Reputation has never been more important in getting your business noticed on the Web. Google now incorporates both the quantity and quality of customer reviews in its ranking algorithm, and with the launch of Google Place Search, consumer ratings are displayed prominently alongside organic search results, immediately visible to potential customers. Make sure your company’s online reviews are working in your favor through reputation and review management.

See What’s Out There

The first step to optimizing your company’s online reputation is to see what people have already been saying about you. Search for your company’s name and related keywords on both Google and Bing, and make a note of any negative reviews you encounter and how high they appear in the search results. Next, search review sites, such as Kudzu or Citysearch, and consumer advocacy sites, such as Ripoff Report. Try to get a sense of how much is out there and the ratio of good to bad reviews.

Take Control

Reputation management requires a proactive approach, meeting your customers where they are. Claiming your business listing on review sites such as Kudzu and social media sites like Facebook will give you greater control over the information that appears for your company on these sites and allow you to establish a dialogue with your customers.

Respond to Reviews

Respond to all or most reviews, not only those that are negative. Thank reviewers for positive comments, and use the opportunity to work some of your company’s selling points into your responses. When you do receive a negative review, look at it as an opportunity, not a setback. Responding to negative comments shows potential customers that you are willing to address problems and improve your service. If you feel that a review is unfair or unreasonably harsh, resist the temptation to write a heated reply, even if you are in the right. This is a sure way to lose the sympathy and respect of potential customers.

If you find complaints on another website where you are not able to respond publically, removing the negative content is not a simple task. Once a piece of information is released onto the Web, true or not, it is difficult to erase. The best way to handle these unflattering accounts of your company is to “bury” them by creating a large amount of positive content, such as press releases and positive reviews, to push the negative remarks lower in the search results.

Generate Positive Reviews

Having a high number of positive reviews not only makes a good impression on potential customers; it can also help your website appear higher in Google’s organic search results. There are many ways to encourage your customers to rate you online, such as sending a follow-up email to clients with a link to your listing on a popular review site. Whatever you do, do not write fake reviews for your own companies. If you are found out, the blow to your credibility will far outweigh whatever you may have gained from the reviews.

Business owners have long known the importance of a first impression. When potential customers are searching for you, are they finding what you would like for them to see? If you want to attract customers through your company’s online presence, reputation and review management can help you ensure that you are always putting your best foot forward.