- Effectively managing your company's online reputation can build consumer trust, increase your profits and attract better talent.
- Find a reputation management company that uses white-hat strategies.
- The cost of reputation management services varies from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per month, depending on the strategies employed.
- This article is for new and seasoned business owners who are considering professional guidance for building, improving or maintaining their online reputation.
As businesses and consumers frequently use the internet to find new products or services, or to research a company they are considering giving their money to, it's become increasingly important for businesses to manage their online reputation. Having a bad online image, or having no online presence at all, is detrimental to your company and deters customers from purchasing your products or services. Many businesses are using online reputation management services to boost their online credibility.
Online reputation management companies counter negative online content, promote positive reviews and articles, and in some instances, help control crises. If you're looking for an online reputation management service, this guide explains what these services offer and how to choose one suited for your business and your goals.
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What Is Reputation Management?
Online reputation management is a strategy that involves monitoring and molding your company's internet reputation. There are a variety of strategies used, including search engine optimization, content development and management, social media monitoring and management, review acquisition and management, third-party website monitoring, and competitor monitoring to mend a poor reputation or maintain a positive image.
Key takeaway: Reputation management involves using multiple strategies to ensure your company has a positive online image.
Do Businesses Need a Reputation Management Service?
You may run a great restaurant or a great company, but that doesn't necessarily mean your online reputation will be a positive one; this is where reputation management comes in. Most consumers turn to the internet to learn more about a company before they do business with them, so it is important that your business has a good image.
A positive online reputation has several benefits for your company, including:
- Increased word-of-mouth advertising. When you have a positive reputation, existing customers tell their friends and family about your company, and word spreads about the great products or attentive customer service your company provides.
- More profits. With increased consumer confidence in your company, you can see greater demand for your goods or services, increased revenue and more money in your pocket.
- Access to better talent. Employees want to work for the best companies. One way to gain access to top talent is having a stellar reputation in your industry and community.
Key takeaway: Using reputation management to maintain a positive online reputation can yield increased consumer trust, more profits and access to better talent.
What Do Online Reputation Management Services Do?
Reputation management services use a variety of strategies to analyze, establish, protect and restore a company's image online. Here are some of the primary strategies these services employ:
- Search engine optimization and management. Search engine optimization (SEO) comprises optimizing your online content so it ranks higher in popular search engines like Google. Reputation management firms use SEO so that consumers who are searching for topics relating to your business will be more likely to find you. If there is negative information about your business appearing in search results, the reputation management company can use truthful, positive content to counter negative content.
- Content development and management. To rank well in search engines and build a good reputation, you need high-quality content. Many reputation management services will work with your company to create new material so your target customers find positive results about you or your business right away.
- Social media monitoring and management. While platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can grow your business or brand, it takes only one inappropriate picture or comment to cause a PR nightmare. Reputation management services can monitor your social media profiles. They can also control your company's social media efforts by strategizing posts to get high engagement.
- Review acquisition and management. Many reputation management services help businesses acquire and manage online reviews. These services employ tactics that encourage people to write reviews. When people write good reviews, the company promotes them on sites like Google and Facebook. When people write negative reviews, your business is notified so it can rectify the situation. Some services have software that allows businesses to manage reviews from one platform.
- Third-party website monitoring. Negative reviews from former employees and displeased customers on websites such as Yelp and Glassdoor can be particularly damaging, and it's not difficult for a dissatisfied person to create a new website or blog to disparage your company. Reputation management services can monitor the internet to see what people are saying about you.
- Competitor monitoring. A less common, but still useful, aspect of reputation management is competitive benchmarking. This is the act of monitoring your competition to see how you compare in terms of local search terms, social activity, online mentions, reviews and more.
Your business is unique and may need some or all of the above strategies. Several reputation management companies also provide comprehensive digital marketing services, unifying your online presence. Depending on your needs, you might want to work with a company that offers services such as website building, search engine marketing, lead generation, social media marketing and email marketing.
