For businesses today, a positive online image is crucial to success. Some bad PR, a few bad reviews or some negative social media posts could ultimately spell the end of your business if not handled properly.
Knowing how much is on the line when it comes to their online image, many businesses are turning to online reputation management services and software to boost their online personas. Online reputation management companies can remove bad online content, promote positive news and reviews, and, in some instances, help control crisis situations.
If you're looking for an online reputation management service in 2018, 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 ones we recommend.
Editor's note: Looking for a reputation management service for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from vendors for free:
What Do Online Reputation Management Services Do?
Reputation management services are comprehensive, covering far more than just 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 for both businesses and business leaders, like CEOs and company executives who also want their online image upheld. Here are some of the main strategies these services employ:
Search Engine Optimization and Management
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process by which your online content will rank higher in popular search engines like Google. It encompasses strategies and techniques to increase visitors to your website. Reputation management firms will cover SEO so that internet users 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 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, people who search for you or your business won't be immediately greeted by negative results.
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 well organized, unique and well written. Most reputation management services will help you improve your existing content and create new material so that users will not only find positive results about you or your business right away, but will also see that the content you share is relevant and worth reading. This adds more credibility to your brand and your reputation.
Social Media Management
Social media has become commonplace for both personal use and business. While such platforms as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can all 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.
In addition, these companies can take control of your social media efforts by strategizing what kind of posts will get the highest engagement and determining the best times to post.
Many reputation management services also help businesses acquire and manage online reviews. These services employ tactics that encourage people to leave reviews. When good reviews are left, the company properly promotes them on sites like Google and Facebook. When negative reviews are left, the company is immediately notified so it can help rectify the situation. Some services also offer software that allows businesses to manage all of their reviews from one platform.
Third-Party Website Monitoring
Of course, your websites and social media channels are things you can control, but there are also third parties that can damage your reputation without your consent. This includes former employees and displeased customers. Negative reviews on websites such as Yelp and Glassdoor can be particularly damaging. Also, 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.
Each of these steps is crucial to a successful online reputation management campaign, so it's important to choose a company that employs each strategy.
How Much Do Online Reputation Management Services Cost?
The cost of online reputation services varies greatly. Most companies don't have set prices. While a few have set service plans with dedicated pricing, most of these companies provide customized services and pricing.
Many businesses or business leaders don't need all of the services online reputation management companies offer. With this in mind, most companies will conduct an online analysis of your brand to determine the strategies that will serve you best.
They will then come up with a monthly price. These prices can run anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars a 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, they can be removed and prices dropped. If added services become necessary, they can either be tacked on to your current plan and prices will rise, or they can replace some of the current strategies so costs stay the same.
One thing to note is 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.
How to Choose the Right Online Reputation Management Service
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.
1. Figure Out Your Needs and Goals.
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 monitoring and improving 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.
2. Think About Customer Service.
Much like any other services you contract with, it's key 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. Does it 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 moving forward if you do decide to hire the company. Will you have your own project manager as your point of contact? Or will you simply 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 do move forward with a provider, it should be transparent about your campaign at all times. Moreover, it should deliver honest feedback and keep you informed, demonstrating that you are a valued client and that it cares about your concerns. If you feel like just another number, then you're probably not receiving the individualized treatment you deserve.
3. Do Your Research.
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." 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.
Conduct Google searches of the company to see what others are saying. Also, ask for a list of some of its clients and contact them directly to find out what it is like to work with the company.
Another sign of a reputable company is its website. Does it look professional? Does it have information on its top executives? If it does, do some research on those executives to see if they have a positive online image.
Finding a Trustworthy Reputation Management Service
You'll want to go with a provider that uses white hat tactics, as these are the acceptable techniques that adhere to Google's best practices. White hat tactics are completely transparent and rely on quality content and proper SEO techniques. Other white hat practices include taking the time to respond proactively to any negative situations and getting reputable websites to write about or feature you or your business. A reputation management campaign that uses white hat tactics will take a lot of time but will play it safe and provide long-term results.
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 will create fake accounts on review websites and use them to write positive reviews, or it will pay users to do so in order to boost ratings and detract from negative reviews.
- Creating 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 to your brand than good. 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.
Depending on your needs, you might want to look for a company that offers a whole suite of digital marketing services. Many online management service providers also offer a host of other digital services, including website building, search engine marketing, lead generation, social media marketing and email marketing.
If your business also has these needs, 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 across the board.
Online Reputation Management FAQs
If you're still not sure if an online reputation management service is a 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 or your own. The key to knowing which ones you truly need is an analysis of your current online reputation.
Conduct online searches for your name or business’s name to see what comes up. Is there an abundance of negative stories? No negative stories? If there are any, you will want to focus on ways to push that content down in search results. This can include boosting the SEO of your current content, as well as creating more positive content that is also optimized. These two strategies are key to pushing that negative content off the first few pages of search results.
If all-positive news is showing up, you might think online reputation services aren't necessary. However, in this case, you can use strategies that monitor the web so you are immediately alerted to anything negative that appears online. The sooner you know about it, the quicker you can resolve the issue.
You may also want to consider review management services. If you have positive content online, 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.
This initial analysis will really help 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.
While it will not be able to give you one set answer, you should ask the online reputation management company you are considering how long it expects the process to take. If you aren't seeing results after that time, you can discuss with the company why it isn't working. If you don't like its answers, that may be the time to 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, then you might consider no longer using the service when 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 more of a management program. This involves monitoring what is showing 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. This will allow you to continue building a positive reputation.
Q: Is online reputation something I can handle 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, acquire reviews and manage those reviews?
In all likelihood, you don't have the time or resources to handle all of these things at a high level. If you are an established business that can bring someone on staff whose sole job is to manage your company's reputation, then maybe your business can handle this on its own. However, consider if this makes fiscal sense. Weigh the cost of a reputation manager's salary and benefits against 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 employers, our reasoning for selecting each one and a comprehensive list of reputable online management services.
Ready to choose a reputation management service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Best Online Reputation Management Services 2018
- Best Reputation Management Service for Individuals
- Best Reputation Management Service for Business
Editor's note: Looking for a reputation management service for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site provide you with information from vendors for free:Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko.