Interview with Nick Garner – The Online Reputation Management Dilemma

In times when the Internet has a huge impact on brand image, customers’ buying decisions and eventually business sales, investing in online reputation management has become a must for any self-respecting company. To address this need to stay in line with the ever-changing marketing strategies, today we have invited the SEO expert in online marketing communications, the founder of 90 Digital, Nick Garner. Read carefully and learn your way through the intricacies of online brand popularization and reputation management. You’d also have the chance to hear some invaluable tips on link building, competitor research,  profile spam, some specifics on defining the proper link acquisition rate and … well, let’s see shall we.

Here is a brief wrap-up of the questions that Nick discusses below:

Is there a threat in the rising trust in serach engines?
Will the high trust in search engines trigger a number of negative PR campaigns?
Will the Right to Be Forgotten exercise certain control over Google and the way it manages private data?
How much of online reputation management is pure PR?
What SEO tactics do you recomend for boosting online reputation?
How to ensure that the created content ranks for the desired keyword?
Why should you target phrases that affiliates avoid?
What is your advice on having a healthy anchor text profile?
How to decide what is the proper rate of link acquisition for a given industry?
Should link acquision campaigns turn into a repeated effort?
Would you give us some common examples of profile spam in igaming industry?

Nevyana: In your presentation at this year SAS Conference you’ve mentioned the Edelman’s trust barometer survey, quoting that online search engines are perceived almost as trustworthy as the traditional media. Would you characterize this as a threat or as huge potential to marketers?

Nick: It’s both a threatening and positive and here are the reasons why:

It is a threat to mainstream media and also to people who care about controlling information because ultimately Google’s main aim is to surface information that effectively is democratically elective. So if you look at their mission statement what you’d find is that they talk about links being effectively a manifestation of democracy. So in other words the stuff that percolates to the top is the stuff that people vote for because they are linking to it. And that very often is the truth. If you think about mainstream media, mainstream media is a relatively small number of outlets run by a fairly small number of people that control the information that reaches a rather large number of people.

If you ever have a political coup or something like that, it’s the television station and the radio station that gets captured first. But the Internet does not work like that, because obviously the Internet is distributed among millions of people. So from the point of view of society and democracy, I think trust in Google is fairly well placed and it’s very important for our society.

Internet is more like a check in the balance. Usually the mainstream media is being pressurized by the government, while the Internet will probably say another thing. It is one thing to hear the government say: “There was no disturbance here” and a whole different story when lots of people come out on Twitter and say: “In my town three hundred people have been shot” – this is the voice of the people.

The reason I’ve talked about trust, Google and traditional media is because there’s trust in the information you get from Google. But the information you get from Google is actually very different than the information that you get from a newspaper, even if the trust levels are the same.

Nevyana: Do you think that there can be a lot of speculations with negative PR in this case? Let’s say bloggers being paid to post negative news or gossip for a certain company for instance. Given that Google is highly trusted, people could be easily misled by such bloggers.

Nick: That’s an interesting point. Users are very good at ‘reading’ the Internet, i.e. understanding what is really being said. I have a document which says a lot about this. Actually, what do you mean by saying “huge potential to marketers”, as in what – they could make more sales, or they could exercise more influence or?

Nevyana: As in being able to successfully manipulate people’s opinions on given brands.

Nick: the right to be forgottenRight, OK. I would say it’s harder to manipulate brand on Google than it is with mainstream media and there is a very simple reason. Google gives access to the opinions of many and mainstream media is very few. With mainstream media you influence a few gatekeepers and thus could influence the many, where Google is the many and therefore with Google you have to influence the many first and that’s rather difficult.

You can influence search results but ultimately when it comes to something big – you’re not going to change that, you can’t hide from it because people are too good at finding information online. The only caveat about this is The Right to Be Forgotten. Under this EU ruling the government is basically saying: “We are going to censor you Google”. As a result when someone says: “I do not want to be on Google”, Google has to take that specific information down. I think that this is kind of interesting because  it is censorship in a sense.

Nevyana: Maybe the right to be forgotten will be the first step towards controlling how Google is managing private data?

Nick: Well, it’s a much bigger question. There is a guy called Barry Adams who is really good on questions around Google, privacy and the right to be forgotten. He is very knowledgeable. But getting back to this one, there is no real answer to this.

For marketers the fact that search engines are perceived as highly trustworthy is a threat because it’s harder to manipulate the truth obviously, especially if there is an uncomfortable truth.  If you’ve got a bad product, the thing with the internet is that you cannot really hide from the fact that people are talking about it and Google is very good at surfacing information that people need for making decisions about that product.

On the other hand the high trust factor is also an opportunity because if you have a good product then it’s relatively easy to build awareness of the product online. Because the internet is very critical of stuff then its users will make their minds up based on the online content shared about the brand. So ultimately for marketers there’s less work to be done in a sense because the product will kind of talk for itself, if that makes sense.

