Some people say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's funny how much time and energy companies and brands devote to marketing activities when a big source of trouble is there, in front of their eyes and needs to be fixed before anything else. As people type their name, Google suggests one or more words to immediately complete their search. Mind reading? Probably not. Complex algorithms? Probably yes. One thing is sure: your reputation is being affected by what people instantly read. Will they decide to trust you?

From bars to search bars

Google Suggest helps people do what they used to do in bars in front of a much more limited audience: spreading rumors. It doesn't matter whether that Mike is a good guy or not, some people heard that other people heard that he did something wrong, so that's it. Mike is a scammer, a criminal, a bad person.

Is this right? On the one hand, it's a time saver for searchers. On the other hand, it can be a reputation bomb for people, companies and brands of any type. Google faced several lawsuits because of defamatory autocomplete suggestions and agreed to reduce certain types of content. However, this is still one of the most important factors in one's online reputation.

How to deal with the problem

Nobody wants their name to be associated with something negative. Removing automatic suggestions is not something you can do overnight, but I'm going to share a simple and actionable list of things to do to start taking control of your search bar reputation.

1. Own the search term

Let's be practical and reduce the negative impact of the autocomplete. Before doing anything else, you should build an optimized page for "YOURNAME scam" or anything else that might come immediately from Google Suggest. It will not prevent people from judging you, but at least you have the chance to express your point of view and explain why that term appeared and why it has nothing to do with you / it is false etc. For example, our promotion team was able to hide two hate sites spreading false information about a famous financial expert by creating new minisites matching the same keywords they were targeting.

2. Investigate

Why did that search term appear? Google Suggest is based on real searches, but how can we be sure they were not manipulated by somebody who wants to hurt your brand? There are cases of companies hiring cloud workers to google defamatory phrases to damage competitors. Legal actions may be needed: a good online reputation management firm can help you with that.

3. Don't manipulate

There are people who did experiments on altering the autocomplete mechanism to promote one's best face, content and reputation. You may be tempted by the idea of getting rid of the unwanted term(s), but keep in mind this is illegal and may end up causing more damage.

4. Outrank

We know that the best place to hide a dead body is in on page 2 of Google search results. The biggest SEO-oriented action you can take is to work on the promotion of your positive content that will naturally outrank hate sites. As a consequence, the negative terms will be less visible, less searched and less prominent on the autocomplete.

5. Remove?

This is not something easy. These are the main types of filtered suggestions:

  • Hate or violence related suggestions
  • Personally identifiable information in suggestions
  • Porn & adult-content related suggestions
  • Legally mandated removals
  • Piracy-related suggestions

What about your case? Legal actions are the only possible way in certain situations. Google actually lost several cases against companies being damaged by the autocomplete function, especially in France and Italy.

Do you know any other good things to do when dealing with undesired terms showing up in the search bar?