Can a Negative Online Reputation Kill a Company?

How dependent is your company on online marketing or online sales? And how dependent are you on having potential customers find you through an online search?

I know of many companies that get more than half their revenue from online sales. So if their online reputation suffers, their sales can take a dive. And for a company too dependent on online sales, a negative online reputation can sometimes kill their business.

Now, I’m not trying to get you to change your business model. The reality today is that many of us do the bulk of our business online. And we all have to weather storms from time to time, including recessions, changes in the marketplace, loss of a good customer, and yes, damage to our online reputation.

This typically happens because disgruntled, dissatisfied, or unhappy people are posting negative comments on review sites — and because those review sites are suddenly ranking higher in the search engines. So your site may be number one for a keyword search, but the negative sites fill up spots two through ten.

It’s never fun to look at the first page of a Google search and see your company’s products or services mentioned on websites with words like “scam” or “rip-off” in their names. It’s like waking up one morning realizing you’ve got a bad case of the flu and will have to suffer through it.

How do you deal with it?

First, good customer service is critical. Don’t make an unhappy customer wait for a response to their complaint. Handle it quickly. The longer they have to wait, the more upset they’ll get, which makes it more likely they’ll go online to the review sites and start posting their “story” about how badly they were treated.

Second, if your online reputation is crucial to your business, then managing that reputation should be a high priority. But it’s not something you do as a reaction to a sudden drop in your rankings or the appearance of negative sites. That’s why it’s called “reputation management,” not “reputation let’s-panic-and-do-something-quickly.”

It’s an ongoing process that makes sure your customers see good things about you online and are less likely to see any negative posts or comments.

Finally, make sure you can weather the occasional dip in your online ranking or a blow to your online image — whether that means diversifying your sales and marketing model or keeping enough cash on hand to cover a temporary loss of business.

These things happen even to the best of companies, no matter how much you do to please everyone. Being prepared is the best defense.

What to do About Negative Posts on Forums

If you participate in online forums, you may see a negative posting about your company. In fact, some forum participants can get downright nasty, even saying things that are completely untrue.

Now, since you’re sitting right there at the keyboard while reading these posts, your first reaction may be to shoot off a response to set the record straight and protect your online reputation — and possibly get into a back-and-forth “discussion” that can quickly turn into the online equivalent of mud wrestling.

Before you respond to the forum posting, stop and consider this.

First, are you really going to change anyone’s mind with your rebuttal? If it’s a site where people just come to complain, or if it’s a forum participant who simply gets joy out of bashing others online, chances are there’s nothing that can get these people to change — expect maybe a few years of therapy.

And if it’s a competitor writing these posts, you’re not going to win them over to your side no matter what. They don’t care about your online reputation.

Second, every time you or anyone posts to one of these sites, you’re just improving their search engine ranking. Why? Because you’re giving the site new content, and the search engines tend to rank sites higher that have constantly updated content.

In other words, posting your rebuttal on that particular website actually helps the negative posts gain more visibility. That makes it more likely that a potential customer will find the site, read the negative comments, and decide not to do business with you. Like scoring an “own goal” in soccer,  you’ve only helped the other side by responding to a negative forum post, which is not good reputation management strategy.

So what can you do?

Well, you can grumble a little, complain to your co-workers, kick the garbage can, and curse these poor souls who would dare to malign your wonderful products and services. Then take a breath and relax. There are better and more subtle ways to fight back.

This generally involves getting positive sites about your company to rank higher so the negative sites are pushed further down in the search engine rankings, where fewer people will see them.

Just keep in mind that a long-term strategy to boost your company’s online image is better than direct confrontation — no matter how mad you may feel about the negative postings. This is what true online reputation management is all about.

Reputation Management News

Online Reputation has a Dramatic Effect on Revenue

Recently a company asked for my expertise to help improve their online reputation. When potential customers searched on their company name, seven out of the top ten search engine rankings were negative. After careful review of their rankings, and prior year revenues, I determined that they were probably losing over $1,500,000 a year in sales due to negative search engine results. The company confirmed the fact that my estimates were indeed accurate — but low.

Why Online Reputation Management?

Today, the most common method to find out more about a company is to do a Google search, and evaluate the results. Due to the way Google ranks websites many companies are plagued with negative forum posts, articles and other uncomplimentary content about their business.

The goal of online reputation management is to help companies clean up their top ten rankings by performing search engine optimization (SEO) on websites that are positive to the business, which in turn push the negative sites down, and out of the top ten rankings.

Don’t Fight Back

Many negative posts for a company’s brand come through forums. One of the worst things you can do is to constantly write rebuttals against these negative posts. Every time you access a negative site and post a comment you’re giving them more content that the searches engines quickly discover — and in turn this will help the negative rise in the search engine rankings. It can be very difficult, but resist the temptation to fight back.

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