What is online reputation management, and when do you need it?
An unhappy customer can be the bane of any size business, but small businesses can sometimes feel a bigger impact from one unsatisfied client. This is because the Internet allows people to make their complaints known to the world at large, whether their issues are well founded or not. There are even some online forums where a complaint against your company can get better rankings in the search engines than your own website. Worse yet, you may end up getting targeted for the actions of businesses (or people) with similar names, or you may have a rogue competitor who is spreading malicious information about you on Internet forums.
What can you do about bad online publicity? “Online reputation management” is the term used for dealing with unhappy customers, or bad PR, on the Internet. Here are a few tips for getting bad or defamatory postings removed from the Internet:
- Try to resolve the dispute with the customer, and ask them to remove the posting.
- Contact the owner of the site where the posting is placed. In many cases, site owners will remove postings that appear to be excessively negative or inaccurate.
- Add more content to your site. In many cases, you can get a second search listing for your company name indented under the first.
- If you know anyone who has a website, ask them to create a positive Web page about you or your company.
- If you have a LinkedIn profile, or a profile on social media, add more content about your company.
- Find sites online that refer to you in a positive or “neutral” manner, and link to them from your own website. This may improve the search engine position of the “good” news at the expense of the bad.
Most of the time, it is unwise to respond directly to the customer (or defaming party) in the same forum. First of all, you may be dragging yourself down to that person’s level. Secondarily, search engines like to index fresh content, so if you post a response, you are telling the search engine that the topic may be worth a higher search engine position. A back-and-forth exchange can also backfire if the customer has other complaints, or if other parties choose to chime in. The real damage to your reputation usually happens when you can’t see it, because many people won’t buy from a company if they see negative information in search engine results.
How can you push down bad online publicity when it is visible in places like Google™? One way to do this is to accentuate the positive. Solicit comments that paint your company in a more positive light. You can become an active participant in forums and social media, and take a few chances to “plug” your business by name once you’ve established a reputation. If you have expert knowledge about one or more topics, there are several places on the Web where you can make a contribution.
In extreme cases, online reputation management can also involve buying new domain names and building additional websites that portray you positively. You would then use search engine optimization techniques to move these sites above the ones that portray you negatively. Even though this is a more expensive option, it can sometimes be necessary if a site won’t remove content. If you can push defamatory search engine listings to the second page of search results, then the majority of Web searchers will not see it.
Maintaining your online reputation can also be done proactively, and it helps build brand awareness at the same time. By using many of the same steps above, you can inoculate yourself against negative online information while you make a positive contribution. Above all, search engines are looking for relevant, trustworthy content that people will want to read. If you can create this content, you can go a long way toward improving your own reputation and minimizing the impact of malicious, defamatory, and incorrect portrayals of your brand online.
Note: Web.com Search Agency offers a variety of reputation management services for small, medium, and enterprise-level businesses.