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How to Choose a Reputation Management Service

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

As businesses and consumers frequently turn to the internet to determine where to spend their money, it's become increasingly important to manage your business's online reputation. Having a bad online image, or having no online presence at all, can be detrimental to your company and deter customers from purchasing your products or services. That's why many businesses are turning to online reputation management services and software to boost their online images. 

Online reputation management companies can remove or suppress negative online content, promote positive reviews and articles, and in some instances, help control crisis situations. If you're looking for an online reputation management service in 2020, here's everything you need to know about what online reputation management services offer and how to choose one. 

Already know what you're looking for? Visit our best picks page to see which internet reputation management companies we recommend.

Editor's note: Looking for the right online reputation management service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Reputation management services are comprehensive, covering far more than crisis control or negative online reviews. They can analyze, establish, protect and restore your brand's image online through various strategies. These tactics can be used to manage a business's image or personal brand. Individuals who use these services are primarily business leaders, like CEOs and company executives who want their online image upheld. 

Here are some of the primary strategies these services employ: 

  • Search engine optimization and management. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of getting your online content to rank higher in popular search engines like Google. It encompasses strategies and techniques to increase visitors to your website. Reputation management firms cover SEO so that internet users who are searching for topics relating to your business will be more likely to find you. SEO can also be employed to emphasize positive information and relegate the bad info to the outer reaches of the internet. If there is negative information about your business in search results, your online reputation management company can strategize ways to use truthful, positive content to detract from any negative content by pushing the bad stuff off the first few pages of search results. This way, the negative results won't be the first thing people see when they search for you or your business.

  • Content development and management. To rank well in search engines and build a good reputation, you need to have high-quality content. This means ensuring your website and blog are organized, unique and well written. Most reputation management services will help you improve your existing content and create new material so that users will find positive results about you or your business right away. These services ensure that the content you share is relevant and worth reading, which adds more credibility to your brand and reputation.

  • Social media monitoring and management. Social media has become commonplace for both personal and business use. While platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can help grow your business or personal brand, it takes only one inappropriate picture or comment to cause a PR nightmare. Most online reputation management services can help you clean up your social networks to make sure they're business-appropriate, and they can monitor how your social media profiles affect your reputation. They can also take control of your social media efforts by strategizing what kinds of posts get the highest engagement and determining the best times to post.

  • Review acquisition and management. Many reputation management services also help businesses acquire and manage online reviews. These services employ tactics that encourage people to leave reviews. When people write good reviews, the company promotes them on sites like Google and Facebook. When people write negative reviews, the company is notified immediately so that it can help to rectify the situation. Some services also offer software that allows businesses to manage all of their reviews from one platform.

  • Third-party website monitoring. You can control your websites and social media channels, but third parties, such as former employees and displeased customers, can still damage your reputation. Negative reviews 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. For example, if one of your employees leaves on bad terms, there's nothing stopping that person from writing malicious blog posts or spreading false information about you in reviews. Reputation management services will monitor the internet for this kind of content to see what people are saying about you. 

Although each of these strategies is important in creating a positive online reputation, your business is unique and may need some or all of these strategies. Seek an agency that will create a customized campaign to focus on the tactics you need the most. 

In addition to reputation management services, several companies can provide comprehensive digital marketing services, unifying your online presence. Depending on your needs, you might want to look for a company that offers a whole suite of digital marketing services, like website building, search engine marketing, lead generation, social media marketing and email marketing. If your business needs both reputation management and digital marketing services, you might be best served by finding one company to handle everything. This will allow a synchronized strategy that ensures your digital messaging is consistent. 

The cost of online reputation management services varies greatly depending on which strategies your business needs. While a few companies have preset service plans with dedicated pricing, most agencies provide customized services and pricing to match. 

Because many businesses or business leaders don't need all of the services that online reputation management companies offer, most companies conduct an online analysis of your brand to determine which strategies will serve you best. After this analysis, they determine the cost to implement these strategies. These 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. 

What's nice about this approach is that many of these companies are flexible over time. If some tactics are no longer necessary, you can remove these services and their associated costs. If added services become necessary, you can either tack them onto your current plan (raising prices) or replace some of the current strategies (keeping prices the same). 

Note whether the online reputation management service requires a contract. Some of these companies require three-, six- or 12-month contracts, while others work month to month and allow you to cancel at any time with no penalty. 

Many online reputation management companies offer similar basic services, but it's important to find out what sets each company apart in order to benefit the most. Here are some tips to make sure you choose the right online reputation management service for you. 

It's important to have a clear view 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 a service to acquire and manage online reviews? Businesses' goals vary, and so do online reputation management services, so clearly articulate your objectives before contacting a company. 

