In-Depth Articles…but Shallow Penetration?

Followers of this blog know that we have been eyeing for months the phenomenon of in-depth articles and their potential impact on reputations of companies and individuals online. First, their appearance last August, then their tentative migration up the results page from their original placement at bottom and now their wild disappearing and reappearing act.

Through the beginning of this year, things were pretty steady with about 10% of the companies in the Fortune 500 showing results that included in-depth articles. Just at the end of February, however, the fluctuations began, with nearly 20 companies losing their in-depth articles one day, and then some bouncing around.


At the lowest point, nearing mid-March, only 20 companies had in-depth articles, a dropoff of 64% from the 56 that began February!

For now, it looks like Google’s in-depth article experiment is still in progress and it remains unclear where this moving target will land. And while we cannot claim to be in Google’s head to explain what’s going on, we can hazard a guess.

On the theory that Google’s aim is to make search results ever more useful for searchers, we have to wonder how useful these in-depth articles have been. Unlike news results, which can change daily, reflecting changes in the world, or profiles and background pieces (e.g. Wikipedia) useful for reference, we suggest that in-depth articles – lengthy and often with a slant – may not be seeing repeat visits. Moreover, their length makes them time consuming to read, making it difficult for the average searcher to get in, get the gist, and get on to something else.

For all the companies with unfavorable in-depth articles, a shift away from them would be a good turn. Ultimately, though, whether this experimentation means in-depth articles are approaching their sunset – or if something else is on the horizon – is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor the course of Google’s current labwork.

In-Depth Articles Rising From the Depths

It looks as though Google just couldn’t wait to celebrate the six month anniversary of one of its newest search results feature, In-Depth Articles. In the last few days, there has been a subtle but important change regarding the placement of in-depth articles in the Google search results.

Rather than appearing as the bottommost group of results as they have since their introduction on August 7th last year, In-Depth Articles for a handful of companies – including Dell and Ford, shown below – have been promoted, with some of the organic results now appearing below them.


That’s the subtle part. But why is that important?

The in-depth article box is Google’s way of highlighting long-form journalism and ensuring articles of this type persist in first page results for the increasing list of companies for which they appear.

While the depth of their content makes them relevant long beyond the always-changing news landscape, by and large they are unfavorable portrayals of the companies they’re about.As digital branding consultants, Five Blocks has been closely following In-Depth Articles for the past six months. For our clients, as well as many of their competitors, In-Depth Articles are a force to be reckoned with, specifically because they (and their mostly unflattering content) stick around even as other search results on the page come and go.

This latest move by Google to start inching in-depth articles up the page, placing them above some of the organic results, suggests even greater popularity for this type of search result. It also underscores the importance of careful strategic planning to ensure a favorable online brand image.Like it or not, Google’s inclusion and promotion of the In-Depth Articles means they are an integral part of a brand’s online story. It’s no longer enough to tell your story on your own sites, be socially active, and make the news. The brand story will need to be told by engaging magazines and other long form publications to utilize the opportunity afforded by In-Depth Articles rather than becoming a victim of them.

PR professionals and corporate communications specialists know that these stories usually take several months to write and photograph, so the path involves planting seeds ahead of time and being willing to own up to missteps as well as successes. For more about the potential impact of In-Depth Articles on PR and Digital Marketing firms, click here.It follows that the long form article will not be 100 percent positive. Companies need to take a strategic approach and realize that if they warrant one long form article, there will likely be more to follow. Brands should look for opportunities to proactively pitch and place these coveted long form articles with the goal of ‘owning’ at least part of the in depth conversation about their brand.

Digital Reputation Management: It’s Not All About Burying Results


Photo by loop_oh, on Flickr

I posted the following on Business Insider in response to a post that focused on the underbelly of the Digital Reputation Management industry.

Many companies and individuals who have online reputation issues are not trying to bury negative reviews or articles. Instead, they are working to make sure that people searching for them online find what they are looking for. This need often arises when the brand or individual has not made any effort to create an online presence (think either a minimal website or none at all, no participation in social media, no business profiles, no YouTube channel, etc.)

Take for example a financial services firm who mostly arranges M&A’s. An article on a popular business news website portrays a potential upcoming deal for the company in a negative light – probably due to the author’s view of the industry in which the company is involved. The financial services company isn’t active online. They have a one-page website that does not appear prominently in searches online. Most of the prominent mentions of the firm seen in a Google search contain contact information, SEC documents and occasional mentions on investor portals.

The goal of an online or digital reputation management program for this client (and many like it)  is to help the client present their brand appropriately online. There really is no need to subvert any search engine algorithm or bury any results.

The Digital Reputation Management program would consist of elements such as:

  • Building out the current website so that it is technically sound and contains content that will help it rank well in search engines.
  • Creating company and individual profiles on sites like: LinkedIn, CrunchBase, and others.
  • Working with Wikipedia editors to correct any incorrect information appearing in Wikipedia – including providing sources to editors that they can quote.
  • Registering the brand and key individuals on social media websites that may be appropriate to use in the future (Twitter, Google+, etc.).
  • Working with the client’s communications team (or their external PR firm) on opportunities for publishing thought leadership materials in one or more relevant media outlets.

In short, there are many tools at the disposal of digital band management professionals that, rather than being exercises in removing negativity, are proper digital branding and communication efforts. Rather than focusing on fooling the algorithm (in the long term Google will beat you!), serious companies should be considering digital reputation management strategies and tactics that take advantage of Google’s algorithm and its ability to detect relevant, authoritative content from a variety of sources.

