What does your reputation say about your company? How are you perceived by previous customers? The way in which previous customers have viewed your company often determines how perspective clients and customers view your company, especially when they have never interacted with you previously. A negative review can leave a sour taste in their mouth while a positive review can create a lasting initial impression. The Internet provides potential customers with the ability to research companies and products that have never existed previously – and a good percentage of customers take advantage of that benefit.

According to BrightLocal, more than 50% of customers turn to online reviews when considering hiring a local company for a service. The practice of researching a product or service before purchasing has become commonplace. Customers may even turn to online reviews of products before purchasing them in retail stores.  There is no better source for determining the quality of a product or service than someone who has purchased that product or service previously – and customers weigh the opinions of those individuals heavily.

This is why protecting your online reputation is so incredibly important. When negative reviews about your company or service (whether warranted or unwarranted) dominate the search results, it is often hard to change the minds of those that come across that review. Taking a proactive approach helps to ensure that the reviews that would-be customers come across portray your company in a positive light and ultimately delivers the message your brand is striving to create.

What Is Being Said About You Online?

The first step toward rectifying an online reputation problem is clarifying whether or not you have one, and if you do – understanding how large of a problem it might be. Evaluating your reputation online should be a simple process, starting with a few search queries.

Start by entering some terms related to your business specifically into Google, reading reviews and getting a solid understanding of your current reputation. Some search term examples include;

  • [Your Company] Review
  • [Your Company] [Your Industry] Review
  • [Your Industry] [Your City] Reviews
  • Reviews for [Your Industry] [Your City]

Be creative. According to Search Engine Land, 25% of Google search queries are unique and have never been searched before. When researching your business, potential clients and customers will use all sorts of terms.

When evaluating your search results, ask yourself some basic questions;

  • Are customers leaving reviews regularly?
  • What percentage of reviews are negative? What percentage of reviews are positive?
  • Where are the reviews located? Are they on third party websites? Are reviews being left in Google Places or Yelp?
  • If you were a potential customer researching your business – what would your immediate impression of your business be? Remember, first impressions are often hard to reverse.
  • How highly are reviews about your company showing up in the search results page?

Once you have an understanding of how someone that has never heard of your company would immediately perceive you, then you can begin to work on improving upon these perceptions and bettering your reputation online.

Strategies for Improving Reputation

It’s important to understand that managing your online reputation is an ongoing process. Companies that have ignored their online reputation for years will find that it often takes a similar amount of time to completely turn negative perceptions around. Often times the reasons for a negative online reputation lies in the company not proactively attempting to cultivate a positive one and with some basic changes you can begin to change the tides.

There are some basic strategies that should be employed by every company that will allow you to take control of your online reputation and help to foster positive reviews;

Encouraging Customers to Leave Reviews

Although it might seem counterproductive to encourage customers to leave both negative and positive reviews, companies that offer a high quality service will find that a much higher majority of customers will be inclined to leave positive reviews.

Customers can be encouraged to leave reviews in a variety of ways, but should always be encouraged to leave honest reviews. Never offer benefits to customers for leaving positive reviews, and instead focus on encouraging them to leave a review in general.

In exchange for an honest review from a customer you can offer a benefit in return. The benefit could be a discount on future items, something for free, or anything that the customer would perceive to be of value. By encouraging reviews you’ll naturally attract more positive reviews. Keep in mind that individuals that have incentive to leave reviews in exchange for something will be more likely to recount the positive aspects of their experience with your company.

Rectify Complaints and Negative Experiences

For any business that does large volume – there will inevitably be customers that were not satisfied with the service that they were provided. This is just a part of business and can’t be avoided. But – you can turn those negatives into a positive by proactively attempting to rectify complaints and issues.

Most online review sites give business owners the chance to respond to complaints and critiques. Although your natural inclination might be to avoid these reviews, you can earn a lot of respect from potential customers by actively trying to rectify issues that previous customers have had publicly.