The online reputation of your business is important for finding new clients and keeping your existing ones. Poor customer service and frequently missed deadlines will reflect on how you are perceived on the internet. However, even if you do nothing wrong, your reputation can suffer from a multitude of negative content issues published by third parties.

This guide will help you to build and monitor a stellar online reputation, as well as a method to repair a damaged one.

The importance of your business’s online reputation

Your online reputation as a company or brand defines how users perceive you on the internet. While a strong reputation can be the key to success, a weak one is likely to deter potential new clients that haven’t done business with you yet.

What happens if a prospective client finds numerous poor reviews? What will he or she do if he stumbles upon a discouraging article that appears at the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)? In this case, it’s reasonable to assume that your online reputation is harming you and preventing some people from contacting you. 

The proactive solution to this predicament is Online Reputation Management.

What is Online Reputation Management?

Online Reputation Management, or ORM, refers to strategies and techniques that influence what information about your business can be found online.

Of course, negative content that ranks prominently in search engines plays a major role. The objective here is to outrank defamatory content with more favorable articles, reports, blog posts, etc. The positive digital assets push down the negative ones on SERPs.

There are review platforms like Angie’s List and Trustpilot that are particularly important for local businesses. Customers love reviews and place a lot of emphasis on them.

What’s your online reputation?

Now that we have a clear understanding of the importance of ORM, it’s time to determine your current situation. During this process, consider how you want your business to be perceived in the future.

Evaluating the current situation

Figuring out how users perceive your business right now can be determined by conducting thorough Google research. Simply type in the name of your company, brand, products, or services, and make sure to search for “[company name] reports,” “[product name] reviews,” and other appropriate keywords.

Since page 1 of the SERPs receives the vast majority of clicks, prioritize the first two or three pages, depending on how many resources you want to invest in this. In addition, check for content published on different social media platforms and other major websites. With this approach, chances are that you won’t be able to find all content featuring your business on the web. 

One that I really like to use is Mention. It’s a paid tool for real-time monitoring of social media, forums, blogs, and “the rest of the web.” Alerts give you live updates whenever your brand is mentioned somewhere.

Speaking of alerts, Google Alerts is another powerful tool that we use for ourselves and our clients. It allows you to keep track of all the new content being published and indexed in Google (including videos)—the best way to make sure that you don’t miss out on anything. Plus, it’s free!

How to set up a Google Alert

Most seasoned webmasters among us already use it, but for those who don’t, here is how you can set up a Google alert:

  1. Go to https://www.google.com/alerts and enter the name of your business or any other keyword.
  2. Enter the email address that you want to have an alert sent to whenever new content gets published.
  3. You can set additional preferences if you like, such as how often you want to be notified as well as content sources, language, and region.

As a free alternative to Mention, consider socialmention.com. The tool monitors dozens of social media platforms at once. Beyond that, it provides information on the strength of your business and the likelihood that it’s being discussed on social media, among other helpful quality scores.

If you are more worried about complaints, give Go Fish Digital Complaint Box a shot. It browses over 40 different complaint websites and lists all the negative results. Again, simply enter your business name and wait for the complaint search results to come up (or, rather, hope they don’t come up).

Defining how you want your business to be perceived

Define what you want your online reputation to be, similar to branding. Make sure to align it with your strategic business goals and the vision that you have for your brand or company. Interviewing clients, business partners, and stakeholders to find out what they think about your business is a great way to identify discrepancies between your online and offline reputation.

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How to build or repair an A+ online reputation

Once you know the status of your online reputation, it’s time to start building it up. For some businesses, you may be starting from scratch. For others, you may need to repair a negative reputation. In either case, here are a few steps you can take to start building a positive online reputation.

1. Online review management

Don’t get me wrong, online review management is also important for, let’s say, eCommerce stores and cloud service providers that sell nationwide, but for local marketing, it’s absolutely key.

One statistic that I like to quote is from BrightLocal. In a 2017 local consumer review study, the SEO software provider found that 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Another crucial insight was that 48% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business. Case closed.

