Almost everyone that has used the internet has an online reputation of some sort, and most people never even know it. Without really being aware of the longevity of the information, people will create account profiles, fill in submission forms, and post photos of themselves on social media sites; all of which goes towards developing an online profile that colors their reputation. Take a moment to Google your name or your brand, and you might be very surprised at what turns up in your SERP (search engine results page).
For most businesses, it is almost certain that there are online reviews and citations about them and their service that they are unaware of. A whole IT industry has evolved around Online Reputation Management (ORM) that tries to give people more control over how they are portrayed on the internet. Unfortunately, it is common for ORM to be viewed as a negative or defensive action taken to clear up bad reviews or negative opinions that are detracting from an online presence. There is a way to take a more positive position that builds a good online reputation, so that it is less likely to have to resort to damage control when someone posts a dozen bad reviews of your company out of spite.
The first step to developing a positive presence online is to be a source of quality content online, such a blog that is genuinely informative. Additionally, comments on others’ websites can make a valuable contribution to a thread. This ensures that when visitors do find you on the web, their first impression is a positive one. First impressions are lasting and could override any negative comments that may arise at a later date. Contributing constructively to the conversation in your niche forum could also diminish the need for many people to look for other online references, and thereby avoid the possibility of finding negative comments altogether.
Almost as important is to take ownership of your listings on as many of the online directories as possible. Sites like Google Places have listings for businesses, whether they have signed up for them or not, and letting these accounts drift unattended is not only missing a great marketing opportunity, but it also allows them to harbor poor reviews unchecked. Taking control of these listings doesn’t stop the possibility of bad reviews, but it does make it easier to handle them if they occur.
Taking a long term approach to building a positive online reputation is the most sensible strategy, and there are a number of easily employed methods to accomplish this. It is a good idea to ask your satisfied customers to leave reviews of your business, to try and build a list of positive comments from the start, in order to preemptively balance the comments that you have no control over.
Most people that are satisfied with a purchase will comment if you make it easy to do so. You could even offer an incentive, like a future discount. Having people post positive reviews on your website can be an effective way of burying older, negative reviews that have been creeping into the front page of the SERPs for your business niche. It also pays to ask for testimonials from your most loyal customers to post on your website, to further enhance your reputation. All of this may sound like a lot of work just to create a nice online image for you or your brand, but it is much easier to build an enduringly positive reputation online, one piece at a time, than it is to perform damage control if bad press starts costing you customers.