With smartphones in virtually every pocket, consumers can research a brand, product or service anytime, anywhere, so online reputation management (ORM for short) has never been more important. If you are not actively practicing digital reputation management, some subset of your target audience is likely dropping you from consideration without you even knowing it.
Online reputation repair can take many forms, but if you do nothing else, focus on managing these three critical elements:
1. Search Engine Results: The content that appears on the first page around your branded search terms
2. Online Reviews: Reviews of your company, products or services on the major review sites
3. Online Customer Service: Because your public responses to customers say a lot about your organization or brand
Let’s look at strategies to improve and protect each of these three elements of your internet reputation.
Search Engine Results
Take a moment to run a Google search of your brand (be sure you’re using an “incognito” browser tab to avoid skewing the results). If you’re not running an active ORM program, chances are there are one or more results on page one that you are not particularly proud of.
In these cases, you need to produce and promote newer, more relevant digital content around the keywords that now show negative content on page one of search results. This strategy will elevate your newer content to the first page and push the negative content to page two or three, where most consumers will never see it.
I’ve often seen situations in which the same negative content about a brand shows up on page one across a wide variety of branded search terms. For example, a four-year-old YouTube video disparaging your company could show up across a variety of your branded search terms. This is good news because you won’t have to produce a long stream of content on different topics to displace the negative results. Instead, you can follow three simple steps:
• Produce a few pieces of digital content around the target topic (i.e., the terms most likely to show that unfortunate video).
• Optimize content pages for those search terms.
• Displace negative content across multiple branded search terms over time to earn more slots on page one
Online Review Sites
How strongly does a negative review online affect your brand? According to the Pew Research Center, 82% of adults say they read reviews at least sometimes prior to making a purchase decision, while other studies found that every one-star increase in a Yelp rating increases revenue by 5-9%.
In many cases, a company’s actual customer satisfaction is far better than their star ratings on review sites like Google Reviews or Yelp would suggest. That is because many more consumers will go out of their way to rate and review a company when they are dissatisfied than when they are satisfied.
The simplest and fastest way to improve your online ratings and reviews is to get more of them. This increases the likelihood that your public star-rating reflects your actual customer satisfaction. Sometimes a few email reminders to your loyal customers, encouraging them to review your products or services on Google or Yelp, will boost the number of reviews and can improve your star ratings quickly. Depending on your business, you may be able to prompt customers to review your brand via text messages or in-person interactions.
One very important note: Do not consider any strategy to generate fake customer reviews to improve your online ratings. It is unethical and could run you afoul of FTC regulations resulting in six-figure fines.
Online Customer Service
The way your company publicly responds to feedback, positive or negative, also influences your online reputation. Put simply, companies that respond to online reviews and social media comments quickly, professionally and politely will fare better than those that don’t.
Your company should have clear roles, responsibilities and protocols to respond to online feedback in real time. Some companies outsource this work to agency partners. Others house it in their corporate marketing or customer service departments. Franchise organizations or businesses with multiple locations and a strong, local management structure often craft guidelines and protocols for local operators to follow. The important thing is to define clear roles and rules for how to respond to bad reviews online and hold the organization accountable to the process and the results.
There are other ways to manage and protect your online reputation — from digital PR to managing the search queries suggested by Google Autocomplete. But with limited resources, managing search results, online reviews and online customer service are the three most important places to start.