5 steps to building a stellar online reputation

Mary Goodman, Rich Russakoff
(MoneyWatch) "Absolutely the worst experience at any restaurant I've ever had." - Restaurant review on Yelp.com

Wow, pretty bad, huh? You wouldn't want to go there; uh-uh, no way, not now, never. This was THE first thing we saw when we Googled one of our favorite restaurants. It is a critically acclaimed, award-winning restaurant and one where we've had several superb meals.

What would you do if that was your business? Maybe more importantly, what can you do to avert such a damning customer indictment?

From Amazon (AMZN) to restaurant reviewer Zagat, consumers increasingly rely on peer reviews to guide their buying decisions. It's called "pull" marketing, which means getting others to talk about us, as opposed to the more self-promoting, push marketing which is so 20th century.

What can a business owner do to build a stellar online reputation and avoid devastating reviews? We talked with Cliff Stein, CEO of ReputationChanger.com. They are experts in the emerging world of monitoring and managing online reputations for individuals, professionals, and businesses of all sizes. Here is how they do it and what can you learn from them:

1. It's all about Page 1. Some 95 percent of all Internet searches never go beyond the first page of the search engine. As a result, a bad review or two on page one of a search can kill your business. You can't remove negative reviews, but you can bury them by having more and more recent positive information about you or your business.

2. Proactively control your online reputation. Political commentator George Will recently said, "If you don't like what the news is saying about you, make your own news."

Always put your best foot forward and promote the positive things you do. When people look for you, they will see the positive, exactly what you want them to see. Make sure your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Goggle+ pages sparkle with accurate information about yourself and your business.

Fortify your brand name: Keep new and fresh material about yourself out there through press releases and new content in your site. And if you don't have the resources or wherewithal to do it, hire someone like ReputationChanger.com to help. It's really OK to use outside experts. After all, when was the last time you filled your own cavities?

Stein told us that ReputationChanger.com developed an intricate system to alter the result of Internet searches. By distributing a set of U.S.-based researchers, they "out-search" the offending terms and effectively populate "Auto Complete" with new positive search terms.

Like almost anything in business, it's critical to be a master of the system, or hire someone who is. Which leads us to...

3. The real meat happens on the back-end. Why are websites like RipOffReport.com given such credence as authoritative sources? It's because they fulfill all the requirements of a high-ranking site. RipOffReport.com has hundreds of back links promoting high user engagement, which leads to millions of visitors per month.

ReputationChanger.com uses similar techniques to highlight the best the business offers. They do this in at least three ways.

First, they maintain a staff of professional journalists to create blog posts and press releases. (By contrast, they do not plant positive reviews, and discourage any company from doing so.) Second, they create "mini-sites" that allow clients to manage and moderate their reviews. Third, they use keywords that capture the rave reviews to push them up to that magical, mystical page one in search results. 

4. When bad reviews happen to good businesses. Sad to say, it's almost impossible to get a negative review removed from the Web once it's live -- even if it's clearly false. An unscrupulous competitor or disgruntled employee can say horrible things anonymously, and there's little you can do about it.

With every review site there's a mix of credible, false and, malicious reviews. Stein recommends that you do not respond to libelous, malicious attacks, as you just are feeding fuel to the fire. However, we like the idea of posting a comment like "sorry you weren't happy working here; hope you find your true calling" or "wow, looks like we made the big time, you are seeing us as a threat."

Stein also cautions (and we agree wholeheartedly here) against writing or soliciting your own reviews. They won't fool anyone. Customers aren't stupid; if they see all 5-Star reviews, they'll know something's rotten.

5. The best defense. Run a good business both online and off. Quality, service, and value, may be so 20th century as well, but they always have their place in and out of our digital world today.

How has your online reputation affected your business? What have you done to build it or repair it?

  • Rich Russakoff and Mary Goodman

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