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In a nutshell, online reputation management (ORM) is the effort to influence what and how people think of a brand or person when viewed online. To run successful campaigns, ORM uses Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and numerous other tools like technical public relations, content management, negotiation, and psychology.

It can be easy to get lost in all the lingo around Reputation Management, especially when so many moving parts go into a successful campaign. Some of the most popular terms in our industry are ORM (Online Reputation Management) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). We will explain what these two terms mean and how they differ in the reputation management industry. 

SEO is a technique used as part of the reputation management toolkit to increase the visibility and effectiveness of great content. We like to say that if ORM were a car, SEO would be the engine. It’s the glue that connects your content to the rest of the web and ranks it on Google. But it’s so much more than that – we’ll get into the details below. 

A good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy uses keywords and other specific criteria to help push your website toward the top of search engine rankings.

Note: Some people call online reputation management “SEO reputation management”. This is just another term for “reputation management” – it’s generally used because SEO is such a fundamental part of reputation management. 

It is important to understand the differences between ORM and SEO to understand better how they can work together to improve your online reputation.

Reputation management vs. SEO – The differences

  • ORM focuses on many sites. SEO usually focuses on one.
  • Reputation management often involves negotiation.
  • Reputation management often involves legal efforts.
  • SEO is mostly link-building. 
  • SEO focuses on product and service searches. ORM on branded searches like people or company names.
  • ORM improves reviews, ratings, and search results, removes negative content, and even removes third-party sites not controlled by the brand. SEO doesn’t normally focus on that.
  • ORM uses SEO. Not the other way around.
  • SEO and ORM work together, each with a different focus.
  • At Reputation X, we work with SEO and PR firms every day.

Although ORM and SEO are quickly becoming integral parts of any business, there is still a lot of mystery and confusion on the topics. Stakeholders often debate on whether they should invest in an SEO or ORM program, but the reality is that businesses need a mixture of both. The reason is because they both serve distinct purposes.

Online Reputation Management vs. Search Engine Optimization

In order to maximize the benefits of both ORM and SEO, it is important to understand what each one is and how they can work together. For that reason, let’s dive deeper into the differences between two very important acronyms in the online branding and marketing space.

SEO and ORM explained

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

ORM: Online Reputation Management

Because SEO is a versatile tool and tends to be used across industries, its thrown around much more often than ORM. Many people have trouble distinguishing the difference between the two, but there are some subtle — and important — distinctions between them. SEO is not reputation management. Let’s look at four ways SEO and ORM differ:

  1. While SEO drives awareness of a brand or product in the early stages of the buying process, ORM works at the bottom of the sales funnel to aid buyers in the decision-making stage.
  2. The main goal of SEO is to drive traffic to a company’s website, whereas ORM manages the content on many sites, including those not owned or controlled by the brand.
  3. ORM focuses on brand perception and may involve removing negative content or improving star ratings on consumer-generated review sites.
  4. SEO is a component of ORM, not the other way around.

Now let’s look closer at each of these components of online marketing.

SEO: Drive traffic and boost sales

Here’s a little example of SEO in action: 

Meet Sally. She’s in the market for a new yellow raincoat. Like every other human, she turns to Google to find one. She searches for “yellow raincoat.”

The first results she sees are sponsored links that paid to appear at the top. But everything below the sponsored links is organic search results, meaning that the popularity of those sites and the relevance of their content caused Google’s magic spiders to push those links to the top of the list.

But this doesn’t happen magically, exactly. Brands put a lot of time and energy into moving up search results. Over 10 million web pages sell or talk about yellow raincoats, but most people won’t click beyond the first page or two of the results. Some people won’t even make it past the first few results.

That’s why it’s so important for a brand to use search engine optimization to appear as near the top as possible. This won’t happen overnight, though, and the more effort that’s put into SEO, the better the visibility of a brand.

The nuts and bolts of SEO

Whether you’re trying to sell yellow raincoats or get eyeballs on your company blog, using the right keywords is hugely important. While other more technical aspects go into SEO behind the scenes, including meta descriptions, H1 and H2 tags, and web page title tags, it all starts with that keyword.

