Online Reputation Management Guide
The Internet is a powerful marketing tool and helps your business reach a wider audience than any traditional advertising channel in existence. This means it has a huge potential to either help — or hurt — your brand.
That’s what makes online reputation management so important. In today’s Internet-driven world, your business simply can’t afford to appear anything less than reputable and trustworthy when potential customers look you up online.
In this guide, you’ll learn why online reputation management is so important, how you can do it, and how to take a proactive approach to making sure that your brand is represented well everywhere it appears.
Introduction to reputation management
What do you see when you type your company’s name into search engines like Google? Ideally, you’d see your company’s site, your various social profiles, and maybe even a news article or two discussing your recent successes.
But that’s not always the case, and you may find some unfriendly reviews or critiques among the search results. You may think that these results are completely up to chance, and that there’s nothing you can do to change the irrelevant or unflattering results that appear below your site. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. So if a search for your company’s name brings up pages that have nothing to do with your business or – worse – negative reviews, you can change that with reputation management strategies.
Reputation management involves monitoring every aspect of your brand’s online presence and doing what you can to improve it. And in some cases, it also involves handling negative press or reviews in a professional manner. But in order to be effective, your strategy should be proactive and not reactive.
Many companies choose a reactive approach and only think about their reputation when it’s threatened. Unfortunately, this makes handling issues much more difficult when they arise, and it means missing a huge opportunity to build a positive name for your business online. After all, reputation management isn’t just about damage control — it’s about improving your image as a whole.
Why manage your online reputation?
Many business owners never think about online reputation management until a PR disaster – like a negative news story or a social media rant by a former employee – comes to light. This is an unwise approach. When done well, online reputation management not only serves to preserve your reputation, it should actively build it over time.
So if you’re on the fence about online reputation management, here are a few things it can help you do:
Build a positive reputation
Spreading positive news about your company, building friendly relationships with customers and clients, and establishing your site as a valuable source of information can all help you build a strong online presence. And considering that today’s consumers use Google for virtually every business they plan to visit or buy from, you need to be sure that the results that display for your name show that you’re worth their time and money.
Beyond the search results, you can also build your reputation by reaching out to news publications, sharing on social media, and gaining brand exposure in a variety of other locations. As Internet users see this information over time, they’ll make positive associations with your company.
These associations can then go beyond your online presence, as people begin to share their opinions of your company with their friends and family. Then, when they later have a need for the products or services your company offers, they’ll already know that you’re a trustworthy provider.
Stand out against the competition
Along with your own reputation, it’s important to consider that your competitors also have a certain reputation both on- and offline. And with online reputation management, you can make sure that the results showing for your company are better than your competitors’.
Today’s consumers don’t just go to the first business they hear of – they do their research, read reviews, and ask their friends and family for advice. So even though you may think that your four-star Yelp rating is enough, if your competitors all have five, you won’t look good in comparison.
As a result, a strong reputation management strategy involves not only monitoring the conversations surrounding your own brand online, but also those about your competitors. That being said, we’d never advise you to spread negative press about other businesses. Instead, work towards strengthening your own company’s reputation to raise the standard of your industry.
Combat negative press
Even the most honest company with the greatest employees and the best products will have critics. So as much as you may not want to think about it, there will likely be a time when some unflattering complaints or reviews about your company hit the Internet.
If there isn’t much information already online about your company, these negative stories can completely take over the search results for your company’s name. But if you’ve already taken steps to spread positive information, searchers will be able to see that the current story isn’t typical of your brand.
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How your site affects your reputation
As the center of your online presence, your website plays a major role in how potential customers and clients perceive your company. Users have certain expectations when they visit your site, and you need to meet – or exceed – these expectations.
Many factors play into how Internet users perceive your site, but these are the major ones to consider when working on your online reputation:
Your position in organic search results
Before a visitor even arrives on your site, they want to know that it’s reputable. You can demonstrate this by ranking well in organic search results.If the first thing that a user sees when they search your name is interesting, well-written articles and blog posts about your industry, they’ll know that you’re worth their time. If this isn’t the case for your business, it’s time to rethink your approach to search engine optimization, or SEO.
