Reputation Management may sound like a big business process that your small business doesn’t have to worry about but that just isn’t true. In your industry there may be larger businesses greater selection, lower prices, and big ad budgets, but your small business can dominate your local market with proper reputation management.
Managing your online reviews and ratings is vital to the health and growth of your small business.
Word-of-mouth has gone from in person conversations to worldwide broadcast as consumers have begun to rely on internet research to make their purchasing decisions. You can spend big bucks on developing your marketing message and buying advertising but thrifty internet-savvy buyers trust customer reviews much more than any ad copy you can produce.
When you know how to manage your online reputation and your prepared to handle any negative interactions before they influence future customers you can greatly benefit from buyer’s market that is heavily reliant on online reviews and ratings. And you don’t need to be a professional marketer or webmaster to create and sustain and winning reputation. You just need to know how to create a strong foundation for your online presence, and how to build a five-star reputation by gathering, monitoring, and promoting your customer reviews.
Tips for Pro-Level Reputation Management for Local Small Businesses
1. Provide a Great Product and Stellar Customer Service
Customer reviews generally cover only two things: Product Quality/Performance and Customer Service. We’ll assume you have a great product or service that customers would want to buy if they knew about it. (If not go back to square one and get that as good as it can profitably be.) So let’s focus on customer service because that is something you should be continuously improving upon.
Knowing the customer experience is necessary to providing great customer service. Get personalized feedback from your customers and from your employees. Learn industry best practices and implement changes where improvements are needed. Make it easy for the customer to get to know you as the business owner to build trust. And this is probably the most important – Hire and Retain Employees Who Care.
2. Have a Search Engine Optimized, Customer Friendly and Mobile Ready Website
Your website is the beacon that brings in new customers. Everyone (save about 9% of Americans) uses their mobile device at some point to look for information on local businesses so it is a must that you have a responsive website that modifies its appearance to look good on any device. Plus, Google said if your website isn’t mobile friendly they aren’t ranking it in internet search results which makes your business basically non-existent online.
User experience is also important, but often neglected. This is a big mistake because if your website isn’t fast loading, easy to navigate, and even easier to read people will not stay on your website long enough to do get the information they were looking for. Especially not when they have hundreds of other websites one click away that provide exactly the same service or product. Design your website around the customer experience and you’ll see an increase in both new customers and customer retention.
3. Create and Manage Your Search Engine Business Profile
Not only do customers use search engines to find new products and providers, they also trust the ratings and reviews that are displayed in search results to help them pick the best match for their search. Your business should claim and fill out completely your business profiles on Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. This not only helps you rank higher in their respective search results, it gives search engines users a high-profile location to leave reviews for your business. Plus, it enables your business appear on maps and local listings that are highlighted on search results pages.
4. Manage Your Online Business Listings
Your online business listings make your business visible online to both search engines like Google and customers searching online for your address and phone number. When your business does not have a strong online presence search engines are pulling your information from these online business listings to verify you are a legitimate business and to provide accurate location and contact information to their search engine users.
You’ll need to create and accurately fill in your business listings on trusted online directories. There are hundreds of these directories and you can do this manually. But a better way to ensure that these important listings are accurate, consistent and where they need to be is to automate the process with low cost services that automate the management of your business listings like Reputation Loop’s Listings Management service.
5. Claim and Optimize All Relevant Social Media and Review Site Profiles
Building a healthy social media presence on the social networks your customers use is a powerful and effective marketing tactic that any small business can benefit from. But if you don’t have the time and know-how, or just aren’t ready to start, you still need to participate on a basic level. At a minimum protect your future social media efforts and your online reputation by claiming your business and personal names on social media sites. Use a photo or your logo, write a brief one or two sentence description and fully register your business on the major sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Then consider what social networks impact your industry, and register on those as well.
The same way social media sites help small businesses be found online, review and local sites show up high in search engine rankings, providing more exposure for your business. Claim your profiles on these high traffic sites like
Google My Business, Yelp, and Angie’s List. Provide your locations, photos, business hours, description of your services, payment options and categories to provide all your information to potential customers and build citations for your business.
6. Manage Personal Reputations Tied to Your Business
You and your employees represent your business offline and online. Behavior and commentary not suitable at work, may seem less harmful online but in fact the opposite is true. Once an unflattering photo is posted or an offensive comment is made it lives forever on the internet and can cast a shadow on your business. Avoid ethical dilemmas, negative associations, and embarrassment by having a written and signed social media and online policy for all employees. Keep it simple by clearly defining to do’s and don’ts, and the consequences of not following the guidelines. Also be sure to include instructions on the use of disclaimers, copyright laws, as well as the importance of maintaining privacy of others and the disclosure of confidential information.
7. Actively Gather Feedback and Promote Your Best Reviews
To manage your online reputation, you need to know what customers think about your business before they post reviews online. You do this by proactively seeking feedback from customers. When you know what your customers have to say about your business you are able to resolve issues quickly and encourage happy customers to post their good reviews on the business profiles that matter to you most.
Getting feedback from your customers can be done in a variety of ways. You can use comment cards, emails, or even links on your website sending customers to your Yelp or Google profiles. Develop a system that lets your customers know that you want their feedback and gives them an incredibly easy way to provide it. With a reputation management system like Reputation Loop you can set up an almost hands-free system that contacts your customers via email soon after purchase to get their feedback. Positive feedback is routed to the most impactful review sites for posting and less than stellar feedback is routed back to the business for special handling to resolve issues.
8. Have a Plan for Handling Negative Feedback and Reviews
Negative reviews and comments that show up online should be addressed immediately. If you feel they highlight actual problems with your business, take the time to respond both publicly on the review and privately with the customer through email to make it right. This allows you not only to lessen the impact of that review, but also provides the opportunity to correct an issue or satisfy a dissatisfied customer. Fast and thoughtful customer-centered responses to less-than-positive reviews show future customers that you care about their experience and value their feedback as a way to improve your business.
9. Create Positive Online Links with Consistent Blogging
Maintaining a blog that reflects your business brand and standards helps to establish a positive online reputation and builds up your web presence. This supports your legitimacy as a respected business, and helps to establish your expertise in your community and your industry. Consistently blogging high-quality, relevant content is important to building your online presence, but note that proper search engine optimization is key. Blogs are easy to set up, become more powerful for you the longer and more you use it, and they rank well in Google – all at little to no costs.
Beyond providing links for content marketing that help customers find your website when they are searching the internet for solutions to their problems and places to spend their money, effective blogging ensures that content, images and web pages you control occupy the valuable space of the first pages of search results when people search your business by name.
10. Know What is Online So You Can Optimize Your Online Reputation
To create an effective reputation management plan you need to research and monitor your own online reputation. Use the Local Score grader below to search the most important business listings and customer review sites so you know where your business online presence is shining bright and where you can implement a plan for improvements today.
Edward Kundahl, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Ed can be reached at (or visit his websites)
855-943-8736 ext. 101