Small businesses rise or fall on the basis of their online reputation, which is largely the result of the ways in which today’s consumers do their product research. Before spending money on anything, a consumer is likely to use online search engines or review sites to do their due diligence; in fact, studies have shown that consumers trust online reviews more than they trust personal recommendations from friends and co-workers! What the Internet reveals about your small business, then, directly affects consumer decision-making—and thus, it affects your bottom line.
It falls to small business owners to be proactive in managing their online image. Without proactive reputation management, you may find your company beset with adverse online reviews, consumers complaints or defamatory attacks from rival companies. If nothing else, you may simply fail to develop a positive, compelling online presence. The question is, how can small businesses effectively regulate the way they are portrayed on the Internet?
Monitoring is an Important First Step
Square one is to make sure you know how your company is currently portrayed on the Web, which will provide you with some direction as to how best to proceed. You can evaluate your company’s online image simply by heading to Google or to Bing and doing a quick search for your brand name. Note that 90 percent of all search engine users never click past the first page of results — so that first set of results should represent the majority of your online reputation management efforts. If you’ve got a clean Page 1, then a stray complaint or bad review on the third or fourth page really doesn’t matter very much.
Also make sure you set in place a system of staying up-to-date on further online mentions or attacks. Specifically, set up some Google Alerts or Bing Alerts, both for the name of your company and perhaps also for your own name. These will alert you to the minute a new online listing emerges.
Defending Your Turf
The next step to take is to make sure you have control over all of the domains associated with your company name. Say that your small business is called Bradenton Enterprises; chances are, the sites that will rank highest when your company is Googled are BradentonEnterprises.com, .org, and .net. As such, it is vital that you possess the rights to these sites—not your rival companies!
Go to a domain registration site (this list of the five best domain name registrars might help) and buy the rights to all of the domains associated with your brand name. You may not actually use them all, but you can redirect them to your main company website. Also make sure that you sign up for all of the associated social media handles and vanity URLs.
Get Busy Spreading Content
On a related note, remember that the best way to ensure the search engines reveal positive information about your brand is to feed them that content. Search engines favor content that is useful and engaging to users, so by starting and maintaining a good company blog, you can inundate Google and Bing with articles sure to rank well, and to present your company in the best light possible. Robust social media activity is useful, as well.
What happens when negative content appears on the search engines? Frankly, your best bet is to double down on your content creation. There is no way to remove unwanted content from Google, but you can suppress it—pushing it off of that all-important first page of search results—by flooding the algorithms with high-ranking content.
Regarding Review Sites
Another step for small businesses to take is to set up profiles on applicable online review sites, such as Yelp.com, Urban Spoon, and/or TripAdvisor.com. You may not particularly want to open the floodgates of online reviews, but frankly, you’re going to get online reviews sooner or later, whether you want them or not. By proactively setting up your own review site profiles, you can ensure that your company information is entered accurately, and that you have a say in how your business is categorized and branded.
When reviews do start to come in, be consistent in thanking users for their positive feedback, and even for their constructive criticism. Avoid responding to cyber bullies, or to blatant acts of defamation. Responding to these reviews only grants them increased visibility. Better to let your content creation endeavors do the talking for you.
ORM for SMBs
The bottom line is that no small business owner can afford to ignore online reputation management. What online searches and Internet review sites say about your company matters a great deal—to consumers, to potential employees, and even to venture capitalists. All told, an adverse online image can break your company, but a good one can lead to astonishing success.