Want more business? Don't sleep on your online reputation..

Your online reputation matters. It can make the difference between someone taking a chance on your business, or taking a pass. But, how do you know what your online reputation is? And, once you have an idea of your reputation online, is there anything you can do about it?

To be clear – we’re talking about the reviews your customers have left online about your business. How do you find your reviews? First do a search of your business name (start with Google) – you will hopefully see a star-rating associated with your company name in the search results.

Then, go to any directory that relates to your business – Yelp and Angie’s List are very popular, for instance. You’ll get an idea of your reputation by how many reviews you have and whether you have more positive reviews than not.

Too many bad reviews, or no reviews at all, can have a tremendous impact on a potential client’s view of how well you conduct your business. While you can’t control what people will say online about their experience with your company, you can take steps that may influence how people understand those reviews.

Here are a few tips for successful online reputation management.

Register, or claim your business listing in online directories.
Owning and controlling your business listings as much as possible is key. Your business listing can include your business name, address, phone number, hours of operation and a link to your website. At a minimum, claim your Google business listing, as the Google search engine is the most popular search engine in the world. Yelp is also extremely popular, so consider that as well if you are in a service industry. You should also claim your listings in the directories that directly relate to your business. For instance, if you offer home services like plumbing, or you own a roofing company, it would be a good idea to claim your listing on Angie’s List. Some directory listings let you claim for free, others want you to pay a small fee and join their network. Still, others let you claim for free, but offer premium placements in their search results for a paid fee.

Ensure that all of your directory listings have exactly the same contact information.
If you choose to spell out the word street in your address, rather than abbreviate it on one directory, then spell it out for all listings. There are a couple of reasons for this. The Google search engine takes into account many different directories in the aggregate when ranking your business in organic search results, and by having exactly the same contact information for each listing Google will more readily understand that a specific directory listing belongs to you – and may rate your business higher. Second, for people who do a lot of research to find a reputable company, they too will more readily recognize multiple listings as belonging to your company if the exact contact information is the same each time. That name and brand recognition works in your favor.

Ask for feedback, but don’t ask for reviews.
This is a key rule, as both Google and Yelp discourage, and promise to penalize or delete, directory listings that have solicited reviews. But, do consider letting your customers know that you belong to your preferred list of directories, so if a customer wants to leave a review they know where you would like to be seen. Directories like Yelp, Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau each have their own set of rules for how you can display their logos and signage inside your business or on your website – follow them!

Address bad reviews as well as good reviews, publically and swiftly.
Your customers like to know that they’ve been heard. Whether they review your business positively or negatively, let them know that they are valued and respond kindly to everyone. And, in this fast-paced world, don’t let a review sit unanswered for more than 48 hours. For a negative review, consider addressing it in no more than 24 hours. Otherwise, you may lose an opportunity to turn a negative review into a positive one – unhappy customers are impatient and less lenient as time elapses.

When you receive a negative review, be kind, be polite, tell them you are sorry they had a negative experience with your business. Offer to make it right, and for extra points, tell them how you’ll do it. You can’t delete negative reviews from your listings, but you can certainly change the narrative from a terrible experience with an awful company to a terrible experience with an awesome company who cares about their customer – an awesome company that made a mistake and is concerned about fixing it.

Don’t hesitate to address a bad review offline to make it right (as well as online, of course).
It’s a high level of customer service to follow-up with a phone call or an email. Repeat what you said in your public response to the reviewer (who knows, they may not have seen your response yet), and then follow-through on your promise.

Hopefully, their follow-up experience with you will be so stellar, that they’ll either change their review or write a follow-up review recounting all that you did to make them happy and praise your commitment to quality customer service.

Give them a few days to follow-up their negative review with a more positive one after you’ve reached out them. If they don’t, follow-up the review with a message that is upbeat and truthful. Something like, “Susan, thanks for letting us make this up to you by granting you a full refund. You should see the refund on your next credit card statement. If you do not, please do not hesitate to reach out to us again.”

These additional touch-points can make a decisive difference to potential clients – if people reading your reviews can see that you’re committed to delivering a good experience with your business, your negative reviews will count less with them, and your positive reviews will be given more weight. Most people realize that businesses are run by people and people make mistakes – and businesses who try to address and fix their mistakes are worth giving a chance (or second chance!).

Learn more from your negative reviews than the positive reviews.
So you have a few bad reviews – but, you’ve worked really hard to make the situation right and there are far, far fewer of them than there are positive reviews. But, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet – a negative review should be seen as a wake-up call and a call-to-action: what led to this bad review? How can it be avoided in the future, with a change to procedure or policy? Or, is it a matter of training employees differently, or re-training to reinforce current policy? Someone reading your reviews should never see a repeat complaint – if it happens again, it should be clear to you that the situation has not yet been fixed and a reexamination of the problem should happen immediately. These negative reviews are actually valuable tools – use them to make your wonderful business even more awesome.

In summary, managing your online reputation is a necessary component of your internet presence. Your reputation should be zealously watched and maintained, by first claiming your listings on a few key directories and then responding promptly to your reviews. Aim to be prompt, courteous, and committed to a good customer experience with your business – regardless of the content of your reviews. An improved online reputation could very well improve your organic search listings and better benefit your business.

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Noah Britton

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