As with any other company you hire, it's important to ensure an online reputation management company delivers top-notch customer service. You should get a good vibe from the company from your very first interaction. 

When you first contact a company, consider how it treats you. Do the 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? 

Also, be sure to ask who you will be working with if you decide to 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? 

When you move forward with a provider, they should always be transparent and informative about your campaign. Find someone who delivers honest feedback, updates you on your campaign progress and demonstrates that you are a valued client. If you feel like just another number, you're probably not receiving the individualized treatment you deserve. 

Once you've established your goals and considered customer service, it's time to look for online reputation management companies that cater to your needs. But don't just check to see that they avoid what are known as "black hat" practices, or unethical SEO tactics that can actually hurt your online search rankings. Do your own research to ensure the company has a good reputation. An online reputation management company that can't protect its own reputation probably won't be of much help to you. 

Google the company to see what others are saying. Also, ask for a list of some of the company's clients, and contact the company directly to find out what it is like to work with that firm. 

Also, look at the company's website. Does it look professional? Does it have information about its top executives? If it does, do some research on those executives to see if they have a positive online image. 

Choose a provider that uses "white hat" tactics, meaning the techniques that adhere to Google's best practices. White-hat tactics are completely transparent and rely on quality content and proper SEO techniques to improve your reputation. Some white-hat practices include taking the time to respond proactively to any negative situations and getting reputable websites to write about your business. A reputation management campaign that uses white-hat tactics can take a while to yield results, but those results are more likely to be long-lasting. 

Black-hat techniques, on the other hand, may work quickly, but they are aggressive and risky. Search engines may even ban you if they catch on to your shady tactics. If an online reputation management service you're considering uses any of the following techniques, take that company out of the running. 

  • 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 involves launching fake websites and blogs to create more search results to cover up any negative results people may find when searching for you or your business.

  • Keyword stuffing: With this tactic, you pack as many keywords as possible into your website's metadata to increase your search rankings.

  • Link spamming: This 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. In this case, they're written on the page itself but hidden by making the text the same color as the page's background.

  • Spam bots: 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, fall into an ethical gray area and ultimately do more harm than good to your brand. Make sure that the online reputation management service you choose avoids these tactics and is clear about what it can and cannot do for you. 

If you're still not sure if an online reputation management service is a good fit for you, here are several questions and answers that might help you come to a decision: 

Q: How do you know which strategies you need?

A: There are various online management strategies that can boost your brand's online image. To figure out which ones you truly need, conduct an analysis of your current online reputation. Perform online searches for your name or business's name to see what comes up. Is there an abundance of negative stories? If so, focus on ways to push that content down in search results. This process can include boosting the SEO of your current content, as well as creating more positive content that is well optimized. These two strategies are key to pushing that negative content off the first few pages of search results. 

If only positive results show up, you might think online reputation management services aren't necessary. However, in this case, you can use tools that monitor the web and alert you if any 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. If you have positive online content, you might want a service that can help you add to that. This strategy involves encouraging your customers to leave reviews. The more positive reviews you have, the better your online reputation will be. 

An initial analysis will help to determine the path you need to take with your online reputation management. 

Q: How long should it take to see results?

A: Most often, there is no quick fix for improving an online reputation. Don't expect to see significant results immediately. It might take three months to see solid results, or it could take a year. It really depends on the state of your online reputation when you start the service and the strategies you employ. 

Although the reputation management company may not be able to give you an exact answer, you should ask the company you're considering how long the process might take. If you aren't seeing results after that time, you can discuss why it isn't working. If you don't like the company's answers, consider switching to a new online reputation management service. 

Q: Once I clean up my image, do I need to continue with the services?

A: If you are only concerned about repairing a negative reputation, you might consider canceling the services once that task is complete. However, it is important to consider how you got a negative online image in the first place. Instead of dropping the service altogether, you might want to switch to a less-aggressive management program. This would involve monitoring the content that shows up online and responding to those issues immediately. Another option is to focus on review management. You might want to repurpose your budget to a review acquisition and management strategy, which would allow you to continue building a positive reputation. 

Q: Can I handle online reputation management on my own?

A: 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? 

You likely don't have the time or resources to give all of these things a lot of attention. If you are an established business that can hire someone whose sole job is to manage your company's reputation, maybe your business can handle this task on its own. However, consider whether this makes sense financially. Compare the cost of a reputation manager's salary and benefits with the monthly fee for an outside online reputation management service. 

If you think an online reputation management service is right for you, we encourage you to check out our best picks page, which includes our top choices for various types of reputation management companies, our reasoning for selecting each one and a comprehensive list of reputable online management services. 

Editor's note: Looking for the right online reputation management service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the Northeast, writing for business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.