The internet makes it easier than ever for someone with an agenda, legitimate or not, to damage your reputation, eviscerate your sales, and ultimately, destroy your business.
All it takes is for one person to post on one of the “review” websites, like RipOffReport.com, and your name will be tarnished, potentially for years to come, any time prospective customers search for your company in Google.
You might be under the impression that it could never happen to you because you always go out of your way to satisfy your customers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always prevent reputation management problems. Perhaps there is such a deep personality conflict that you can’t reconcile with a dissatisfied customer. Maybe they even intended to rip you off from the beginning. Or worse yet, a unethical competitor can’t compete honestly, so they resort to defaming your company to steal business away from you. It wouldn’t be the first time.
No matter the reason, the end result is the same. Your reputation is damaged and prospective customers are reluctant to work with you.
You can reduce, or even eliminate this risk by taking a proactive approach to reputation management, though.
It will take a lot of time and hard work, and if you plan to outsource it rather than doing it yourself, a considerable amount of money, so you might be tempted to wait until the problem arises. That seems logical, right? Why spend time, effort, and possibly money if you don’t have to? That line of thinking will get you in because one of the factors that Google and other search engines use in determining ranking is the age of a page. All other things being equal, a page that has been around longer will rank higher than a newer page.
This means that if you wait until after someone has published negative information to start creating the pages and social profiles that you want to rank for your company name, those pages and profiles will likely rank below the negative information.
Buy relevant domains (within reason)
You probably already own the .com domain of your company name, but what about the plethora of other extensions available today? At the very least, you should invest in the .net and .org, but be sure to look at other domain extensions that may make sense for your company. There are over 1,000 available, so be thorough but don’t go overboard.
Next, look at domains that could be used against you. For example:
You don’t have to put websites up on these domains right now—you’re just purchasing them to prevent others from using them to harm your company. You can just forward them all to your main website.
If you haven’t already, register a profile for your company on all of the major social networks. Your profiles on social networks should include all applicable information, such as hours of operation, phone number, address, website, etc., and should be branded to match your company website, utilizing your logo, custom colors, and header images. The info makes it more valuable to the search engines, helping it to rank higher, while the branding increases engagement with real people. (Which, coincidentally, helps increase exposure and ranking.)
- Facebook (Page, not personal profile)
- Google My Business (Covers search, maps, and Google+)
- Instagram (IOS or Android)
- YouTube (Requires a Google account)
- LinkedIn (Company Page, not personal profile)
You don’t have to do everything all at once. In fact, you can’t do everything well all at once unless you have a massive budget.
I recommend starting with Facebook, Twitter, Google My Business, and LinkedIn because you can create a following and engage in one centralized platform within Hootsuite. (If you don’t already have an account, be sure to check out their free trial.) Obviously, you should share links to your own articles, but you should also share relevant info from other sources within your industry—and don’t be afraid to share content from your competitors. Sure, it will give them a little exposure, but you are also showing that you’re confident enough in your own products/services that you’re not afraid to share the spotlight.
While I don’t recommend trying to utilize every social network at once, you definitely should secure your profile on every network so that it’s available when you’re ready to use it.
These are free blogging tools that “live” on the provider’s domain, rather than your own, which enables you to leverage their domain authority to secure another spot for your company name in the search results. The key is to make sure your company name is in title on all pages/posts on the blog, is mentioned once or twice in each post, and is included in image alt tags where appropriate.
This isn’t a set-and-forget tool. As with your main blog, you will still have to produce quality content on a regular basis, and earn links and social shares if you expect it to rank for your company name. It’s important not to simply use it as a copy of your main blog; instead, you should post:
- short excerpts of your own posts linking back to the original post on your main blog
- short excerpts of relevant posts from other sources, linking back to the original article
- posts that don’t quite work for your main blog because of format, length, or subject matter
You are presumably an expert in your industry, right? That’s why people are willing to pay money for your products or services. So why not use that to take control of your online reputation by publishing articles on authoritative websites within your industry?
Everyone who runs a website understands the value of high-quality content—and it’s even more valuable for larger, prominent websites that are expected to churn out a metric ton of it on a monthly basis.
So you’re going to contact the editor of the top 5–10 websites in your industry about submitting an article for their website, but before you get worked up like a teenage boy on prom night, answer these questions so you can get your pitch right:
Who is their target audience?
Do they market to other folks in your industry or to the end consumer? That makes a big difference in deciding what type of content will work best. You would develop a very different article when writing for your peers compared to writing for potential customers.
Why does your opinion matter?
Everyone has an opinion on almost everything, and most of those opinions range from average to useless. What in your background qualifies you to opine on a particular subject? Do you have a unique degree or certification, loads of experience, or an innovative idea?
What will the reader gain by reading your article?
Your article needs to offer deep insight, explain how to do something, or provide a useful resource unavailable elsewhere that their readers will appreciate. Save the shameless, self-promotional “5 Reasons You Should Hire XYZ Company” type of articles for your own blog. The website publisher wants to keep his readers coming back, and they’ll only do that is they gain something from the content on the website.
How will you bring your article, the website, and the reader together?
Each element needs to work together the same way coarse salt, a well-marbled rib eye, and a hot cast iron skillet work together to produce a delicious, tender, and juicy piece steak. Your goal should be to serve the reader, then the website, then your own company, in that order. If you fail to do that, your article either won’t get accepted or won’t get read. In both cases, you will have wasted your time.
To make the most of this tactic, you should try to get your company name in the title, once or more in the article body, and once or more in the alt text of images.
Since so many people turn to review websites like Angie’s List and Yelp to evaluate a company before handing over their trust and hard-earned dollars, it makes sense to leverage those type of sites to strengthen your online reputation.
Now before you fire up your browser and head over to Fiverr to buy 20 or 30 bullshit reviews, think things through. Fake reviews are nearly always pretty easy to spot, and that will cause more damage to your reputation than not having any reviews in the first place.
Instead, give your customers an incentive to post an honest review on the sites that matter the most to you. For example, a small contractor might want to focus on Angie’s List, while a restaurant may want to put more energy in Zomato. (Formerly Urbanspoon.) You could offer a discount, free products, or an upgrade to customers who post a review before leaving your place of business—you’re only limited by your imagination.
The key is to fully leverage one site before putting your effort into another one, because the more reviews you have there, the more likely that your listing will show up in the search results. Take a long-term approach. You might spend three months encouraging customers to post reviews on Google My Business, then focus on Yelp for three months, followed by three months on The Better Business Bureau, and finally, Yahoo! Local. The next year, you could either repeat the same cycle to further solidify your position on those sites, or pick a new set to broaden your reach.
Google My Business sometimes filters reviews that come from the same IP, so if your customers post there using your WiFi, some may not display for most searchers. (It shouldn’t be a problem if they post a review from their own phone since they wouldn’t be using your WiFi.
Below are some of the review websites that are worth investing your time and energy into:
- Angie’s List
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- Bing Places
- Consumer Reports
- Demand Force
- Dex Knows
- G2 Crowd
- Google My Business
- Home Advisor
- Insider Pages
- Judy’s Book
- Trip Advisor
- Yahoo! Local
- Yellow Pages