Nevyana: How much of online reputation management is pure PR?

Nick: The answer is…not at all pure PR. Trouble with PR is that it means lots of different things to a lot of different people.

PR is basically controlling influence. There are two ways to get influence: one is to steer the information that is available while withholding certain information so that the audience draws the desired conclusions for the product. But the majority of PR is just trying to attract attention and get your product noticed above everybody else’s.

Online reputation management is PR in a sense that it is similar to controlling information within PR.

Think of online reputation as a spectrum: on one level it’s very similar to PR. For example there is a problem and you release information in order to reduce the impact of the problem. On the other end of the spectrum it’s brand building – there isn’t really a problem but there is an opportunity to build up the name and the reputation of the brand, and to manage the reputation that it already has out there. That means dampening down the negative, bringing up the positive and looking how to amplify the good stuff online.

With Google it’s very simple – people use brand searches and the brand is the most important thing that a company has in many respects. With brand searches there are real opportunities for a brand that it can look better, namely by having other contents in the search results that represent the brand in a positive light. For instance just having a Facebook page is a good thing even if it doesn’t really convince you to buy. On the other hand having Trustpilot reviews saying 4.5 out of 5 from let’s say 450 reviews would be pretty convincing.

So it’s bits of PR and bits of brand building.

Nevyana: In this regard if one wants to boost his brand’s online reputation what SEO tactics should he focus on: content creation, link building or social media engagement?

Nick: you are not going to get rid of the bad stuffAll of these things except social. Content creation is step one. In other words let’s say there is either something wrong and you need to fix it or there’s something neutral and you want to build it up.

If there’s something wrong that needs to be fixed usually we should first ask: “What is the core problem here?” “What is the core allegation and how to get this allegation answered.” A good example is Nike’s sweatshops. If you type in Nike’s sweatshops most of the results say Nike owns sweatshops and it’s pretty disgusting. Ranking number one is one story from Business Insider,  saying that actually Nike are trying to do something about it, that in fact they don’t do sweatshops and that, basically, Nike are good guys. It has just turned a lot of hate into something a bit more neutral.  You are not going to get rid of the bad stuff, but what you can do is just soften the bad stuff or at least tell a counterpoint to it.

So to do that what do you do: you have to come up with whatever the counterpoint is (information, news, company story), find a place (a website) that is willing to take it – that might be Huffington Post or some other powerful websites. You’d make good metrics of a piece in Huffington Post – it’s a high trust flow and good citation flow, if you use the Majestic metrics. And there is a strong possibility that you are going to rank in first place. Plugging into SEMRush is also very helpful – just to see how the search really is – whether there is enough of it, so that when you put the content out there – you’d be sure that it’s going to rank.

A good example was PRWeb – you could get something on PRWeb and if you just did some quick link building to that page it could rank. Today it’s not the case. It’s been over because of Panda 4.

Anyway, when you post your content on a certain website then it’s OK to dig a little link building. It so happens that because these websites are strong, the likelihood of them ranking is far higher because Google trusts these websites. And thus getting these rankings is much easier because if you select an authority website, you won’t need that many links to the specific page with your content to get it to do well.

3 title tagOn the other hand of the spectrum where you want to build up a brand, it’s really the same story: instead of just answering a problem you are raising a benefit. You say: “Here is something that is really good about this brand (whatever it is)”, or “People talked about it” or “Someone said something nice about it”, and then the idea is to rank it on one of the key phrases that the people are looking at when considering buying the product.

Again a good example is if you do a search of Galaxy Note III you would find a lot of reviews about the product and the product reviews are really good. That really helps people make up their mind. So if your brand is like that and you don’t have good information, convincing information then you have to create it, get it out there and get it ranked for the most phrases you can.

One top tip is to make sure your title tag has whatever the keywords that you want to rank for in it. That’s very important!

Nevyana: This would be easy only if you post the content on your own websites.

Nick: If I want to get my content on your website, I need to do it so that the title tags (it doesn’t have to be the headlines, but it definitely has to be the title tags) would have the keyword I care about.

Nevyana: In an interview you’ve once mentioned: “Where reputation really matters for (gambling) operators is around searches where affiliates won’t make money and where consumers are very sensitive to what they read.” You are talking about targeting topics and key phrases that elicit fear or unease in consumers, could you elaborate on that a bit?

Nick: 4 reviewsYes, so this has to do with this classic example of “this X brand robbed me”, “X is rigged”. For example poker brands often have it when people think that the poker brand is rigged. I don’t partially want to talk about any given brand but if you take for example some phrases like “X stole my money” or “X is a cheater” – affiliates cannot make money on any of those phrases because they are not converting phrases. Affiliates what to be ranking on “bookmaker’s reviews”, “free bet bookmaker”, “free bets”, those kind of things. These are phrases that we all use to find information from users that have used the service because we would want to see what they actually say about it. This is where Trustpilot is really interesting. The power of Trustpilot is just phenomenal.