Online reviews can work for or against you. This is why it’s important that we manage them properly and proactively. Do not make the mistake of paying someone to create fake positive reviews, which exposes your organization to additional risks. We recommend collecting as much positive and real customer feedback as possible. We achieve this by

  • Always trying as hard as we can to make our clients happy,
  • Choosing and registering with the best review platforms,
  • Encouraging happy clients to leave reviews, and
  • Handling negative feedback.

1.1 Choosing and registering with review platforms

People prefer to leave reviews on platforms that they have already created an account for and are familiar with. Register your business with as many of these platforms as necessary, while not overshooting the mark. Because when you register with each and every directory out there, reviews might be spread too thin. With dozens of reviews in one place, you appear much more authoritative.

As a local firm, one platform that you should be focusing on, especially in the beginning, is Google My Business. Others worth considering include the following:

  • Yelp
  • Yellow Pages
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Angie’s List
  • Trustpilot
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Industry-specific directories

1.2 Encouraging happy clients to leave reviews

How can you increase the number of monthly reviews that your business receives? 

The first step is to make every client happy. The second step is to ask for it. If you skip step 1, don’t proceed with Step 2. This is only going to cause harm.

Once you’ve completed step 1, reach out to a client and encourage him or her to rate your business. Be subtle and use appropriate language. Also, asking in-person during a face-to-face meeting may yield better results than requesting one via phone or email.

Please note: With some platforms, such as Yelp, the guidelines prohibit asking for reviews. And you should never offer incentives in any form in exchange for a review. Not only does such a practice destroy the purpose of business reviews, but it’s also possible that your business listing will be deleted for violating terms of service.

1.3 Managing negative feedback

Managing negative client feedback is more complicated. First, how do you respond to negative feedback in a professional manner?

In my opinion, if you make a mistake, your best option is to take responsibility and admit that you’ve made a mistake, and then try to find the best solution for your client. Never ignore a negative review or forget to respond in a timely manner. This indicates that you don’t really care about your clients and what they have to say.

In cases where you can manage to satisfy a client and win him or her over, kindly ask him or her to update his review.

2. Content suppression

Content suppression and negative SEO are two entirely different things. Pushing negative third-party content about your business down the SERPs does not cause any harm to the owner or publisher of the content.

This does not hold true, however, if you purposefully point thousands of spammy links to someone else’s website to try and hurt its rankings. It’s unethical and in many cases may violate local or national laws.

3. Defamation and content removal

Reverse SEO takes time to come into effect. What do you do if there is a certain piece of content that you want to have removed?

First of all, you should take a look at Google’s content guidelines. In case of violation, you can have the content removed from Google’s services under applicable laws. You can find the appropriate tool to initiate a content removal request through this Google Support page.

If a guideline violation does not apply, you can still reach out to the author or publisher of the content and try to persuade him or her to take it down—think mutual agreement. If this doesn’t work, court-ordered injunctions or cease and desist orders are other options. 

By law, people are allowed to state their opinion about anything and everything online. They can do so without having to fear consequences, which is a good thing. There is a difference, however, between stating your opinion and publishing false and defamatory content with the goal of damaging the reputation of an individual or company.

Fortunately, courts have established legal precedents for how to treat online defamation, and it is possible to have this kind of content removed via court order.

4. Social media

It’s no secret that social media is one of the most powerful digital marketing channels. No matter how small or large your business is, you have to engage with social media, especially if you want to build a stellar online reputation.

If you go down this route, you have to stay committed. Stay active and don’t neglect any of your profiles. Without the adequate resources required to manage multiple profiles on different platforms, it’s better to focus on one or two.

Building a positive online reputation takes time

Building an excellent online reputation is not rocket science. To optimize your efforts, start by vetting your current online reputation and identifying avenues that require your attention. Then work through the steps outlined above to develop a system for your business. 

Remember, building a positive online reputation isn’t a one-time task. But if you set yourself up to successfully manage it, your patience and continuity will pay off.

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AvatarSameer Somal

Sameer Somal is the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology. He is well-versed in the nuances of ORM and Crisis Communication strategy and has served as an expert witness on matters of Internet defamation cases. Sameer is a frequent speaker at conferences, on topics such as online reputation management, search engine optimization, relationship capital, leadership, and digital transformation. Sameer was named an Iconic Leader Creating a Better World for All by the All Ladies League & Women Economic Forum and is a 2020 Business Elite “40 under 40” recipient.