Is your business's reputation failing? Here's how to choose the best online reputation management service to save your brand.
Reputations can be damaged by poor reviews, deliberate attacks or even mistaken identity. Online reputation management services work to repair damaged images, protect brand reputations from harm and actively promote positive brand images. The right ORM firm can help you clean up your business's online image. Before hiring an ORM company, though, you should determine why you need or want one.
What is online reputation management (ORM)?
An online reputation management service is designed to help a business repair a poor reputation and/or maintain a good one, building an online persona that projects a positive and accurate image of the company. There are many ways an ORM can go about this: It can create positive content through blog posts and microsites, or freshen your social media feeds and online reviews with positive feedback about your product or service.
ORM companies offer a wide range of services, such as reviewing your SEO, managing your customer complaints and reviews, and monitoring your social media. Some services excel at promoting individuals, while others are better at handling company complaints. Some are best at search engine optimization and content creation, which can get your website to the top of search engine rankings. Knowing what you want helps you pick the right company for you.
Why is ORM important?
An ORM service can help you protect your brand in times of a public relations crisis. You can also use it to improve your general appearance online, removing inaccurate negative content and elevating positive content related to your brand.
In the age of the internet, it's easy to publicize bad news, and bad news spreads more easily than good news. Even worse, people don't get the whole story – if the story is true, what the circumstances were, and what the company has done since. Therefore, it's vital to make sure the good or neutral news about your company gets to the top of search engine rankings and that you have a strong and positive social media presence.
What should you expect from your ORM service?
Regardless of the issue you are facing, you should expect any ORM firm to spend time discussing your reputation with you. It should also analyze your online presence and come up with a plan of action. You should be apprised every step of the way and have input into the steps taken. The most common tactics of an ORM focus on burying the negative information with positive or neutral information that shows up higher in a search, providing a way for you to see and address complaints quickly, and keeping up a flow of positive feedback and information. Once your good reputation has been established, ORM services should provide advice, means or active monitoring to ensure your brand image remains stable and good. Naturally, they charge for this maintenance period as well.
The best ORM services do this through honest methods – i.e., white hat tactics. Beware of those that employ black hat tactics, which include keyword stuffing and publishing fake or inauthentic reviews.
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What services does an ORM company offer?
There are several ways your ORM can help you repair a poor reputation and sustain a positive one. Here are a few services ORMs offer to help keep your company's name clean.
Before an ORM company can assess how to help build your brand, it must understand your current image. These firms examine your company's website, any blog posts that mention your business's name, both your positive and negative reviews, and other web content related to your brand. This analysis gives them a sense of what they're working with so they can create the best strategy for your business.
Your ORM service fills the online world with positive content to benefit your brand, which can include microsites, articles, press releases and videos. The goal of this service is to represent your business in a positive light all over the web.
Search engine optimization
SEO is crucial because it helps search engines recognize your business. These services ensure your content has the proper keywords, headlines and metadata that apply to your target audience. This tells search engines like Google that your content is important to readers and pushes it to the top of the search engine results page for related keywords and phrases.
Online review management
An ORM company can both acquire and manage your online reviews for you. With this service, your ORM team creates strategies that encourage users to leave positive reviews for your company, and then manages your customers' reviews when they come in.
Responding to customers is an important part of review management. When your business receives a negative review, your ORM team will respond and address any issues. When customers leave positive reviews, the reputation management service responds quickly to thank them, which shows customers you value their feedback and don't only care about responding to customers who complain.
Social media management
Social media management is the practice of ensuring your presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is at its best. This service helps your company put its best foot forward by keeping your profiles up to date and filled with engaging content. ORMs also use social listening techniques to see what's being said about your brand on social media.
ORMs offer several services to help your business out of reputation crises, such as putting out press releases, writing social media statements and booking interviews for you. They can also help you respond proactively if a PR crisis impacts your brand. Their PR plans can keep negativity about your brand from spreading and position your brand as trustworthy and accountable.
An ORM company will examine and track what is said about your business online. As part of the online monitoring, your ORM service addresses the most common complaints and issues facing your brand, while developing strategies to address those issues moving forward.
Pricing for online reputation management
Very few ORM services offer packages with predetermined pricing, because the work they do depends on your needs and the extent of the damage to your reputation. Therefore, they provide a proposal based on the issues they find and the steps they need to take. You can expect ORM services to want a contract of six or more months, because it might take that long to see if their efforts are working. You can also expect that the first month or two will be more expensive or that the company will ask for an upfront fee, as the early weeks require the most work.