5 reputationAffiliates like to hang around on key phrases like “reviews”. If you go “bookmaker review” they are always there, they are all over the place. If you go “bookmaker stole my money” they are not there because that’s not a converting phrase for making money, but from user point of view this is a massively important phrase because it will tell you the truth about someone. It is a bit like if you go “Mercedes GL on fire” for example. It’s such a non-commercial phrase but it has a huge impact on potential customers because if I find out that Mercedes GL got on fire I would not want to buy one.


Reputation is incredibly important, even if there is no commercial value for a cost per click point of view.

Nevyana: You have recently commented that „the risk of getting a penalty had doubled in the previous 17 months.  It’s about 5% in iGaming field”,  could you comment on what anchor text after penguin update is mostly recommendable – only branded, url or still some sort of exact match for keeping the link profile rather natural.

Nick: Anchor text is an interesting one. I have seen some evidence that it does have an impact, and some that it doesn’t have an impact. Overall I think its a question of using it in moderation because overusing it is a sign of active manipulation. Rand Fishkin of Moz talked about it here.

A good advice for any message or anchor text is to simply keep it natural looking, whilst using some exact match anchor text and for example if you are running a big link building team you need to be very prescriptive about anchor text in order to have a good variety or you need to be non-prescriptive and say: “put the link the way you think it most naturally fits” and then you’ll get natural variety.

Nick: link velocityYes, that is a very interesting question. I have created a video explaining this that you might wish to check out. I’ll take you through it:

So we have a tool that uses Мajestic data and we look at a batch of competitors. We do a search for one of the key phrases, we get the top 10 websites that rank for it and then we look at the link makeup of the given sites. We would look at the overall number of linking domains per month to each of those 10 websites. I will split them by quality of domains and I will be able to calculate the actual number of domains that I should be looking to add each month in order to be able to rank.

Calculating link velocity is actually a strategy of doing what everyone else is doing, but a little bit better.

The real question is what quality of links and how many links do we need at what time and at what velocity, so that you don’t overcook it.

We examine all the competitors’ websites as compared by their trust flow, we also note the deviation from the average – some have better (higher quality) links than others. We are looking for the characteristics of the winning sites over the losing sites. And then it’s slicing and dicing the data a bit so that you can get this information.

It is quite difficult to assess the acquired links on a monthly basis. For example it is hard to say these are month one junk links and these are the good stuff. Majestic gives you the average per domain but it won’t give it to you by per month basis. We have to draw a conclusion. We assume that links just naturally occur, i.e. the junk links naturally turn up along with the other proportion of the creative links.

7 calibrating linksWhat we are doing is building up a conclusion on how to rank among a certain group of domains. For example if on average you’ve got to get yourself 20 referring domains a month then you can say that for example 8 or even 10 of them are going to be junk links – so you can ignore those. So really we are talking about 10 domains that may go like this: 5 domains that you need with TrustFlow 21-30, 3 domains with TF 31-40; and then say 2 domains with TF 41+, assuming the normal algorithmic TF curve.

And that’s just an idea. The aim is to get as many good quality links as you can to get a high Trust Flow. But you know that there is a certain point than would just raise a flag and you might get a penalty. So therefore by calibrating your links against everyone else’s you can be on the safe side.

Nick: normsYes, when you are looking at Majestic data for the number of links that you have acquired at the time, you are making sure that the results are in line with your plan. It is quite easy to make a plan and typically the way I’d do it, I’d always start small and then I’d build up the link velocity over time as the brand picks up speed online. The point is not to overdo it, not to get a ton of stuff that would raise a flag. Google cares about norms within industry. In other words for each keyword they know what is the average link acquisition rate per a particular domain, i.e. the norm. If you end up outside the norm then something’s wrong. So what you are aiming is to do get the top end of the norm when it accounts to volume of links and quality of links.

Nevyana: LinkRisk have named an algorithm update after your name –  they say this algorithm is “more accurate around the detection of profile spam”. Have you encountered a lot of profile spam while working into the igaming industry and would you give us some common examples of such spammy tactics – maybe in the link building area?

Nick: Firstly, kudos to Linkrisk for taking on such a huge project. Understanding ‘quality’ of links is an enormous task. Anyhow, spamming is a huge subject and not really my area of expertise. We do a lot of iGaming SEO where there is a great deal of link spam. It seems that sites can rank on competitive terms within 3 to 4 months, but they need a good link profile i.e. ‘good’ spam, rather than low quality profile links or whatever. Also Google are getting better at identifying what links are worthless and part of this is the disavow tool because people are telling Google “I don’t think these links have any value that’s why I don’t want them”.

Nevyana: Thanks for the interview Nick

Nick: Its a pleasure to chat with you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Nick has amazing insights and hopefully you’d have a chance to apply those in your industry, while working on your own business reputation and online visibility.

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