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Imagine for a moment that you drove by a new restaurant and thought it looked interesting, or got the business card of an accountant you were considering working with. What would your next step be?

If you’re like most people, your first instinct wouldn’t be to immediately make a reservation or appointment. Instead, you would likely go online to read a few reviews and see what other customers or clients and thought first.

Increasingly, consumers are looking for informed feedback before making purchases with new companies or vendors. That’s true even for relatively minor buying decisions. In fact, one Forbes study estimated that nearly 9 out of every 10 customers would go online to view opinions before deciding where to spend their money.

This is something most of us do in our personal and professional lives, of course, but all too often we fall into the trap of thinking like marketers instead of buyers. Perhaps that’s why so many small business owners overlook the power of having a positive or negative online reputation.

The things that have been written and said about your business on the internet matter a lot.

When previous buyers (not to mention employees, vendors, and colleagues) say lots of good things about your company, your team, or your value, it’s easy for new customers to decide to give you a shot. However, when your online reputation is negative, no amount of marketing hype can convince them they won’t have a bad experience.

That’s the reality of our modern digital world. Word‐of‐mouth advertising has gone online, and it can make or break your company. So, how do you improve your online reputation? Here are some basic steps you can follow starting today…

Know What Your Online Review Profile Looks Like

Even though business owners all know what it’s like to look up online reviews, oddly enough, many of them aren’t even aware of what others are saying about their own companies. Again, this is a natural consequence of having a blind spot when you put your focus too squarely on your own goals and motivations.

For that reason, a great first step towards improving your online reputation is to simply go on to websites like Google, Facebook, and Yelp and search your own name. You’ll also want to look up your company’s name, along with any major products or brands you offer. What you find might surprise you, particularly if you go past the first few pages of results.

Take Steps to Fix What Isn’t Working

Often, during the process of looking through online reviews and other feedback, business owners will come across something that is both surprising and unpleasant. Usually, it’s a review they weren’t aware of that isn’t exactly flattering. When that happens, their first instinct is to dispute the review or write something negative about the person who left it.

Those are understandable impulses, but we would advise you to simply take note of the criticism for the moment. You’ll come back to it later, but your first priority should be to decide whether the feedback is accurate, and if it is shared by other previous customers. In other words, if lots of people are saying the same negative things about your company, you’re better off fixing the underlying problem with your business then you are arguing over their opinions.

Minimize Negative Reviews

Assuming you don’t have any major underlying issues to deal with, or have taken care of them, then it’s time to move on to the negative reviews themselves. As a rule of thumb, you have two good options for any feedback left on a major review site like Yelp: to respond, or have the review taken away.

It can be very difficult to convince an editor/webmaster to remove a negative review for your business, particularly if it seems to be valid. It’s possible to have a review taken down in cases where you suspect fraud (for example, negative reviews from a competitor) or that a customer has confused your business for another one. However, these situations are rare.

The more reliable option is to simply respond to a negative review, politely, with your side of the story. Explain to potential buyers what happened, apologize for a mistake (if applicable), or just promise to do better in the future. This at least gives buyers another perspective to consider, and it shows that you care about customer satisfaction.

Start Monitoring Your Online Reputation

Finding out about your online reputation isn’t something you should only do once. In fact, after you’ve done an initial check for posted reviews yourself, it’s a good idea to sign up for an automated service that will help you stay on top of any mention of your business on the internet.

These services (which you can sign up for through a good web design partner) cost very little on a monthly or yearly basis. What they give you in return, though, is enormous – the peace of mind that comes with knowing what is being said about your business when you aren’t looking.

Encourage Your Customers to Speak Up

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to keep every customer happy or avoid every unpleasant review. After all, dissatisfied buyers are the ones who are most likely to share their feedback with the world in the first place. So, your online reputation is never going to be perfect.

With that being said, what smart marketers do is employ the kinds of tools we have mentioned to not only monitor their online reviews but actively encourage happy customers to say good things. This has the effect of “drowning out” the rare lackluster review with lots of positive ones. The more you have happy buyers saying great things about your business, the more your business will grow. Just remember that this positive cycle won’t start by itself. You and your online marketing team have to make it happen.

Are You Getting Top‐Shelf Online Marketing Advice?

If you aren’t sure your online reputation as a strong as it could be, or just have a sense that you’d like to get more from your marketing strategy, it could be time to look for better advice.

The business growth experts at Maxburst, with office in New York City and Long Island, know how to turn your budget, goals, and challenges into real‐world results. Contact us today to schedule a comprehensive Web Design and SEO Marketing consultation and see what we’ve been able to do for other business owners just like you!