If you own a small or medium business, a good reputation--online and offline--is clearly key to your success. The stakes are also high for individuals, who can win or lose jobs based upon how they appear in Web search results.
The Internet can overwhelm users with information, so anything negative--especially if it appears high in search results--can have a drastically harmful effect on your success and how people see you.
Among U.S. recruiters, 70 percent have rejected candidates based on their online reputation--and yet only 7 percent of Americans believe that their online reputation can affect their job search, according to a 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research. A potential customer who searches for your business online is a lot like a recruiter, trying to find the best company for the job.
Ignoring how you or your company appears in search results and on ratings Websites has arguably never been more perilous.
One significant figure in the recently altered relationship between businesses and search engines is Vitaly Borker, owner of retail eyewear Website DecorMyEyes.com, who told the New York Times in November that his unconventional search engine optimization (SEO) strategy worked like a charm: Borker harassed customers, directing them to vent on the Internet. His Website thus climbed higher in Google's search results, bolstered by the many links from established review Websites.
Google immediately reworked its code and buried DecorMyEyes along with other businesses it deemed "bad." Now that Google no longer rewards bad customer service with top spots in searches, it's a good time to examine how your business can get more positive attention in legitimate ways.
Should You Pay for Online Reputation Management?
Deciding to take control of your online reputation is a daunting task, and you may be tempted just to hire someone to do it for you. Online reputation management companies abound on the Internet--claiming everything from 100 percent success rate (or your money back) to a "special technology" that reorders search results.
Such companies may be worth looking into, but there is no magical way to erase content from the Internet. Once something is uploaded to the Web, it's impossible for you or a third party to remove it without help from the administrator of the Website where it appears.
It's even harder to remove content from search engines (like Google) that cache their results and enable surfers, with the click of the Cached link, to view content that has been "removed." In addition, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine stores records of Websites dating back to the 1990s.
Organizations such as ReputationDefender, RemoveYourName, and Integrity Defenders offer business packages to help you take on your online reputation. Essentially, however, these services focus on two tasks: requesting that negative information about you or your company be taken down, and helping you create new content to displace the negative content.
ReputationDefender, which is perhaps the best-known reputation-oriented service, charges between $3000 and $10,000 to monitor your reputation. RemoveYourName and Integrity Defenders are a bit cheaper; their packages start at $3000 and $630, respectively. Often the quoted prices are just a starting point. ReputationDefender charges extra, for example, for helping you get rid of unsavory remarks that they uncover.
Here are some key points to remember if you decide to hire an online reputation management company:
- Weigh any negative reviews of the company more heavily than you normally would. Remember, these companies are in the business of defending and rehabilitating reputations; if 10 "bad" reviews of their own service get through, imagine how many others they may have buried.
- No company has the magical power to automatically remove negative reviews from the Internet.
- Consider the benefits of a service that charges monthly versus a flat-fee service. Monthly services, such as BrandsEye, will constantly monitor your reputation. Flat-fee services, such as RemoveYourName, will spend as much time as it takes to get results. If you're looking to remove specific negative reviews, a flat-fee service might be best for you; but if you just want someone to monitor your reputation, a monthly service makes more sense.
- It's entirely possible that a reputation-monitoring service won't be able to help you, or that the service's efforts may backfire. In the case of Ronnie Segev, ReputationDefender and a blog called The Consumerist ended up in a spitting match after ReputationDefender requested that an article about Segev be removed.
Next page: Do-it-yourself tips to manage your reputation without a pro