A good name is worth its weight in gold — and that’s never been truer than it is today, in the Age of Google and Facebook.
There was a time when conducting a Google search for your own name, or even the name of your company, was considered by many to be egotistical, or at the very least a little frivolous. These days, it would be folly not to Google your own name or your brand name — especially if you happen to own a small business.
That’s because, quite simply, what people say about you on the Internet matters — not a little, but a lot. Statistics tell us, time and time again, that online search results and Web-based reviews are mightily influential in shaping consumer decisions — so how could any small business owner ignore his or her own online reputation?
Think about it this way. You’re trying to bring in new customers and clients, but those customers and clients are seeking to get the most bang for their bucks. As a result, they are doing their due diligence, checking you out on Google before committing to your brand. If they only find positive information about you on the Web, then you’re in good shape.
If there’s even a single negative listing on Google, however, it can prove ruinous — regardless of where that negative listing came from. Maybe it’s a sincere, negative review from a former customer — but it could just as easily be the work of a rival company, or a disgruntled ex-employee. Whatever the case, it’s going to send potential customers fleeing to your competitors, which is why these negative listings can and must be monitored and suppressed.
Easier said than done? Perhaps — but there are a few basic tips that any small business owner can implement to monitor, and ultimately protect, his or her own online reputation:
- It always starts with search engines. If you want to know what people are saying about you on the Internet — and you really, really should! — then you’re going to want to start by simply searching for yourself, or for your brand name.
You should do this regularly, and you should do it on all of the major search engines — Bing and Yahoo, and, most importantly, Google. You should also ensure that you are searching for all the possible variations on your brand name; if you have a company called Fargo Imports, and it’s located in North Dakota, you may want to search for Fargo Imports, Fargo Imports ND, Imports in Fargo North Dakota, and so on.
- Manual searches are important — but there are some automated options available to you, as well. Setting up Google Alerts for your name, or your brand name, is a great way to easily and efficiently monitor what people are saying about you online.
This is a free tool, and you can input whatever search terms you wish, then receive e-mail updates anytime there is a pertinent news update or blog entry added to the Google directory. If anyone ever tries to hijack your name, or your company name, this will help you figure it out quickly!
- Social media is important, too. You’ll want to scan the social media outlets regularly.
Don’t simply trust that the automated Facebook and Twitter updates will keep you in the loop; these things don’t always work, and responding to questions and comments promptly and politely is an important way to shore up goodwill for your company on the Web. Another tip is to refrain from using canned, stock answers when you respond to people. Personalizing it is a tremendous way to improve your reputation!
- Next, we come to the topic of online reviews. Review sites such as Yelp can be make-or-break for small businesses — so how do you respond to the reviews your company receives?
The first step is simply monitoring these sites, ensuring you know when new reviews are posted. If a review is positive — or even constructive in its feedback — then a kind and polite response is advised. If it is simply a negative and completely unreasonable review, though, it may be best just to avoid responding at all. It can come across as petty, and besides, it actually brings more visibility (and Google clout) to the review in question.
- Instead of responding to negative reviews, focus on suppressing them. This is the foundational principle of reputation management. You can’t remove or delete bad reviews that are posted about you — but you can effectively bury them, under a mountain of positive content.
That’s ultimately what any reputation defense strategy should focus on — not rebutting the negatives, but ensuring that you have plenty of positive content out there, on blogs and on your social media accounts and so on. Those positive listings form a sort of defensive wall against online attacks. Keep building that wall — and keep monitoring the Web — and you’ll surely find that the negatives have a hard time breaking through.