If Sally searches the keyword “yellow raincoat,” her results will look something like this:

Notice that in just a few search results, the keyword appears 12 times. And it’s not just in the title of each page. The keyword shows up in the bodies and URLs of search results, too.

Notice how the highest-ranking pages seem to be built specifically for this keyword? Google is picking the best possible matches for “yellow raincoats.” So, naturally, pages that are all about yellow raincoats are getting great rankings for this specific keyword.

There’s a lesson to be learned here that’s integral to SEO – the more specific you can be with your pages, the better. Each web page or blog post on your site should cater to one primary keyword. This word (or phrase) identifies what the page is about. The more specific you can make it, the better. So if you sell yellow raincoats, it would be better to drill down and use the keyword “women’s yellow raincoat” to cut the competition down from those 10 million results to just 1 million. It’s still a lot, but it drastically reduces the number of sites you need to rank against.

Links, too, are important in increasing SEO results. Websites that are linked to relevant, high-authority websites and on social media tend to be ranked higher than those that aren’t. It also works the other way around. Sites that link out to relevant and respected sites also get the thumbs-up from search engines (it pays to get your site linked in the Washington Post).

Even load time is assessed when determining where a given site should rank. Search engines want to see that a site will load within seconds and that it also loads easily and is navigable on mobile screens.

Where SEO fits in the buying process

Here’s a short lesson on the buying process, simplified to three steps. There are three main stages a shopper goes through as she looks for a solution to a problem (in our raincoat example, the problem is that she’ll get wet!). These stages are awareness, consideration, and decision. 

Awareness: Sally knows it’s the rainy season and needs a solution to keep from getting wet when she’s outside. She’s aware of the problem but doesn’t yet have a solution.

Consideration: She decides she wants a yellow raincoat for her problem. She doesn’t yet know what brand she wants, but she searches for “women’s yellow raincoat” online.

Decision: After assessing several raincoat options, Sally makes her decision. The purchase is made, and the raincoat is on its way!

Both SEO and ORM shine at different stages of this buying process. For SEO, it’s that early awareness stage where it matters most. Maybe when Sally searched for “women’s yellow raincoat,” she found an article on a site that sells raincoats called “5 Things to Look for When Buying a Women’s Raincoat.”

She read the article and found it informative, so she clicked to check out the company’s raincoats. Voila! She ended up finding one she liked on that site.

SEO creates awareness by getting the right content in front of the buyer at the right moment (when she’s assessing the options to solve her problem). SEO, as you can see, is about driving traffic to a site, not necessarily convincing Sally to buy the raincoat. That’s where content marketing comes into play.

What makes for a successful SEO campaign

If you do your job well, your website will rank above others who use the same keywords, and you’ll see an uptick in sales. Your competitors will scramble to rise back up in results, but if you continually put the effort in with your SEO (because it’s not a one-and-done deal), they’ll have trouble matching your ranking. Where to start? A search result audit

ORM: Managing brand perception

While SEO is a component of ORM, online reputation management goes even further to help a brand online. While Sally was generically looking for a yellow raincoat, what happens if she searches for the Wet n Wild line of raincoats? You should be aware of what appears in search results for your brand name and be on top of managing any negative mentions that may impact search ranking and sales as a result.

Let’s say Sally searches for this made-up brand of raincoats and sees a negative review in the top search results. Immediately, she’s alarmed and decides she doesn’t want to buy a Wet n Wild raincoat after all. And this scenario isn’t made up. In fact, research shows that 60% of people say that negative reviews made them not want to use a business.

Were Wet n Wild on top of its ORM, that review wouldn’t be in the top results for its name. How could it get rid of that negative mention? While it may not be able to remove the negative review, the brand could focus on creating additional content — both on its own website and on other high-authority sites — that would make that review less relevant.

The nuts and bolts of ORM

Consider ORM like holistic healing. It uses the basics of SEO to improve brand reputation by creating and promoting positive content about a brand, both on the brand’s website and on other sites and social profiles.

ORM’s focus isn’t on selling products the way SEO’s is. Instead, it strives to create a more positive brand perception.

