They really are watching you.

Whether you realize it or not, everything you do has an impact on your online reputation. Google is quietly working in the background to compile and rank what is said about you online. This includes reviews on websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, blog posts, and social media mentions. You can control some of these things, like blog posts made on your own website. But, largely, Google’s judgement and your online reputation is out of your control.

Still, there are ways to maintain a positive online reputation, and we’re here to offer some clarity while navigating the process. Let this blog serve as a roadmap to maintain your positive reputation, or as a primer for improvement if you’re dealing with an influx of negative mentions.

Keep in mind that a positive online reputation can’t be constructed overnight. It is the result of careful curation over time. If you dedicate the time to improve your reputation, you can expect to see results. A good place to start is to develop (and stick to!) a reputation strategy.

Maintain a positive online reputation

Step 1: Focus on your brand

This may sound obvious, but it is worth mentioning because sometimes we can lose sight of our overall mission. Take some time to really evaluate your brand from the viewpoint of someone seeing it for the first time, whether that is your business or your personal brand. Are you proud of what comes to mind?

Maintaining a positive online reputation starts with developing a strong brand that stands for your core values and mission statement. If people can feel a personal connection with your brand, then all the technical reputation work we are about to discuss will happen more organically.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when building your brand identity:

  • Outline the main purpose of your brand. Ask yourself big picture questions like “Why does your brand exist?” “How are you different from your competitors” and “What problems are you solving for your target audience?”
  • Research your target audience. Who do you exist to serve? Make sure that your messaging is aligned with your target audience. Think about the kinds of search phrases they may use to find you online.
  • Establish your branding and messaging. Work to maintain consistency across all your marketing and promotion activities to establish a strong voice. Again, keep your stakeholders’ search phrases in mind. What would the bank Google? How about prospective employees?
  • Tell a story. This is possibly the most important aspect in developing a brand. You want to tell a story that will resonate with people to leave a lasting impression.

Step 2: Assess your search engine results

Start by simply Googling yourself or your company. In step one we asked you to think about how your stakeholders might Google you. For example – try adding “reviews” to the end of your brand name when you Google it. Take note of what comes up and whether your search results are mostly positive or negative. Check the main results page but also look at the images and news tabs to see how your results look under those filters. This will serve as your baseline to determine how much work will be needed to maintain or clean up your search engine results.

Step 3: Monitor your search results

Now that you understand what your search engine results look like and where your website stands, it’s time to keep a careful watch on what is being said about you online. You don’t need to google yourself every day because there are plenty of tools available to monitor your online reputation for you.

You’ll improve your understanding of your customers, including how they favor your overall brand. This will give you a better chance to avoid a crisis or controversy by catching it in its early stages before it has a chance to get out of control.

If you’re just starting out, you can probably get away with simply setting up TalkWalker Alerts for your brand (it’s free, and better than Google Alerts). All you have to do is type in the keyword you’d like to receive notifications for and select a few options regarding frequency and region. Then you’ll receive emails that keep you up-to-date on the search results for your keyword. If you would like additional insights and functionality, consider using paid tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, or Mention.

Step 4: Respond to comments, reviews, and other mentions

Setting up your monitoring alerts is just the beginning. Once you are aware of what exists about you on the internet, it is time to actively respond to what is being said. Respond to comments whether they are positive or negative. If you are receiving an influx of negative reviews, work to improve the problem to avoid repeating it in the future.

Just because you are receiving an occasional negative review doesn’t mean that it will wreak havoc on your reputation. Negative reviews can often give us a chance to check in with ourselves or our brand to make sure they are healthy overall. Here are some tips for responding to negative reviews:

  • Keep a level head. It’s never a good idea to respond in anger. Know that your response is going to be read by potential customers, so this is your chance to recompense. It’s best to simply apologize for the issue, which shows that you take concerns seriously, and offer a solution to the problem.
  • Reply quickly. Timing is key when responding to negative reviews. You don’t want to have negative reviews sitting out in the ether without your response. Always reply with a personal note – nobody wants to receive a canned response, especially when they’re already dissatisfied. Make sure to address the situation, apologize, and assure that it won’t happen again.
  • Respond privately. Some issues are best handled outside of the public spotlight. This gives you the opportunity to resolve the issue and mend the relationship with your customer directly. If you are able to make amends with the customer, you can even ask them to update their review to reflect the current situation. It’s a lot easier to do this once you have resolved the problem over the phone, asked them if they are satisfied, and then ask them if they wouldn’t mind updating their review.
  • Flag reviews that violate content guidelines. Most review sites, like Yelp, allow you to remove reviews that are outright false or not even about your business at all. Reviews that include threats, harassment, or other inappropriate content warrant removal.

Step 5: Create positive content

Now that your reviews and mentions are in order, you can finally focus on creating your own positive content. Focus on the channels you control (your website, blog, social media pages) to work your content into search results.

Here are a few channels to focus on:

  • Your website. Your website should be an exact match to your business or name. Regularly posting to and updating your website will help to improve its rank. The higher your website appears on search results, the more likely people are to click on it and, as a result, not click on any of the search results that follow.
  • Build subdomains. Each domain will often rank separately on search results, so you can increase your ownership of the page by having multiple subdomains. For example, you can have subdomains for your blog, customer support, store, or apps.
  • Post to 3rd party websites. Once your blog is running strong, consider contributing as a guest blogger for other websites. Here is a list of sites that accept guest posts to get you started.
  • Optimize your social media. Determine which platforms will work best for your brand and focus on those. Find out where your audience is spending most of their time on social media and meet them there. Post engaging and helpful content to increase your follower base. Some of the major social media networks include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Maintaining a positive reputation may sound like a lot of work (and it is!), but once you have a strategy in place it is can become a normal part of your routine. These steps are just a jumping-off point, and reputation work is not always this linear.

Read more: 5 Secrets to Build Your Online Reputation Through Social Media