Watch that Reputation

Defending your brand through search optimization
Mar 01, 2008

Lisa Flaiz
It's no secret that many (or most) of the people who view Big Pharma Web sites found their way there with a search engine. But an Internet user who searches for your brand will find far more than your official site. In many cases, the crucial first page of search results will also contain links to sites that denounce your drug for side effects, criticize the science behind it, or solicit patients for class action lawsuits against your company.

Web 2.0 gave birth to a customer-controlled experience in which anyone can be an extremely vocal participant. Consumers can turn a monologue about a brand into a conversation. Everyone who has had an experience with a brand (and anyone who hasn't) can now voice his or her opinion to the entire world.

Promoting a brand in today's fragmented media environment is difficult enough. But defending a brand in the chaotic world of Web 2.0 is a challenge on an entirely different level.

A quick Google search reveals that even established brands have trouble controlling their branded results. Searches for McDonald's, Exxon, and Delta all yield results with at least two or more negative sites prominently listed. Late in February, for instance, the fourth result from a Google search of McDonald's was, a site devoted to pointing out alleged abuses of animals, people, and the environment. The pharma marketers behind Vioxx (rofecoxib), Crestor (rosuvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Premarin (conjugated estrogens), and Vytorin (ezetimibe/simvastatin) know all too well the search results with which they have had to compete. How does a company handle a conversation or a perception about a brand that appears online?

Marketers need to actively manage how their brand is presented, and traditional methods are no longer the only way. Savvy marketers leverage technology and online marketing tactics to manage their brand reputation, minimize the number of negative search results, and increase the number of positive or neutral search results for strategic keyword searches.

A Changed Media Landscape

Reputation management is not something new for companies. However, with the proliferation of blogs, RSS, personalization, and sites like Facebook and YouTube, there are more media outlets than ever before with which a marketer has to be concerned.

Google's universal search function creates more challenges for reputation management. Results are no longer just the paid and organic listings with which marketers are relatively familiar, but also may include such varied sources as images, videos, and news results. While this provides consumers with more choices, it presents significant challenges to marketers. Marketers have to worry about optimizing not just their Web sites for search but all of their brand assets—some of which may not even exist in a digital format.

Search-Leveraged Public Relations

Search marketing and public relations must merge. News engines play a powerful role in online marketing because both the general public and members of the press go straight to the Web for information. Research shows us that 98 percent of journalists go online daily; 92 percent of reporters do so for general article research. Seventy-six percent use the Web specifically to find sources and experts. Seventy-three percent use it to track down relevant or intriguing press releases.

Consider that while 1 million people read or subscribe to the paper edition of the New York Times, 20 million people read the online version. Google's news tab has 5.7 million searches a month. Yahoo's news tab has 29 million searches a month. The bottom line for pharma companies is that today's PR absolutely must be search optimized.

Whether it's an organic listing or a paid listing, a top search-engine position can mean thousands of page views for your site as well as more press coverage. The problem with most press releases is that the content fails to have enough keyword density or the release is not coded in a strategic manner from a technical programming perspective. The solution is to optimize the content and the coding, and to properly submit it with the appropriate online newswire services and/or news engines.

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