TL; DR: The coronavirus pandemic has sent shockwaves through the business world, leading to financial hardship and heightened public scrutiny of corporate behavior. Profile Defenders, an online reputation management (ORM) company, is hoping to educate businesses on how COVID-19 is affecting the rapidly evolving ORM industry. With more devices enabling the public to communicate via the internet and a media preference for controversial topics, the team at Profile Defenders told us that ORM is more important in 2020 than ever before.
Online reputation management (ORM) is one of those services that you hope you’ll never need — but are thrilled it exists when you do. Whether due to a security breach, perceived moral failures, or other disasters, many businesses must navigate their way through a crisis or two at some point.
In today’s digital world, that means taking control of the conversation online. To get a sense of what that process entails for businesses affected by the current global pandemic, we spoke to the team at Profile Defenders, an ORM provider.
“I’ve seen a lot of instances where CEOs and companies have made difficult decisions to let employees and vendors go as a result of COVID-19’s impact on their businesses,” said Nick Cuttonaro, owner of the Miami-based company. “As a result of not approaching the matter with dignity and leadership, they’ve negatively impacted their own reputation and brand.”
Richart Ruddie, CEO at Profile Defenders, agreed, adding that companies that failed to act in the best interest of their employees’ health at the beginning of the pandemic must now focus on damage control or face harsh repercussions.
“Those CEOs and brands may find it difficult to rehire or engage previous relationships as a result of how they approached COVID-19 related challenges,” he said. “Negative stories may still be accessible via search and social media sites for years after returning to a cycle where it’s business as usual. Many companies are coming to us for help straightening out their messages.”
Managing Brand Reputation During a Pandemic and Beyond
The team at Profile Defenders said it is used to adapting to the constant changes that affect corporate reputations.
“We shift with the times,” Richart said. “As one issue goes away, another sprouts up. In 2011, we were assisting companies in the foreclosure defense industry, which was nearly non-existent four years earlier. Every year we see new businesses pop up that need services because online reviews have continued to grow in importance.”
Today, as the world grapples with COVID-19, Profile Defenders is helping companies protect their image with proprietary branding and PR campaigns that either completely remove unwanted search results or push them down in the search index.
“We continue to thrive, delivering Google users a high-quality experience by creating relevant and authoritative content and ranking that above unwanted search results,” Richart said. “What’s deterring us is the cost to deliver high-quality writing and placements.”
Richart said that in the beginning, the company could use automated link-building tools, such as XRumer, to alter ranking. But those methods won’t fly today.
“A decade ago, we could fire off blog comments and XRumer links, wait a few weeks, and then they would rank,” he said. “The methods that worked then don’t work today, and automation isn’t going to deliver a high-quality user experience — that usually costs more. Clients tend to absorb those costs.”
Nick told us that it has become expensive to produce and edit quality video content. “The camera equipment that’s now used to film didn’t exist previously, so you have to consider all new costs when trying to compete on video platforms,” he said. “Today, both content quality and production value matter.”
Why ORM is More Important Now Than Ever Before
There’s no doubt that the advertising world has changed dramatically since the time when discoverability was limited to the Yellow Pages.
“When business was expanding in 2011, I remember clients saying how, back in their day, they could just pay for placement in the Yellow Pages,” Richart said. “Today, Google has replaced the phone book to the extent that most millennials don’t even know what a phone book is. This showcases how rapidly things move from once-dominant players in local advertising.”
Nick said that ORM is especially important in 2020 due to increased access to the internet via more desktops, smartphones, and IoT devices than ever.
“Everywhere you look, there are screens and devices connected to the internet,” he said. “There are more pieces of technology today that can share information about you and your business with anyone seeking it. Also, people have been conditioned to use technology to achieve optimal search results, and more people across all age groups are utilizing elements of search and social media to make more informed decisions.”
The Profile Defenders team has observed significant shifts in search ranking trends during the past decade. For example, Nick said that personalized and location-based searches have improved tremendously.
“If you’re searching for a particular law firm in Eugene, Oregon, from that locale, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll see different search results than if you were located in Miami and looking to engage an attorney in that area,” he said. “Also, depending on the previous queries you’ve made and SERP results with which you’ve interacted, particular search results may or may not appear on Page 1 results depending on the search locale.”
Richart said that Profile Defenders always takes continuously changing search ranking trends into consideration so the team can offer the best results for its clients.
Supporting Special Needs of Employees and Their Families
Profile Defenders has implemented several internal policies in response to the spread of COVID-19 and the recent market downturn.
“Being a digital-based business gives us great flexibility,” Richart said. “We’ve given our team members the option to work remotely or to come into the office. We haven’t laid anyone off and are actually looking to expand when other advertising agencies are contracting.”
In the spirit of keeping morale high, Profile Defenders has issued every employee a bonus payment. The company also helped out by hiring the spouse of an employee who was laid off due to the pandemic.
“We want to stand out as one of the companies that is doing its part to help those affected during these tough times,” Richart said. “For the small and large businesses that needed assistance in one form or another, we have been there without question. Many of our clients have been with us for years, and we’ve become family.”
Profile Defenders is working with clients to develop messaging on how their businesses are reacting to the pandemic — and to ensure that the information created is delivered clearly. The company also created a video that clients can share with the public detailing ways to give back during this trying time.
Rolling with the Punches: A Continuously Evolving Industry
The Profile Defenders team said that every case they work on is unique. The rapidly changing online environment means that the company must use various strategies to combat negative publicity.
“Our agency finds that cheating and complaint sites are becoming more and more prominent, while mugshot and arrest record websites are becoming less prominent in search results,” Richart said. “It feels like a game of whack-a-mole because there are so many copycat websites. Working to remove them is like spinning plates, all because of a few bad actors overseas.”
Crowdfunding campaigns have become another focus in the ORM industry.
“While many crowdfunding campaigns are positive in nature and genuinely helpful, there’s been an overwhelming amount of people utilizing charitable crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe.com, for questionable personal campaigns,” Nick said.
Moving forward, the company will further its mission to protect clients from constant changes that affect corporate reputations.
“We obsess over the success of our clients, and that’s why we have an incredibly strong referral network of satisfied clients from all over the world,” Richart said.