In today’s digital-heavy world, the line between search engine optimization and online reputation management can often grow fuzzy. Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) and Online Reputation Management (“ORM”) both involve outranking websites or suppressing the competition. So, what’s the difference? We asked professional SEO’s to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say:

Hannah Attewell

Hannah Attewell

Success & Business Coach

Hannah Attewell is a success and business coach. Having run her own successful business for the majority of her working life, she coaches female entrepreneurs and women in small businesses to identify their goals and take massive action to achieve them – with a combination of mindset and practical business advice. Find her here:

Attracting clients vs damage control

The difference between SEO and online reputation management is that one is attracting clients and building relationships with them and the other is damage control.

Your SEO strategy should be aimed at creating quality content that encourages your clients to engage with you and ultimately work with you. This, in turn, will put you in front of more people who like what you do, improve your visibility and ultimately make you money.

Online reputation management, on the other hand, is not an income-focused activity. Of course, if only terrible things come up when someone searches for you, that might cost you leads, but it’s not an acquisition tool. In short, managing your reputation is important as a fire fighting technique; it stops your SEO efforts from being undermined and makes you look like a legitimate business. Both go hand in hand to create a strong, profitable brand that people trust.

Empathy vs expertise

The key difference between the tactics involved in SEO and reputation management comes down to the difference between empathy and expertise.

In reputation management, an organization should be driven by empathy, whether it is responding to a bad review, a PR crisis or a customer service issue on its social media. Developing responses with a customer in mind is what will serve a business the best. Monitoring for online reputation management gives brands a chance to reach out and turn content with negative sentiment into positive word of mouth, engagement and audience growth.

SEO, on the other hand, grows out of the area of expertise. What Google has been emphasizing lately is that search results should give users the websites and content from brands with deep knowledge of a subject. Organic SEO content, then, should speak to that, be updated regularly and be easily understood by site visitors. Link-building tactics in SEO, too, are all about leveraging expertise – sites connect with one another based on the reputation of the brands and the information they can share.

Mike Koehler

Mike Koehler

Mike Koehler is the founder and chief strategist for Smirk New Media, a digital agency founded in 2009 and headquartered in Oklahoma City. Smirk New Media’s newest enterprise product is Active Response, a proven social media customer service and reputation management tool driven by human interaction and actionable data for corporate brands.
Roman Rabinovich

Roman Rabinovich

VP, Business Development

Roman Rabinovich is the VP of Business Development at Eventige Media Group, a Full-Service Digital Marketing and Advertising Agency in NYC. Roman’s background connects traditional and digital marketing as well as management of the e-commerce experience.

SEO manages online reputations

The common ground between SEO and online reputation management is that you can utilize SEO as a way to manage an online reputation. SEO can be applied to assure that what you want to show up about your brand is front and center. SEO can be used to bring to the foreground all the information and web properties you want your consumers to find first, positioning your brand in the best light.

Online reputation management

Pure online reputation management is the assurance of the best brand representation being shown to consumers or clients online. Online reputation management tactics focus on deleting old imagery, outdated content, bad data, and other elements that can misrepresent the brand.


Pure SEO is managing the technical algorithmic components to assure that each action you take leads to a higher position in the search engine ranking placements. SEO tactics involve managing the meta data of the website, building fresh content, and generating high quality back-links. Although this is somewhat aligned with online reputation management, SEO focuses on the technical search crawler attributes of value, while the online reputation management focuses on the actual content that shows up after SEO activity brings the content to the first page of the search engine results.

Sales vs traffic

Online reputation management generally focuses on building sales. If your current customers are happier with you, especially compared to competitors, then it’s easier to acquire new clients. Having customer reviews listed on your site and linking to third-party review sites can help bolster your reputation. Responding to reviews is also important because it shows that your company cares about quality customer service.

SEO usually focuses on driving traffic to your website. One effective way to be successful in SEO is to produce high quality content on a regular basis. If your content centers on relevant keywords and ranks well, more people will visit your site. Company blogs are great ways to show industry authority and offer visitors valuable information, which also builds trust in your brand.

You can make your online reputation management strategy part of your overall SEO strategy by having pages dedicated to reviews and driving traffic to them. You can also work with third-party review sites to build a good backlink profile.

Alice Stevens

Alice Stevens

Content Management Specialist

Alice Stevens is a language enthusiast, loves history, and enjoys traveling. She manages the insurance content for
Sarkis Hakopdjanian

Sarkis Hakopdjanian

Director of Strategy + Principal

Sarkis Hakopdjanian began his career in the financial services industry in 2005 and held various roles, such as Team Manager and Investment Advisor, operating a successful wealth management practice. Sarkis completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta School of Business. Web:

Visibility vs Perception

SEO is visibility

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies and tactics to increase the visibility of a website by increasing their search engine rankings. SEO work includes both “on-page” and “off-page” tactics. On-page tactics include making changes inside of the website, while “off-page” tactics include activities outside of the website.

SEO is simply increasing the visibility or popularity of a website, not necessarily increasing the reputation of the website or company itself. A popular website may have great SEO, but not necessarily the best online reputation (e.g. morally questionable companies). A website or company may have a great online reputation, but not necessarily be visible in search engines through SEO (e.g. new company with great reviews, but not visible in search engines).

ORM is perception

A website or company’s online reputation is essentially the perception that others have about the website or company. In other words, it’s what other people think, feel and say about a company or website that determines its reputation. This reputation is often expressed through online reviews, testimonials, social media engagement, etc.

