When it comes to their online presence, many businesses are apathetic towards the internet after hearing it can at times present itself to be ruthless in tarnishing the reputation of a brand name or a company.

In the past, we’ve seen many big conglomerates crumble under the screaming pressures of the web world. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia chose to ignore customer demands on Twitter and resolutely found itself palming off bad press that shunted the organisation’s customer service online as ‘lazy’. Nestle, the world’s largest chocolate company found itself in the throes of a massive online protest not too long ago, with thousands of Greenpeace activists taking to the company’s social media profiles to vilify them as destroyers of rainforests and killers of orangutans.

But what about the smaller businesses…? If anything, these guys have it even tougher in the online world. A privately owned business or franchise for example, may be running a website that only carries a minuscule Google PageRank because their websites are simply vessels for their marketing messages and contact details – they carry a relatively simple online purpose. And this is fine!

All it takes however, is one rogue website with a decent amount of authority and all of a sudden the website’s villain is threatening the potential leads of a business via search results – as in the case of Retravision Bunbury. After being dissatisfied with the quality of the service, a blogger took to his favourite online platform in order to give his readers his two cents worth – a strongly negative review of the store.

Fortunately, Retravision Bunbury were wise-enough to be tracking their brand name online, with a customer service representative addressing the issue directly and inviting the dissatisfied customer to contact him to discuss the issue further.

There’s nothing worse for a small business than to be combating a vile, acerbic website with a lot of ranking power. It’s extremely painful for all involved.

It is perfectly understandable for business owners to be turned off by an online presence, but don’t fret yet. Why? Because it’s going to happen anyway.

Word of mouth is a wildfire that cannot be distinguished, an inevitable facet of big and small business that can either work positively or negatively. When you start a business, you are instantly agreeing to the polarity of customer sentiment: you accept the applause with the acrimony. It’s time to stand up and take ownership of your brand name online!

Here are a few basic steps to help you gain the upper hand over your foes and successfully manage your online reputation:

Search everything

search everything related specifically to your company. Most of the time you will find that your company name is the number one target for online culprits. Check out Google Analytics and look at the latest keyword referral stats. 99 per cent of the time you will find that your brand name is ranked number one for search engine referrals. Compose a list of short and long-tail keyword variations for your company and perform a search around each term. Record your findings. With 28K, I would be looking for:

  • 28K
  • 28K internet marketing
  • 28K Sydney
  • 28K SEO
  • 28K Reviews

And so the list goes on…

Online attacks can also be targeted directly at individuals within your organisation. In this scenario, it is beneficial to perform searches around those individuals who are often seen as the face of the business.

Set up brand monitoring

Once you have completed a manual search for these keywords, set up an account with Google Alerts, registering an ‘alert’ with each keyword. Each time your vital brand-relative keywords are mentioned on the internet, you will receive an email notification linking you directly to the source.

Get ahead of the game before it begins

The best remedy against any acerbic website is to counteract it with an existing, well-ranked blog or satellite website. Before you start reading into online reputation management, consider factoring a blog into your existing online business model – ideally, a blog hosted on a completely separate domain. This is because you will want your blog to rank well, and build up a lot of user activity. Do this, and the derogatory website won’t stand a chance. Be careful though because there is a bit of a paradox here. To build up a rank, you will need to achieve a lot of blog traffic – this means content people can relate to. On the other hand, your blog is going to have to be heavily branded so it will rank for branded keywords. It’s a complex dichotomy of usability and search, so finding a balance between the two can be exceedingly difficult.

When the game is on…

So an online attack has happened and your brand name or personal reputation is suffering. It’s time to strategise. There are a few things you need to consider in order to gauge how long it is going to take you to relinquish the online uproar.

An online attack can happen anywhere, they may stem from external websites or they may even be infiltrating your own digital assets. The mildest form of negative relations are nested within your own social media profiles. Because you have a branded presence within a public domain, the only way to moderate this sort of behaviour is to address it directly, even if it is en masse:

  1. Listen to the customer
  2. Respond to them directly
  3. Exercise reason, not emotion – and look to give them a solution to the problem
  4. Ask them to contact you directly for further discussion

The flaw of most companies is that they put someone inexperienced to administer their social media assets. If you’re not controlling your own digital assets and you need to delegate this responsibility, make sure that this person is mature and trustworthy. Remember, social media is the divide between PR and tech. You will need someone literate in both.

External attacks are the hardest to deal with. The process of purging the bad “juju” from the first page of a search engine results page for your branded keyword is no easy task. It’s tedious, involves a lot of strategic thinking and what’s worse is that it can take weeks, if not months to beat.

In this situation, your first step is to do a quick review of the bad website linking to your site. Check the keyword density and number of inbound links. Use the ‘find’ function to isolate instances of your keyword use – is it used within the header tags? Image alt text? All throughout the main body copy? It’s all relevant, so take note. If the page is difficult on the eyes and there are links everywhere, just disable style sheets.

Now you’ve got a fair idea of what you’re up against.

If this site is outranking your own website, start first by promoting it. Relentlessly. Without your website in number one position for its own brand name, everything else is a pointless exercise as this is the pole position that governs a vast majority of user clicks to your website. Look at the current rank of your other branded assets, for example, if you have a LinkedIn profile sitting relatively close to the bad link – promote it as a separate entity.

When bad news has its own website, it’s much better to surround it with positive content rather than to fight it directly. When you generate any positive content, like your branded assets, you should create a separate link campaign around that entity specifically. By doing this, not only will you have great content to combat the vitriolic website but you also have the potential to push its rank down even further.

If time is of the essence, the above method might not be the desired battle tactic. In this situation, it’s best to bring out the big guns – press releases.

Be forewarned, this method will likely cost you (there’s only so much you can achieve with free to use article syndication websites). The question is, how much is your online reputation worth to you?

Paid press releases from trusted websites are awesome. They represent online reputation wizardry at its finest.

What is the immediate effect of this attack?

This will determine the time factor and resource allocation. If the attack is happening within your own digital assets, then the effects will be immediate as they will be directly exposed to other loyal customers and patrons. In this situation, create an influx of positive content throughout your social media profiles. You should also be providing a clear, objective response to the customers directly otherwise they’re just going to keep dropping bombs on you.

Only moderate the content if it is inappropriate. Do not delete any objectionable comments that are written logically and reasonably otherwise this may be seen as a conceited action by other customers who may not have been involved in the first place (remember, it’s a public domain and every action can be seen).

If the attack is occurring via an external domain, the tone of the complaint should dictate the urgency. For example, if the website being ranked happens to be a blog detailing a negative customer experience and is not a visceral attack on your brand then the best thing to do in this situation is to comment publicly on the blog. This will bide you enough time to slowly but steadily work that blog off the first page for your branded search term. Conversely, if the external domain is screaming bloody murder about your business, then you might want to look at something more immediate.

Feeling a little bit overwhelmed? The web does present you with a lot of options for managing your online reputation, and believe it or not we’ve merely scratched the surface. If you’re yet to discover your presence on the web, now is the time to start searching. If your reputation is squeaky clean, now’s the time to put your contingency plan into practice – create a branded blog and get building. Good luck!

Need to seek some advice about the online reputation of your business or personal profile? Contact us, we’re happy to help.