Your brand is your business. And your online reputation is a huge part of your brand.

Building that reputation starts with a solid foundation that includes a great website, an active presence on social media, and a growing number of positive online reviews.

Then you have to add great content, customer engagement, and a plan for keeping up all this momentum for the long term. It’s a lot of work, but doing it all well will earn you a positive online reputation.

That positive reputation isn’t guaranteed forever, though. Eventually you’ll face negative publicity—every business does at some point. So you’ll also need a plan to manage that, too.

The Three Phases of Managing Your Online Reputation

Managing your online reputation is an ongoing process. This holds true for all businesses, from startups to enterprises.

Here are the three phases of online reputation management:

  1. Building your online reputation
  2. Maintaining your online reputation
  3. Recovering your online reputation

We’ll walk you through each of these phases later in this article. 

The Easy Parts of Online Reputation Management

Startups and new businesses need to start from scratch with their online reputations. Fortunately, this is a straightforward process that begins with your company’s website.

It is nearly impossible to do business today without a website. So if you have already claimed your domain name and have a working website, you’ve quickly ticked one to-do off your reputation list. 

But the quality of your site may need some improvements in the early stages to ensure it loads quickly and functions properly. Your site should also be designed to keep visitors on your pages as long as possible. This will help reduce your bounce rates and boost SEO rankings—ultimately improving your reputation. 

It’s easy to hire professional web designers who can help you upgrade your website to address these issues. 

Setting up your social media accounts is another easy step most business owners can take on their own. Figure out which platforms make the most sense for your business, and set up your profiles there.

Of course, for anyone who wants to leave this type of work to the professionals, there are many capable services available to assist.

The Difficult Parts of Online Reputation Management

Once you have your website basics dialed in and your social profiles set up, the harder work begins.

Monitoring and managing your online reputation requires vigilance and manpower. It isn’t something you can do now and then whenever you happen to remember it. 

It requires a plan and people to execute the plan on a regular basis. Checking social media mentions, responding to reviews, ensuring the website is optimized, monitoring the internet for company mentions—all of this must be done on a regular basis.

If you only sporadically check your social media mentions and customer reviews, you can expect to receive sporadic success.

You need dedicated resources to manage things, and most businesses don’t have the resources to do this effectively.

A full-service company can manage all facets of your online reputation. They’ll optimize your website, manage online engagement, create content, and deal with negative reviews and ratings.

Phase 1: Building Your Online Reputation

To grow your business, you need to build a positive name for yourself. The fastest way to do that in today’s digital world is to develop a positive online presence. 

You want to generate buzz and start conversations about the products or services you sell. The more people are talking about you in a good way, the faster your business will flourish.

Here’s how to do that.

Create an Engaging Website Presence

Don’t make the mistake of believing that once you buy a domain name and design a basic website, you’re all set. Besides having the technical side of things dialed in, you also have to consider the user experience.

Your website needs easy navigation. A visitor should know where they are at all times and be able to move from page to page with ease. Intuitive menus and a clear site map are two ways to accomplish this.

Your site should also be web-friendly. This means that it will work on all major browsers and incorporate meta tags and alt tags correctly. That is especially important, as those factors are how Google finds your site and displays it in search results.

You’ll also want to make sure your website design is intuitive. Visitors should be able to quickly find the information they need without having to dig around. Nothing will have visitors exiting your site faster than a frustrating user experience.

Build Your Social Media Profiles

In today’s online world, potential customers will do a lot of research before deciding to do business with you. Social media is one place they’ll look first. 

This means your business needs a presence on all the major social media platforms. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram are necessities for companies today. Likewise, if video is part of your marketing strategy, then YouTube and TikTok should also be added to that list.

If you don’t already have up-to-date profiles on each of these channels, the time is now to set those up. And then keep them active. Nothing is more of a deterrent to future customers than landing on a social page that hasn’t been updated in months or years.

Focus On Reviews and Ratings

You’ll also want to keep an eye on all the possible places where customers can talk about your business. This includes social media channels and public review sites like Google and Yelp.

If you don’t have business profiles on major review sites, now is the time to put those in place.

You’ll want to encourage satisfied customers to leave a review about their positive experiences. Make it easy for them to do that by including links to all your profiles on your website. That way all it takes is a click to get them started.

The more great reviews there are, the more of a boost your business reputation will get.

Develop Standards for Engaging With Customers Online

Once you have your social profiles and business review pages in place, you need to also have a plan for responding to what customers say. Then you need to share that plan with everyone who will be responsible for dealing with comments and reviews.

You don’t have to draft the Magna Carta, but some basic written guidelines will make it a lot easier to maintain a consistent tone of voice-–no matter who is responding to the feedback.