SEO can help you improve your rankings in search engine results, and as a result, the number of people who click through to your site. That means you get more opportunities to promote your brand online and even acquire new customers.
Design and overall appearance
Once a visitor arrives on your site, the first thing they’ll notice is how it is designed and laid out. If it appears messy, unprofessional, or difficult to navigate, they’ll likely return to the search results and try another business – possibly even one of your competitors.
That being said, you don’t need to go overboard and have every new feature and latest design style on the market. As long as your site is user-friendly and looks professional, your main concern should be the next element.
The factor that will ultimately play the biggest role in how visitors perceive your site is the quality of its content. Informational, in-depth content that helps them understand a topic or solve a problem will make them see your company in a favorable light and build your brand as a trustworthy resource in their minds.
On the other hand, shallow, poorly-written content will have the opposite effect. So if your site is full of generic, keyword-stuffed content, this is the first place you should start in your online reputation management strategy.
Speed and usability
In addition to appearance and content, the usability of your site also plays a major role in whether or not visitors have a positive experience with it. If it loads quickly and is easy to navigate, they’ll focus on the content and learn more about your company.
But if your site is disorganized, if it’s difficult for users to find what they’re looking for, or if it simply takes too long to load, they’ll associate your company with frustration. This is never a good association – but thankfully, it’s an easy one to fix.
By testing your site speed and usability on a regular basis, you can be sure that you always provide a positive experience for potential customers. However, it’s important that you include mobile usability in these tests. An increasing number of Internet users browse exclusively on their smartphones, tablets, and other devices, meaning that responsive design is a necessity.
Managing your reputation on social media
Social media has given consumers more of a voice than ever before. This means that you can engage your customers more easily, but it also means that unhappy customers have an open platform to spread their negative opinions of your company.
With online reputation management, you can help guide the conversation surrounding your brand on social media in a positive direction and manage the negative sentiments. Here’s how:
Create a social strategy
If you haven’t done so already, create pages and fill out profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Depending on your industry and brand, you can use other relevant platforms (like Instagram and Pinterest), but these four are a solid starting point for any business.
Once you’ve set up your accounts, set aside some time to create a social media strategy. Each platform requires a different approach and content, and it will take some time to develop an individual strategy for what works best for your brand on each.
Finding the right strategy may also require some trial and error, especially if you’re in an industry that isn’t particularly active on social media. However, if you’re just starting out, there are many free resources online with step-by-step instructions for creating a social media marketing plan.
As you create your strategy, it’s important to consider how often you post, the type of content you post, and the voice in which you write. Be sure that everyone who manages your profiles is on the same page in terms of tone, as followers may be confused if half of your posts are funny and conversational while the other half are serious and professional.
Maintain an active presence
Once you’ve created your approach to social media and established who is responsible for managing your accounts, you need to make it a priority to maintain an active presence on each one.
Social media users like consistency, and many of them have come to expect regular updates from the brands they follow. This is helpful for your content strategy – but it also extends to your responses on social media.
As users engage with your posts, be sure to respond in a timely manner. This doesn’t just apply to negative comments, either – engage with all of your followers. This will not only help build good will around your brand, but also encourage even more of your followers to leave positive reviews and feedback. Then, if negative comments do appear, they’ll be a clear minority in comparison.
Monitor the conversation
In addition to responding to the comments users make on your pages, you should also be aware of the larger conversation taking place around your brand. You may not think that this is an issue, since visitors to your social media platforms won’t see all of these comments, but those users’ followers certainly will. Plus, thanks to the search features on most major platforms, it’s easy enough for other users to find negative comments.
Thankfully, monitoring what’s said about your company isn’t nearly as difficult as it may sound. Tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to see when your brand is mentioned, even if users don’t directly tag your social accounts.
Using Tweetdeck, for example, you can divide notifications into several columns – one for regular notifications, one specifically for @ mentions of your handle, and one for links to your site.
In this view, you can easily see what people are saying about your company. And if a thank-you (or other response) is in order, you can send it without even leaving the page.
Have a strategy for responding to negative comments
The majority of your social media strategy should be designed to help you engage with your audience. However, given the nature of the Internet, there will likely come a time when someone voices a negative comment or opinion. And when that happens, it often goes one of two ways: A complete disaster, or an opportunity to show off great PR skills.
