Consumers and business people "search for everything" today before they do anything, according to Paul Shapiro, SEO director of GroupM. "What will people find when they Google your businesses name? Will it be a bad Yelp review cautioning them to not buy from you? Or will it be something positive that will cause them to buy from you? This is your online reputation, and it's important."
Data from Weber Shandwick supports Shapiro's theory: Eighty-one percent of consumers say search results highly influence their perceptions of companies and their products. Sixty-two percent of consumers say they'd change their minds about buying a product or service after reading between one and three negative reviews of it, according to Lightspeed Research.
However, improving your online reputation can have a positive and quantifiable result. For examplea single-star increase in your Yelp rating can boost revenues by 5 percent to 9 percent, according to a 2011 Harvard Business School study.
What Is Online Reputation Management?
Online reputation management is "how the search engines display your brand in the eyes of your audience and your consumers," according to Maciej Fita, managing director, Brandignity.
Takeshi Young, SEO team lead for EntirelyPets, says your online reputation is composed of these three components:
- A well-designed, easy-to-use website that represents your brand
- A social media presence, in which you respond to customer requests, criticisms and kudos
- Whatever shows up when people search your company's name on search engines
"Another way of thinking about online reputation is brand equity," says Andrew Herrault, lead strategist, Connective Insights. "Your online reputation is the recognition and general attitude, or brand equity, of your business on the Internet. This could be either positive or negative and has huge ramifications for leads generated via the Web."
Why Managing Online Reputation Is Critical
"Brand reputation is really tough for most people because they don't think about it until they have a reason to -- and that reason is typically negative," says Craig Streaman, a freelance digital marketer.
"While juggling all the responsibilities of being a CEO, CFO or other C-suite executive, few think to do an online search on themselves," says Karen Kessler, founding partner, Evergreen Partners. "Often, when people discover that others are looking into their background, it's too late to do anything about what's out there."
If you neglect to manage your online reputation, several things can happen. "At worst, negative reviews and situations remain on the Web to be seen by thousands, which in turn can cost you thousands," Herrault says. "At best, you seem like a 'ghost' company -- one that's empty of life and boring and doesn't even respond to its admirers. Either way, you're wasting opportunities to turn negative situations into positive ones and positive situations into lifetime customers."
Google Updates and Online Reputation Management
During the past few years, Google made multiple, substantial algorithm updates nicknamed Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and, most recently, Pigeon. The SEO experts we spoke with say Google's most recent algorithm updates haven't significantly changed their online reputation management best practices.
"The big algorithm updates have mainly gone after spammers and spam tactics," says EntirelyPets' Young. "As long as you don't purchase low-quality links, which was never a good practice, you should be fine."
That doesn't mean the changes haven't had any impact on online reputation management.
For example, Google's July 2014 Pigeon update seems to have had some effect on local businesses. Due to Pigeon, "many local businesses with reviews may have seen their traffic impacted," according to Chase Anderson, online operations director, Clicks and Clients. "If your negative reviews are hurting your local visibility, the Pigeon update may have magnified that issue."
In the past, if the first page of your brand's search results was filled with negative content you could try to create pages, websites, social media accounts and other representations of your business that you control in hopes that they'd outrank the negative references, according to Shapiro.
"Now with Panda, Penguin, and the other anti-spam algorithms that search engines like Google are using, it's more difficult to get these lower quality pages to rank," Shapiro says. "A mostly blank Blogger website might have helped you outrank a bad Yelp review in the past, but now you might need a real article from a local publication highlighting your business to outrank the Yelp review."
Exact-match ".com," ".net," and ".org" domains used to rank high on the first search results page for keywords contained within the domain, according to Todd William, founder and CEO, Reputation Rhino. For example, CIO.com is an exact-match domain for the keyword "CIO." Recent Google algorithm updates have, however, deemphasized to some degree the importance of exact-match domains, so you can't rely on that tactic as much as before, William says.
What's Next in Online Reputation Management?
Nobody (outside of Google, at least) knows what Google will change next, according to Herrault of Connective Insights. However, the basics of online reputation management rarely change. "Run a great business, treat your customers with respect, have fun and continue to build your online presence," he says. If you follow those guidelines, and continue to proactively monitor your online reputation, "no Google algorithm change will 'unfloat' your boat."
For more advice on how to manage your organization's online reputation, read "Top Tips and Tools for Online Reputation Management."
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