Can Negative Brand Mentions Hurt Your Google Rankings?

February 14, 2019

If I were to start this blog by giving a simple answer, then maybe. The jury is still out on whether Google is able to make sense of bad brand reviews or not. In my own tests with my Comcast Internet Plans connection, I’ve come across mixed results. In some cases, I did see website rankings fall by two or three positions. And this was after I’d submitted a number of fake reviews on several popular third-party forums. But in others, I didn’t notice any ranking shifts. Some brand websites, in fact, actually saw a betterment in their SERP placements!

My Educated Guess Would be…

Based on my experiments, my educated guess would be that Google is currently invested in making correct semantic associations. What I mean by this is that the search engine is attempting to limit ranking increases based on keyword mentions alone. And if it manages to do this successfully, then there is no doubt that search users’ user-experience would be greatly enhanced.

The whole point of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo is to provide web surfers with answers. And the more to-the-point the results, the better the user experience.


‘Brand Mentions’ are actually Keyword Mentions

In the past, many SEOs relied on using keywords in their websites’ content to boost SERP rankings. They would even go so far as to stuff written sections with particular terms a number of times. This strategy was (and in many cases continues to be) a must with off-page postings. Normally, these come about in the form of blogs that come teeming with certain keywords. And if you think about it, brand mentions are actually keyword mentions.

Initially, this made a lot of sense. Because the search engine bots could only categorize different websites based on the words that frequently occurred within them. Over time, however, the algorithm became more sophisticated. And today, it makes use of many other metrics other than keywords-presence to assign website ranking positions.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I) technology have a lot to do with this, of course.

Today’s SEOs recognize that there are over 200 ‘ranking factors’ that determine Google rankings – and counting. And that’s not the only thing that they have to worry about. Google makes a number of algorithm changes every year, and some of these can be major. And to make sure that their website rankings don’t get negatively affected, they have to act accordingly. At times, such updates come without warning – and so SEOs have to be quick about their business.

negative brand mentions

What are Negative Brand Mentions – exactly?

Negative brand mentions occur when someone uses a brand’s name when reviewing its products & services in a bad light. These customer reviews are normally carried out on third-party websites. They can even be made in the comments sections underneath relevant articles.

Whether these mentions help brand websites to rank higher or lower is still unclear, however. Although what is certain is that rankings are affected.

Many SEOs, relying on what they loosely term as ‘Grey Hat’ and ‘Black Hat’ techniques, have repeatedly tried to exploit this effect. And where some have succeeded in raising their rankings, others have been disappointed.

In the latter case, it seems that Google is able to recognize content for what it essentially is trying to say. Simply put, it now seems able to understand whether a brand review is positive or not. And if it isn’t, it can choose to demote that brand’s website below the SERP positions of its competitors.

Should You Attempt It?

No, you shouldn’t. And this isn’t just with regard to my ethical take on this issue.

In my experience of working as an SEO tech, I’ve come to find that taking shortcuts doesn’t pan out well for your websites in the long run. This is because search engine algorithms are constantly evolving. In their quest to become the perfect ‘human’ answering machines, they are becoming more discerning. And in the process, they are becoming better at recognizing the cleverness of SEOs.

Through a single targeted update, they can undo many hours of ‘ranking work’ put in by these search engine specialists. And when this happens, a company’s marketing and sales dynamics can suffer. Because a breakdown in promotions is directly correlated with a downswing in profits.

You don’t need to be a business leader to understand this basic principle.

A few years ago, I met an ISP rep promoting Spectrum Double Play Deals.  He explained how his company had once tried to make use of negative brand promotions. The vendor, as per his account, had actually encouraged its customers to post their complaints online on a regular basis. And as a result, both its official and other websites had seen a noticeable improvement in rankings. But after about two months, their organic rankings fell considerably. Their site URLs fell in SERP positions from the first to the third page, with the company deciding never to resort to this method again.

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