Wikipedia’s Role in Creating Your Brand Online

Establishing yourself or your company as a brand online is important.

By “brand” I mean getting to the point where Google is certain that your name (or company name) is associated with a specific entity – so that Google “knows” what most searchers mean when they search your brand. There are several reasons why achieving this is important:

  • Brands are treated much better. Their own website is invariably the #1 result in Google. Oftentimes a additional owned page ranks in the second position as well.
  • Search results for Google-recognized brands include a knowledge graph – the box of images (logos or images) and information appearing on the top right section of the Google results page.
  • Searches for brands tend to yield results that are relevant, timely, and useful (actionable).
  • When you search for a Google-recognized brand you will find the results you seek more quickly – often without needing to click through to specific results.

More than a year ago our team began to see a strong connection between having a Wikipedia page and being presented as a Google-recognized brand online.

We found that a full knowledge graph (more than just the brand name and a map) was almost always dependent on having a Wikipedia page.

Wikipedia is pretty powerful. It is perhaps the only ubiquitous platform online free enough to accept input from virtually anyone, and at the same time strictly policed to ensure accuracy.

The end result is very useful for Google.



1) If a brand or individual is important – you should expect to see an entry for them in Wikipedia. This is correlated more often for politicians and celebrities than it is for say, executives at companies.

2) If you find content about a well-known person or brand in Wikipedia – you can bet its content has been peer-reviewed for accuracy.

As Google pursues structured knowledge in an effort to be more effective in sharing information, Wikipedia has become an important de-facto source. This is true both for its ability to source so widely and for its army of active editors who police new content in real-time.  The fact that Freebase, Google’s community-curated database of well-known people, places, and things, relies heavily on content from Wikipedia indicates its primary relevance.

Wikipedia is perhaps Google’s most accessible and accurate measure of whether a person or company is important to people. Wikipedia calls this ‘notability‘. Notability is the standard with which Wikipedia determines whether or not an entity ‘deserves’ its own Wikipedia article. Google relies on Wikipedia’s standard to ascertain which brands are worthy of a knowledge graph rather than simply looking at volume of searches.

Apart from a Wikipedia article, other branding signals include:

-       Forbes profiles

-       Inclusion on lists of distinguished companies or individuals appearing in distinguished publications

-       Existence of active social media profiles that match the name of the brand or individual

If you are concerned with online branding for a company or individual here are some suggestions:

If the brand doesn’t have a Wikipedia, engage the Wiki community to create one.

  • Realize that Wiki content has to be factual (sourced), relevant, and non-promotional.
  • Make it easier for Wiki editors by collecting and providing sourced background information about the brand.
  • Look at similar brands in Wikipedia to get ideas about the type of content that should be in the Wikipedia profile.

If the brand has a Wikipedia page:

  • Monitor the page for any changes.
  • If you see inaccuracies, use the Talk page to bring the issue to the attention of Wiki editors.
  • Keep an eye on traffic to the Wikipedia page – spikes in article views are an indication of increased interest in the brand, which your communications and marketing employees will want to be aware of.
  • Make sure that new relevant content is being included in the Wikipedia page – use the Talk page to point out to Wiki editors content that should be included.

With the central and increasing role that Wikipedia plays in the treatment of brands by search engines, make sure that your brand is properly covered there. If you are not satisfied, take action and strengthen your brand.

Betting Your Reputation on an Algorithm

logo-basicIn today’s hyper-competitive business environment, it is challenging for traders and advisors to maintain an edge. Many wealth managers divide their time between conducting industry research, prospecting, managing their clients’ diverse holdings and exploring new opportunities.

In the digital age, a new skill has an increasingly forceful impact on their business: digital branding. Brokers and traders need an online presence that communicates their business story.

What is an ‘online presence’? read more …

Google Rolls Out First Refresh to In-Depth Articles

In competitive SEO, they used to say, “If you don’t like your Google results, wait five minutes.”

Google results generally have the propensity for rapid change, but this is not the case with Google’s relatively new  ‘in-depth article’ feature.

Rolled out in August, in-depth articles appear in a section of three new Google results from publications such as Rolling Stone, Time and Vanity Fair. They usually appear at the bottom of the page.

A few weeks ago, we wrote an article published in PR Daily describing the change and providing some conjecture on how this feature could play out.

 Refresh of In-Depth Articles

As of early Friday morning, we detected a major refresh to In-depth articles. (I would like to call it the kreplach update.)

The refresh was characterized by a significant increase in the number of keywords for which in-depth articles now appear, as well as changes to actual articles presented.

We Observed the Following Changes:

  • On August 8th we recorded just 28 Fortune 500 companies whose Google results include in-depth articles.
  • As of Sept 13th we are seeing 49 Fortune 500 companies with in-depth articles.
  • We have seen no significant change to the negativity of articles. We are still seeing about 2/3 of articles as negative for the brand.

Some of the new additions to the list are: (screen caps below)

  • Google (all positive results, hmmm.. Note that the in-depths returned in a search for Google Maps are not as peachy)
  • Costco (also very positive – but it’s Costco – you gotta love Costco…)
  • AT&T (holy cow – are these articles negative!)
  • Southwest Airlines (lots of love in those in-depths)