How to choose an ORM company
Few online reputation management companies offer references; after all, they were hired to protect the company's rep, not stir up the past. Some may have references who have agreed to share their stories, while some provide case studies with identifying information redacted. If you learn of another brand the ORM has helped, don't just call the ORM to ask about it; look up the client company to see how well the ORM's work has stuck. Does the company occupy the top spots in the relevant search engine results? Can you see complaints about it on that first page? If the ORM service provided online content for the client, read the stories to see if they are useful or just full of keywords (a bad idea, given the sophistication of search engines now).
The proposal begins with an analysis of your online presence – the positive, negative and neutral information that comes up in web searches for not only your company name, but keywords that might bring up your company. Verify that the ORM takes similar but unrelated links into account – a reputation score won't mean much if it includes results of your company name as a word found in Google Books.
The ORM checks your ratings on business complaint sites and may look at social media to gauge what is being said about your brand. It also looks at your own online properties, such as your website and social media accounts, to see how well they rank in searches and assess the quality of your posts.
The proposal next identifies the key issues and provides recommendations. Here, you want to look for personalization. Does this part of the report specifically reference its findings or list generic services?
Watch out for promises in the proposal. No ORM service can guarantee results; there are too many variables it cannot control. What it can guarantee are its actions. So, if the firm says, "We'll have you ranking in the top three spots in six months," go elsewhere. Rather, look for wording such as "we will provide X pieces of content" or "we will set up this venue for fielding complaints."
Also look out for black hat practices. "Black hat" refers to shady techniques used to trick search engines. Google lists these tactics that will cause your site to be penalized in search results:
- Keyword stuffing: Plugging in the same keywords repeatedly, regardless of sentence flow
- Content scraping: Copying content from other sites to use on yours
- Artificial backlinks: Creating websites whose purpose is only to link to your site
- Click manipulation: Using programs or employees to click to and around your website to make it look like more people are visiting
- Invisible text: Keywords in the text but in the same color as the background
- Fake websites or content: Making websites or social media accounts just to flood the search engine with positive content
Some of these practices worked in the past, but search engines are smarter and focus on useful content now. ORMs that use these tactics are behind the times at best. Look for companies that can provide useful, information-rich content for your customers. Other objectional practices target the complaints themselves:
- Intimidation: A company should never threaten legal action if a complaint is not removed. Most reputable complaint sites ignore these.
- Site sabotage: This means using hacking, spambots and denial-of-service attacks to hurt websites or content that speak negatively of your brand. For example, a shady ORM service might load porn into the comments of a complaint about your brand. This is low at best, illegal at worst.
- Astroturfing: You and your ORM should never create false accounts to post fake positive reviews.
The ORM should recommend an internal process to improve your reputation. If you have issues with customer service, for example, it may suggest training for your representatives. After all, if you don't clean up your reputation, the online repair won't last. Be sure to talk to the people who will handle your account. Are they interested in your issues or just plugging away at a task? Have they taken the time to understand your company, including its goals and culture? How open are they to ideas and changes in their plans? An attack on your reputation doesn't have to ruin your business if you take action to clean it up and promote your business in a positive light. Likewise, a good reputation, properly cared for, can blossom into a great one, bringing in more customers. Online reputation management services can help you with this, but choose wisely.
ORM services we recommend
We've analyzed dozens of online reputation management services for small business owners like you. We considered several factors to arrive at our best picks, like each company's customization features, social media management tools, customer service, and customer reviews and complaints. Check out a few we believe work best for small businesses.
We chose this system because it works with businesses to create a customized plan that addresses reputation attacks. Its analysis is free, and it includes services like content creation, social media and review management, PR and crisis management, and online monitoring. You can track your company's branding process with WebiMax as well.
If you're looking for an ORM with great review management, we recommend Podium, thanks to its easy-to-use platform that allows you to gather new reviews and manage them once they're posted. You can also send out customized text messages that encourage customers to leave reviews about your product or service.
Gadook is our choice for the best ORM service for reputation attacks, because it researches the SEO of your website and brand to create a strategy that eliminates negative content from the first page of your business's search engine results. It also offers content creation, review and social media management, press releases, and online monitoring to boost your reputation.
Simone Johnson contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.