Key takeaway: Some of the strategies reputation management services use are designed to draw more traffic to your website, encourage positive online reviews, monitor review sites (consumer or employee) targeting businesses, and keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing.
How Much Do Online Reputation Management Services Cost?
The cost to hire a service varies greatly depending on which strategies your business needs. A few companies have preset service plans with fixed rates, but many agencies provide customized services, and pricing is therefore dependent on the strategies the service prescribes to clients.
Most reputation management firms conduct an online analysis of your brand first to determine which strategies will serve you best. After this initial analysis, they prepare a cost estimate to implement these strategies. Prices can run anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per month; it really depends on the work required to repair and maintain your online image. You can also adjust ‒ adding or removing ‒ services as needed.
Pay close attention whether the service requires a contract. Some companies have contract terms that span three, six or 12 months, while others are on a month-to-month basis, and you can cancel at any time with no penalty.
Key takeaway: The cost of a reputation management service varies, often ranging between a few hundred and several thousand dollars (per month); contract terms vary as well.
How to Choose the Right Online Reputation Management Service for Your Business
Here are some tips to help you choose an online reputation management service that is best suited for your business.
1. Ascertain your needs and goals.
Have a crystal clear understanding of your specific goals before starting your search for an online reputation management service. Is your primary objective to monitor and improve your online presence? Do you want to clean up your social media channels? Are you more concerned about your SEO ranking? Do you need help acquiring and managing online reviews? Businesses' goals vary, and so do the services that online reputation management companies specialize in, so clearly articulate your objectives before contacting firms.
2. Think about customer service.
When you first contact a company, analyze how it treats you. Do its people seem truly interested in working with you? Are the representatives asking questions to better understand your needs, or are they simply putting on a hard sell and not really listening to you or your concerns?
Ask whom you will work with if you hire the company. Will you have your own project manager as your point of contact? Or will you have to call a main number and speak to someone who isn't fully aware of your business and the work being done on your campaigns?
When you do move forward with a provider, they should always be transparent and informative about your campaigns. You want a service that delivers honest feedback, updates you on the progress of your campaign and demonstrates that you are a valued client.
3. Do your research.
As part of your research process, don't just check to see that they avoid what are known as "black-hat" practices; these are unethical SEO tactics that can harm your online search rankings.
Google the company to see what others are saying. Also, ask for a list of the company's clients, and contact clients to hear firsthand from them about their experience working with that firm.
Last, look at the company's website. Does it look professional? Does it have information about its top executives? If it does, research the executives to see if they have a positive online image.
Key takeaway: As part of your process for choosing the right online reputation management service, establish your reputation needs and goals, contact the service to assess the level of customer research, and research what others are saying about the service and its representatives.
How to Find a Trustworthy Reputation Management Service
Choose a provider that uses "white-hat" tactics, meaning their techniques adhere to Google's best practices. White-hat tactics are completely transparent and rely on quality content and proper SEO techniques to boost your reputation. A reputation management campaign that uses white-hat tactics can take a while to yield results, but those results endure.
Black-hat techniques, on the other hand, may work quickly, but they are aggressive and risky. Search engines may ban you for using them. If an online reputation management service you're considering recommends or admits to using any of the following techniques, eliminate them from your candidate shortlist:
- Astroturfing: In this practice, a company creates fake accounts on review websites and uses them to write positive reviews or pays users to do so to boost ratings and detract from negative reviews.
- Fake websites or content: This technique involves launching fake websites and blogs to create more search results to cover up negative results people find when searching for your business.
- Keyword stuffing: This tactic involves packing as many keywords as possible into your website's metadata to increase your search rankings.
- Link spamming: This method involves creating as many links as possible to positive content so that search engines rank that positive content highly.
- Invisible text: This practice involves placing extra keywords on your website. Keywords are written on webpages but are hidden by making the text of the keyword the same color as the background of the page.
