It happens to the best of us. For whatever reason, many businesses find themselves with a bad online reputation. Maybe your team had a bad day with customer care, maybe your site is malfunctioning. Whatever the reason, your business needs an online makeover. More and more, consumers are getting the businesses they patronize online, and so you can’t afford to let the conversation about you slip beyond your grasp. And that’s where I’m here to help.
Even though having a bad online reputation can be scary and stressful, there are a lot of things that both individuals and companies can do to help take the power back. An old joke in the online reputation business is: “Where do you bury a dead body?” The answer? “On the third page of search results.” More and more, there are strategies and mechanisms to rehabilitate a bad internet rep. In this article, I want to discuss five ways to tackle a harmful reputation. Let me say it again: don’t panic. Almost any bad reputation can be mitigated through simple strategies. It may take time, but my hope is that with pointers like these, businesses can take their reputation back into their own hands.
1. Target Your Page One Results
I’m making this tip first because I think it’s the most important one. The joke above is of course not serious, but the sentiment behind it is. If you can control your page one results, you can basically control your online image entirely. Just think about this for a minute.
The top result on a Google page one search result receives 33% of all traffic for that search. The second result receives 19%, and the numbers continue to decline sharply from there. What this means is, if it’s not on page one, almost nobody will see it. Having this knowledge is hugely valuable for people biting their nails over their online reputation. For one thing, it minimizes the problem—it’s not the whole internet you need to worry about (thank goodness), just one page of search results.
Controlling these search results is another matter, but even simply understanding the scope of the battlefield puts you way ahead of the game. Some people and businesses get very concerned about some nobody blogger negging their product. But, as often as not, this opinion is buried back on page 26 of the search results. Focus on your first-page results—you can’t and don’t need to worry about the whole internet.
2. Cast a Wide Web Presence
Okay, so now that we know what we’re working with, let’s talk about how to take back control of our page-one results. There are a lot of fancy ways to do this, and some of them require some in-depth knowledge of SEO. For strategies like this, I recommend reading some intro guides to SEO (like the one offered by RankWatch) and then simply experimenting until you notice some results.
But there’s a much simpler method to help you target page one, and that’s simply to open a large number of accounts that you or your business can manage yourself. This isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a matter of creating more spaces online in which you can control the content. The more regularly these are updated with unique content, the better. Have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media accounts under the same name. If your business is called Bob’s Biscuit Emporium (but I hope it’s not), make sure all your online platforms have this name—no variations. This will crowd the web space with self-curated versions of you or your business, which can significantly help your online reputation improve.
It’s amazing to me how many businesses complain about their bad reputation, and then, when I look them up online, they only have one measly landing page representing them and their business. Again, this isn’t hard—flood the web with legitimate versions of yourself, and much of the work will be done for you.
3. Be Proactive
You may also be surprised by how reasonable people can be. If you’ve received some bad reviews, or somebody has published a negative view regarding you and your business, why not simply reach out to them and try a bit of a human touch? After all, you can tweak SEO and search results until the cows come home, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.
Reach out directly to those who are ragging on you, and see whether there’s anything you can do to change their mind. With a little greasing of the wheels (future discounts, refunds, etc.), it’s not so hard to turn a bad customer experience into a good one. And this isn’t simply a matter of removing bad publicity. If a business makes things right with customers that it’s goofed up with, these customers won’t forget it. They may publish something positive noting how quickly you responded to their critiques and took care of the situation. And, even if it doesn’t change their minds, if a business engages publicly with their critics, it will let other readers know that this business isn’t afraid of addressing criticism head-on. This is a show of strength.
4. Engage Potential Allies
And you don’t have to just wait around to put out fires either. Along with a business opening up a bunch of accounts to manage itself, it may be a good idea for it to reach out for potential publicity. This can take all kinds of shapes: reaching out to influencers on social media and offering some free swag in exchange for a positive shout out.
There’s also a really huge constellation of consumer reviews for any product imaginable, and many will review your product if you just send it to them. If you’re worried that your product is too niche—don’t be. Just do a simple search, and you’ll see that if products as niche as travel pillows can find their place, so can you. If you’re not confident that your product can get a good review, then all I can tell you is that I think you have bigger problems on your hands than a bad online reputation.
Bottom line here is: Reach out to collaborators who can help get positive messaging out there for your business. Don’t just wait to control bad messaging.
5. Listen to Your Criticisms
I’ve saved my more philosophical point for last. But this is maybe the most important one of all. There’s no way to put this delicately. If you have a reputation problem, it may very well be for a reason. Granted, sometimes, there are just mean-spirited or negative people out there who will bash a business really for no reason. But, a lot of the time, people are writing sincerely about problems they have had with a business or a product.
Listen carefully to what people are saying about you online, and if it hits home, maybe it’s time to make some changes to the way you’re doing things. This is the best way to play the long game of reputation management. A serious business has to take its customers seriously. Dissatisfied customers will teach a business so much more than anybody else. And, if a business adapts to legitimate complaints, it will head off future threats to its reputation at the pass.