Google handles somewhere around 3.5 billion searches per day. And according to BrandYourself, around one billion of those are name-based searches. So unless you operate your business out of a cave in the middle of a forest and your only customers are grizzly bears, you’re being Googled
And fair or not, the internet is a place where absolutely everyone has free rein to say exactly what they want… even if they’re unhappy customers, or worse, trolls whose only goal is to make everyone else as miserable as they are.
Which is why having an awareness of how you come across online, who you get confused with, and what negativity exists about your brand is so important.
I, for example, am often confused with a property lawyer from Washington state simply because we have the same name. (Even though I’m a tech and marketing writer from North Carolina.)
But since that’s something I’m aware of, I can start taking steps to ensure my reputation is the one that shines through, not hers. (In this case, simple site-based SEO since there’s nothing malicious involved.)
So, whether you’ve got some bad or malicious reviews you want to take care of… or simply need to rank above your competition on review sites and search engines, we’ve got 14 different ways to manage your online reputation and improve it in the eyes of your prospects.
1. Track Everything That’s Said About You
Knowledge is power.
And if you don’t know what’s being said about you online the moment it’s being said, there’s not much you can do to keep your online reputation up.
Of course, you might not need to act every single time someone posts a positive review or simply checks in at one of your locations, but you will need to act ASAP if someone starts spreading a bad word about you or your services.
And thankfully, tracking what’s said doesn’t have to be an active job.
Tools (free and paid) like Google Alerts, Tagboard, SocialMention, TweetBinder, and Hashtagify can all be used to get notifications sent to you (or your web reputation manager) when something’s said.
This is me pretending I’m in charge of Chipotle’s online reputation & making sue I stay on top of online mentions as they happen. I’d get notified of any mention, anywhere in the world, at any time, as it happens.
2. Don’t Delete Anything
Unless you encounter a true online troll who’s saying negative things towards your potential customers (think racist, sexist, or overtly rude comments), don’t delete anything that’s said about your business.
Because when you get into the practice of deleting or reporting negative comments and reviews, it gives the impression that you do have something to cover up or be embarrassed about. It’s like publicly admitting your guilt without doing anything to make it better.
The better plan of action, of course, is to talk to and interact with the person posting the negative review and find out how you can help them.
In fact, according to research by RightNow, 1/3 of all consumers who have a company representative respond to their complaint by asking to help will re-post a positive review once everything is said and done.
Pretty good exchange, no?
This image, from The Washington Post, shows comments on an article about Walmart that appeared on The Huffington Post that latter publication later deleted because they weren’t in line with what was said in the piece. The issue tanked the journalistic integrity of the publication, especially for those readers who spoke up to voice their opinions.
3. Respond ASAP
Make sure you respond as soon as possible to any negativity that’s posted about you, even if it’s difficult.
Complaints have the ability to spread much faster online than happy reviews, so you need to make sure your voice is heard along with the negativity.
This happens mostly because our brains are simply wired that way.
“Our brains evolved in a hunger-gatherer environment where anything novel or dramatic had to be attended to immediately for survival,” said Ray Williams in Psychology Today. “So while we no longer defend ourselves against saber-toothed tigers, our brains have not caught up.”
Therefore, bad news gets our attention much quicker than good news… and we do have an inherent, primal need to tell others about it, which isn’t just gossip.
For example, when the horse meat scandal broke out across Europe, it was clear that the companies involved (like Tesco) would have to deal with major negative repercussions.
Tesco, however, pulled out of it as best they could, and even ended up winning a CorpComm award for Best Crisis Management. Which just goes to show, even something as horrible as selling the wrong product can be recovered from, if you make sure you act immediately and intelligently.
Candy company Reese’s had a bit of their own crisis when customers started buying their holiday-themed tree-shaped peanut butter cups and complaining they looked nothing like actual trees.
And instead of looking at it as a crisis, Reese’s made a play on the body positivity movement, immediately winning back the hearts of those who were complaining about their product.
REESE’S celebrates trees of all shapes and sizes. It’s not what it looks like, it’s what it tastes like. pic.twitter.com/8KURar00UX
— REESE’S (@ReesesPBCups) December 2, 2015
4. State Facts About Misunderstandings
The equally wonderful and horrible thing about the internet is that anyone can write and publish whatever the heck they want to, even if it isn’t remotely true.
Rogue journalists and bloggers love to do this. Especially when they feel like it’ll bring them attention and garner lots of shares—making their name (alongside the horrible misinformation they’re publishing) go viral.
It’s a bad move, but it happens.
And when it happens to you, there’s no doubt that interested readers will do another Google search for more information. Which is why it’s so crucial to make the real facts easily available and display them in overtly public ways.
