June 25, 2012, 12:09 PM — As a small-business owner, you're no doubt aware that virtually everyone turns to the Internet to conduct research before buying goods or services. And on the Web, your business is only as good as everyone says it is. In 2011, Inc. magazine reported that 97% of consumers used online searches to find local businesses. The information about your business that's available on the Web is absolutely critical. If you're not keeping a close eye on your company's online reputation, you might as well hang up a "Sorry, We're Closed" sign.
Online reputation management is a growing field, one that is tightly related to search engine optimization. In both cases the tactics tend to be the same, requiring you to monitor and act on search results to improve your online standing. With SEO, the goal is to make your website rise to the top. With ORM, you're not necessarily concerned about helping your own website rank highly in search results; rather, you want to ensure that positive information and commentary about your business ranks higher than anything negative--no matter who said it.
It's a subtle difference that requires greater and more complicated interaction with a larger range of online constituents. ORM is so important that Google offers a dedicated page with its own advice. In the sections that follow, I'll cover Google's basic tips--and a lot more. I'll also provide brief reviews of a variety of tools and services that can help you tackle the job.
Start With Search
Any online reputation management process begins with a search, so that you can set a baseline for how much attention you need to give the process and how much action you'll have to take. Start by searching for your business using a wide net. For example, if your business is named XYZ Widgets, Inc., and is based in Dubuque, you'll want to try each of the following search terms: