Managing Your Online Reputation
If you have been using the internet for any length of time, you will have an online reputation. Even businesses that don’t have their own website may have dozens of references to them and their services that they aren’t aware of. As the majority of people now use the internet to research their options before making a purchase, not managing your online reputation may be costing you customers. Even if your business isn’t centered on a website, or has little to do with the internet, managing your online reputation is something that should be a part of every business plan.
Ideally, new business start ups should incorporate a strategy to build a positive reputation into their business plans from the start. It is much easier to build a good reputation online than it is to fix one that is preventing you from doing good business. Adopting simple practices like soliciting positive reviews of your business by satisfied customers on various user review sites like Yelp! and Local.com is a way to create a good reputation. Often it is helpful to offer an incentive, like a discount or a free sample, to encourage people to leave reviews for you online. This has the added benefit of attracting more positive information about your business.
It is likely that you will find an already established reputation for yourself on the internet, so the first step, even before hoping to improve it, is to see what it actually is. Start by looking for yourself in all of the major search engines, remembering to specifically include ‘reviews’ as one of the search parameters to ensure that you find as many comments about you as possible. Visit the user review sites and look carefully, on as many as possible, for what has been said about your business. Often it will be the case that one dissatisfied customer will have visited several of these sites to leave the same bad review, making it the one that everyone sees when they check out your business via the search engines. It is impossible to remove comments like these from the internet (unless they are offensive in some demonstrable way), but it is relatively easy to bury them once you know where they are. If you find that there are unpleasant reviews on one of the sites ask your satisfied customers to go there and add their own comments to push the bad reviews down the list and out of sight.
Contributing valuable information to the internet is another proven method of building and improving an online reputation. Publishing e-books or a blog, commenting on forums and social media threads in your niche, and generally promoting a professional image of your business all go a long way towards having a good reputation in cyberspace just as they would in the real world. Taking ownership of your business listings in the many online directories is also important. It gives you a voice in the forum while keeping you in touch with what people are saying about you and helps identify problem areas before they get out of control.
Google Maps is especially significant now with the increase in the use of mobile devices being used to find the products and services that consumers are looking for in real time. Because Google Maps automatically generates business listings and collects information like ratings and reviews from across the web, taking ownership of your listing and making sure that it represents you in exactly the way that you want it to can give you the edge on your competitors. Online reviews of businesses are often unfairly skewed by a small number of bad reviews, but by taking charge of your internet presence it is possible to manage even the worst online reputation.