Accentuate the positive: How MPs are turning to SEO for reputation management

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to develop strategies for reputation management. They are employing professional SEO companies to manage their online shadow and to ensure what the casual (or not so casual) searcher sees is all rosy. It’s less than two years to the next UK General Election. Time is running out for incumbent MPs and their erstwhile successors to build up a positive digital and social media image.  But let’s turn this around: chances are they already have a digital footprint. It’s hard to imagine how any sitting MP could not have an online history and you’d seriously question their value if they had done nothing worth reporting! So it’s perhaps not surprising that MPs increasingly recognise not just the importance of the internet for their campaigns but also the risk it presents to their reputation. If you Google your MP and the top ten stories are negative what are you going to think? Are you more or less likely to vote for them? This is where SEO and link-building comes in. As the song says, ‘you’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative’, This works in a few different ways. First and most obviously, most of us would rather that the top stories about us are positive. MPs more so and SEO can help ensure that their name and (importantly) a range of associated keywords entered into a search engine turn up those positive stories first. Second is ensuring that the negative stories sink down the rankings. Got an overly high expenses claim? Snuck through a dodgy receipt for cat litter? That overseas ‘fact finding’ trip funded by someone you’d rather not talk about? No problem, let’s use SEO to bury it just that little bit deeper. Good SEO can get other stories and positive things about you to drown out the bad news. It’s not only possible, it’s happening. How many of us actually ever get to the fifth page of a Google search? There’s a third even less ethical practice at work here too. At the same time as promoting their own brilliance and hiding their flaws, politicians are starting to turn to SEO as a way of ensuring that the negative content about their opponents rises to the top. Of course the irony of this is obvious if both sides are doing it! There is a serious question of ethics and transparency here. It is manipulative and underhand, but is it unreasonable to expect MPs not to at least engage in some reputation management in this hyper-aware digital age? Anyway, they can only do so much. The information is still there, SEO is just faking the natural order, making bad news harder to find and there’s not really anything new about trying to do that! Perhaps the more serious issue is one of cost-benefit (and benefit to whom?). SEO isn’t cheap. If you want to employ a good SEO company to manage your search engine rankings through techniques such as link building, it’s going to cost you. You can easily spend between £2,000 and £4,000 per month on good SEO. That’s potentially £48,000 a year. So who’s paying for this? Where is it being recorded and will it be declared once the campaign is underway? Or will it be buried, just like the bad news they’re trying to hide? Is it giving an unfair advantage to politicians with strong financial backing at the cost of good democracy?  ]]>