- Spambots: Some reputation management companies use spam bots, denial-of-service attacks, and hacking methods to target negative content and make it difficult or impossible for other users to access that content.
Quality, honesty and transparency are the keys to a good online reputation. Some reputation management campaigns employ questionable black-hat practices, which ultimately do more harm than good to your brand. Make sure that the online reputation management service you choose avoids the above tactics.
Key takeaway: Only partner with a reputation management service that uses white-hat practices.
If you're still not sure whether an online reputation management service is can help your business, here are several questions and answers that might help you come to a decision.
How do you know which strategies you need?
There are various online management strategies that can boost your brand's online image. To determine which ones you need, analyze your current online reputation. Perform online searches for your name or business's name to see what comes up. Are there a lot of negative stories? If so, focus on boosting the SEO of your current content.
If during your initial search only positive results show up, consider tools that monitor the web and alert you if negative comments appear online. The sooner you know about negative content, the quicker you can resolve the issue. You also may want to consider review management services. This strategy involves encouraging customers to leave reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the better your online reputation will be.
What causes a bad reputation?
Customers who have negative experiences with your brand are more likely to leave an online comment or review compared to people who have a good experience. Enough negative reviews and mentions can damage your company on multiple fronts.
When customers post negative information about your business online, do not ignore it. The best response is to reach out to the person and try to remedy the situation. Why did they have a poor experience? What can you offer to appease them?
If consumers are repeatedly complaining about the same issue, such as inconsistent product quality, and you fail to fix it, you can quickly gain a poor reputation.
Another, though less common, reason why businesses develop a bad reputation, occurs as a result of damaging publicity (e.g., a bank has a data breach). These situations onset suddenly, and you will need a crisis management agency to help resolve the core issues contributing to the crisis and the resulting damage.
What's the difference between reputation management and review management?
Reputation management is an all-encompassing strategy to manage your online reputation; it can include review management. Additionally, reputation management can include strategies like search engine optimization and management, content development and management, social media monitoring and management, third-party website monitoring, and competitor monitoring.
Review management is a specific type of reputation management, it is focused on helping companies acquire new reviews, respond to current reviews, and counter negative reviews. The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before deciding whether or not they should trust a business, so if you only manage one part of your online reputation, review management should be it.
How can social media affect your reputation?
Social media has become such an integral part of consumers' lives that if your business isn't on social media, you don't exist – which means your business should have some sort of social media presence. The type of social media accounts your business needs will depend on your industry and products or services.
Consumers often use social media to air complaints, spread gossip, share brand recommendations and find new goods and services. A good social media reputation can positively affect your reputation, while a poorly managed or inactive social media account can have the opposite effect.
When consumers interact with your social media accounts, whether they are singing your praises or airing complaints, you should prepare a thoughtful and professional response. Social media feeds can go viral quickly, and it's important to maintain a consistent focus on managing them.
How long should it take to see results?
It might take three months to see results, or it could take a year, depending on the state of your online reputation when you start the service and the strategies you employ.
Ask the company you're considering using how long it might take to see positive results. If you aren't seeing the results you want after that time frame, discuss why it isn't working and other strategies you can use to achieve the results you're looking for.
Does my business need ongoing reputation management services?
If your goal is to repair a negative reputation, you might consider discontinuing services once that goal is reached. However, you might want to switch to a less-aggressive management program, which would involve monitoring the content that shows up online and responding to issues immediately.
Another option is to focus on review management. You might want to use a hybrid review acquisition and management strategy, which would continue to build on a positive reputation.
Can I handle online reputation management on my own?
You may be able to implement some online reputation management strategies on your own. The question is, how much time and resources do you have to devote to it? If you are a small business owner, you likely have a lot of other responsibilities. How much time can you realistically set aside to monitor your online reputation, write positive content, generate new reviews and manage those reviews?
If you are an established business that can hire someone whose sole job is to manage your business's reputation, maybe your business can handle this task. Compare the cost of a reputation manager's salary (and benefits) with the monthly fee for an outside online reputation management service.