One of the ranking factors in SEO is called “Review Signals.” These are online metrics that signal review quantity, review velocity, and review diversity. In other words, if a business or website gets more reviews quickly from a diverse set of sources, these signals indicate an increase in their online reputation. This is a signal to search engines that this website or company is trustworthy and credible.

One of the best ways to increase a company’s or website’s search engine rankings is to focus on review signals to improve their online reputation. This is one of the many kinds of SEO tactics a business can use. There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, so any other activity that doesn’t contribute to online reputation is part of general SEO work.

Online reputation management is a subset of SEO

Online reputation management is typically seen as a subset of the broader search engine optimization industry. While most SEO campaigns aim to increase the positions and number of pages a single site ranks for with as many relevant search queries as possible, online reputation management has a somewhat opposite strategy and desired outcome.

The goal of online reputation management is to try and control as many positive or neutral earned, owned, or third-party search results as possible on the first few pages of search engines for only a few select search queries (brand terms). This typically requires establishing a master list of neutral and positive search results to increase rankings for the desired branded queries, in effect pushing the more negative results to much deeper pages.

While classic SEO campaigns can include link building and the creation of third-party profiles, reputation management is much more focused on those tactics. The goal is to build the relevancy of any positive search results (earned, owned, or third party) for the chosen branded terms (the ones you want to manage the reputation for). In short, online reputation management focuses on a few search queries and most, if not all, of their resulting search results, whereas classic SEO campaigns focus on a much greater number of search queries (sometimes in the thousands) related to fewer search results (usually only from a single or a few owned web properties).

While the barnacle SEO technique can be used for both classic SEO campaigns and online reputation management, it’s a much more important tactic for the latter.

Romain Damery

Romain Damery

Sr. Strategist, SEO & Digital Content | Path Interactive

Romain Damery is a senior strategist and technical SEO lead for online marketing agency Path Interactive in New York, NY. With over a decade of agency-side and client-side marketing experience, his sweet spot is the overlap between the web technology stack and online marketing.
Shakun Bansal

Shakun Bansal

Head of Marketing

Shakun Bansal is the Head of Marketing at Mercer Mettl, an HR technology company and leading talent measurement firm that enables businesses to make precise people decisions in talent recruitment, management and training across industry verticals.

SEO is organizational-driven

ORM = unique proposition

There has to be a highly targeting and unique proposition in ORM as compared to SEO.

A significant share of ORM is about reaching the media, PR agencies, and journalists via third-party online reputation management and media monitoring tools. With ORM for journalists in international media, what will get you published in online magazines and publications is independent of what your brand’s reputation is. You can’t even pay for media coverage in a regular media post (excluding consumer connect initiatives and sponsored posts). The general and authentic online media coverage comes when you provide a highly targeting and unique proposition to journalists’ content queries. If you are able to help the journalists with their stories in some way, they will quote you, leading to a greater appreciation by Google bots and crawlers boosting your SERP positioning.

It wouldn’t be wrong to call ORM a pull strategy and SEO a push strategy of promotion, marketing, and advertising.

As SEO is an organizational-driven initiative, the content quality has to be good undoubtedly, but as compared to ORM, it can still take a backseat. An organization is the decision-maker of what sort of content goes out for SEO, but what gets published in the media through ORM initiative is completely dependent on journalists.

SEO as a tool for ORM

SEO can be used to push negative publicity out of SERP visibility.

If there has been negative coverage of your business in the media in the past, which is irrelevant or no longer affects the present, make sure they don’t show up on the first, second, or third SERP rankings. You have to manage your online reputation and see to it that situations like being involved in legal entanglements, fines or actions taken against the business, trademark infringement, or anything in the past that is permanently settled shouldn’t affect your business dealings in the present. Your business has moved on a lot from such instances and so should the SERP rankings, which can be affected by managing SEO and content marketing strategies of your brand.

Risk tolerance

SEO is no longer a standalone marketing channel. Everything you do online (and even certain actions offline) factors into the complex search algorithms used by Google, Bing and the many other search engines that are cropping up. The engines have access to more types and volume of data than they ever had before, and it will only continue to grow. However, there are a handful of signals that are still far more powerful than the vast majority, and one of the most powerful is your brand reputation.

Everything that you do in order to increase your reputation is SEO. With that said, executing reputation management with the purpose of increasing your rankings does prioritize certain tactics. For example, focusing on encouraging five-star reviews in places that are easily accessible to Google (ex. Google Business) is far more helpful to your rankings than in a private members-only platform that Google can’t crawl. Another example is the profiles you create across social media platforms. If you are writing them solely for your reputation, you might write a fun and quirky bio, but if you are also factoring in SEO, you will be sure to include the proper keywords in each one.

Lastly, the difference in risk tolerance for SEO vs reputation management is vastly different. From an SEO perspective, you want to garner as many quality links as you can regardless of who controls the website. When it comes to reputation management, you want as much control over the channels that people are posting to as possible. If a negative commenter is spiraling out of control, you want to have the tools to be able to contain that and limit the damage.

When you increase your reputation, you will likely increase your rankings as well, but you must approach it in a more nuanced fashion.

Shawn McGaff

Shawn McGaff

Fractional CMO for Startups

Shawn McGaff is a fractional CMO for startups. After consulting with social media startups like Twitter on recommendation algorithms, he was hired by Hearst to manage all digital ad campaigns across the west coast. He then started his own agency which has served over 300 companies and thousands of campaigns. Web:

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.