The impact of Google Suggest on online reputation

When you do a search on Google, the search engine offers you suggestions for keywords related to your search. This system is called Google Suggest. However, if this feature links to negative keywords, then the company’s e-reputation is seriously affected. Let’s take stock of the situation.

What is Google Suggest?

Created in 2004 and implemented on the French Net in 2008, Google Suggest is a semi-automatic input function. It provides search complements on a query when the Internet user starts typing on his keyboard. It therefore allows users to refine their search in real time.

Google Suggest is based on the queries most frequently searched by users (the newspaper Libération headlined “Google Suggest, search engine”, a judiciously chosen expression). Thus, the most searched term appears at the top of the list.

If an Internet user types in the name of a company and the suggestions proposed by the feature include negative keywords, the e-reputation of companies can be seriously affected.

The negative impact on online reputation

It is obvious that the Google Suggest feature can have serious consequences on the online reputation of companies. Indeed, if an Internet user (whether it is a candidate who wishes to have information on the company to which he/she is applying or simply a prospect) enters the name of a company and the suggestions include negative keywords, it is highly likely that he/she will go to the competition.

If this situation drags on, it is likely to have an impact on the company’s turnover.

The online reputation of brands and companies is a subject that is increasingly taken seriously, as customers are now all connected and attentive to this digital image.

An example is Findus, a company specialising in frozen food, and the much-publicised horsemeat affair.

The Findus case

On 7 February 2013, after an unexpected DNA test, Findus discovered the presence of horsemeat in its products, particularly lasagne. Some dishes, which were supposed to be made of beef, even contained up to 100% horse meat. The ensuing investigation brought to light a vast meat fraud network whose main sponsors were Spanghero and Draap Trading (a Dutch trader). Although the scandal is called the Findus affair, the company is only marginally involved. It only asked its supplier to get the lowest prices.

The case caused a stir at the time and Findus’ online reputation was severely damaged. The company even hired an e-reputation agency to try to clean up the web and remove all traces of the case. The agency was also tasked with changing Google suggestions and word associations such as ‘scam’ or ‘deception’. The mission was partly accomplished, but even today, the traces of this bad buzz are still visible in Google Suggest. Indeed, the first Google search suggestion about Findus is still related to this case (“Findus horse”). It leads to an entire page of results dedicated to the “horse meat” scandal:


For the frozen food company, the impact on its sales has been disastrous. Its growth came to a halt in 2013 and sales of its frozen ready meals fell by 17%.

Protecting the digital identity of brands and companies therefore seems to be a priority now.

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