All businesses (regardless of size or industry) can’t ignore the importance of online brand reputation. Your target market is armed with search engines, social media and an increasing ability to control what they see and hear. Today, prospects you’ve never met form opinions about your business at the click of a mouse via your online presence.
Consider a recent Google search for a $10 billion bank that yielded only three mentions on the first page of search results, including a consumer Yelp! review denigrating the bank as “….Not even worthy of one star. [They] have obscene fees.” A regional competitor’s ad appeared above the bank because they’d purchased their brand name as a keyword. These damaging online references were available to anyone, including prospective customers, investors and the media.
Your brand reputation increasingly determines how members of your target market form a first impression of your business.
This is influenced by how your website looks, by how often your business appears in a web browser and what they find on social media. As consumers become more informed and connected, building and maintaining your online brand reputation must become central to your marketing and sales plan; otherwise, you risk leaving the door open to brand erosion and smarter competition.
Your Online Presence
Your brand’s online presence impacts how you’re perceived by prospects, clients and customers. As members of your target market use “Google” to find and evaluate products and services, they judge your brand by your online findability and what others say about you on blogs, websites and social media.”Google is no longer just a search engine; it’s a reputation engine,” says Chris Dellarocas, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies online reputations.
Developing an overall online presence that conveys a positive virtual first impression is something within your control, but you must be proactive. Just as you would never wear a threadbare suit to a meeting with a prospective client, you need to factor in how your business appears to prospects in those vital first seconds. You must communicate that your business is relevant and trustworthy. And above all, you must be findable.
When evaluating your brand’s online presence, ask yourself the following questions.
- How does your business look in the first couple of seconds when somebody types your name into Google or another major search engine?
- Does your business come up at all?
- Do top websites in your industry link to your site?
- Does any media exposure appear in your search results?
- Does your brand have negative social media feedback?
Improve Your First Page Results
Companies that do not monitor their online brand reputation risk (at best) losing business to better-known competitors. At worst, they lose credibility and may even become victims of libel, defamation, or unfounded social media attacks from competitors or disgruntled customers.
Search for your business name, company principals and proprietary terms connected to your brand, products and services on major search engines. Monitor social media with tools like Social Mention. Note what you find and, if required, take legal action against people that make false allegations about your company, infringe on your copyrights or denigrate your brand name.
Many times you will not be able to remove offending material. You can, however, produce more positive material about your brand that buries the bad below the good within the search results. If possible, publish your writing at respected authority sources in your niche that provide greater potential of landing on the first page of Google results.
Be a Resource for Your Target Market
We all know people who command rapt attention whenever they speak. Others want to listen to, learn from and emulate them. They are seen as thought leaders, centers of influence and trusted advisors within their industry or market niche. Here are a few ways to follow their example and establish a powerful online reputation for your brand:
- Share inside knowledge with your target market;
- Participate, listen, contemplate and respond to online conversations;
- Voice an opinion about key issues in your market niche;
- Assume leadership positions in your industry
In the end, the most effective means of shaping or maintaining a positive brand reputation is the most obvious: practice ethical business practices, deliver great customer service and position your business as a generous contributor to your industry. The more you share with your marketplace the more you’ll win trust.