominent, optimizing positive authoritative news stories, etc. this tends to move the news results section on the homepage down, and sometimes off the home page.

    2) I don’t think that the freshness changes apply to any site that is updated regularly – I think it seems to be more about showing actual news sites higher in the results. Updating your site regularly does not usually magically cause you to rank higher – at least not for our clients.

    3) In high-profile scandals, it is too late to “lock in” positive results – but if you have done so in advance, scandals look much better. Meaning your client’s own sites do not get displaced by the news easily.

    One of the tactics we recommend is to promote fully controlled (or owned) web properties so that they occupy much of the top ten – this will often avoid the issue of having a news page reflecting recent articles on company A, from suddenly becoming full of negative references.

    Sam

  6. says

    Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions Sam.

    A couple of points:

    Regarding the lack of change in the keywords you monitor, I wouldn’t expect those to change much unless there was suddenly a spike in news coverage and/or social activity around one of those terms.

    I also agree that simply updating any type of site regularly is not what we’re talking about tactically here. There has to be a reason that Google would want to show more fresh results for a particular query.

    Once that opportunity exists, then facilitating the creation of new “fresh” content either through owned media (like a company blog) or through interviews, etc. with other media sources can help to get content with your POV included in the mix of fresh results. This won’t necessarily keep out the negative coverage, but it can help to create a situation in which not all of the fresh listings are negative.

    Hopefully the company or individual is already engaged in this type of activity as part of their crisis communications plan. So it won’t necessarily require new tactics as much as it can create a new opportunity for counter-exposure.

  7. says

    Great points. I imagine that this is something that many businesses haven’t thought of and will impact their reputation management strategy. Now it’s more important than ever to create content on a regular basis to build a brand and maintain a positive image.

  8. says

    Being someone that has worked on white hat obfuscation techniques and popularity boost online, I can surely say that this new algorith does indeed impact the way we do SEO for an individual. While for an on-line effort the KPIs on SEO and SEM for relevancy remain, the activities one must do will clearly difer.

    Costwise, these services will be more expensive for the client, since it would not only be a matter of data being entered to the net, but frshness, as you mention, would be key.

    Regards!

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