The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Online Reputation Management
If you’re building a business, you’re already juggling more circus scarves than one clown should rightfully have in the air at one time. But if there’s one thing you can’t forget as a business owner, it’s your online footprint.
The reality is that we live in a search-happy world. Before anyone decides to do business with you, they first look you up online. And what they find can have a huge impact, for better or for worse.
The latest research suggests that businesses risk losing 22% of business when potential customers find a negative article on their first page of search results. That number increases to 44% lost business with two negative articles, and 59% with three negative articles.
Don’t wait until your online reputation is a mess before you decide to take care of it. Here is everything you need to know about managing your online presence as an entrepreneur. And when you’re done here, head over to our reputation management guide to take things a step further.
Clean up your current situation.
First, give yourself a good Google to see what you’re working with. Scroll through your images and scan the first few pages of results to find the irrelevant and negative content you’re up against.
Old party pictures showing up? Go ahead and delete them now, if you can. Embarrassing status updates? Review your entire social media history using BrandYourself’s Social Scanner, which uses machine learning and natural language processing to flag any potentially damaging or controversial updates. Once your social media feeds are clean, you can make them public in good conscience.
Build a personal website.
Don’t underestimate the power of a personal website. It serves as a central hub of information about you when clients, employees, and investors look you up online. There’s no better way to control your digital narrative and highlight what’s most important and impressive.
For entrepreneurs, a personal website can be especially important. You won’t be tied to one project or company for the rest of your life and a personal website gives you a digital platform to build identity capital as you progress from business to business.
Here are the most important elements of a personal website:
- A website with your full name in the URL is ideal for ranking high in your search results (like RyanErskine.com).
- Include an About page, with a bio all about you. Make sure to write this from a 3rd-person perspective, with your full name used naturally throughout to maximize its chances of ranking in search results long-term. Google doesn’t know who “I” am, but it definitely knows your full name.
- Add an active element to your site. By this, I mean a news section, a press page, and/or a blog. An active website is important for showing visitors (and Google) that the site is an accurate and up-to-date reflection of you. This makes it credible for your visitors, and much more likely to rank in search results.
- Include a call to action. Do you want people to read your blog? Sign up for your newsletter? Buy your product? Give you a call? Whatever your desired call-to-action, make it obvious to increase the likelihood of your visitors converting the way you’d like.
- Make it easy to contact you. That doesn’t mean you need to give out your private email address. You can have a contact form or direct people to your preferred social media channels. Just don’t make it impossible for people to contact you — you never know what opportunities you may be leaving on the table.
It probably goes without saying, but don’t forget to build a website for your company while you’re at it. Clients, employees, and investors are Googling you and your business before they decide to work with you. A strong website shows them you mean business, and you never make a first impression twice.
Reserve your name (and your business’ name) on social media
There are 10 results on the first page of Google results. So even if you push your website to the #1 position in search results, there are still 9 other properties you need to worry about to take control of your first page.
My suggestion? Reserve your name on the most authoritative social media channels. Yes, that means classic ones like Twitter and Linkedin, but also lesser-known profiles like Quora, Slideshare, and Crunchbase. And don’t go for a goofy username either — use the name that people know you by and will search for online. If your name is taken, do your best (e.g., twitter.com/ryanersk).
“I don’t have time for social media,” you say. “I have a business to run!”
Look, it doesn’t matter if you’re in B2C, B2B, or B2 whatever. If people care about your product or service, they are going to look you up online. And social media is one of the first places they look because it offers a digital window into your life, your company and its operations.
Social media can also be a terrific way to drive leads, generate awareness for your company, and attract potential investors and employees. So go ahead and reserve your company’s name on the top social media channels before someone else snatches them up. Think of it like digital insurance.
When you’re done creating social media profiles for yourself and your business, don’t forget to optimize them for maximum SEO value. My best tip? Fill out as much of each profile as you possibly can.
Provide value, consistently.
To take control of your search results, you have to prove to Google that your web properties are more valuable than anything else that’s ranking for your name. The way you prove that is the same way you grow an organic audience for your business online — by providing legitimate value to people, over and over again.
The specifics of your strategy will depend on the channel. Helpful content on Youtube looks much different than the content on Twitter or Facebook. Articles on your blog might be different than the ones you share on LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. Spend a few minutes searching around to get a scope of the landscape before you dive right in. Digital conversations are just like real ones — the key is to start by listening.
The good news is that coming up with an effective content strategy is not as complicated as you might think. Once you clearly identify your audience and your message, the topics should start to flow naturally. Just don’t forget to write them all down — you want them readily available when you’re ready to write.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, here are a few questions to get you started:
- What is a trend or innovation in your industry that makes you excited, worried, or angry?
- What are the biggest challenges in your industry? This is the birth of the “How to…” blog post.
- What question do your clients ask you the most? What do you wish they knew before coming to you?
Claim and verify your Google listing
Ever wonder how some businesses get their website, address and hours of operation on the right-hand column of their Google results? A big component of that is your Google listing.
By claiming and verifying your business with Google, you build your business’s credibility and help potential customers find more about you online. Perhaps more importantly, you ensure that the information they find is correct and up-to-date!
A verified Google listing also gives your business the opportunity to appear across Google Search, Maps, and other Google applications. It takes 5 minutes to sign up, so just go and do that now. I’ll be here when you get back.
Manage online reviews.
Considering that 92% of people hesitate to do business with companies with less than four out of five stars, your reviews are certainly worth your attention (source: BrightLocal, 2014).
As a business owner, there are two main types of reviews you need to worry about: employee reviews and customer reviews.
Employee reviews have the most impact on Glassdoor, where employees leave anonymous feedback on salaries, company pros/cons, and CEO likability. There is plenty you can do to fill out your Glassdoor profile and make it look more inviting for potential employees but the only way to improve your rating is to get more happy employees to leave you positive reviews.
Customer reviews are a slightly different beast. You can begin generating more positive reviews by putting a call to action in your email signature, on your website, or even in your store’s window. But ultimately, it comes down to encouraging your customers to get active on online review sites. Here’s everything you need to know about developing and implementing a 5-star review management strategy.
Public Relations and Third-Party Credibility
Credibility comes not only from having you say you’re great, but having other people say it too.That’s where digital PR comes into play.
One way to do this is by contributing thought leadership articles to top tier publications. Sure, they’re still your own words, but there is level of implied credibility that comes with having your content published on authoritative publications. Plus, once you’ve contributed to the same publication for a while, it’s almost a guarantee that your author profile will rank at the top of your search results. Win-win.
Another way to earn third-party credibility is by earning quotes and mentions in those same top tier publications. The best way to do this is to develop relationships with journalists and editors so you can pitch them stories and make yourself available when they’re writing pieces about your industry. This is time-consuming and difficult, which is why PR firms make a killing. If you’re looking to just dip your toes in the PR waters, then consider trying out HARO. It’s a platform where journalists from a range of publications give a shout when they need an expert’s insight in a particular field or industry.
Lastly, consider applying for industry awards. Have you ever wondered how some businesses and business owners seem to win all those great awards? Of course, you need to be doing great work to stand out from the competition, but for most awards you need to actually apply to be considered in the first place!
I recommend making yourself a list of the top awards you want to apply to throughout the year. Mark down the application fees, deadlines, and requirements, and set it all up on your calendar so you don’t miss a beat.
Ryan Erskine is a Senior Brand Strategist at BrandYourself. Visit his website, follow him on Twitter, and read his book here.