Roughly 80 percent of online shoppers use reviews and online research to influence their buying decisions; but it’s not just products and restaurants we use reviews for. Everything from babysitters to contractors to potential employers are usually vetted online. In the digital world, where everyone with a smartphone can quickly Google any venue, product, company, or person, our online reputations matter. And they matter a lot.

They can quickly sink a company that doesn’t provide great customer service. They can keep applicants from getting jobs. Microsoft even released a detailed study about how online reputations affect an applicant’s job prospects, and most companies require that applicants be researched online before making a hiring decision.

Companies have a lot of options when it comes to protecting their online reputation, but it’s unfortunately true that many don’t consider such options until after the worst has already happened and they’re actively losing sales. But how can you protect your online reputation?

Google Yourself

When’s the last time you Googled your brand, your name, or your contact details? You should do this regularly, just so that you’re aware of what information is available about yourself. And some websites, like Spokeo, have built reputations on being able to display difficult-to-get information on individuals and businesses. If you find that there’s not much information, or that everything that search engines turn back is acceptable, you’ve got nothing to worry about… so long as you take the time to check back every now and then.

Define Critical Issues

If you turn up some negative results, you’ll need to prioritize what are the most important for you to address, that way you don’t get overwhelmed. In some cases, this might be as simple as addressing them from the top to the bottom in search results; but depending on what you see, you might decide that specific instances are more critical issues. In this case, critical issues are usually the ones which you determine are most detrimental to you or your business.

Since getting negative information removed can take some time, it’s usually ideal for you to create a list or spreadsheet of items to address, placing the critical issues up at the top. Note the site name, and the url which displays the information you need to have removed. This way you can delete or check off items once they’re confirmed to have been removed.

Getting Negative Information Changed

In some cases, the pages which display your information will have a simple opt-out button or link at the footer of the page, where you can request that your information be removed. Though the simplest way to address negative information, this is often also the least likely scenario. In other cases, you will need to manually send request to the website using their contact form.

And in some cases, like Yelp and other review sites, they will not remove negative information. Instead, your only option is to respond directly to comments. Wherever possible, it’s advisable to directly respond to negative comments, politely apologizing and asking what you can do to improve the experience. This ensure that any who see the negative comment also see your attempt to handle the situation amenably.

The Bottom Line

A bad online reputation— or even a mediocre one– can significantly hurt businesses, and can cause a significant reduction of traffic, sales, and visits. This is true even if those poor reviews aren’t from legitimate clients and were planted by rival companies and competitors. When so many consumers use the internet to vet businesses (and people!), it’s important to protect your online reputation.
Luckily, there are a few easy ways you can do this, including asking companies to take down review pages, removing spam reviews, and even responding to bad reviews. When your personal information is disclosed on websites, often those websites will be obligated to remove it at your request. But you should also look critically at your internet habits, and try to reduce the likelihood of your personal information, identifying statements, or social media profiles can be publicly seen and accessed.

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