Make sure you post an obvious disclaimer on your website pointing people who come to your website to the true facts of the situation, and provide proof to show that you’re right and that horrible writer is wrong.
It’s also a good move to work with a PR professional to both publish a press release and work with the writer or the website to get rid of the obviously incorrect information that’s slanderous towards your brand.
5. Uncover Your Search Engine Rankings
Knowing which page you rank on and for what keywords is important—but it’s even more important to know why you rank where you do and what you need to do to get yourself either above the fold or at least onto the first page.
It depends on whose research you’re looking at, but somewhere around 90% of searchers never go past the first page of search results.
And when you’re taking note of this, also notice where your negative reviews rank and figure out the tactical SEO moves you need to make to beat your negative reviews down to at least the second page, while boosting your own site’s rankings for the same keywords to the top.
Using something like the MozBar, for example, can show you how many backlinks you have to beat out to get your page to rank above the ones you want to push down in the SERPs.
In this screenshot from Neil Patel, he shows how the MozBar gives data on how many backlinks (the little red/pink bar to the left) a given page has for a keyword. Clearly “weight loss” or anything similar would be super hard to rank for. But that’s another story for another day.
6. Build Up Your SEO Backend
I’m not just advising you to do the generic keyword optimization stuff on your site by adding the Yoast plugin and going to town until all your pages have a little green light.
Instead, especially if you’ve got an online reputation that needs some help, you’ll need to SEO optimize for the keyword phrases people are typing into Google to find the kind of information your negative reviews are talking about.
For example, if you’d had an instance happen like in point #4 above and a scathing blogger said your business was a total scam, you might find that people are searching for “[your business name] scam” and easily coming across the incriminating information.
So if you’ve already worked with a PR rep and done everything you could from that standpoint, start optimizing a page on your site for that keyword and placing backlinks to it across the web to beat out that page’s content in the SERPs.
In this case, the Smile Care Club might have some work to do. This company began marketing to me, but the fact that I never went into an office piqued my curiosity, so I wanted to check it out. Turns out, if they want to start converting customers like me, they’ll have their SEO work cut out for them. Warning phrases like “dentist not included,” “top 25 complaints,” and “can’t be good for ortho or anyone” are huge turnoffs for any potential customer.
7. Say ‘Thank You’ to Everything Positive
Even if you don’t have a bad reputation to recover from, responding with a heart-felt (non-canned) thanks every time someone mentions your company in a positive way is a great way to improve your online reputation.
Not only does the person who wrote the positive review now feel more appreciated, but people searching for your reviews will be able to see that you genuinely care about your customer base.
According to Trackur’s 30-day guide to a better online reputation, simply saying “Thank you” is a secret weapon to a better online reputation in and of itself.
“A reply to a Facebook post or comment will always earn you reputation points,” they say, “but even just the act of clicking ‘Like’ signals that you appreciate what was written.”
8. Say ‘Sorry’ to Any & All Negative Experiences
If someone has a bad experience with a rogue salesperson in one of your branches and posts about it online, give them a heart-felt sorry and offer real, tactical ways you can help solve the problem.
It might be a discount on their next visit, a refund, or a freebie the next time they visit.
You can’t always control your employees. So letting people see that even if someone does have a negative experience in one of your locations, your company as a whole cares deeply about a positive customer experience will help decrease any doubts they might have about doing business with you.
Just make sure you’re not all hot-headed and angry when you respond. Because that could cause way more damage than has already been done.
Vineyard Vines made sure this negative comment didn’t ruin their brand’s reputation. They took the blame and stepped up to help.
9. Respond Well to Constructive Feedback
Remember when Domino’s took all the negative reviews people had about their pizza and publicly did something about it?
You can do this too. And it’s really effective.
In fact, I remember being a time-starved college student when this video came out, and Domino’s quickly became my pizza delivery place of choice over Papa John’s, who didn’t even have the negativity surrounding them that Domino’s did.
The reason this works so well is, in part, that we like to see others admitting their mistakes… especially if they’re mistakes you’ve been aware of for a while. And I was definitely in the camp of people who thought Domino’s pizza was not tasty.
“A major reason for being pleased with the misfortune of another person is that this person’s misfortune may somehow benefit us,” said Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeev, “ it may, for example, emphasize our superiority.”
It helps people love and accept you for your imperfections, and makes them feel happy to join you in your journey towards getting better.
10. Encourage Happy Customers to Write Reviews
And you know what?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong in offering them an incentive to do so.
But beyond that, prompt them for details in their positive reviews.
If you run a pizza shop, for example, you can ask, “What do you like about our pizza?” or “What makes our restaurant different from other pizza places you’ve been to?”