First and foremost, resist the urge to simply delete the comment. The user will likely call you out on it, which will make it look like you have something to hide. And as Applebee’s can attest to, this can quickly turn into a much bigger deal than you intend:
Instead, provide a genuine and professional response. If the customer was unhappy with their experience, apologize and ask what you can do to fix things. If they’re disappointed in how you run your business, let them know that you appreciate their feedback and ask what you could do better. And if they’re just being rude or disrespectful, direct them to your contact page and let them know that you’d love to hear their concerns.
In most cases, commenters just wait to be heard. And by showing them that you’re listening, you can typically avoid any major issues.
Managing local listings and review sites
In addition to your social media, you should also be aware of other places that your business is being discussed and reviewed. Depending on your industry and business model, this may include review sites like Yelp, local listings like Google+, and employer sites like Glassdoor.
And while you likely won’t have as much control over this content as the content on your social media accounts, there are a few steps you can take to manage your reputation on them:
Claim your company profiles
Before you can manage the comments on listings and review sites, you need to claim your company’s profiles on Yelp, Google+, and Glassdoor. This typically just involves verifying a phone number and address, and you can do it in under 10 minutes.
From there, you should look for other industry-specific listings on sites that include your company. If there’s an option to register your company and update your profile with correct information, do so. Even though there may not be much on the site at the moment, this will make it easier to address any issues down the line.
Develop a strategy for responding to reviews
Unlike social media, there’s no need to come up with a posting schedule or create new content for review sites. Consumers don’t visit them to see what you have to say about your business – they visit them to read about other consumers’ experiences with you (and in the case of Glassdoor, how you treat your employees).
This means that there’s a lot less regular work involved. However, you should still check your pages on a regular basis and have a strategy for responding to reviews. And much like with social media, you should never try to delete reviews.
If you see a negative comment about your business, your immediate response may be to get defensive and respond unprofessionally. But as you may recall from the saga of Amy’s Baking Company in 2013, this is a terrible idea.
Instead, address the reviewer’s concerns and ask how you can fix the issues going forward. If you show that you genuinely care about their opinion or that their experience wasn’t typical of your business, they may even update with a positive review.
The importance of outreach
So far, we’ve covered what you can do to manage your website, your social media accounts, and your company’s profiles on various review sites. If you include all of these elements in your online reputation management strategy, your business should be in good shape online.
That being said, there’s one final piece of the puzzle that can make all the difference in boosting your online reputation: Outreach.
When you get links to your site and brand mentions from other reputable sites, you help your company gain increased exposure and a sense of trustworthiness among potential customers. Here’s why:
Although your site may be the first source a potential customer goes to for information, it definitely won’t be the last. The information you write will be biased in favor of your company and only present the benefits of working with you. Visitors know this, and they will consult outside sources for more information.
If a search for your name returns articles from reputable news sites and industry blogs, they’ll know that the content there is likely much less biased. And if the article or page depicts your company in a positive light, it’ll do much more for their perception of you than any page on your own site ever could.
Positive media coverage / search saturation
Articles on other sites will not only provide a different perspective of your company, but they’ll also take up more space in search engine results. This means that if you eventually experience negative media coverage, searchers will be able to see positive coverage as well. This will help balance out the story or issue and show them that historically, your company has a solid reputation.
And although you may not think of it as directly related to reputation management, if these sites link back to your own, it will help your business show up better in search results. As more people link to you, you’ll continue to rank better and likely earn spots on other industry publications.
Helpful tools and resources
Now that you know the basics of what online reputation management involves, why it’s important, and how you can go about doing it, it’s time to get started! As you take steps towards creating your strategy, you may find the following tools and resources helpful:
- Google’s position on managing your reputation through search results
- SEO analysis
- Google’s page speed test
- Google’s mobile-friendliness test
- How to set up Google Alerts for your company name
- How to Respond to Yelp Reviews
- Claim your Google+ profile
- Claim your business on Yelp
- Set up employer account on Glassdoor
When combined with the information in the guide, these tools and resources should have you well on your way to successfully managing your reputation online. But if you have any additional questions or would like some assistance with your reputation management strategy, feel free to contact us!