Do you have internet cred?

A business’s online reputation is their reputation, made instantly accessible by the ease of internet search. With 97% of consumers going online to research a local product or service, Google’s first page of search results may as well be your business card. There’s no separating the digital world with customer experiences, no matter where they occur. So whether information comes from your company’s website, customer reviews, or a hasty tweet, it lives online forever.

While you can generally control what your business projects on and offline, it’s not as easy to control what others are saying about you. This is, of course, how the industry of online reputation management was born, and why search engine optimization plays such a huge role in it.

Whether your business is big or small, these five tips will get you started on the right path in the realm of reputation management.

1. Have a Website & Blog

It seems like a no-brainer in 2014, but having a website is mandatory. As a business owner, you need a place to control your messaging, humanize your brand, gain credibility, and be found online. Once you have the basics up, start blogging. A well-written, frequently-updated blog establishes your business an industry expert, promotes a brand voice, and provides enormous benefit in drawing more traffic from search engines. Platforms like WordPress make blogging easier than ever, with a simple interface and iOS/Android apps to make writing new content even more manageable.

2. Claim Your Business’s Google My Business (GMB) Page (https://www.google.com/business)

Search for a local service on Google. What you will most likely find is a collection of results with addresses, phone numbers, reviews, and a Google+ page. If your business has been around for any length of time, chances are Google has automatically generated one of these pages for you. After you have claimed your page, you can make sure your name, address, and phone number are correct, respond to reviewers, edit business categories to make sure they’re as accurate as possible, visually brand the page, and more. Aside from having a website, having access to your company’s GMB page is one of the most powerful tools you can use to dictate how your business is found in local search.

3. You Catch More Flies with Honey

In a world where reviews can seemingly make or break your business, it’s natural to want as many good customer testimonials as possible. Don’t strong-arm your customers into giving you a positive review – it will backfire.

Don’t believe me? Look at what happened to Union Street Guest House, a small boutique hotel doubling as a wedding venue in upstate New York. Desperate to avoid negative reviews, the hotel’s management created a policy where $500 would be deducted from a guest’s deposit for each negative review left on “any internet site,” written by any “anyone in your party.” Just Google “Union Street Guest House,” and you can see what happened to their reviews. Whoops.

While this is an extreme case, the lesson remains the same. If you want positive reviews, earn them. Deliver the highest level of customer service. Be transparent. Be honest. Simply put, don’t be a jerk.

4. Get Social

Another seemingly big no-brainer, but create Facebook and Twitter accounts for your business, and maintain them. No matter the industry, engaging with your customers is almost never a bad thing, assuming it’s done professionally. If you have a frozen yogurt shop, use Facebook and Twitter to broadcast your daily flavors. If you’re a personal injury attorney, share some tips on safe driving in winter conditions. Let your customers get to know your brand. Be human, but always follow the golden rule: don’t be a jerk.

5. Be Consistent

Customers and search engines alike care a whole lot about consistency, especially name, address, and phone number consistency. Ensure your business name, address, and phone number are identical across all platforms — your website, social networking accounts, business cards, any internet directories your business is in, and so on.

It’s common sense, but inconsistencies across the internet can cause huge problems for a business, especially if you have moved, changed numbers, or changed company names altogether. You don’t want a Google search for your business pulling up the wrong address or phone number, resulting in customer confusion, or worse, lost customers altogether. If you’re curious how your business contact information appears online, Moz Local will tell you everything you need to know. If it doesn’t look so good, you can pay Moz $50 to fix it, or go resolve any problems manually yourself.

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