It gets you so many more details than “Please write a review” or “Tell us what you think.”
When this happens, especially if it’s tied to social media in some way, you create both SEO-worthy reviews and a word of mouth effect where friends and connections of your customers see their happy reviews and are more likely to trust you in the future.
While it’s good that this app is asking for reviews, the wording is a bit generic and wouldn’t prompt ratings & then reviews focused around their specific concern. (Source)
This request, on the other hand, talks about rating the music rather than the app itself. It puts users into a mindset of thinking how awesome the music is, rather than any downsides related to the app as a whole. (Source)
In this way, your customers become advocates for you, and especially if you’re offering them an incentive in exchange for their review, everybody wins.
11. Recruit Brand Ambassadors
This works both online and offline to increase your reputation, but it’s incredibly effective.
Beyond exchanging a small incentive for an online review, you can also recruit some of your most dedicated customers to be your brand ambassadors.
Because while 84% of consumers think word of mouth references from their friends are the most trustworthy sources of company and product information, 68% still like to hear from other customers (even if they don’t know them) rather than relying on advertising or company-crafted sales messages.
It takes work, but particularly if you’ve got higher-priced product offerings that generally turn people into long-term customers, it can be well worth the investment.
Microsoft, for example, has an MVP (most valuable professionals) program where they give recognition rewards to already active members of their community.
While these people are already brand ambassadors when they get the reward, simply having the reward program in place prompts people to be more active in the Microsoft community and publicly voicing their love for Microsoft.
“These changes also will provide local Microsoft teams with increased insight into MVPs’ interests and abilities,” said Microsoft, “opening the door to expanded opportunities for MVPs such as speaking at regional events and having Microsoft evangelists join their MVP-created community events.”
Microsoft also asks their MVPs to hold the company to high standards—improving their product overall and the loyalty of the MVPs they select.
Maker’s Mark has an ambassador program with all kinds of perks:
- Each ambassador gets their name printed on a barrell
- They get updates on the aging process of that barrell
- They can purchase a bottle from “their” batch
- They get advance notice of special releases from the company
Plus, they have a direct feedback channel to Maker’s Mark so the company can make sure they’re staying on track with things that are important to their most valued customers.
12. Establish an Official Presence Everywhere
Create a profile on every rating, social, professional, and review site possible.
It’ll take some work to set up and it might seem worthless at the moment, especially if you don’t use certain sites as a part of your marketing.
But not doing so puts your presence on any given site into the hands of strangers and whatever they decide to write about your business. So, if the only thing that’s on a site is a negative review, your online reputation on that particular site is trash.
And when a negative review does pop up, you’re more prepared to deal with it by being able to jump in and respond instead of having to go through the long signup and validation process in the heat of the moment.
Can you imagine what would happen if Three Sisters Fudge wasn’t paying attention to TripAdvisor as a platform? Negative reviewers like this one would be able to “control” their brand’s presence on the site without any kind of control or feedback from the company itself. It would be a total mistake.
13. Increase Your Social Media Follow Numbers
This is incredibly basic, but there is strength in numbers. Even strength in perceived numbers.
You don’t have to use scammy or black hat methods to grow your social followings that could get you penalized, but if you’ve only got five fans and you’re trying to improve your online presence, it’s time to invite your friends to like the page. Or get your employees to do the same.
If someone’s new to your brand, they’ll look to your social media following as a way to see if you’re legit or not and whether or not you’re trustworthy. And honestly, only having five followers will turn them off more than if you had no social media presence at all.
So if you do have it, build it up.
This home decor company has over 44,000 likes. Not so bad.
This one, on the other hand, only has three. You’re not as likely to trust it, are you? (To be fair, it’s also a brand new business, so it may only be a matter of time before they match or exceed their competition above.)
14. Give Away Free Information
“Businesses have been built based on giving away information,” said Duncan Morris on Distilled.
When you give away free information that helps your prospective clients solve their problems, it’s one of the best ways to rise above any potential naysayers. It helps you boost your reputation in a way that matters to the people (the paying customers) who actually matter to your business.
Ramit Sethi, for example, often talks about how he gives away 99% of the information he produces for free.
A lot of people give him slack for the way he runs his business, but it is a business that generates millions of dollars in revenue… based largely on the fact that he helps his target audience out first before he ever asks for a sale from them.
Take Control of Your Online Presence… Everywhere
The good news is, no blunder is too large to recover from… especially considering the scandal we mentioned in point number three above. The company was horribly in the wrong, and they ended up winning an award for it.
Fortunately, you’ll probably never have to deal with such a huge blunder in your job, and some careful planning around utilizing online platforms, getting instant news notifications, and making strategic SEO moves can make a huge difference in how your business is perceived online.