In the online community, reputation is everything. If you manage a small business, your online presence is not only a great way to connect with potential customers, it also ensures that positive information about your goods or services reaches people in your target market. But there are also pitfalls to being a social business.
Reputation attack websites, for example, can pose a serious risk to your business’ reputation. These sites—such as Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer, and Complaints Board—have essentially created a niche market leveraging the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It states that posters of third-party content (like customer reviews) are not responsible for that content—which means these reputation sites can publish inaccurate, unverified, or even inflammatory content by third-parties, without fear of legal repercussion.
Often positioning themselves as independent sources and advocates for transparency or consumer rights, reputation attack websites have an air of legitimacy that attracts consumers looking to validate a purchase—but may disparage your business in the process.
Which Small Businesses Are Most at Risk?
If you’re concerned about your company’s vulnerability to reputation attack, consider these simple issues. You may be more open to reputation attack if you:
- Own a small business with a minimal online presence
- Have a business with an unusual name
- Have a website that’s not optimized for Google Search
- Have no social media accounts to help you control interactions with customers
- Have few optimized third-party sites posting positive content about your business
Attempting Repairs? Don’t Contact these Sites Personally
If you’ve been the victim of a reputation management attack, you may be tempted to contact the offending company in an attempt to get them to remove unverified or disputed content. Unfortunately, fighting these sorts of sites in the open, can actually help the very people who are attempting to hurt your business.
Since these sites have negative names, it can be damaging to your business just by association. This is especially true if a negative review ranks high in search results for your business. Replying directly to these sites helps further optimize their pages and can improve their ranking (not yours). So, if you must pay a site to deal with a reputation management issue, you’re supporting the people who are attempting to harm your business.
Why Reputation-Attack Sites Have Lost Power
Fortunately, many reputation-attack sites have lost much of their power in recent years. This change is due in large part to Medic 2018, a Google algorithm overhaul. One result was that sites like Ripoff Report and Complaints Board took a series of hits. While Medic 2018 did not remove these sites from the web, it deprioritized them and thus greatly reduced their search profiles. This makes the sites less powerful, and less dangerous. But these sites can still do significant damage to your small business unless you take positive action.
Take Control of Your Small Business’ Online Presence
One way to take control of your company’s public appearance is to build sources of positive, verifiable content about your products or services. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:
Optimize your website for search. A tightly-tuned site can bring leads to you, but your site needs to be seen and accessible in related a search. Content optimization and the use of supportive use of key words or phrases can improve your website’s search rankings, to help ensure that your words reach consumers before any negative reviews do.
Host a blog on your site. A blog is a great way to address topics essential and tangential to your business, while giving readers insights into your corporate culture, mission, and goals. Plus, the regular readership will boost your rank in search.
Build your social media presence. Sites such as Facebook allow you to create a page for your business, while other sites such as Twitter let you engage directly with consumers, troubleshoot problems, and publicize time-sensitive offers or deals. Set up an Instagram account and post interesting or fun pictures of your team—it’s a great way to engage positively with people and build your customer base.
Set up a YouTube channel. Many small businesses are discovering he advantage of communicating with potential customers via visual media. A video is a great way to introduce yourself, describe your work and facility, and enhance your company’s image.
Add directory profiles. Ensuring your business appears in several prominent business (or personal) directories is another way to broaden the positive appeal of your business. Directories may include Yelp, as well as industry-specific directories in your field.
Editor’s Note: For additional reading on online reputation management, visit this blog by Semrush.