Do you want a reputation as a humorous brand? A serious one? Something in between? Are there words or phrases you want to consistently use? Others to avoid? These are just some of the questions to consider when putting together these guidelines. 

You’ll also want to decide the cadence of your responses. Do you want to respond in real time? Once per day? Weekly? 

And what will your process look like for interacting with unhappy customers? Having a consistent approach to managing negative feedback will make your company look serious about the situation. This is a far stronger approach than ad hoc responses that are not consistent.

Implement a Reputation Management Program

Standards are just the first part of the equation. You’ll also want a plan that includes who is responsible for all the facets of managing your company reputation.

This includes regular online monitoring of business mentions, reading reviews, posting on social media, and managing follower engagement. This takes a lot of time and effort, and often requires more than a single person to do well.

This might all seem like too much to handle for many business owners. If you’re feeling that way, you can rely on reputation management services to take care of it all for you.

They’ll set up and monitor your social media and online business listings, confirm the information is always accurate, and manage engagement, too.

Phase 2: Maintaining Your Online Reputation

It’s one thing to build your reputation foundation online, but quite another to keep the positive momentum going over time. You’ll want to put in the effort, though, as that’s the only path to long-term success. 

Companies with a positive reputation can more easily absorb the fallout from negative publicity better than a company with no reputation at all. You can achieve this by creating ongoing conversations between consumers and your business.

Here’s how.

Optimize Your Website

Building a well-functioning website is the first step, but filling that website with high-quality content is equally important.

You’ll want to provide helpful and informative content that people find valuable. You’ll also want to make sure you’re adding new content on a regular basis. Search engines like Google reward fresh content by moving it up in search results.

But catching Google’s attention doesn’t happen by accident. You also need to infuse your fresh, new content with solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. 

Implement Strong SEO

Even the best content will fall flat if no one sees it. The same is true if you’re creating content that nobody is searching for.

So how do you know what people are searching for? It’s all about SEO. A rock-solid SEO strategy helps push your content and website to the top of search results.

Start by doing some SEO research to find out what people are searching for, as it relates to your business. There are a number of tools online that you can use, like Moz or Ahrefs, to help you with this. You can also type a few words into the Google search bar to see the top related phrases people are searching for right now.

Once you know the words and phrases people are searching for, your next step is to incorporate that into the written content you create. You’ll also want to build that information into your website’s metadata–the hidden copy that helps search engines identify what your webpage is about.

If you don’t incorporate SEO reputation management into your content and website, you lose out on a great opportunity to boost your brand to the top of search results.

Build Relationships With Other Credible Websites

You’ll also want to go beyond just creating and posting content. You want to also attract the attention of other credible websites, and get them to share your content, too. This has a compounding effect, in that the number of eyes on your content multiplies exponentially each time another site shares or links back to your content.

How you do this is by producing content that demonstrates your expertise in a subject. Then you develop a strategy for outreach to those sites, so you can make them aware of your content and gain their interest and attention.

As you develop content, you’ll also want it to be easy to digest (think infographics and images) and shareable. This helps other websites instantly see the worth of sharing your content. 

Valuable and clear content is the name of the backlink game.

Of course, not every business will have a full-time content creator or SEO expert on the payroll to do all this time-consuming work. That’s where an online reputation management company comes in. They’ll do all of this for you, including the difficult task of identifying the right SEO strategy for your needs.

Offloading this challenging aspect of maintaining your online presence ensures it is handled professionally, which lets you stay focused on other aspects of running your business.

Get More Reviews

When a prospective customer searches for your business or stumbles upon it online, one of the first things they’re going to do is check your reviews.

Every online review website is slightly different. But most have a five-star rating scale, and they’ll display how many reviews have been published about the business. If you only have a dozen or so reviews and your current rating is three out of five stars, then there’s tons of room for improvement here.

But getting reviews doesn’t always happen organically.

Sure. Sometimes people will leave an unprompted review. But more often than not, it’s the customers who had a really great experience or the customers who had a really bad experience that will be writing reviews. Since this only represents maybe 5% or 10% of your customers, you need to find a way to get more reviews on a regular basis.

Asking customers for reviews should be part of your day-to-day reputation maintenance strategy.

Something as simple as sending automated email follow-ups or just outright asking for reviews during the in-person checkout process is usually enough to get the job done. If you’re working with an online reputation management company, they can even generate a QR code that directs customers to leave a review on a particular page.

Set Up Brand Mention Alerts

Eventually, people are going to say bad things about you or your brand online. This is an inevitable part of running a business.

But acting fast is crucial, and it can help prevent false or negative information from spreading beyond your control.

