Is Your Online Reputation Helping You To Make Sales… Or Ruining Them?
As recently as a few years ago, online marketing was generally thought of as a fairly simple set of campaigns and activities. If you didn’t have search engine optimization (SEO) to rank highly on Google, ran targeted pay-per-click (PPC) ads, and reached out to existing customers through email, you were almost always going to be in good shape.
Some of those formulations have changed, though, as the internet has grown and the steps involved have gotten to be more complex. In particular, business owners and executives are paying more attention than ever to online reputation management – the art of ensuring you get good word-of-mouth advertising over the internet.
This makes perfect sense if you take a step back and look at the web from a distance. It’s easier than ever to find the products and services you’re looking for online, but there is also a greater risk of making a wrong decision or falling for slick marketing that’s less than accurate. So, buyers are becoming more savvy and are essentially using centuries-old tricks in a new way.
In this article we want to look at the ins and outs of online reputation management. And, we want to help you understand whether yours is pushing customers to work with you or scaring them away. To get to the answers we need, let’s start at the top…
What Happens Between a Website Visit and a Conversion
Suppose for a moment that you attract a potential customer to your website through Google, paid ads, or some other source. Your hope might be that they’ll see your information, decide you have the solutions they are looking for, and take the next step (which could involve picking up the phone, visiting your retail store, etc.).
That basic outline of activities will probably work for you, but it isn’t complete. That’s because, more and more, buyers are taking an extra step in between. Namely, they are turning to Google, Facebook, and other sites to check out reviews for companies, products, and professionals before they decide to do business with them.
This is a reality of modern online marketing that’s often overlooked during the planning stages. At the same time, most of us are very familiar with this dynamic because we tend to research our own purchasing decisions before following through with them. We feel better when we’ve gotten a recommendation from a friend, or at least done our homework in the form of reading reviews, before we commit our money.
This additional step in the buying process highlights the importance of your online reputation. When customers find nothing but praise and positive reviews for your business and its products or services, they are encouraged to keep moving ahead. However, if what they see gives them reason to posit, you’ll have a hard time overcoming those first impressions. In fact, they may not go ahead with the sale at all, even if they like everything else they have seen.
Where Your Online Reputation Lives
Having looked at the importance of your online reputation, let’s take a look at what it actually is. After all, it isn’t as if all of your potential customers are going to go to the same websites. Some of them carry more weight and value than others.
As a good rule of thumb, anything that shows up on the first page of Google’s search results (particularly if the search is for your business, product name, or the name of the owner or an employee) is going to carry a huge amount of weight. Most buyers are going to make at least a quick inquiry before they finish a purchase over the internet, for example, or schedule an appointment. So, your own website, mentions of your company in the popular press, and even highly-optimized blog posts can factor into your marketing potential.
At the same time, there are certain platforms people go to specifically because they post reviews. Google’s business pages would fall into this category, for example, as would profiles on Yelp or TripAdvisor. A buyer who is thinking about doing business with you might turn to one of these platforms just to see what other customers have thought.
Social media platforms are increasingly important in the same way. If you have a business page on Facebook or LinkedIn, for example, there’s a good chance some customers are going to check that out. That’s especially likely to happen if they know others in their personal or professional networks who have worked with you.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that all of these factors aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, a LinkedIn profile for your company (or specific employee) may show up on the first page of Google. So, in that way, it’s adding to your online reputation twice.
How to Establish and Improve Your Online Reputation
So, how do you establish the kind of online reputation that makes customers want to work with you instead of your competitors? Or at the very least, how can you prevent a few poor reviews from dissatisfied buyers from undermining your SEO, PPC, and social media campaigns?
The first step is to ensure your business has profiles on all the right platforms. That means complete, professional, and up-to-date information on Facebook, Google Business, Yelp, and any other platform a potential buyer is likely to view before making a decision about where to spend their money.
Once you know your business is visible in the right places, you need to assess what kind of feedback has already been posted on the web. That could mean crawling through old reviews, webpages that have been online for years, and even old social posts. Luckily, there are automated tools you can use to both dig up older pieces of content and monitor all the major social channels and review sites for new ones. The point in the beginning, though, is to know what customers are seeing when they look you up now.
With that information in hand, you have two final tests in front of you. The first is to deal with any negative feedback that may be floating around on the web. You can do that by giving an owner response to what’s been written, pointing out that your company has changed policies or managers, or even disputing reviews that seem to contain incorrect information. Most review sites (like Yelp) are very hesitant to take away customer feedback, but they’ll usually do it if you can prove the reviews aren’t accurate.
Finally, the most important thing you can do to improve your online reputation and profit from it, is to encourage your best customers to say good things about your business. Not only will newer reviews display more prominently than older ones, but customers pay more attention to specific feedback than they do a few generally negative comments.
In other words, the more good things you have people saying about your business, the easier it is to make the right impression on new buyers. Once that happens you have the kind of word-of-mouth advertising that’s nearly impossible to buy. Then, all your other marketing advertising campaigns will seem to become more profitable and effective almost overnight.
Need Help Turning These Ideas Into Sales?
It’s one thing to know the general concepts behind a strong online marketing plan, and a whole other thing to actually put them into practice. If you are ready to take the next step and make your website a source of leads, sales, and customer interest, it’s time to get the right creative team working on your side.
About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.