We get requests all the time to help people with their online reputation. Someone has given a company bad reviews, or worse yet, someone has set up websites created to defame a company or individual.
The initial reaction is to be angry and want to fight back – through legal means, fighting back, overreacting to the reviews and more. If this is your situation, this guide isn’t for you. In this post, we’re going to cover some ways to find instances that you’re being talked about online, and how to leverage them to your benefit.
Let’s step back to get an idea of what an online reputation really is. An online reputation means a few different things, but overall, it’s the narrative that is visible when people search for you (or find online in general). A combination of review sites like Yelp, Google+ and more, along with various reputation-based websites like the BBB are just part of the equation. Any time someone talks about you, your reputation is being affected, sure. But also, how you present yourself on your own website, social media and more can have a huge impact on your online reputation. If your website, for instance, looks very outdated and unprofessional, your potential customers will think the same of you. These are the sorts of things you can have the most control over, and can have the biggest impact on how you’re perceived. Online reputation is the entirety of your image and narrative on the internet.
I remember back in the days when search engines were new (came across this site, kind of neat to look at the history), it was considered faux pax to search for yourself on the search engines, but we all secretly did it. I remember being surprised at how many people shared the same name as me – who would have thought! But, this same principle applies to you and your business. Take a moment to search for yourself and see what comes up. You’ll either be pleasantly surprised, or terrified at what you find. The first item to look at is to see if you control your own brand in the search engines. If your website comes up first when you type in your company’s name, congratulations – you have the first step to controlling your own brand online taken care of. If not, that means there’s some work to do, as your customers might be confused, or worse, might be contacting another company that is gaining a benefit from your own hard work and reputation.
But let’s take the search a little further, starting with the first page of Google results. After all, an overwhelming majority of searchers don’t leave the first page of results, so this is a good place to focus. What are the top ten listings on the front page, and do any of them compete with you? In an ideal world, the front page will have your website, supplementary websites that you control or contribute to, your social media pages, usually your Yelp page, and maybe some general informational sites. What you don’t want to deal with is competitors leeching off your search strength, and poor quality reviews and consumer complaints showing up. And, if you have Yelp or other reviews showing up with poor results, you have other issues to address. If the sites you want showing up aren’t then it’s time to work on building quality links to your site and social media pages.
And, if you’re like us, and have a company name that isn’t completely unique, then it’s understandable that you’ll have some competing space on that front page – don’t fret as long as you’re the first and there’s no customer confusion.
The next thing you can do, perhaps once weekly or monthly (depending on how active you are online) is what I call a “mentions search.” This is the process of looking for mentions of you or your brand on sites that may not be directly related to you or reviews of your business. Anytime somebody mentions you on a blog or forum, etc, is an opportunity to benefit (as long as it’s a good mention). There are a few ways to go about doing this.
First off, that regular ol’ Google search. Go to the search engine and do a few searches. Let’s say you’re name is Bob Chewerson and you sell Bob’s Gum. Search for the following terms: Bob’s Gum, Bob Chewerson, bobsgum.com – and then take it one step further and widdle down if need be using exact match strings (quotation marks) like “Bob Chewerson” and so forth, to get rid of those similar terms like Bob Cheverton that don’t apply. If you do this fairly regularly, you can select the option to look for mentions in only the last week, month, etc. I also tend to do these in “incognito mode” to avoid skewed results.
Doing this kind of search might bring up opportunities to build quality links to your website. If you’re mentioned positively in an article or post, reach out to the author and webmaster, thank them, and ask them to link the mention to your website. If the article is about a topic that matches a landing page on your site, have that link point to the landing page. This is one great way to build quality links that will improve your SEO over time. Another way to track mentions would be using a backlink tool like Ahrefs or Majestic. These tools track when a website publishes a link to yours – so it’s handy for finding mentions.
Another type of “mentions search” would be looking for social mentions. Any time someone talks about you on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc is an opportunity to respond or benefit. Look at this recent case by Target, who had nothing to do with creating a recent social trend, but were able to benefit from it because their marketing team was keeping track of social mentions. It’s a great opportunity to connect with your audience that you’d otherwise miss. And I understand that my target market here is small businesses who may not have a team to manage their marketing, but there are quite a few great tools out there to track and manage these mentions. Here’s a good guide by WooRank on where to get started and lists a few tools that are useful for this.
A policy that I always try to enforce with myself and my clients is that if you’re not committed to doing something well, it’s better not to do it at all. In the case of social media and blogging, it’s great to set up a Twitter account, Facebook page, Pinterest and more, and I encourage you do it. But, if you won’t commit to consistently updating and monitoring the accounts, it’s better not to have them. When somebody visits your Facebook page, and sees that you haven’t updated it in over a year, it’s a turnoff; it looks like you’re either out of business or just don’t care. Same goes for your blog. These sites will be found due to the strength of social media these days, so make sure that if you have them, they put you in a good light.
I’ve touched on these ideas in my guide to working with Yelp, so I’ll keep it brief. Reviews are pretty important for small businesses, and can often make or break a good portion of your business. You need to stay on top of your reviews, and encourage customers to leave comments and ratings online. Yelp has a “don’t ask for reviews” policy, so don’t focus too much on it, but there are other great places like Google+, FourSquare and others that can help your online reputation be rounded out. Put a link to your Google+ page in your signature, ask for honest reviews from customers when talking to them, and stay on top of those reviews. Regardless, the policy of checking in on these sites once a week and responding to reviews is a great way to show customers you care. If you have a negative review, respond to it, thanking the customer for their opinion and telling them you’ll work hard to correct the problem. NEVER argue with a reviewer, even if you think it’s fake – it makes you look petty and unreasonable, and can turn away potential new customers.
All of the searches and social media management is great, but the number one thing you can do to control your online narrative is to have a great website. Your own website is the only source of information about your business that you can completely control online, and if you do it right, it can be the most visible marketing platform for you online. Get modern – there’s something to be said about how you’re perceived by the quality of your website. If it’s very outdated, doesn’t work on mobile phones, or just doesn’t work in general, it will be a direct correlation in people’s minds as to how you run your business and the quality of the product or service you sell.
So take the time to make sure your site looks great, works great, and is full of good information. Throw in a few great testimonials (the best format is video, if you can get it), links to positive reviews and social media, and really drive the narrative about you and your business with a strong, well-ranking website. This goes back to that ‘front page of Google’ item earlier too – if you have a strong website with a lot of content, you can even get multiple landing pages to show up on that first page, and push out competitors or other sites that mention your brand.
All in all, online reputation is becoming more important every day. The millenial generation is up and coming as the decision makers today, and their source of information and opinion is largely the internet. Make sure that when they look for you, what’s found is an overall positive opinion of you and your business.