Keeping an eye on your business’s online reputation involves paying close attention to any Internet users who might be trash-talking your products, services or employees. Just one or two well-placed slams can result in your image being sullied.

At times, the Internet can turn into a mudslinging contest where the damage to your brand is significant. You must implement a number of strategies to ensure that the downloadpublic opinion about your business remains positive. Furthermore, you must consider the art of damage control even before you run into trouble. One of the critical aspects of managing your business’s online reputation is massaging the search results that appear when people are searching for you.

If someone has denigrated your services or products in an online forum or blog post, then that commentary might be appearing on page one of your Google search results. Even when Internet users don’t follow the link, seeing your name attached to a negative review, rating or remark can turn them away from learning more about your business. Think about the angry swipes that you see about your local businesses and professionals each time you call up Google search results. The most prudent approach is to use search engine optimization strategies that will push down negative posts and keep them away from page one. Below are the four E’s of creating and maintaining your online reputation.

ESTABLISH Your Online Properties

-Websites

The first step is to create websites with your business’s name and the name of all products and services you provide. You can employ a convenient, easy-to-use content management system like WordPress to host these sites.

-Social Media

Your business must be registered on each of the major social-networking sites with the complete name of your business: Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr. The goal is to saturate the Internet with your brand. By maintaining an active presence on these profiles, you will rank well on search engines and push down any negative mentions.

-Google Places

You should also claim your own Google Places account and fill it with accurate information including address, store hours and other details related to your business. If you sit around until the negative comments and reviews start rolling in, you’ll be in a worse position when trying to counteract the damage.

ENGAGE with positive commentary while avoiding the negative

When someone is intent on trashing your good name through a blog, online forum or social-media account, how will you respond? These online users are vocal and unafraid to express their feelings, even sometimes hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Knowing how to handle these complaints is an important lesson in online reputation management.

Advice on addressing negative online comments runs the gamut from “respond” to “avoid.” Remember: If you reply to an online comment, you will increase the site’s strength in Google search results and potentially invite further attacks. While content tends to live permanently through Google search results, more updated content will be what most visitors see upon searching for your business.

Therefore, our advice at 3Ci is that profane or openly hostile comments or reviews should be left alone. Yelp and other slander sites have proven damaging because of the user’s ability to remain anonymous. The best tactic is to implement SEO-friendly content combined with a consistent social-media presence to suppress these results. However, consider all of these complaints when assessing your business and take the proper course of action if an issue arises.

EDUCATE yourself on slander sites

Third-party rating and review sites as well as high-traffic slander sites that accept user-generated content are some of the most difficult places for a business to protect its online reputation. These sites drive traffic by advertising their ability to protect the interests of all consumers. Even the legal system has supported the rights of online users, with major rulings established to protect their ability to complain on Yelp and a host of other review and rating sites. Litigation will often be an expensive measure, with no guarantee of success. Exploring legal avenues will only work if the content breaks the law.

Another note: If this negative commentary is occurring on your social-media profiles, blogs or websites, be careful not to delete this negative content or you could be accused of violating free speech. Simply examine the particular issue and decide how you’d like to proceed offline.

On the other hand, when fans and followers post a positive comment on your social-media pages with praiseworthy of your service or sales inventory, reply back. It will increase your credibility with the customer and establish your status as a responsive advocate for the consumer community.

ENCOURAGE the generation of positive reviews

Earning positive reviews from your satisfied customers can go a long way towards showing your easy rapport with other Internet users. Fresher reviews force the current crop further down the page. Businesses are allowed to seek accurate feedback from customers, but paying or incentivizing these reviews is strictly forbidden. Also, businesses should never compose fake reviews themselves. Ask your long-time customers to post a comment or two on reviews or ratings sites such as Google+ and Trip Advisor after their next visit. You’ll be surprised by how responsive they are to helping spread the word about your excellent work.

The Internet is a long and winding obstacle course with many twists and turns that could throw your business for a loop. Controlling and monitoring your online reputation can be a decisive factor in the sales numbers and customer retention of your business. At 3Ci, our experienced team will help craft a proper strategy that can influence your search engine results.

Businesses should act with caution while sharing their side of the story so that customers get the full view. Regardless of the size of your business or your particular industry, online reputation management must be a significant component of a business’s branding. If you don’t take charge of your online reputation, someone else will.