One tool for improving ORM is publishing content through an Authority Network. YouTube is an Authority Network, as are highly trafficked blogs establishing expertise and thought leadership on a given channel. When a brand creates content on an external Authority Network, a couple of wonderful things happen:

  • The brand reaches an audience it might not otherwise have connected with.
  • The brand gets a link from that high-authority channel back to its site.

Both of these perks help with search results.

Getting on authority networks

ORM is a constant effort, whether you hire an ORM agency or manage it in-house. Continually creating content for Authority Networks is key to your success.

One easy way is to find guest blogging opportunities. Creating content on your area of expertise is an excellent way to expand your sphere of influence and improve your ORM. Focus on sites with high traffic and high engagement (plenty of comments on posts and social shares), and make sure the site targets the audience you’re trying to reach.

Additionally, you can become a thought leader who is quoted by the media. Sign up for Help a Reporter Out to be notified when journalists are looking for tips or interviews from people like you, and you’ll get free media mentions and a link back to your site for the effort.

Where online reviews fit in

The fact that 59% of online shoppers see online reviews as being as reliable as the recommendation of a friend means that you as a brand need to pay close attention to what’s being said about you online.

A negative review — just one! — can affect how potential customers perceive your brand. And as we all know, not all online reviews are genuine. Sometimes a disgruntled customer will lie just to get free products or to create problems for your brand.

The best way to mitigate negative reviews is to stay on top and respond promptly and publicly. If, for example, someone leaves a negative review about your business on Yelp, respond to the comment immediately. Apologize for the inconvenience and try to remedy the situation, maybe by offering a refund or exchange. When visitors to your review page see that you proactively work to fix negative situations, they will be impressed.

Once the customer’s situation has improved (she came back in and got a refund), ask her to update her review, reflecting on the follow-up service. This can improve your star rating and doesn’t require much effort.

Where ORM fits in the buying process

While SEO targets the awareness stage of the buying process, ORM focuses on the decision stage. Let’s quickly revisit Sally and her raincoat. Once she narrowed her options down to three brands of yellow raincoats, she searched each brand.

While Wet and Wild had some negative reviews at the top of its search results, it was that had an interesting article on choosing a raincoat. This brand also had some great reviews at the top of its search results, so it’s the company that Sally ultimately chose.

By the time shoppers reach the decision-making process, they know what they want, but they may not have decided which brand to buy from. This is where customer sentiment comes into play: when the overall perception of a brand online is a positive one, it attracts more customers and sales. It perpetuates from there.

How ORM could help United Airlines

Let’s look at a modern brand to see how online relationship management could help. United Airlines was under fire a few years ago for the alarming number of pets that have died on flights. United’s search engine results were full of negative mentions and articles about pets that have died on flights and other unpleasant interactions with the brand. Even United’s Twitter stream, which appears in the results, was filled with mentions of an issue with its Contact Center.

Were United making efforts to improve its ORM, some of those top results might have positive stories of travelers or employees that would lessen the impact that the PR crisis created.

It’s Not a Choice Between SEO and ORM

Fortunately, your brand doesn’t have to decide between putting energy into SEO or ORM: they’re equally important. And ongoing efforts for each can ensure that you don’t end up with a PR crisis as United suffered from.

Continually putting effort into creating content and using keywords that drive your site to the top of search results, as well as leveraging your Authority Networks to keep positive brand perception, will ensure the success of your business. Need help getting there? Contact us today to see how your business can benefit from an ORM strategy.


What is the difference between ORM and SEO?

ORM and SEO are different. Online reputation management is the effort to influence what and how people think of a brand or person when viewed online. ORM uses Search Engine Optimization to accomplish its goals, along with technical public relations,  content management, negotiation, and psychology.

What is SEO?

SEO drives awareness of a brand or product in the early stages of the buying process. SEO is mostly link-building and focuses on product and service searches.

Which is more important, SEO or ORM?

Search engine optimization and online reputation management are equally important. Continually putting effort into creating content and using keywords that drive your site to the top of search results, as well as leveraging your Authority Networks to keep positive brand perception, will ensure the success of your business.

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