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The internet has quickly become one of the world’s greatest resources for information about… well, just about anything. For better or worse, a certain level of authority comes with what is written on the web. So when a dissatisfied customer goes online to write a nasty rant about how one of your employees tracked mud throughout his house, this is a reflection on your business that is very public, visible, and archived in history for anybody who searches your company name.
Whether you own a home remodeling company, a plumbing company or a law firm, managing your company and brand online is an important component of your internet marketing strategy that is often overlooked – until it is too late. Usually companies seek out an online reputation management service to help with virtual assaults on their brands after the fact, but the best defense is typically a strong offense.
Here’s what you should be doing NOW to manage your online reputation before an incident occurs:
Track and Monitor Your Presence Online
Whether we’re tasked with helping a company increase their organic search visibility (SEO), optimize a pay per click campaign or develop a more effective lead generation website, we follow a process and it goes: TRACK > TEST > TWEAK > REPEAT. The first step in proactively managing your online reputation is tracking, monitoring and analyzing. You need to put tools in place – like Google Analytics and Google Alerts – to accurately track your website and act as an online sixth sense to listen for and alert you when someone is talking / writing about your company online.
Getting an accurate picture of the current online landscape for your company is priority number one.
Maximize Your Organic Search Visibility
Despite the rapid rise in popularity of social media websites – like Facebook and Twitter – when people need something online, more often than not, they “Google it.” Once you have the right tools in place to track your website and monitor mentions of your brand online, you need to turn your attention to maximizing your organic search visibility. Normally with SEO clients, our focus is maximizing organic search real estate for NON BRANDED TERMS, but in this case, your first priority is controlling the results that appear for BRANDED searchs (people typing in your company name, product names, names of employees, etc.).
As a general rule, the more published content you have optimized around your company and specific keywords, the more likely it is that pages you own will dominate searches related to your company.
This is a key strategy in protecting your company’s name and brand: own the results that show up in Google. This said, taking over the Google results page does not happen overnight, but rather happens through a continual investment in your website and in SEO. Frequently, changes made to your website TODAY will take somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months to have a noticeable impact on the organic search results. Why? Because search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing are not visiting most websites daily, and even when they do, they’re not always crawling every page of your website. Give search engines time to notice, scan, index and rank your new pages. Don’t stop investing in this recommendation prematurely because you don’t find that new blog post you just created – be persistant!
The goal is to increase the amount of published and optimized content for your site and to increase your site’s overall Page Rank and credibility. Investing in building out multiple websites will also help give you an advantage dominating the search results pages. You could also write guest blog posts to publish on other sites with a significant Page Rank.
Lastly, pages on social media sites – like company pages on LinkedIn – are often very authoritative with the search engines. So, registering and setting up social media profiles for your company – even if you don’t intend to actively engage in social media marketing – will help increase and diversify your organic search rankings and will continue to push any negative content off the results page.
Encourage and Reward Positive Reviews
A bias that is inherent in most review sites is that the people who write reviews often feel strongly one way or the other. You either have to be really excited or really upset to go out of your way and write a review online – there is little middle-ground represented. Most companies only have a handful of reviews posted on these sites, making that group less representative of their overall customer base. So one negative review out of three total looks really bad. The key to managing your online reputation is encouraging ALL of your customers to leave a review online. This way, there is a better representation of how customers feel about your business and “outlier” reviews will become less noticeable or influential.
There are a bunch of great ways to encourage your customers and clients to give great reviews of your company, product or service.
Perhaps the best way to solicit online reviews is by sending customers an email within 24 hours of earning their business. Provide them with a link to your review site making the process as easy as possible for them. Once they have completed and submitted their review, be sure to email the respondent thanking them for their feedback and responding to negative comments if necessary. One way to reward and encourage participation is to enter those who complete reviews into a raffle for an iPad 2 or a discount off future service. Just make sure you don’t cross the line of bribing customers for positive reviews!
Got a Physical Location? Here’s an Awesome Way to Get Positive Reviews
Here’s a killer idea for companies with a retail location or a physical location where they meet and interact with clients (car dealerships, kitchen and bathroom showrooms, home remodeling companies, architectural studios, doctors, dentists and law firms, etc.):
Create a “Client Reviews Kiosk.” This could be as simple as setting up a netbook (laptop) near your front desk, waiting room or in your showroom. When you’ve had a great meeting with a client or you’ve successful sold them (ex. the bicycle shop owner selling a client a new bike for their kid), ask them right then and there to post a review about your business (on Yelp, Google Places, Facebook, etc.).
Have everything all set-up and ready to go. Make it fun, casual and easy for them to write a great review and offer an incentive – like a $25 gift card to a local restaurant. You might even place a placcard next to the laptop that says, “What Other Customers Have Written” – this will help spark some ideas for those clients that get stage fright or writer’s block.
How to Handle Negative Reviews
No matter how great your product and service, negative reviews are inevitable. Some people may have a bad experience, or may just be cranky. And not surprisingly, there’s a HUGE population of negative people that spend the bulk of their time wandering around the world wide web complaining about this and moaning about that (afterall, who wants to hang around in the real world with a constant complainer!)! While you can’t delete negative reviews on the internet, you can respond to them appropriately. Showing that you are responsive to your customer’s complaints may help change their mind about your company, or at least show people reading that negative review that you care.
It is best to do this both publicly and privately, if possible. Try leaving a public comment or reply on their review, and if you have no way of contacting them privately you can ask them to contact you privately to discuss further. It is always important to apologize for their experience and offer to correct the matter. If applicable, you can offer a discount code if the negative reviewer is willing to give you a second chance. The more that you show that you care, the more they will feel that their opinion was heard and that it mattered.
Whatever you do, don’t get defensive or try to justify what went wrong. Whether you’re right or wrong, defending yourself typically sends the complainer on the attack and only makes matters worse. Kill ’em with kindness! Read Dale Carnegie’s, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – it’s an ancient book, but the lessons offered work perfectly for handling customer complaints online.
You Can’t Delete the Bad, But You Can Accentuate the Good
The best way to manage your online reputation is to be proactive. You can’t control what is being said about your company online, but you can guide the discussion by dominating the search results and accentuating positive reviews of your business. Investing in your company’s online footprint allows you to control, to a certain degree, what people find when they search for your company online.
It is much better for a prospective client to find a negative review of your company in a sea of positive reviews; in fact, a few negative reviews can even make the positive reviews more believable. However, if you only have a few reviews and the majority of them are negative or neutral, the negative carries a lot more weight. Constantly work to provide alternative information and make it easily accessible.
Control what people find about your company online by investing in your online presence today! Learn more about online reputation management by signing up for our email newsletter or contact us today.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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