Does Google prefer negative or skeptical content?

29. 11. 2016

After working on many and versatile Online Reputation Management projects we have seen a phenomenon that reoccurs over and over again: Negative or discriminating content about individuals or companies often ranks better than equal positive content

And that’s not all: It seem like Google clearly prefers these critical voices. Even though all other ranking factors (like topicality, more and better backlinks, better content on a stronger domain, etc.) may point towards the positive article, Google still clings to the discriminating one and ranks it higher.

Online Reputation Management (ORM) in a nutshell

A negative, critical or potentially damaging article ranking on the first page of Google when searching for a person or company often poses a serious threat to an individual’s reputation.
There are several ways of dealing with such an issue: Spanning from taking the criticism seriously and responding to it in an appropriate way, directly contacting the content creator and asking for removal, to applying legal measures or having Google delete the search result (“right to be forgotten”). If all fails there is only one thing left to do: The negative listing in Google’s search results has to be pushed downwards, ideally to the second page.

ORM Strategies

The strategy depends on the kind of content one wants to get rid of. The best way to counter a news article is another news article – a video is best countered by another video, and so on.

Here are some helpful measures:

  • Create and actively manage profiles on various social media platforms
  • Buy domains with your, or your company’s name and populate them with high quality content
  • Create and advertise multimedia-based content
  • Optimize existing resources
  • Blogging
  • Publish news items. Or even better: Give interviews to gain publicity on reputable news outlets
  • Generate links, likes und shares

If these efforts are done right one should be able to replace the negative entries with positive content and push the critical articles down to page two step by step.

ORM reporting – the „Sentiment Score“

It is very difficult to keep a holistic view of the project. The topic is bound to be emotionally charged, making the developments hard to measure or to predict, especially when there are multiple entries to be removed from page 1.

The „Sentiment Score“ is a good way to keep track of your progress. Each position on page 1 is assigned a certain value, which is then added or subtracted – depending on the nature of the listing – yielding a total value that can be used as a KPI.

„Query Deserves Diversity“ or: Why negative articles are preferred

Negative article often – for no obvious reasons – hold better ranking positions than they deserve. In some cases we even see examples so extreme they seem to defy any logic, which arouses the suspicion that Google is pushing these articles deliberately.

The topic of „Query Deserves Diversity“, or QDD, is old news to the SEO world and has been described by Rand Fishkin back in 2008. Reading the comments below his article clearly shows how much frustration the topic induces.

QDD makes sense: When looking up a person or a product the user should be presented with content as diverse and unbiased as possible, in other words positive and negative opinions. When looking for a new car I don’t want to only read the maker’s official puff pieces. Instead I want the whole picture, including critical voices that highlight potential flaws.

What does this mean for SEOs?

QDD surely does make our job harder, but also more interesting. We have to take a lot more factors into account when coming up with strategies to succeed in this tough environment.

We also have to adjust our clients’ expectations accordingly: Not every piece of criticism can – or should – be suppressed.