Setting up brand mention alerts will notify you in real time whenever your business gets mentioned online. Whether it’s on social media, a news outlet, or a blog, you can assess the situation and determine whether the alert requires an immediate response.

It’s much easier to put out a fire if something bad is said about you on one website, as opposed to the story going viral or getting re-posted across multiple mediums.

Most online reputation management services can set up these alerts for you. Otherwise, you can always create them yourself using a free tool like Google Alerts.

Keep Creating Content

There are so many things online that you can’t control. That’s why it’s so important to focus on what you can control—and content creation should be at the top of that list.

The idea here is simple. When someone searches for your brand online, you want to be in charge of what they’re seeing. And the more content you create, the greater chances you have of succeeding with this initiative.

  • Put out press releases and distribute them to wire services
  • Write blog posts on your own website
  • Look for guest posting opportunities
  • Stay active on social media
  • Create videos, infographics, and visual content

You get the idea. Just make sure you’re creating something on a regular basis.

So when someone lands on your Facebook page, they can see that your latest post was from a few days ago and not a few months ago.

Phase 3: Recovering Your Online Reputation

You’ve worked hard to build and maintain your positive online reputation. But no matter how vigilant you are or how great you are at keeping your customers happy, it is inevitable that eventually your business reputation will take a hit. 

Whether it is a one-off bad customer review or a targeted attack by someone with an axe to grind, you’ll have to deal with bad publicity at some point. How you manage the situation when it happens can potentially make or break your established online reputation.

This is why you need to be prepared—before the negative publicity is on your doorstep.

Managing Bad Reviews

While it’s never pleasant, your business is bound to get a few negative reviews here and there. It is just the reality that you can’t please everyone all the time. Mistakes get made, even by the most conscientious companies. 

What will set you apart, though, is how you respond.

First, be sure to respond to all your reviews—including the negative ones. Ignoring the bad stuff won’t make it disappear. It will only make your business look like it doesn’t care.

When you respond to negative reviews, it’s crucial that you acknowledge the issue and clearly explain how you’re going to fix the problem. You also want your words and tone to convey a very professional and attentive approach. 

The last thing you want to do is respond to a customer review with sarcasm. Not everyone understands sarcasm, especially when reading it, and it is not appropriate in trying to solve a customer’s problem. 

Additionally, do not list a series of excuses as to why your company did not meet customer expectations, leading to the negative review. Future potential customers do not want to hear excuses. They simply want to know that you care about the customer experience and that you are willing to work to try to fix it.

In short, people want to know your company cares.

It’s also worth noting that you can always try to delete negative reviews. But this process varies depending on the review website and can take several days to several weeks. There’s also no guarantee that the review will actually get removed, so it’s in your best interest to respond first and deal with the removal process later.

By actively responding in a professional manner, anyone who reads the review—and your response—will view your company in a more positive light.

Handling Direct Attacks

Untrue statements made against your business require a whole different approach than negative reviews. False information is defamatory to your reputation and can torpedo your business.

When you’re the victim of a baseless attack, you need to start by direct outreach to the entity or person responsible for the content with a request to remove the untrue information. It helps to supply facts that disprove the false statements.

The response you receive—if any—dictates your next steps. Worst case scenario, you’re going to need to enlist the help of lawyers to remedy the situation.

But an easier tactic is to keep generating great content that search engines love. The more you publish and the higher that content ranks, the further down in the search results the negative content will be pushed. 

Hardly anyone looks beyond page one of search results, so once you push that negative publicity to page two or beyond, it is essentially dead in the online world.

Removing Negative Content From the Web

Harmful online content presents itself in all different shapes and sizes. Depending on the content type and the source, the steps to get it removed will vary.

If you have brand alerts set up (part of phase two), then you’ll be notified each time something bad is said about your brand on the web. While addressing these as soon as possible is ideal, not every bad remark is cause for immediate action (direct attacks are an exception).

But you can set aside time once a week or once per month to assess negative content about your brand and decide what to do about it. The easiest way to stay organized here is by creating a spreadsheet and simply copying and pasting a link to the source. Whether it’s a news story, blog, social post, or something else, you’ll have everything in one place.

We have separate guides with unique steps for getting content removed that you can use as a reference:

Just pick the guide (or guides) that best fit your scenario, and follow the steps to get that information removed from the web.

Addressing Crisis Issues

Finally, there’s a fourth type of reputation hit your company might face. These are situations like product recalls and consumer injuries, where your product or service caused a problem that goes beyond minor dissatisfaction. 

Managing these situations requires an in-depth and comprehensive approach that goes beyond the scope of this article. You can read more about how to handle these situations in our article on dealing with negative publicity.